Racing EuropeAugust 1, 2016
Strength in NumbersAugust 15, 2016
It's Saturday. You're up at the crack of dawn. You load up the bike. You meet your riding mates at the petrol station. You head out and ride Green Roads for 8 hours. You go home. You wash the bike. You go to bed. Or do you...?
What if you didn't go home? What if you had everything with you to just keep going? For a night at least. Central Bristol TRF member Steve Harrison had no intention of going home as he headed out armed with his tarpaulin, bivy bag and pannier full of adventure. Here's what happened...
Hi Steve. By all accounts you've thrown yourself into adventure bike riding with Central Bristol TRF. What's the story?
Well, personally I’ve always loved the idea of going touring on a motorbike from a very young age, I was inspired by my father’s stories of his world travels with the RAF when he was a young man. I dipped a toe in with some solo riding in Thailand many moons ago, almost forgotten now.
I’ve been riding bikes on and off all my life, but having joined the Central Bristol TRF a year ago I began to focus my efforts and attempt to learn how to ride the trails properly on a proper off-road bike with a bunch of like-minded guys… slowly it rekindled the urge for adventure!
A motorcycle as most would agree can get you just about anywhere whilst really allowing you to feel utterly immersed with the environment, sometimes submerged… Having read Ted Simons book, Jupiters Travels and being mindful of Charlie and Ewan groaning under the weight off their big GS’s I was inspired to try it with a lightweight bike, something capable of taking on the tough stuff without getting bogged down under the sheer bulk of a big adventure bike.
I got chatting with Dean Allen the CBTRF Events organiser and mentioned my interest in having a go at adventure biking… months passed then one day we just sort of decided to schedule something in.
Is it important to you to be going somewhere, rather than just enjoying what the bike can do in the contort of a circuit?
Its psychological torture to just keep going round and round in circles, a bit like life can be really. We’ve all had a go at MX, Enduro and Trials bikes, maybe even done a few competitions and practice days, it all teaches you some incredibly valuable bike skills… but there is always that feeling of being on a hamster wheel.
No hamster wheels here...
So you hit the Green Roads with the TRF and it changes your view of the world immensely. Not only are you making new friends, brothers even, but now you are out on an adventure, sometimes loading the bikes into vans and heading further afield, but always having to head home at the end of the day to clean the bike and end up watching telly, some good stories yes, but left wanting more, knackered… but wanting more.
What makes leaving home and just heading off for a night so appealing?
There is something magical, a tension, excitement, uncertainty… prepping the bike, organising your kit, tools, clothes, camping gear. For an impromptu short weekend trip you actually don’t need that much stuff. You’ve got to minimise everything otherwise you’ll end up like a snail with his home perched on your back. Heading off into the unknown with a couple of mates on your (hopefully) trusty bikes to do something that just absolutely sets you free both mentally and physically, surely can only be good for the soul! Also my missus and kids tell me I’m grumpy and no fun at all if I haven’t been out on the bike for a while.
Is it true that you need all the fancy gear to enjoy a night away on the bike?
For myself and our run leader Dean Allen, we contacted Gabe from Zen Overland, (discount available for the TRF members), and ordered Kriega panniers and packs. Gabe is incredibly knowledgeable with all things adventure so a great service all-round… and what awesome kit it was too, lightweight, tough as old boots, and rather fetching too. Price wise it can soon start to stack up as with the initial set up costs of most things.
We went to Go Outdoors for camping supplies and Marcruss in Bristol, (near the SS Great Britain), for all things military such as a Basher and Bivee bag.
I think Dean had been watching too much Ray Mears and I allowed myself to be led astray. However, its easy to get carried away, you’ve got to keep the weight down, so make smart choices, such as, close fitting thermals for night time and a decent quality sleeping bag. You’ve got to rein yourself in though and keep it simple, which is what our travelling companion Tom did with a £10 Tesco tent bought a few hours before leaving and hastily bungeed into place.
So you can take your pick, a tenner or 'a bag of sand' (that’s slang for a grand), either way the spirit of living in the moment led Tom to have a different nights sleep to me. Put it this way, I was envious of his tent, but he would have probably been prepared to pay me a thousand pounds for my lovely warm sleeping bag.
So you've got the gear, the bikes and the riders. How did you decide where to go?
The route was planned entirely by Dean who is a well-seasoned run leader with many, many hours logged all over the country and many routes stored on his device. Using his Garmin Montana 600 that had been partially marked out with our ultimate destination laid in, but we adopted a method of navigation that can best be described as ‘Freestyling it’.
We would navigate our way picking out as many Green Roads as we could along the way. It was an awesome way to travel as everything that you came across was totally new to you, and as you travelled across England's Green Roads you could see the ground underneath you was changing dramatically to reveal its very composition.
At one point up on a hill we could hear the music coming from Glastonbury Festival, we could see which way the stormy weather was heading and attempt to navigate away from its path. Its fair to say it eventually got the better of us but we put up a mighty brave fight and outran it long enough to get our waterproof layers on. Even the weather couldn’t dampen our spirits on the first day or so. We were freestyling and loving it!
Some people would question how much of an adventure you can really have in one night. Did it live up to your expectations?
Well, I was treating the journey partly as a technical exercise, what kit you really need to take, how best to set the bike up and then, having given it your best effort to put everything in place, to be self-sufficient and ready for anything.
We aimed to make it to the beach and ride along it, we intended to find a good spot to set up camp having ridden all day and covered some exciting terrain and taken in the beautiful vistas that this country has in abundance, We certainly did that.
At the end of day one, feeling tired and glad to park the bike, (before I dropped it… again), we set up camp, gathered some wood, made a campfire, cooked some food and drank a few ciders to finish the day. Proper good stuff, talking about the days ride with your mates… totally immersed in the world of bikes, Green Roads and feeling free.
Dean strikes the rugged adventurer pose
You know, the best part comes the next morning, once you’ve packed all your kit on the bike, you’ve suited and booted, then the first thing you do that day is fire the bike up and hit the lanes again… its just the best feeling, to start the day like that, awesome.
Steve's guide to riding with panniers
Make sure you read the instructions...!
We decided to put extra air in the rear tyres to compensate for the extra weight and the extensive road work we would need to put in to make the distance. The first thing you notice is that getting on the bike requires a half jump – stepping-through motion to get on, you need to be capable of a real high kick to throw your leg over otherwise, you risk straining something if you do that wrong!
Immediately you notice the extra weight as these bike are usually only 100kg and now they feel a little ungainly.
We decided to hit the ‘roads only’ for a while to get used to the different feel of the bike. I was immediately surprised just how planted the bike felt on the black stuff. She handled beautifully, so well balanced, an encouraging start as you could maintain higher speeds with a feeling of greater stability compared to how they normally like to flutter about at speed on the open road. My bike is a 4-stroke 450 KTM, so it handled the extra weight and road work with ease. Dean’s 350 2 smoker Husky seemed to be taking it all in its stride.
We hit our first lane somewhere near Bath, a wet rocky gentle hill decent with a few easy ruts, it was a wake-up call, by heck, we’ve got weight on. Everything feels different, you can’t move around the seat so much, but the standing position was perfect, in fact the soft panniers even help steady and cushion your legs a bit. The front end was twitchy a low speed and if you got a waggle-on (tank slapper looming) it felt grim, but don’t panic or over-react, you just hold your line and power out with verve, momentum really is your friend you soon learn that and before you know it its like second nature.
In fact within the first few lanes I realised that you can use the extra weight to your advantage, the bike feels planted and holds its line very well, the extra weight assisting with gaining traction in fact so you don’t need to sit your arse down so much. You’ve got to pick more central lines on the more overgrown Green Roads as you are now a wider vehicle, this will focus the mind somewhat as the central lines are often the path less trodden and who knows what’s lurking, keep your wits about you and think ahead, not a bad discipline to develop and nurture really. The Cordura construction of the Kreiga bags is tough though so the bramble and sticks don’t leave much of a mark when the going gets tight.
Riding on the roads and country lanes was an inspiring experience, with the bike feeling so sure footed the miles just seemed to roll away effortlessly, where we were in Devon on the way to Dorchester the country lanes seemed quite empty we felt like kings of the road. We would dip back into reality for fuel and food and feel that we had really stepped outside of it all, we were a curious sight to these people, you could see them looking and wondering… what are those nutters up to?