Black Desert Training – Wales

With some basic skills under my belt for off roading I decided that considering we were going to be tackling some pretty hardcore routes on our around the world travels on motorbikes it’d probably be wise to have another session of training to practice them and learn some more!

After chatting with a number of good friends they mentioned to us that Tamsin and Craig of Black Desert Training in Wales are just *the* stupendous at off road motorbike training.  With a bit of research I quickly discovered that Tamsin had recently conquered the Dakar and is a major rally rider… naturally I was super impressed and so we booked up a day for some inspirational one-to-one training with the lady herself!

Despite all sorts of weather warnings, flood risks and gale force winds concerned, heading over to Black Desert was looovely – just a right amount of sunshine and fluffy clouds.  With newly fitted MT21′s tyres, I was not only excited about off road awesomeness but too excited about having more grip and half a chance on rocky roads and slidey paths!

On arrival Tamsin and Craigs waved us up on the drive where they were working on various bikes and looking as we generally do… part kitted up, tools at the ready, cuppa not too far away and big grins!  With introductions, tea and chatters it was a nice break into the morning which smoothly glided into some explanations of general riding skills and tips for the bike.  Posture and positioning was demonstrated and after whipping off our wing mirrors we threw on some kit and made our way out into the stunning folds of the Welsh Valleys.

To begin with I followed Tamsin for a good 30mins over all sorts of terrains so to settle into the riding, make sure the posture was good and to become loose and relaxed.  This included various wiggling exercises, legs held out to the side whilst riding, a couple of hills to loosely ride up and some mud and puddles too!  I did notice our new tyres were pretty awesome in comparison to the originals although I was still a bit squirmy over gravel!  With some tips from Tamsin and also some letting down of the rear wheel tyres things just started to really click… I had grip!  My wee little KTM 690 Enduro R Hobbes was loving it without squiggling about everywhere!

Tamsin then ran through cornering with me and with some awesome demonstrations had me practising again and again until I managed to get my bum in the right direction and weight on the right pegs (all I needed to be told was to shove my bum in Sam’s direction and I was sorted!  I just need to imagine him standing on the outside edge of every corner I come to in the future!)  The funny thing was I was a little nervous about the whole practising whizzing around the gravel corner… but not half as much as I was with turning the bike around on the moors to come back round and do it again!  My tight turns are something which requires a little mastering and more guts ;D

After getting grips with that we then found some ruts… my favourite… or not! ;)  Fortunately it looks like I’m not alone here as it would seem most bikers (including Tamsin and Sam!) absolutely despise the buggers.  These ones were nicely surrounded by soft puffy grass… all perfectly positioned for a nice few loving hugs from myself!  Tamsin demonstrated paddling the bike through, one leg riding through and then standing.  Being the pro that she is she made it all look rather pip-squeak!  My turn came round and paddling I was fine at… not much of a problem!  One legged I was alright at too… bit more wibbly but yeh okay.  Standing though?  I am quite simply PANTS at it!  We all decided that it’s because I’m a little jumpy with the steering so if the front tyre bounces the side of the rut I then try and adjust the angle, over compensate and wheeeee the ground gets some loving from me!  By the end I managed it once or twice but yeh… something I need to practice at.  IMO… I’m going to do my up most to avoid them whilst I’m away!  Haha!  Although when we’re out before we leave I will throw myself into them as practice as much as possible!

A few more loops round some stunning scenery (of which I tried to enjoy as much as possible but I was frequently doing my squinty concentration face which means much of it is just a blur ;)) we headed back to Tamsins for some lunch and nibbles so awesomely made up by Craig!

Rehydrated and om nommed out, we then headed off for some hill riding experience!  After a short road ride we took a little road off and headed up this on going incline… that just kept going and going… and going…. and then going some more… past a stunning herd of horses… up and up… and up.  After my recent experiences with our local Hill of Doom our long ascent into the clouds was paralleled with a sinking feeling in my belly at the thought of the kind of hills and terrains we would be attempting at the top!  Fortunately, before nerves could build too much, I was distracted by how utterly breath taking the view was.  Rolling valleys, woodlands and fluffy grass as far as the eye could see with the odd dappling of rock formations.  Tamsin pointed out how much of a shame it was that there was so much fly tipping in the area… I have no idea why people do this… it’s awful.

Before conquering any hills Tamsin runs through various breaking techniques.  She explains how I am going to do a nice big back wheel lock up creating a good old skid… of which she would demonstrate firstly slowly then secondly with a bit of RARGh!  So off she whizzes and within seconds she is flying past us doing a brilliant lock and creating a nice long skid.  At this point I turned to Sam and was like “I thought Tamsin said she’d do the slow skid first?”…. by which point Tamsin had circled round and then accelerated to lightening speed, breaking awesomely and creating the most STUPENDOUSLY awesome massive skid in the universe!  As you can probably tell… I was mightily impressed!  It must have been nearing a hundred yards!  My turn up, I wasn’t so sure I could be so speedy buuuuut as I came round I thought “bugger it, the worst that can happen I’ll come off on bouncy grass” and although I didn’t cane it as much as speed demon Tamsin I did open up more than I would have and produced a lush skid I was SUPER chuffed of!

Another attempt and I manage about the same… we then did a few front braking exercises and then… it was hill time!  Hidden in plain sight was a beaut of a hill… quite a short little  blighter but steep and with loose stones, chunks of rocks and grass!  Nice!  Tamsin goes straight on up and taking a big breath I manage to trundle up behind followed swiftly by Sam.  She then runs through the descent… first time round in first (no clutch or brakes), second with front brakes, third with front and back brakes and fourth with front brakes but the engine off and paddling!  As always, going down a steep hill in first letting the engine brake for itself never fails to put the right jitters up me!  I managed it though (forgot to breathe but managed it!) and made my way back up… going up the hill now seemed like nothing in comparison to going down!  Front braking wise, Tamsin said I could do it seated if I liked but considering I had Sam in the background making gestures suggesting whether I had the balls I decided standing… and voila!  The others went well (have to admit much prefer rolling down a hill with the engine on though) – no offs just lots of wheeees and nervous laughter!

Dead chuffed with myself we go off for a ride to put into practice all that has been learned .  Trundling back down I weaved after Tamsin as she took a more grass zig zag route through sheep and horses, over rocks and through ruts.  Eventually she turns off up a GIGANTIC long rolling loose rocky hill with ruts… testing!  With a wibble and wobble, a bit of paddling but constant throttle I skid on up, back end kicking out and front end desperately trying to avoid hefty rocks!  I make it though and am greeted by a grinning Tamsin at the top!  So proud I was!  We bundle off through some heather where I stall and fall off… and then continue stalling.  Worried something’s wrong with my bike I stop a tick and mention it to Sam only to realise I’ve been a complete twit and had been pulling off in second.  Numpty!  After a lovely ride we head back on the road and arrive home to Tamsin and Craig!  We were presented with freshly baked cakes too (don’t mind if we do!) and after a good hour of chatting about bikes, riding, rallys, design and all sorts we decide to head off home.

Stupendously awesomely great day had by me!  Once again I have learned so much doing off road training… I cannot say enough how I think every bike rider should take a day out to do such a course!  Not only is it amazing fun, but it also changes how you ride even on the roads and for the better.  As expected, Tamsin was truly superb and incredibly inspirational, her riding is second to none.  Having started learning in her twenties too it brought a smile to my face thinking that some day in the future I have a chance of being near to her skill in riding if I keep up the practice!

Big thank you again to Tasmin and Craig at Black Desert Training as well as to Sam for being there and supporting me all along!

So… up next… Return of the Hill of Doom.  Time to put in practice my skills and beat the doomyness!

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Green and Water Laning with Matt and Liz

Today we had a bimble out with our friends Matt and Liz – another couple we have been fortunate enough to meet who too are looking to do a around the world motorcycle trip in 2013!  Like me, Liz is a newbie rider and has only just recently passed her Module 2 and like Sam, Matt is a more proficient rider with years of experience riding on and off road!  So all in all we make up quite a good riding group!

Roman Roads AHOY!

Being Mastermind of local byways, we let Matt lead the way up to the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire border where he introduced us to a Roman road he took Liz the week prior.  Gritty and potholed we had much fun bouncing along… for me this gave me the opportunity to practice my core skills I learned at the Wheeldon Off-Road training centre a few weeks prior!  Straight legged, bull dog posed and leaning in and out of corners I was loving it!

Gravel Hill… Whhheeee *splat*

A good few miles into it we approach a fallen tree where beyond lay a shadowed slope hidden by the forage of shrubs.  Liz had mentioned a few times she wasn’t particularly keen on this section but courageously leading the way she wound her way passed the tree and disappeared down the hill.  I then follow up not really knowing what to expect… only to find myself on a steep but relatively short gravelly descent.  Upon heading round the corner I spot that Liz has managed to tumble off and is slowly standing up… without thinking I brake… jerkily… on the front and guess what?!  You got it… WHOOSH, front end goes and I’m hugging a bush!

Laughing I jump up and jog on down to Liz to check she’s dandy and help her up with the bike!  As her first off there’s a celebratory high five all round!  Matt joins us and I trundle back up to recover Hobbes who has a minor injury of a slightly kinked back brake!  Nothing new there ;)  Sam and I tug him back up and I hop on all good again.  Liz then manages to make a smart recovery and slowly and carefully disappears around the corner, followed by me equally as slow and cautiously.  At the bottom we’re joined seconds later by Matt and Sam who cane it down (show off’s ;)) and whizz through a nearby puddle!  Good times!

Swimming Lessons

Off we go again and then a mile later slow up as Matt approaches a river crossing which has burst it’s banks.  To the side there’s a wee hump back bridge but dismounting Matt wanders a third of the way across the river to judge whether or not it’s bike-able.  At knee depth it’s not looking too bad and he wades back, hops on his bike and gives it a go. A third of the way through, Matt’s going strong but alas! as he enters half way Matt goes from being at knee depth to fully submerged!  Cracked up, Liz, Sam and I applaud from the side and decide perhaps the bridge is a better option! Lesson learned?  Walk the full length before attempting! Sam wades on in and helps yank the bike back to dry land where they proceed to drain it as much as possible.

Attempting to kick start it, the bike was not having it and the boys decide the only way it will work would be to empty the engine via the spark plug… which was hidden under the front fork and had been untouched for years!  After a good hour of us attempting to unscrew the awkwardly angled and sized spark plug Matt decides to wheel the bike back to the road and call for recovery.  Being in the middle of no where, Sam rides off to pick up some tow rope from a local shop and when he returns Matt’s bike is attached to Stimpy and towed to the local pub so we can stay warm and snug whilst waiting!

The Snooty Fox

The pub was actually quite a funny wee place… quite posh and what what (“The Snooty Fox” says it all really ;)) so us rocking up covered in mud on noisy bikes and squeaky rally boots made a few people turn their heads!  Unfortunately they had just stopped serving food so cuppa tea’s and plenty of crisps ensued along with chatter and chin wagging!

An hour later Matt’s bike was picked up with Liz’s too and we part and leave behind a great afternoon of off roading fun and joy!

Video to come of this adventure (mind, carefully edited as Sam neglected to switch off his head cam when he disappeared behind a bush for a quick whizz!! Glad we watched it along – completely X rated!!) and more trips ahead which we cannot wait for!  Thanks again to Matt and Liz for a fab afternoon!

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Slick and Sliding in Devon

Whilst at the Touratech Travel Event this year we had the absolute pleasure to meet some awesome people, one of them being Mr Jon of Devon!  He too is planning a round the world motorcycle trip with his mate Andrew so naturally we’ve all met together a number of times to compare notes and discuss tactics!  As opposed to looping like we North to South are they are heading East to West on their affectionately named JABA Mundus adventure!

Today we decided to take a wee trip down to meet up with Jon for some green laning malarky.  Having checked all the routes at the weekend Jon assured us despite being a little over grown they weren’t too bad… later we discover they had bushed out some more and were now resembling Borneo!

Bursting with energy we popped on down and rocked up only to find that both our heat guards for the exhausts were lolling to the side with missing screws!!  To be fair this wasn’t really a surprise as we have noticed screws and bolts on the KTM 690 Enduro 2012’s have a tendency to sneak out when we’re not looking! KTM obviously haven’t discovered the little gem that loctite!

Jon soon dug out some replacements and before long we were all off tootling along some stunning little country roads on our 2 x KTM 690 Enduro Rs and Jon riding his KTM 990 Adventure Dakar.  Our first turn we take is a short little stint, quite overgrown and with a thick rut down the middle.  Being a bit wimpy I wasn’t giving Hobbes enough beans so I managed to jump the front out once and hug a bush… but in reassurance so did Sam ;) We then weave back on to some roads and then dip onto a muddy section. Like last week we were still riding on the original tyres meaning Sam and I were squirming about all over the place whilst Jon glided by with his nice set up of MEFO Super Explorers at the rear and Pirelli MT21 at the front.  We need to get this sorted!!  I kicked a tree (it jumped in my way) and then swooped sideways down the path only to be greeted by a laughing Jon and Sam at our flinging around bike riding!  With some sense about us this time we let down the tyres a fair bit.  Sam found this riding experience quite new to him as he was used to his 990 which wasn’t so frantic and more fluid… our KTM 690 Enduros were kicking out like nutters!  Awesome fun (if a little aieeeeee for me!)

Further up we ride through another dense lane with fronds thwacking us in the helmet and pulling at us as we bumped round it.  This one was a right bugger as it had a deep rut all along and again… not really giving Hobbes the proper blat it required I had a tendency to pop the front wheel out and flop into the ferns!  After a couple of pick ups I was tiring but still smiling and laughing, grateful I had superb company as Sam and Jon to help encourage me along the way!

We then attempt another similar lane and this time I try and bean it a bit more and have more success!  I do, however, wimp off through some mud and despite holding it together, I plonk back down to change gear (still a n00b like that) and due to slowing end up throwing the front out of the rut into the ferns again!  Knackered, I survey the bike, attempt to pick it up but this time I’m out of energy and waaaay hot.  Whipping the helmet off I take a breather and am then greeted by Jon who had trundled back to help me up!

We all pause at the end of the lane and agree that the lanes are pretty darn hard especially for me and to prevent it going from fun to a chore for me (I was the one flopping off the bike!) we would do some country roads riding for a bit!   Chilled out we whizz around some roads – super gorgeous area!

After a few miles we stop off at a ramblers section and eye up a lane nearby.  We take the turn and end up on a lovely off road lane with dips and puddles and much easier riding for me!  A few gates on we end up losing our direction a bit and find ourselves in fog riding over lots of loose rock over what I believe to be moors!  All was going swimmingly, we all were having a great time and then bump bump bump BUMP WHAM *thunk* WHEeeeeEEeee… I manage to hit a huuuge rock and do a tremendous off!  Poor Sam had a heart attack as he was behind and watched in horror as I tumbled through the air and slammed to the ground!  He ran up to me and having stumbled to my feet was trying to get me to sit back down again… on a gorse bush.  Bless him!  I was fine though… just a bruised knee!

Bike back up and me a little nervous now (shame as I was bumbling along for ages without a worry in the world getting used to the back end kicking out and bouncing through rocks!) we continue and wind down a huuuge hill before being back on the road!  Lush ride, no idea where we were!

Jon then takes us along to a little country pub where we indulge on a cuppa and convo by the fire!

All in all an awesome day!  We all had a chat about my riding and although, once again, we were knocking through some pretty technical lanes and I was coping, I need to get back to the basics and perfect the core skills before I end up getting frustrated with hugging the ground (as beautiful as it is!).  So our aim is to get some lighter trails under my belt and then build up from there!

Cheers Jon for the fun times and for helping me pick up Hobbes!  We both loved it and are looking forward to some more action soon!

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