Busman’s Holiday

You could be forgiven for thinking that going out trail riding might be the furthest thing from my mind to do on a day off. By and large you’d be right. However, when the offer of a ride came from Nick and Mike, two of my chums from the The Trail Riders Fellowship I was delighted to tag along. Nick you see, is the Rights of Way expert for this part of the country and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area. I’m very grateful to Nick because when I originally came up with the idea of running guided trail rides in the borders region he was kind enough to drop by and give some very valuable pointers about routes and rights of way. On subsequent occasions when I’ve asked Nick about the legal status of such and such a lane, it doesn’t matter how obscure or remote it is, Nick has invariably ridden it at some stage , can usually quote it’s official number on the definitive map and will give a current legal status.In short, Nick Knows His Stuff.

So, the chance to ride in Nick’s manor, down on the Hereford and Shropshire border, was an opportunity not to miss, busman’s holiday or not. It also provided the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with Mike, who I’d bumped into at the Telford Show earlier in the year. Turning up at Nick’s cottage I could smell the bacon wafting down the path and upon walking into the kitchen had a bacon butty [or bap/barm/cob depending on what part of the country you’re from] and a cuppa thrust in my hand whilst Nick briefed us on the riding plan for the day. We were joined for the day by young Antoni, a recently recruited TRF member who wanted to sample some trails in the area.

It was a motley selection of machines which made their way slowly down Nick’s lane before setting off . Nick was riding his quad, something you don’t see very often on the lanes in my neck of the woods. It’s an impressive beastie with a pokey engine, selectable four wheel drive and a reverse gear. I’d never have considered using one for trail riding but as the day wore on I became more and more impressed with it. Strapped to various parts of the quad was an axe, a jerry can, some rope andI think I even spotted a set of bolt croppers poking out . I think this is what the police refer to as ‘going equipped’.  Mike was riding a svelte and purposeful-looking looking Husqvarna trail bike and Antoni had brought along his imposing F800GS BMW. Add my diminutive Ossa to the list and you couldn’t have compiled a more diverse group of vehicles if you’d tried.

Mike gets the Brave Little Soldier award for turning up with a gruesomely crushed and broken finger on his right hand, sustained in an accident shackling up his trailer. Not the easiest injury to deal with when riding a motorcycle, especially when trail riding.

Mike exits the unimaginatively named Forest Wood. Well, what is it, a forest or a wood? Herefordshire can be very confusing for an expat townie like me

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Anyway, we all set off and were soon in the swing of things exploring some rarely used lanes in Hereford,  one of the quietest , sparsely populated counties in England. For me , it was  liberating  to be released from the burden of planning routes, lunch stops or refueling, or worrying about mechanical issues and punctures arising on customer’s bikes. All I had to do was follow Nick, which was actually easier said than done because he pilots his quad with great aplomb and it would be a brave man who tried to keep up with him across country. It seems to just float along those deeply rutted lanes which can be such a challenging pain in the backside for two wheel traffic . Steep, technical, rocky climbs? No problem, just twist the throttle and hang on. The way it appeared to effortlessly negotiate almost every obstacle and hazard thrown in its path was a real eye opener for me. Of course it helps if you know how to ride it…

Stormin’ Nick, a man on a mission.

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Antoni’s Beemer didn’t fare quite so well and struggled for grip on the tight, technical sections, especially on loose rock . Or mud. And  grass and gravel. In fact it didn’t seem to have any grip anywhere. Antoni did some heroic riding  and managed to coax the porky Beemer up  sections I wouldn’t have dreamed of tackling on such a big bike. Sadly it had the better of him on more than one occasion and usually took all four of us to extricate it from whatever rut it had managed to dig itself into. On a couple of occasions it simply couldn’t make it up the trail and an alternative route had to be found. Poor Antoni was worn out by the experience and at one point I offered to give him a break and see if I could do any better and get it up a particularly tricky section. I couldn’t, in fact when I sat on it I wondered how he’d managed get as far as he’d already done on it. Big respect. I gave it the merest whiff of throttle looking for some traction and immediately fell sideways off it . In the end I elected to ride it back down the hill.

Under Nick’s watchful eye Antoni plunges the Panzerwagen into the ford before heading south to annex  Shropshire

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Coasting back down the trail on Antoni’s GS reminded me of a Jaguar XJ12 I once owned back in the days when normal people could afford fuel. Like the Jag, the GS felt very comfy but also very vague and isolated from the terrain. The GS also felt about four times heavier than my Ossa, which is a bit of an exaggeration because in fact it’s only three times heavier. I kid you not.

These big Beemers are excellent road bikes and will tackle hard packed trails reasonably well but on the type of going one might reasonably expect to encounter on a typical day of green lane riding in the UK, they are hopeless. I know this will upset some folk but it happens to be true. In my opinion the image of adventure punted about by manufacturers in the mega trail bike sector is a fallacy. A six hundred quid, thirty year old Honda XR200 would leave any one of these big bikes for dead as soon as the going gets tough and I wish BMW, KTM and Yamaha  et al would be a bit more honest when promoting these behemoths to the general public. No one denies they are fine motorbikes, but the stark reality is, they don’t really do what they say on the tin. There, I’ve said it, flame me if you will, I’ve got broad shoulders.

Anthony takes the Long Way Home. Again.

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At around 4pm I noticed  a slow puncture in my front wheel, sustained , I think, when I hit a concrete cross-drain a bit too hard on a fast forestry track near Black Hill at Knighton. Not wanting to hold up proceedings and being too bone idle to change a tube on a garage forecourt I banged 40psi in the tyre, left the boys to it and rode slowly back to my van. It had been a superb day out  and a very different experience to a typical day with AdventureRide.  I was surprised at how little-used the Herefordshire lanes appeared to be and some of the more technical trails were really challenging and enjoyable. I’m  fortunate to be able to earn a living from trail riding but of course my riding enjoyment must always take a back seat to the customers needs. A day out with Nick and the boys  reminded me of just how rewarding and absorbing our hobby is . Nick, I owe you one…

3 thoughts on “Busman’s Holiday

  1. Ah! Rob. Good to meet you again, and a great day on the trails.
    You missed a good bit though – on the way back to Nick’s, we had a river crossing, one we do occasionally, but “the other way”. The Quadmeister went in the river, floated, yes, floated across with the tyres acting like paddles (I’ve seen him do that before). I managed to then drop the Husky in the deepest part, so only the throttle was above the water. Antoni rushed in the river to help and fell face first in it. Husky was dragged out, and the place where the air box would be on any other bike checked for water – it was dry-ish, as there is no air box!! Gentle turning over on the kickstarter, then third prod on the starter button and it was away again. Antoni took the BM across the footbridge for some reason (why didn’t I think of that?). For some reason, the injured finger throbbed less after having been soaked in a river water filled glove! I needed the dressing changed when I got home though.

    Hopefully see you again soon

  2. A great day out Rob, and the good news is there’s still plenty more lanes to show you. Massive respect to Anthony for doing what he did, he will be joining us again with a new rear tyre hopefully. Need to catch up and mark up on your maps what we did. Great write up as well, thanks for the compliments, always a pleasure, never a chore. See you soon.

    • Update on your musings about these big bikes…Yesterday, Antoni repeated the lanes on his new lightweight trail machine (don’t ask me what make I’ve no clue) and cleaned ’em – just goes to show horses (or bikes) for courses.
      And your assessment of Antoni’s ability was also spot on – he is a very capable rider.

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