Getting ready for the Yamaha off-road experience
I travelled down to Llanidloes the day before to ensure a good night’s sleep before attending the Yamaha Off-Road (motorcycle) Experience. I’d recommend doing this unless you live close by because it is a demanding days off-road riding and getting up at 5am to get there on time will have you flagging well before lunchtime. Stopping over the night before in a local pub enjoying an evening meal with a pint helps to focus the mind on the next days activity.
I woke up early and was keen to arrive at the farm after having a full English breakfast, setting me up nicely for the day. Arrival time was 09.30 but I was ready to go early, but my sat-nav didn’t accept the coordinates that were supplied, so after looking on the map on the Yamaha website, I knew exactly where to go. The road looks like it is going into the middle of nowhere (so make sure you know where you are going before you set off, so that you aren’t late). If you arrive the day before you could do a recce as it is only 4 miles away from the town, you wouldn’t want to be late and miss your day!
The day started by signing on and then getting kitted up, you don’t need anything except some base layers and thick socks. We were issued with shin and knee guards, trousers and boots to start with. Once these were on, we were then issued with body armour, a top (and waterproof jacket for our particular day), a helmet , goggles and a pair of gloves. The Yamaha Off-road Experience team ensured we had the correct fitting clothing before we congregated for an in-depth briefing about how the day was going to proceed.
There was an impressive array of Yamaha WR250’s and WR450’s lined up when we arrived and after the briefing we were introduced to the bikes. A good briefing was given on how to start and stop them, along with some more detailed info about using them during the day. There were lowered machines, some slightly less powered, the majority were 250cc, some full power, some restricted and some with extra restrictions to stop them being a handful. There was something for everyone in the group. There was a good mix of male and females, some old and some young, they’d come from all over the UK and had come in search of a great experience.
Starting up and getting going
Introductions done, it was a case of choosing the right motorcycle for the day, it was suggested I go for the WR250 that was slightly restricted. I didn’t mind what I rode because it was all about learning and not having the quickest bike there, that would not have been a good idea being as I didn’t know anything about off-road motorcycle riding.
Bike started and warmed up, they were ticking over nicely. We were given the opportunity to have a little ride up and down to get the feel of the bike and ensure we were happy and comfortable on the bike. It was to give us the initial feel before we went off up the mountain track. It would be easier to swap bikes in the yard rather than be a few miles away and try to change then.
It wasn’t long before we were on our way out of the farm and up one of the tracks to a huge open field, we had a few laps on the field to get the feel of the bikes on grass as well as on the gravelly track. The instructors had a keen eye on us all and when we’d completed a few circuits we were separated into two groups. Those who looked a bit more comfortable and those that were still getting a feel for this totally new way of riding.
It wasn’t long before we were on our way, the less experienced riders stayed and had a few more laps and the rest of us were off to the next part of the course. It was a bit of a culture shock going immediately onto bumpy tracks, undulated ground, large boulders, tree roots, shingle, shale, mud, puddles, jumps, humps and bumps. The weather was poor and rained for most of the morning, which only added to the fun.
As we made our way to the first learning area, Dylan gave us a briefing on how to ride, what our body position should look like and why it is important to ride in such a manner. All the information made sense, it was just a case of remembering what he had taught us and ignoring what our brains were telling us to do! We were shown the circuit and given some time to gingerly make our way around the course and to apply the new techniques. As we improved our confidence started to increase and so did the speed, it wasn’t until the instructors came past us that we realised we were just pottering around.
The other group arrived and there was a well structured presentation on how to and how not to ride, a demonstration was given on how to position the body when standing, sitting and cornering. Braking techniques were discussed along with the different reasons for not staying upright and on two wheels! Before we got going again for another practice session I swapped bikes with another chap to an RR, this meant it was double restricted. I didn’t have a clue what the difference was until I rode it, this was a much tamer machine and was much easier to handle (in the hands of a complete novice). I was more than happy to give the other chap the more twitchy and powerful machine, this one put me more in my own comfort zone.
Trails, tracks and technique
Now for the start of the fun, we were off to explore the many miles of woodland, hills and terrain. The rainy weather only added to the experience, it was muddy, slippery and a little soft in places but I am sure a hot dry day is going to be a bit easier but not so much fun.
We were off, there were tracks everywhere and without our guides we would have been totally lost. There were various degrees of difficulty on each new route, some were wide and full of loose gravel, others were tight and required both feet down to paddle the bike through deep ruts. The riding was tough going in places but this was interspersed with easier open trails where you could stand up on the pegs to rest and relax.
Because of the poor riding technique and holding on too tight at times, it was demanding on the body. We were given pointers to try and then as the morning progressed it became easier the more you relaxed and allowed the bike to move about underneath you. As a newcomer to this sport, the whole experience was simply amazing and breathtaking, a dryer day would have made it easier to see instead of looking through steamed up goggles on the inside and rain splashes with mud on the out. I suppose this made things a little more interesting and I’m sure at times helped with not always being able to see what was coming up next!
Heading back for lunch, we were not riding quite so slowly as we made our way back down the mountainside on a very gravelly track. The bikes were sliding around but because of our trust in the coaching we copied Dylan as he demonstrated the way to ride, like a line of ducklings we were soon back at base to chill out for an hour and rest, ready for the afternoon session.
Lunch was provided, along with crisps to get the salt back into the body, bananas to give the slow boost of much needed energy and a good supply of sandwiches and refreshments. Everyone was feeling the after effects of the mornings activity, it was a little quiet over lunch but as soon as we had all eaten it was back to a hive of activity and chat before the afternoon session started.
We all set off at the same time to retrace our steps back up the mountain, once we got back to the top we separated into three smaller groups, which were led by three instructors, there was a forth on hand for any issues or problems.
As we set off with four riders in our group, the terrain started to get a little more demanding. The tracks were narrow with deeper ruts, standing up was the way to go and looking further ahead to keep on line, the bike would wallow in the ruts but keeping the drive constant was the clear way to negotiate the ruts. In some of the tighter areas the tree branches were that low you had to duck right down to avoid them, sometimes sitting down on the seat and still having to stoop lower.
Some of the trails were steep and one particular one stood out more than the others, a very steep downhill section with loose mud that was ankle deep. First gear was necessary to negotiate the descent, the bike was sliding almost all the way down, gaining traction just now and again as the engine revs increased dramatically as the bike tried to gain grip. Once at the bottom, it was a sigh of relief to be in one piece – was it more luck than judgement!
Other trails were just as demanding with the inclines and extreme cambers ready to catch you out. The day was wet, so the conditions over the shiny slate made riding very interesting. Because of the tuition and guidance, along with the growing confidence, the instructor knew where to take us to give us a challenge. But at no time was it too much to handle as their perception of our ability was spot on at all times.
Uphill sections were encountered with differing difficulty, loose rocks to contend with one second and then tree stumps and roots the next. The surface changed constantly, the bike moved sideways at almost every twist or turn but by now the riding techniques and methods were becoming more natural. Although a great challenge, it was also a great achievement.
After an hour or more of winding our way back and forth, we met up with the rest of the group in an open clearing. We exchanged stories and experiences before we were shown a circuit that we could ride around on our own, this was so that we could put our riding into practice on our own and experience the challenge of riding without a guide. The instructors were always close to hand as they rode around the same circuit, it wasn’t until they came past on the back wheel, making light work of the terrain and jumping over every bump that you truly realise the skill that these guys have. They unleash it at will, when and wherever they choose to do so, being in the hands of British Off-road Champions gives you a real sense of security.
After our shenanigans around the made up circuit, we headed back as one group down the mountain back to the farm. Once there, the routine was to hand back the bikes and take off all the clothing that were all going to be jet washed, we were then given a be-brief on the days events before we said our goodbyes to one another after sharing a few more stories.
This is an absolute must for riders of all abilities. It is a superb way to experience the motorcycle moving around underneath you as well as learning and putting into practice new riding skills. The Yamaha Off Road Experience has been running for many years, Geraint has successfully grown the business with a fantastic structure and has the ability to engage and deliver first class guidance and coaching with a very experienced team. Dylon is a key trainer and his ability to pass on knowledge and precise information is key in a robust learning environment.
Riders will come away knowing they have been in demanding situations, but learning takes place at the correct pace to make huge gains in ability and skills. Confidence grows and abilities improve minute by minute, you have to be out of your comfort zone at times to be able to find the inner strength that lies beneath. This course is a must for anyone who wants to improve their riding skills – it is absolutely a fantastic experience.
Yamaha Off-Road Experience (Wales)
About the author
A full-time instructor since 1991, Simon Hayes is a veteran motorcycle training instructor and well known within the industry. Simon’s first six years as an instructor, were spent teaching military personnel, where he enjoyed a 100% success rate and earned a reputation for pre-DAS excellence in training high powered motorcycles skills.
Since 1996, Simon has operated a respected multi-site motorcycle training business covering Birmingham and the West Midlands. Twenty years of dedication to the highest possible standards of motorcycle training has forged a reputation for excellence and whilst Simon has seen many changes and challenges effecting the industry; his own training school has continued to thrive and grow. [more]