I THINK it’s fair to say I’m not a naturally gifted off-road rider. Over the years, I’ve stopped being terrified and started to enjoy it though.
I used to fall off motorcycles at the thought of taking them off road. Now I could probably tackle easy to middling trails all day without parting company with the bike. But what would I learn doing that? To get better I needed to try things I didn’t know I could do. I probably needed to start falling off again.
So that’s what I did. I fell off maybe five times on the Mick Extance Endurance Experience. I’m not exactly sure of the number. Any more than three offs in a day and I stop counting.
None was very big. More like a series of unscheduled dismounts. But if you have to pick up both a bike and yourself, it counts as a crash.
In the process, my off-road confidence took a big leap forward, and I conquered some obstacles I previously wouldn’t have dared tackle.
Mick Extance has competed in seven Dakar rallies, finishing five. His off-road school has access to 1,500 acres of private land in the Ryd E Felin Forestry near the village of Llangynog, Powys, mid-Wales. It’s mountainous terrain with beautiful views and a diverse range of challenges, from log-strewn trails to steep, rutted descents.
A range of Kawasakis are available to ride, including KLX125s, KLX250s and KLX450Rs.
The key to gaining confidence off-road is to do it regularly. Since I don’t, I invariably make a nervous start, and take at a little while to relearn what I’ve forgotten, which is everything.
I chose a KLX125 to help with the re-familiarisation process. According to Mick, a common mistake people make is to ‘over-bike’ themselves, jumping straight on a 450 when they would make more progress on the 125. ‘The important thing is that you’re smiling,’ he said.
I was. The KLX125 is as unintimidating as a moped and made for a gentle re-introduction to dirt. But things were not going to stay gentle for long.
‘You’re going to race through there,’ Mick told me and Visordown ad man Kane Dalton. Kane’s raced in the TT, so it’s not exaggerating to say he’s got a competitive streak and is generally better on a bike than me.
The circular route led steeply downhill through trees before climbing back up. It started with a single rut which split into two, meaning someone had to go first. As the least talented rider, that was me.
The flooded ruts seemed too deep to tackle standing up so I sat down and stuck my feet out in front. Turning back up the hill, I sensed Kane on my right, so accelerated hard and got back to the top first. Okay, so I’d had a head start. It still counted. It definitely still counted.
Confidence levels up, I got on the KLX250 and now the real fun started, tackling a steep, gravelly hill-climb leading up to Mick’s motocross track. At the top, we rode a small section of the track, including a jump, before heading back down in a loop.
After a cautious start, my speed up the hill seemed to double by the fourth or fifth lap. Helped by the easy-going extra power of the 250, I got some air on the jump. I felt about ready for the Erzberg.
Of course I was still a faltering novice, probably pushing his luck now, as confirmed when everything suddenly went a bit out of shape on the climb. I don’t know what happened, as they say.
‘Don’t go too far in one day,’ a more experience rider warned me. ‘Make that it for now.’ He meant don’t get too cocky or you might have a big off.
Any growing over-confidence was checked by the obstacles Mick got us tackling next. First some ruts so steep the only way down was to paddle while almost constantly on the front brake. I fell off.
Then a hill covered in tree-stumps, with no clear route through. ‘Pick your own route,’ said Mick. I’d gone from thinking I was ready for the Erzberg to feeling like I was in it. I fell off.
Then some deep mud, which I’d never realised could be so difficult. I fell off.
With confidence levels given a reality check, I had a brief go on the KLX450R but decided I was more at home on the 250. It’s got a much more forgiving throttle response than the aggressive and snatchy 450, which is really a competition machine with an electric start.
Then we had a go at a steep, rocky, slippery climb. Getting up a hill like this would make a huge difference to our chances in an enduro race, Mick told us. It was all about speed at the bottom.
Slipping about all over the place, but keeping it pinned, I made it to the top, and ended the day with confidence restored. Had Mick exaggerated the difficulty of that final hill? I didn’t care.
A day on the Mick Extance Enduro Experience costs £255 including a night’s accommodation at a B&B. If you’re looking for some off-road training bespoke to your level of skill and experience, I recommend it.
Tested: Mick Extance Enduro Experience
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