This year I realised a dream, or silenced a multi-decade procrastination at least, and bought an enduro bike. However, the visions of spending days in the Instagram wilderness roaring up impossible climbs and crossing swollen rivers didn't materialise. Work, London, racing, maintaining a fleet of other fun machines and life stuff competing for time and resource has meant my lovely WR250 gathers dust in storage. One of our favourite and most moto-active investors, Gerry, had been bugging Stew and I to join him for a weekend at the Adventure Rider Centre on the Costa del Sol for months, but my blown knee and Stew's busted ankle had previously scuppered plans. The concept of flying abroad to an off-road trail centre makes a lot of sense when you factor in the weather and the chance to practice some (questionable) Spanish, although truth be known I was also slightly nervous of accepting the initial invitation which included spending the day with Graham Jarvis. If you don't know who he is then YouTube is your friend. So we finally got our shit together, stocked up on Deep Heat and committed to a date. And that was about as much effort as was required. The Adventure Rider Centre, located in Mijas, just down the coast from Malaga is run by ex-racers Baz & Kaz who moved out to Spain from the UK just under a decade ago with the aim of setting up a top notch trail riding facility. And by 'eck they've achieved that goal. Kaz was a British sand racing champion back in the day and Baz has raced circuits, motocross and enduros, knows his way around the IOM TT mountain course and ran a successful engineering company for many years - we knew we'd not only be in safe hands but would get on really well. Important when you're stuck up a mountain with a puncture. The trip starts with a feeling of stardom that pro racers have probably long forgotten. All Stew and I needed do was pack spare underpants and a toothbrush, then make the easy trip to Malaga, knowing that everything else would be taken care of. Bikes, kit, helmets, fuel and accommodation are all included in the package. Kaz scooped us up from the airport and by the time we'd hit the coast road it felt like we'd been chums for years. Folk from the north of England are so much more friendly than regular Brits, I wish there were more of them in London.
Upon arrival Nichola kitted us out with riding gear, really decent stuff too. Klim (another word for expensive and decent quality) trousers, gloves, jersey, helmet and hydration pack plus Acerbis full body armour are available in all sizes. Alpinestars boots (they even had some big enough to fit Stew's flippers) Oakley goggles and a kidney belt complete the ensemble. Well nearly, Stew and I sported our BSMC x 250 London jerseys but Gerry forgot his. There's a well appointed shop too, for the more pro riders looking for spares, tools, gear and clothing. I bought some under-glove blister protector thingies and a Motion-Pro tyre spoon and wrench combo - because it was cheap and now makes me look like I know what I'm doing.
The kit is either new or nearly new, and properly cleaned and sanitised. I was going to take my own lid as spending two days in someone else's sweat seemed a grimy idea. The Klim helmet issued was not only super light and comfortable but smelt and felt brand new. And it seems like a simple and trivial thing but there were already hangers waiting emblazoned with our names, ready for that evening's sweaty striptease.
The bikes are in top order too, a fleet of this season's Husqvarna FE350, prepared by in-house mechanic and rallycross hero Dave. More tractable than the 250 and not as beastly as the 450. Expecting to be well out of my depth on the first day riding with a group of Norwegian guys, which included an ex-motocross ace, I plumped for a lithe Beta 300cc 2-stroke. Truth be known I was crapping myself a bit at the thought of traversing actual grown-up trails with a load of people infinitely more qualified than me. After becoming reacquainted with a stroker's lack of engine braking I was glad of the lighter steed.
First stop was the training area so that we could familiarise ourselves with the bikes, but more importantly so Baz could sift the bravado from the skill. He later told us that he can tell by the time someone gets to the end of the driveway what level they're at. Obviously Stew, Gerry and I reminded him of Toni Bou, Graham Jarvis and Dougie Lampkin - he didn't say anything at the time, presumably so as not to upset the Norwegians. A consummate professional.
They were a great bunch of lads on their annual pilgrimage to Mijas. Apparently off-roading in Norway isn't as easy as we thought, so the guys book a slot every year where the riding, weather and good times are guaranteed.
Baz's familiarity with the terrain and trails is impressive. Not only in that he doesn't get lost, but he's able to gauge how keen, tired and capable the group is and lead into the wilderness accordingly. For day one we were fresh but riding a steep learning curve. Stew is used to piloting a 300kgs of laden GS Adventure and I mostly skid around in circles. Gerry turned out to be a dark horse, far more skilful than he lets on.
There's zero pressure to attempt obstacles and Baz always has an alternative, less challenging route available for the newbies or those with a lull in confidence. Stew certainly didn't suffer from the latter and attacked the morning's gnarly hill climbs with gusto, on occasion jettisoning himself into the scenery. I took a more measured approach, for a change, and made it through the day unscathed. There's as much training as you want to take onboard. Some people like to just turn up and ride, others prefer to glean every last ounce of knowledge. As I was in student mode I lapped up every tip Baz had to offer.
One of the great things about riding someone else's bikes is that if one breaks, someone else will take care of it. Punctures weren't all that frequent and it offered the chance to catch a breath and chew the fat while Baz deftly swapped-out torn or thorned tubes. The Husqvarnas performed faultlessly (I wish I could say the same for us) and I'd become quite enamoured with my little Beta, but mine and Stew's lack of bike fitness became evident towards the end of day one. As we rode back to Casa Baz & Kaz I became hypnotised by the thought of an ice cold cerveza. Because that's how all pros prepare for another day in the saddle.
Arriving back at HQ the star treatment continued. Like a MotoGP post race crew Kaz and Nichola whisked away our sweaty helmets and gloves before side stands had touched the floor and furnished us with a tray of the coldest, crispest, moistest beers. Marquez and that lot have it all wrong with their Red Bull sponsorship, I'd be wanting a contract with Mr Cruzcampo. We inhaled salty snacks, swigged ale and chatted bike stuff with the crew and the Norwegians while the sun dipped into the Mediterranean. Even the resident cats were friendly. Life doesn't get much better.
The tall tales flowed and Stew wondered how much air he'd got. "Oh, loads!!" I told him. This photo just happens to show the mountains better, honest.
Day two and the Norwegians headed home and we headed out to the more adventurous routes that those guys had done earlier in the week. This time I jumped on the Husky 350, and instantly regretted it. It felt heavy and clunky compared to the Beta and my arms pumped within a few minutes. I wasn't having fun and considered asking to turn back for a machinery swap but didn't want to spoil the momentum, so persevered. Baz could tell we were all a bit battle weary from the previous day's exertion so spent a couple of hours in a playground area to practice hill climbs, descents and the all important body position drills. That makes it sound less fun. It was a Sunday morning, 18 degrees and we were playing on dirt bikes - still loads of fun.
With brains and muscle memory refreshed the Husky felt just as manageable as the Beta. More grunt than my WR250 but even when given the full beans, far from intimidating. Being modern dirt bikes there's traction control and a two-stage engine map switch on the bars. I gave it the full beans in both modes through a few gears along a dry river bed and was nowhere close to scared. A newbie to off-roading would be able to turn up, jump on of these and get stuck in. But for the vertically challenged or particularly nervous there are a couple of other options, including trials bikes with long range tanks and seats.
By lunchtime we were deep in my dream. River crossings, technical, rocky descents and mile after mile of unpaved roads. A strange concept to us Brits but in southern Spain every single mountain top house and crumbly finca is connected by riding nirvana. And buoyed by new-found confidence we launched ourselves at evil looking hill climbs that on day one appeared only rideable by Baz and the looniest of the Norwegians. Sure, a weekend in Wales on my WR would deliver the thrills but this was what my soul had been craving.
Now, I'm used to heading off to sunny climes for a jolly or press launch and if I stop making mistakes can load my van for weekend in the dirt, but that's not the norm for most. I had to keep in mind that without much planning all you'd need do is book half a Friday off work and head to the airport for a two full day's riding. Properly full too. I rarely knew what time it was and ended each day with nearly a full phone battery. Testament to a true escape from the real world.
Thankfully Stew is a better off-roadist than he is a travel agent. We flew out of Stansted and were booked to head back into Gatwick late on Sunday evening. Logistically interesting but it did mean we could relax and enjoy the second day without airport fear. And even a Yorkshireman would feel like they're getting their money's worth with just two days in the saddle. It's plenty, trust me. The Norwegians opted for a third day and admitted to feeling pretty broken on the last afternoon. We would be back in work on the Monday morning having had a proper break.
My aforementioned second puncture meant Baz road my Husky back to base with a flaccid rear and I got to try his fragrant and buzzing TE300 stroker. I didn't think I'd like it but was very pleasantly surprised. I see why the pros are hanging onto two-strokes for as long as they're legal. As Baz fought to keep the smouldering Bridgestone on the rim we soaked in the stunning scenery, and telepathy told me Stew was working through his diary to plan a return trip.
While the exhausts were still tinking the Norwegians had booked their 2019 trip and we juggled dates to try and do the same. Heading back is a guarantee, we just need to try and make a team event out of it and get the whole office involved. Now that's like plaiting fog so expect to see jealousy shots from me and Stew very soon on the Bike Shed social media.
But in the meantime we're working on a special deal for BSMC members, which obviously means Stew and I would need to chaperone small groups, you know, just to make sure. If you like the sound of that drop us an email.
And if you think we're twats and would rather go on your own, you can do that too. Give Kaz a shout on the links below and she'll look after you.
Since the trip Gerry bought himself an FE350 to practice on in the UK and Stew is scouring the eBay feverishly to follow suit. I'd wager that by mid Jan neither will have ridden their toys, my WR will be dusty and we'll be back in Spain for another dirty weekend.
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