With so many scramblers on the road, from shed-built customs shod with TKC80s and early-eighties R80 Dakar reps to Triumph and Ducati's modern classic scramblers with long travel suspension and zig-zag fork gators, it's pretty clear that we all want to be Steve McQueen. But although most owners use those knobblies to hop-up the kerb in the urban jungle many of these machines are no less well-equipped than dirt-bikes were in the late 60s, so we thought it only right and proper to take our desert-sleds, trackers, scramblers and mock Dakar racers into the woods to play in the mud, gravel and shallow streams.
Bike Shed's members ride all sorts of machines that have a dirtbike silhouette, so we gathered a motley crew of riders at all levels of experience, from expert to some to none, and took to the trails near Dorking in Surrey, guided by the team from Off The Keb, who usually teach riders proper off-road skills on purpose-built enduro bikes. After a cross-city ride from the Shed we arrived at Box Hill for some very quick and basic instructions, mostly focussed on standing on the legs and leaving the front brake well alone, we headed into the trees.
Spilt into three groups, based on bikes and experience, we set out at a decent pace, negotiating all sorts of surfaces from sand and gravel to ruts to soft wet mud, and more than a few riders were surprised how well they and their bikes coped with moving about on the loose surfaces. The one surface that caused a few butt-clenching moments were big flints than pinged-off to the sides when the front wheel hit them.
Even with no off-road riding experience, negotiating London's rutted and pot-holed roads with badly build speed-humps, and the need to dodge swerving taxis and bicycles is pretty good practice for the Surrey trails, and after an hour or so most riders were pretty confident. We surprised the instructors with our pace, arriving over an hour early to our pre-set first break spot in the day.
I was riding my modern Triumph 900 street scrambler, which is a heavy lump with pretty modest suspension travel, but with the bars rotated forward two inches to help me get my weight and knees over my footrests it was actually well-balanced, and the torque meant I could ride most of the trails in second gear, using engine breaking on alarmingly slippery downhills and with plenty of grunt to get me out of some deep waterlogged gullies after I got to the bottom. It wasn't a WR250 but I was smiling from ear to ear.
All in all we had a superb day out, with everyone finishing the day at a beautiful country pub for light beers and big food, but the key takeaway of the day was just how much fun you can have on bikes that some hardened off-road riders might consider to be poseurs machines with no real purpose other than looking the part.
We knew the Sunday Scramble wouldn't be our last mini-adventure off the main road, and this event is now a staple at the Bike Shed with many local routes and variations on offer, even ending up inspiring a big camping trip to Wales, which is taking place in a couple of weeks.