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"Fast Bikes", April 1, 2013





We can’t help the weather. We also can’t help magazine deadlines, but we endeavour to bring you epic and informative tests. Sometimes, just sometimes (usually once a year) the UK shuts down and testing becomes an impossible task. Thankfully, there’s off-road.

Our addiction to motorcycles and fast bikes is unhealthy, so regardless of weather, the gasoline needs burning and the O2 needs to big up the bang. Perhaps the most apt feature for our ‘winter skills’ segment is this puppy – enduro. Beaky and I trekked up to Wales to the home of the Mick Extance school during the height of the season’s snow, with no chance of postponement.

Luckily, we made it there. Set in the beautiful mountains in the mid-Wales village of Llangynog, Mick’s school utilises Kawasaki KLX450s (and 250s) and caters for every level of rider – even Charlie!

Rather than aimlessly hacking around the Welsh mountains left to our own devices, the day was run in a normal school format. That means a full-English breakfast at the New Inn (a lovely local pub with some very welcoming staff) and tuition on-the-fly from Mick himself, which was a good thing as both of us were mud-rusty.

After some basic body positioning techniques, a nearby flat field provided the perfect base for the next subject on the curriculum – rear wheel steering and getting loose on the bike. Casually riding round in circles burying the wheels in several feet of snow is enough to put a smile on anyone with a beating heart. This time also reminded us of just how physical off-road riding is – if you don’t suffer from arm-pump while enduro riding, there’s something medically wrong with you. Or maybe you’ve had the carpal tunnel op...

Anyone who says off-road does nothing for bike skills is talking absolute horse shit. Off-roading teaches fundamental bike control, allowing the bike to move around without shutting off, clenching up, or just shitting yourself – this all benefits riding on the Tarmac as you near the limits. Casey Stoner, among others, has infinite talent but it’s no coincidence that riders like him can do the things they do after spending their infant years on the dirt. The lessons learnt are even more valuable in the winter, when searching for grip is a delicate task and where braking demands precision and mental application.

Back in Wales, Beaky is spending more time chewing snow than riding. It’s a relaxed day with nothing meticulously drilled into you, other than years of experience dripped into us via friendly advice.

After Mick was confident enough we could ride his bikes, we started the day proper. What should have been a stress-free 20-minute ride up the mountain on firetracks turned into a two-hour marathon, dodging snow-covered ruts and tricky icy sections. After picking the KLX up for the 73rd time, the electric start proved to be a welcome ally.

As we reached the summit, the views were stunning. Mick reminded us that you need enduro bikes to allow access to witness such scenery. But what goes up, must come down, and it was soon time to tackle the more technical elements, dissecting passages through tree lines and hopping fallen timber. Both of us are far from naturally talented with knobblies. You just need a good attitude and a little drive to tackle the obstacles, but there’s a real sense of achievement on completion. The hardest part of the day was attempting the half-mile stretch of Tarmac back to base after a day in the saddle.

Like the rest of the winter skills activities we’ve covered, there doesn’t have to be massive financial commitments or initial outlay. New bikes are ridiculously overpriced (some Japanese stuff is over £6,000), but you’ll get a decent hack for around the sub-£1,000 mark, and you won’t need to chuck new tyres for every outing. A tank of fuel for under a tenner will last all day, too. While your beloved is parked in the garage for winter, you could do a lot worse than buying a short-term companion that tolerates all-season frills. Not only is it a massive blast, but you end up learning a thing or two along the way.

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