Ollys Exmouth novice ride - King prawn pasanda
Post Christmas blues always get me down, I've opened all my pressies, attached various farkles to the bike, failed in an attempt to add another bike to the 'stable' and it has not stopped raining for a month! Still plus points are, Saturday's forecast is not biblical, snowdrops are appearing and other spring plants are beginning to poke their heads above the parapet. After a couple of weeks of work and watching Somerset sink gracefully below the waves of climate change, Olly has organised a 'novice' run from Exmouth to Sidmouth. I fancied a gentle 'loosener' for the new year, and signed up on the basis of if there is a glut of novices I'd happily drop out and have a bimble on my own. Come Saturday, 1st Feb, it seemed that newbies were in a minority so I donned my thermals and set off for Exmouth. A short but cold M5 run saw me supping a cappuccino in the Tesco's fuel station before anyone else had arrived. Nick, Olly soon joined me in the late winter sunshine, followed by Dan and Leo. Having ridden with the TRF for 5 years now, this was the first time that I've encountered a couple of 'youngsters'. Today for me was one of those watershed moments when you realise that there is still hope that the next generation will follow on to uphold the right to ride unmetalled lanes of England and Wales.
Being of a certain age, probably slap bang in the middle of the TRF age range of late 40's and being a keen 'historian' of trail riding in the UK. Reading many back issues of Trail Bike Magazine and 'Trail' I realise how influential the TRF has been in keeping legal rights of way open. Something taken for granted, but if had gone the way of land owners and/or militant ramblers would have been taken away from us many years ago. We owe a big debt to our forebears, lest we forget, and it is the next generation such as Leo and Dan that will carry the fight on, and it is important not to forget that it is a fight, because, without a proactive influence, small minded people will take our rights away without a second thought. So , seven intrepid trail bikers congregated in Exmouth, Olly leading of a WR250 Yam, Nick on his Beta 200, Bouncing Bob on the venerable TTR250, Me on the Serow, the DR's clutch cable snapping upon getting it out of the garage this morning - better, then than in a lane in the middle of nowhere I guess; Dan on his big ol' WR450, Leo on his DR350, clutch cable in good order, Greg on a lovely new CRF250L, the only really genuine newbie of the group (Leo having ridden from the age of 3 and an experienced 'dune rider' when living in Aussie - dead useful in Devon obviously). Jane turned up in her Ford Focus, but it was deemed ineligible for a day in the East Devon lanes, her CRF230 being reluctant to start this morning. Now Greg slightly concerned me as he recounted that he'd fallen off 4 times in his previous ride, this was far too accurate a recounting of the previous ride, which to me suggested he was already counting 'badgers' in his mind! Still the fact is that if you don't ride and fall off a bit, you don't learn, and riding in the most snotty'ist conditions winter can throw at you is the steepest learning curve you can achieve, and having moved down from Oxford, robbed of its lanes (RuPPs, like Somerset) under the NERC act was diving in at the deep end. Still with Olly offering a 'rut free' ish ride then everyone was accommodated for. It certainly made me feel a bit crappy about dragging Jim, a rank newbie, around random lanes in the summer based on my complete ignorance of Devon lanes in a devil may care attitude! Still falling off can only lead to improvements in my manual!
So there we were the 'magnificent 7' with several with less hair than Yul Bryner! I reckoned pretty much 3 generations and 50 years spanning the group, how fantastic is that? Being short of reading material in the last month or so, I've been trawling old TBMs, you know the ones - when it used to be about trail bikes not inane reports of the latest enduro events... Anyway there are letters provided there about the pros and cons of the TRF, it being a 1997 version, about the time when Leo and my DR's were the dogs bollocks of trial bikes. One letter stated that the TRF was cliquey and insular the other much more positive regarding the TRF being an inclusive friendly, open supporter of anyone with the same interest of riding legal lanes anywhere in the UK. Well that was pre-NERC when there were many more lanes available than there is now. But that TBM issue hit the nail on the head - what is the TRF about - a bunch of pipe smoking, bearded, Belstaff attired in-crowd or a friendly inclusive bunch of bike mad, lane lovin' people hell bent on keeping legal and established rights of way open to vehicles (All vehicles I might add) for our children and children's children. And do you know both are right to a degree, there is nothing wrong with tradition and there is nothing wrong with enforcing a legal right. My personal experience however, is that the TRF is no different to any other interest based group - it is driven by people with a common purpose and passion for a common theme, in this case those who live for motorbikes and the countryside. Our problem is that we are tarred with a brush that is (a) bikers are scary violent people - dating back to the Wild Bunch, mods vs rockers era I guess and (B) we ride noisy bikes too fast. The reality is far from that. We ride road legal bikes in legal lanes that happen not to have tarmac on them. It is a love of bikes that brings people together whether you are 67 or 17, and that is the beauty of the thing. The thing about bikers is that you've made a positive choice to take a mode of transport that has a well known higher risk than say driving a car. You can only measure the value of life by the potential cost to be paid by losing it........Ergo we are risk taking loonies hell bent on destruction, or seek a modicum of escapism as in an increasingly regulated world - you pays yer money and you take yer choice.......There are many ways of expressing the thrill of riding a bike, but only those that do it, understand it, and today those 7 riders all shared that credo irrespective of age.
So with a winter's sun at roughly 30 degrees above the horizon on our backs to headed off, on a gentle bimble across a few of the best lanes east Devon can offer. Olly being an exemplary leader stopped early in the ride to explain that a couple of stream crossings at Lympstone could easily catch you out owing to the algae lurking ion the stones in the bed of the stream. I could have noted that the excessive growth of diatoms/algae was a result of the input of phosphorus used as fertiliser on adjacent agricultural land, but I didn't. The good news was that having had Olly, worrying me sh!tless about our impending doom, we all escaped unscathed. The good news regarding the horrendous rainfall we have suffered since Christmas is that the amount of mud in the lanes is minimal - it's all been washed into the road at the bottom of the lane! Today, more than any other, there was more likelihood of falling off on the mud covered tarmac than in the lanes, unless you decide to randomly change ruts that is!
We rode up and back a hard bottomed farm track at Post lake Farm and kept on track towards Newton Poppleford. We avoided snotty lanes heavily rutted, which was an interesting issue for me as having cut my trail riding teeth in the south east of England, ruts are one of the few things that don't scare me, slippery fords and greasy bare rocky climbs they're a different matter! I rode ahead at Goosemoor to catch the unwary in the diatom infested ford but other than Leo have a bit of a knee trembler, everyone remained upright... bum! From there we looped around a classic Devon village of Colaton Rayleigh -famous for - er Walter Raleigh - the clue is in the name duh!! Nothing mentally challenging just rocky bottomed lanes with a few water filled depressions and a surface layer of mud.
Learning my green laning skill is the clay-dominated south est, muddy rutted lanes are the norm, so that is what I 'grew up' with, you select a rut, you live with it until the end of the lane or somewhere you get an option to change, in the summer you choose the narrow 'diff scrape' in the middle or have your eyes ripped out by brambles. In the winter, you choose left or right based on either (a) local knowledge or (b) pot luck, but your eyes should be in their sockets still at the end, whether you've drowned your bike in a flooded rut is the 'pot luck' bit. Leo and Greg unfortunately were still in the mode of thinking you have a choice, no, you don't is the simple answer unless you have way more skill than the average rider. We made good progress along hard bottomed lanes across the swollen river Otter and on towards Northmostown. We stopped at 'Bulldozer lane' (192-126) to those in the know. The more adventurous of us rode up and back whilst those keen on self-preservation had a pee and a choccie biscuit. It is a classic Devon lane, mud, ruts, rocks and roots. It was the roots that did for Nick, albeit there were cunningly disguised with mud at the time, but we rode up and met Bob on the way bask, who had already been studying the tree genus associated with the root structure at a close up scale he said he'd ride back via the road, but actually rode back down the lane and eventually Olly went looking for Bob up the road, following Bob's tyre tracks (but not the ones that went up the hedge) back down the lane and we were all back together. I was happy to have rode up and back without binning the Serow given the mud filling the tread and the front end feeling somewhat vague. We then rode up over Muttermoor, to the top of Bulverton Hill where Greg learnt a painful lesson learnt by all of us short arses - stop where tiny legs will reach the ground, otherwise gravity and 150 Kg of bike will defeat you! We caught up with Dan who found a big claggy hole to immerse the mighty WR450 whilst merrily roosting anyone within 50 metres of his back tyre before eventually extricating himself.
Now I'm very much a Devon newbie really, more interested in riding new lanes than riding ones I've ridden before, but I know the lane past the bottom of the golf course was rutted, so dropped in behind Greg, wishing I had a camera on my helmet! Bastard eh! Well the inevitable happened and Greg had that indecisive moment in the rut and baled. Reading and listening to those in the know - there is only one way, one rut, live with it look ahead and ride it. Nuff said. Anyway, Bob, the handy man's handyman, spanners at the ready we slackened off the Acerbis guard, throttle and brake and re-aligned them before proceeding.
We rode into Sidmouth, seven hairy bikers on mud splattered steeds, frightening the locals into such a lather they gave away their rights of way at the mini roundabouts to let us through - one of the few advantages of non open face helmets, even pensioners are intimidating! We refuelled the 95 Octane hungry steeds and purchased choccie bars to refuel our emaciated bellies whilst recounting tales of past heroics and in the case of Dan, terrible mis treatment by those in charge of public safety (the Police to you and me!) regarding their assumption that any one less than the age of 30 on a motorbike is a member of Al Qaeda! What has this country become? Suitably fortified and having chatted about the pros and cons of a WR450 vs a Beta All 200 we proceeded. And that is the thing isn't it; age, race, religion, social standing, absolutely irrelevant, it's about a shared passion, bikes, my bike and your bike, where we ride and our shared experiences, that for me is what made today a special day. Sidmouth ford was closed owing the impending end of the world/storm surge, polar vortex, what ever. It looked fine, but there was a massive gate closed the other side for public safety so we rode along the front, catching a glimpse of the angry sea, seeking to engulf the blue rinsed of Sidmouth and up and around a loop of lanes around Otterton.
We said goodbye to Greg and his XR250L, slightly battered, but I hope unbowed and moved onto that little sting in the tale, the spice in my King Prawn Pasanda at the Eastern Eye in Cully - (highly recommended ). The lanes became a bit more technical starting with 192-168 to those with a Devon TRF map overlay. Starting with a rutted lane along the side of fields which was very reminiscent of 'home' where I took the opportunity to gently 'lie down' waiting for Bob, comtemplating life under a metallic grey winter's sky, reflecting that the lane reminded me of one I used to ride (and fall over on as well) at Popes Wood near Chieveley. However, this lane has a very 'spicy' kick to it, leading to a severe drop into a stream. The rut out into the stream being several feet deep now an impassable we were therefore riding down rather than up - local knowledge being a useful thing! The rut is now way beyond riding so you have to skirt it to the side whilst avoiding falling into an abyss, then drop into the stream down a vertical bank. Being the second to last of 6 everyone else had traversed it like Dougie Lampkin, leaving Leo who was quite circumspect walking the DR down the bank. I unwound the Serow's right hand mirror and decided it was important to keep the middle age contingent's end up rode down the 'vertical' drop off, gaining some respect for the size of my 'cojones' from Dan! Little did he know I shat myself! I videoed everyone enjoying the stream ride up and out into the next lane - what is it about water and green lanes - amniotic fluid in the womb? I dunno, but trail riders and water are like cookies and cream, inseparable!
We cruised down into Ladram bay, part of a labyrinth of lanes dyed deep red by the Devonian clay, and leading to a delightful bay, with small stacks being battered by yet another perfect storm of high tides, a depression in the Atlantic and strong winds. Now we were definitely straying in to the advanced intermediate range of lanes with the departure of Greg as even some one as naive as me knows that there is a bit of a technical climb passed a series of steps in the lane on the way out of the bay, but being mounted on the Serow 'born to climb' I was pretty confident of clearing it, albeit in a leg thrashing sort of way and indeed I managed it, but hesitated to wait for Bob and glimpsed him my mirror diving into the hedgerow on some futile mission to grab a lesser spotted frilled weasel.... Anyway I wandered back to find him pinned under the TTR250, the frilled weasel, having departed some time ago, still next time....... we uprighted the bike and were left with a couple of options, ride it up starting from an already greasy slope with little traction or push it up under its own power, aided by the steps in front of us, given the steps were lacking the usual Stannah assistance Bob's used to, we heaved the bike half way up, wheezing and panting before the cavalry arrived in the form of Olly, Dan and Leo, strapping young blokes have their use - no not you Olly... The bike was launched up the slope and we were on our way.
Re-crossing the Otter into East Budleigh we entered another lovely network of lanes before finally crossing the sandy/heath of East Budleigh Common, again, reminding me of the lanes around the Devil's Punchbowl in Surrey, before calling it a day. So yet again, Devon lanes deliver, the weather was kind, at least to the M5 where I was drenched riding one junction up to Cully.... So thanks Olly for a fantastic day, thanks Dan and Leo for making me think there is a future for trail riding out there, and to Bob for giving me the inspiration to hope that I may too, be riding and falling off my trail bike in 15 or so year's time. Sean.