Getting Started in Adventure Biking

Adventure biking – starting out is a new adventure in itself!

So, what does it take to start Adventure Biking? Let’s start by saying that what you don’t need is a huge motorbike… What you really need, first of all, is a sturdy desire to be outdoors exploring places far and wide, a desire to be away from the madding crowd and a desire to be in nature enjoying sublime views after having put some effort into getting there. And, yes, you will need a motorbike, but the good news is that there’s no need at all to rush out and buy a bike with a one litre engine bolted beneath the seat and petrol tank!

The PGO 125 TRex and Yamaha BWizz 100 on the gravel just outside Darling, Western Cape, South Africa
The PGO 125 TRex and Yamaha BWizz 100 on the gravel just outside Darling, Western Cape, South Africa

For some of us the adventure bug only bit properly after having gone through the motions of strapping on a backpack and then hopping onto the back of a 125cc PGO scooter! A two night trip out of Tableview in Cape Town was planned. Carrying all that was needed to successfully camp off the scooters for those two nights certainly made the little machines work for their living! Small wheels and very little power on a sandy track made for interesting times. None of this stand up, look up, open up stuff here! Survival was the order of the day. What an impression that little journey up the Cape West Coast to Eland’s Bay and back made on me. The motorbike adventure bug had bitten and this bug was there to stay! Had we learnt anything? You bet! Rather don’t carry a backpack on your back and get a more appropriate bike!

Parked up on the gravel near Clanwilliam, Western Cape, South Africa.
Parked up on the gravel near Clanwilliam, Western Cape, South Africa.
Almost back in Cape Town, looking at Table Mountain, Western Cape, South Africa
Almost back in Cape Town, looking at Table Mountain, Western Cape, South Africa

In the year after the first adventure biking (scooting) experience a Honda XR250 Tornado was acquired, the purpose of which was to expand the potential inherent in adventure motorcycling. This upgrade proved to be just what the doctor ordered and pretty soon work was begun on various modifications to make things more practical for the mounting of luggage. I designed and built a simple rear carrier rack out of mild steel. This rack system was designed around the size and shape of a pair of Oxford soft pannier bags which I already had and it served me well for a number of adventures. Heck, it even survived eight tumbles on one day! There was however one drawback. I still had no experience around the proper packing of a motorbike and the tall kit bag strapped onto the rear rack probably contributed to the top heavy nature of the bike and those eight falls! After this experience I opted for a fantastic soft luggage system: The Giant Loop Grand Basin. A “U” shaped bag made of tarpaulin grade material that was strapped onto the pillion seat of the bike. This system kept the centre of gravity nice and low and control of the bike was made easier. Way to go!

A bike, some kit, a strip of gravel and this view… Don’t really need anything else! Somewhere in the Western Cape, South Africa
A bike, some kit, a strip of gravel and this view… Don’t really need anything else! Somewhere in the Western Cape, South Africa

Then of course, it made sense to seek out proper training in motorbike handling and control on surfaces other than blacktop. If someone ever asks me what the best item to buy for adventure biking is, my standard and emphatic answer is: Proper training. It was with some trepidation that I packed a backpack, strapped it onto the Honda Tornado and headed off to participate in a training course delivered by Country Trax at a private game farm deep in the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. We were met by the instructor, John, and pretty soon he had us chirping away with many and varied answers to the question “what is the first thing one should check before one embarks on a motorbike ride?”

Most of us chimed in with answers along the lines of “the brakes”, “the fuel”, “the tyres.” John just stood there shaking his head. The answer? “Check you egos lads. There is simply no place for an inflated ego when you’re riding a motorbike.” And with that, we chucked our egos in a box and slammed the lid closed for the weekend. Ahh, that’s better.

The training was entirely worthwhile – new found confidence on the motorbike, knowing how to handle various road conditions and a better understanding of the workings and abilities of the bike made for much more enjoyable riding. I did a good few adventures on the Honda XR250 Tornado and in fact still have the bike in the collection – just in case a mate wants to join me on an adventure sometime. You never know.

Taking a well earned break along a Cederberg track, Western Cape, South Africa. The tall canvas kit bag was not a great idea – in terms of packing the idea is keep the weight low which aids in stability!
Taking a well earned break along a Cederberg track, Western Cape, South Africa. The tall canvas kit bag was not a great idea – in terms of packing the idea is keep the weight low which aids in stability!

A couple of years ago I added to the Man Cave and slotted a Honda CRF250L into the collection. Now, this is a wonderful machine and quite an upgrade from the Tornado. Liquid cooling and fuel injection have meant smoother cruising and slightly better fuel economy. And with the valuable lessons learnt off the Tornado this motorcycle has been kitted out accordingly and is now the bike of choice for the shorter distance adventures – up to about a week away carrying all that’s required to be self-sufficient. This little machine is easily up to the task of carrying gear that includes a two man tent, mattress, sleeping bag, stove and utensils and a small amount of spare clothing in addition to the rider and up to 10 litres of spare fuel. It’s amazing what can be stashed in the limited packing space that the Giant Loop Grand Basin provides! Adventuring light is a good thing anyway!

Take a left here to enjoy some outstanding back roads and enjoy the reward of the grand views a little further down the trail.
Great fun can be had on the Honda CRF250l’s.

So, in a nutshell: Take that step into the world of adventure motorcycling on whatever bike you can! Get away from the traffic and congested roads that have danger lurking at every turn and turn instead onto some quiet gravel to enjoy the slow pace! Also, don’t expect to cover vast distances each day, especially if you’re riding a bike that’s around 250cc in size – 300km is considered a long day! In fact once you’re touring on gravel, no matter what size bike you’re riding, slow down and enjoy the solitude!

And another thing… If it’s at all possible save up and get the training – as they say “you will halve your fear and double your skill”! Apart from the benefits of your newfound motorcycling skills and confidence, you will also become a far more attentive car driver!

Adventure riding is all about taking things slowly, stopping often, taking that photo. And a one day ride is just as much of an adventure as a week’s long sojourn in the Karoo!

Just my thoughts…

Bruce Houghting

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