At home with the Argylls
The Duke of Argyll has a 50,000 acre estate on Loch Fyne with a fairy tale castle at its heart in Inveraray. This is the location of the two-year old company MotoScotland whose owner, Clive Rumbold, persuaded the Duke that an off-road motorbike training company would be an asset to the area.
And so it has proved. Jobs have been created locally and the local hotel has benefitted from extra visitors. Meanwhile, the estate’s timber extraction activities are untroubled by the occasional presence of a small group of off road riders.
The lighter bike
The attraction for me was the combination of skills training and trail riding. I need the skills training because although I have served an off-road apprenticeship in Yorkshire where the trails can be testing, I have never been shown how to do some of the most basic things.
But also, MotoScotland runs a fleet of AJPs, and as I have mentioned before, I am shorter and lighter than the average trail rider. This was my chance to try out the PR3 Ultrapassar which weighs around 100 kilos, a saving of about 30 kilos on my Honda CRF 250L.
AJP is a Portuguese company specialising in trials bikes originally but now targeting the trail/enduro bike market
Skills I didn’t know I needed
On the first day, there were five of us. Everyone was an experienced road biker (except me) who had come to learn some off-road skills to enhance their road riding.
This practice is quite common, with pros such as Guy Martin and John McGuiness spending a good deal of time on off-road bikes.
We spent the morning practising slow speed riding in tighter and tighter circles. You have to control the speed at walking pace, look over your shoulder at where you want the turn to go and lean the bike in and your body out. It works but needs practice.
Then we practised locking up the rear brake followed by locking up the front brake. This was harder because you needed to adopt the unnatural practice of braking while on steady throttle.
My first attempt ended in a serious wallow and an inelegant ‘off’. But that’s the point of training – getting better at things you find hard. And the point of body armour – not hurting when hitting things that are hard!
Ragging around the estate!
On day 2, just Pete from Northern Ireland and I were booked in for the trail riding. Clive led us deep into the estate, following a narrow road up the glen where we practised ‘acrobatics’ on the pegs, lifting alternate legs and finally both hands off the bars while in the standing position. This is to ram home the message that looking forward, not down, is the only way to maintain balance. We did some more slow-speed and braking practice in a disused quarry and then headed onto the trails.
Many of the estate tracks are hard-packed gravel which is fun for faster riding.
Later in the day we went on more natural trails which are far more technically challenging and require total focus and concentration.
We finished by deliberately stalling on a steep hillside and learning how to manoeuvre the bike into the downward-facing position.
I found the PR3 to be a robust little bike which was happy to clatter over rocks and pull through mud and gravel without a problem. It was manoeuvrable and confidence-enhancing. The downside was that it was not as comfortable as my CRF at higher speeds on the road sections. I strongly suspect that a lighter bike might be the way forward for me but I must resist the temptation to have more than one bike in the garage. Or not…