After what seemed like three lifetimes worth of procrastinating I decided to shit rather than get off the pot, and bought myself an enduro bike. A fully refreshed 2017 Yamaha WR250 direct from the Yamaha Off-Road School. Sadly, as with most of my bikes the Yam has sat idle in storage awaiting a slot in my packed schedule to be enjoyed. Fellow DTRA racer, Johnny Lewis Training camp buddy and all round good bloke Rich ‘Brokeback’ Thrower (he got run over while racing and bust his spine) invited me to the Cannons Memorial Enduro Practice in Hampshire. The diary was empty for a change so it was a resounding yes please! Organiser Jeff Cannon (the day was to raise funds in memory of his dad who’d sadly suffered from Alzheimers) put my mind at ease and saw no problem with a novice wobbling around at the back.
On the day I was slightly nervous, pulling into an unfamiliar paddock filled with pro-looking enduro types with water bladder back packs on machinery covered in race scrutineers stickers. Without all my DTRA buddies I felt like the new kid at school with the wrong shoes, haircut and pencil case. Not helped by meeting Brokeback’s pro Downhill MTB gang who are usually found Red Bull Rampaging in the Moab or breaking the national speed limit off the side of Glencoe. Great! One of them was rocking a mid 90s CR250 slung in the back of an open topped Land Rover, freshly imported from New Zealand. I felt like the class geek with all my new gear and box fresh WR.
But the sign-on staff were friendly and 40 quid would see me able to ride as much as I liked for five hours, if I was fit enough. As this was a friendly practice day pulling over to catch one’s breath was perfectly acceptable. Phew! Now where’s do the veterans hang out? Speaking of veterans, there were a couple of chaps on 1989 Kawasaki KX250s which got me all hot under the collar. My first bike was an ’88, back in ’93.
My enduro experience is nill, well apart from the arm pumping, lung bleeding morning I spent following an experienced pack around the Mid-Wales forest when collecting the WR. So I asked Rich to hold my hand for the first lap. The course was spread over a few large hilly fields on a sprawling farm with technical wooded sections joining them together. Plenty of wide-open-in-third straights, berms, rutted corners and a few jumps. I rolled over the latter, I hate being airborne without wings.
Within minutes I couldn’t breathe, had arms like Popeye with a ‘roid problem and couldn’t see a thing. Holding too tight and choosing the wrong goggles didn’t help, not wanting to dump a plastic tear-off on someone’s land I opted for the squint and hope for the best option.
That seemed to work and we returned to the corral of vans for a much needed rest. I won’t lie, I was done for the day, in under 10 minutes. After a little sit-down, a stern word with myself and a goggle swap I was good to go again. Adding 10 PSI to the nearly completely flat rear tyre would help. Bike prep fail! This time I was on my own and confidence grew with every corner. The WR came alive and showed that it was way more capable than I’ll ever be. How they get so much torque out of a 249cc single is beyond me. That thing will pull my lardy arse up a steep, rooty incline with the engine barely above idle – very impressive. The pipe is stock and I’ve no intention of changing it as the intake howl is deep and addictive. Yamaha recently switched the ports around and canted the cylinder forward on it’s MX/Enduro weaponry so the ‘zorst exits from where the throttle body should be and the airbox is where a fuel tank is normally found.
One bit of muscle memory that transferred from my time at the Triumph Adventure Centre was just how much front brake can be used in soft dirt. After the third session I was two-finger squeezing the front brake lever with similar pressure to what’s needed to haul a modern road bike down from naughty speeds. The grass had given way to loose, moist mud which had A&E written all over it but the front tyre bit hard and gripped. The torquey motor hauled me out of most turns without much fuss and I rarely had to use any clutch to get the party started.
(iPhone shots of Brokeback, not Ben’s proper shots)
Now, I’m sure to experienced riders this brief overview of the WR is pathetic but I’m not completely green. It’s just that I have spent zero time on modern off-road kit and am amazed at just how capable today’s bikes are and how easy they are to ride. My youth was spent on rip-snorting two stroke ‘crossers that demanded respect and delivered trouser filling fear in return.
What turned out to be less capable was the pilot’s brain. The ‘come on now Ross, time to come indoors for your tea’ voice shrieked halfway around the course as my arms pumped and elbows dropped. I was getting very tired and didn’t want to spoil the otherwise perfect no drop scorecard so wound the wick down and headed back to the pits. But then there was a straight and a chance to smash through the box and listen to that growl once more, and a lovely wide berm to hit. Oh go on then. Brrraaappp, thud, TWANG! I didn’t have the energy to lift my left leg high enough coming out of the turn and with the throttle pinned in second my heel dug in. Now I’ve felt some pain in my time, this was up there. I nearly puked straight away and it took nearly a minute for the groaning to stop and breathing to start.
Thank something mightier than I that prior to that session I’d swapped from the slightly flexible Pod knee braces to the exoskeletal and bombproof Mobius X8 that saved my ACL, hamstring and pride at Dirtquake a few years ago. My dislocating knee joint hit the wire reinforced strap, smashed back against the hard plastic cup and popped back in. A spell on crutches and 8 weeks later and I’m nearly ready to go again, next time though I’ll be all ears to that voice.
Despite doing my fair share of overtaking and eventually going at a decent enough pace I didn’t do enough to dazzle the cameraman so there’s only one shot of me actually riding. The rest are of other more skilful riders, like Brokeback’s Red Bull mates who tore around the course as if being chased by a police helicopter.
Thanks to Jeff Cannon for arranging the day and Ben Holloway for the action shots (the rubbish ones at the top are from my fake iPhone)