Simon de Burton
Look back to the turn of the millennium and the motorcycling zeitgeist was centred around eye-wateringly fast superbikes whose leather-clad owners rode them with enough gusto to give the impression that they had got lost on the way to the race track.
Such sports bikes remain popular, but the last decade or so has seen a degree of polarisation in the motorcycle world as two particular groups of rider come to the fore: the hipster types who favour cool-looking, custom-built machines to us in urban environments, and adventure fans who prefer tall, rugged, big-engined trail bikes that combine the ability to go the distance on Tarmac roads with the off-road versatility that enables them to tackle tracks, deserts, mountain passes and river crossings.
The huge growth in this so-called “adventure sport” category is partly down to the Long Way Round and Long Way Down long-distance fundraising rides embarked upon in 2004 and 2007 respectively by BMW-mounted Ewan McGregor and his biking buddy Charley Boorman.
The trips, the books and the TV series that went with them, sent sales of BMW’s GS machines soaring into the stratosphere and coincided with the launch of the BMW Off Road Skills course in South Wales which, for the past 12 years, has been the place to go for anyone who wants to benefit from the tutorship of the brilliant, 10-time Dakar Rally competitor Simon Pavey.
But now the highly regarded BMW school has some competition in the form of the recently launched Triumph Adventure Experience, which, with what could be regarded as a certain degree of impertinence, has opened its headquarters on an industrial estate in Ystradgynlais within 200 yards of BMW’s and is using land at the same,4,000-acre Walter’s Arena site nearby – a playground for off-road motorcycling that was previously Europe’s largest open-cast coal pit.
Overseen by another remarkably talented off-road rider (and multiple Dakar Rally competitor) called Nick Plumb, the Triumph Adventure Experience is a decidedly slick affair, which offers a wide range of one- and two-day courses for everyone from first-time off-road riders to those who already have considerable experience but want to learn some truly advanced techniques.
I went along for a pre-launch taster day, which involved getting to ride not only on varied terrain, but also on two very different types of motorcycle: Triumph’s big-selling Tiger 800 XC and 1200 XC adventure bikes and a version of the 900cc Bonneville Scrambler model that had been lightly reworked using off-the-shelf accessories to make it more suitable for serious off-roading.
We started the day by riding the Tiger 800s around some of the small, meandering roads that skirt the Walter’s Arena site and offer some of the most breathtaking rural views in the area. For £599, the TAE offers two days of such riding as part of its challenging Gravel Tours course, which combines the experience of travelling on some superbly scenic roads with instruction on how to deal with the many different types of surface they typically feature.
But we soon left any sort of road behind and took the bikes onto the huge off-road site, which combines everything from novice areas where beginners can get the feel of dirt riding for the first time, to some terrifyingly long and steep hill climbs that required serious nerve (and greater ability than I possess) to successfully conquer.
In between, there are myriad tracks, water crossings, rutted paths and woodland trails to test a rider’s mettle – and plenty of confidence-inspiring encouragement from Plumb and his team of highly experienced instructors, most of whom have decades of off-roading experience under their belts and a range of skills that enable them to take the highly capable – but often dauntingly large – Triumph Tigers across terrain that seems apparently impassable.
After a hearty (and very welcome) lunch, we were given a taste of one of the other courses on offer, the Bonneville experience day – a £299 package that comprises an 80/20 per cent mix of off-road and on-road riding aboard some superb customised Bonnevilles.
Difficult to beat for sheer amusement, it involved hooning around on these surprisingly agile machines as instructors encouraged us to slide them, skid them and jump them in order to learn just what they (and we) were capable of.
All in all, it was a splendid day of raucous motorcycling fun. While the Triumph Adventure Experience probably has its work cut out to compete with the loyal following enjoyed by the neighbouring BMW school, it certainly offers a wider range of courses and deserves to attract not only Triumph fans, but anyone who wants to learn to ride off road and discover just how good the marque’s new generation of adventure sports machines has become.
For a full list of courses prices and dates, visit triumphmotorcycles.co.uk/adventure-experience or contact Nick Plumb and his team on firstname.lastname@example.org