A British Off-Road Adventure - Overlander Trail Tours - Dirt Rider Magazine

I just got back from England where I had the opportunity to take part in the most amazing off road motorcycle ride of my life. I am a pretty decent rider and have over thirty years off road experience, including motocross and hare scrambles. Although no longer competing, I imagined that I was ready for anything. Little did I know that I was in for a rude awakening and a big bite of humble pie.It all started when I visited my brother David in England and he hooked me up with Boyd who has an off road motorcycle tour company called Overlander Trail Tours (OTT). Boyd would supply me with a dual-sport two-fifty Yamaha and riding gear. I only had to bring my California motorcycle driver's license and a helmet.The word dual-sport spells doom in my vocabulary. Dual-sport bikes are not designed for serious trail riding. I imagined that the ride would be a sedate excursion through the British countryside on a WR-250R, a hefty, under powered, road legal Yamaha with less than adequate suspension and ground clearance.We were slated to meet at Boyd's house at eight-thirty a.m. which meant an early start for the two hour drive with my brother's friend, Andrew, with his Yamaha 450 in the back. He explained that we would be riding green lanes in the Peak District. Although green lanes were mainly used by hikers, many are legal for off road bikes. "Don't let the name fool you, he warned. Not all green lanes are the innocuous tidy little trails that you might expect".When we arrived at Bridge House Farm there was a motor home in Boyd's driveway and I was introduced to George, who was unloading his Honda CRF-250X. My ride, it turned out, was a Yamaha WR-250F, an enduro bike with a license plate, but no blinkers, mirrors or other street legal paraphernalia. It was far superior to the dual-sport model that I had originally envisioned. Boyd's stead was a six speed KTM 450EXC. Things were looking up. Boyd said that he let the other riders determine the pace and the severity of the ride. I was beginning to realize that this excursion would surpass all expectations.The Peak District is breathtaking. Vast reaches of wild scrub land are interwoven with cultivated fields and pastures bordered by rock walls and shrubs. The peaks, a series of craggy ridges, are surrounded by green valleys laced with trails meandering up and down the undulating topography. The weather that morning devolved into intermittent showers. Bright sun baked cumulous clouds swirled high above a menacing veil of underlying grey, which was beginning to blot out the last patches of blue sky.

At about 9:30 a.m. we quietly stormed out of Boyd's driveway and followed him a short distance down a winding road through the deserted landscape until he slowed down and opened a gate that led into a dirt tract. At first the trail was moderately easy, although muddy and slick in places because it had started to rain. As we continued along, the boulders started getting bigger and more intimidating until there was no path between the huge obstacles and we had to commit to going over them. I put my bike in a low gear and literally smashed through the rugged terrain, relying on my bike's skid plate to protect the engine and chassis.This was a new and challenging experience on the unfamiliar bike. I tried to pick the best line and keep up my momentum. Suddenly my front wheel ricocheted off a rock and my steed turned down a steep rocky goat path. I was just along for the ride struggling to regain control. By the time I got the bike slowed down the others had disappeared. I got off and manhandled it back up through the rocks. The electric start was a godsend and when I almost reached the top Boyd showed up. When I finally got myself sorted out, he accompanied me back to where the others were waiting.As the ride progressed I gained confidence in the Yamaha and really enjoyed the bike's light and nimble handling. Our itinerary took us through a quarry with muddy hill climbs and trails meandering through the trees. Before leaving the quarry I accelerated up the ramp of a sharp jump face and soared into the air, landing in a huge puddle. Not the coolest of moves, but fun.We gassed up and stopped at a pub in Hope for lunch. After breaking for sandwiches we motored off once again. Boyd led us down a muddy single track through some trees and across a stream. Before crossing the stream I was warned to stay to the left, but there were some overhanging branches obstructing that route. As I paused before the stream I was in the middle rut following Andrew. As I emerged I was still in the wrong rut. The others rode the rut on the left up the bank onto the main trail. The rut that Andrew and I were following led to a six foot overhanging rock wall before intersecting the trail.As I got off my bike and struggled to get it out of the rut, Andrew continued up the groove and launched his WR 450F onto the overhanging rock and jumped off near the top when his bike started loosing momentum. The crew dragged it up the rest of the way. Down below where I was marooned, the narrow rut swallowed the wheels of my motorcycle. When I attempted to pull the front wheel free, the back wheel got caught diagonally sideways in the rut and vice versa when I tried to pull the back wheel free. Finally Boyd walked down and helped me get my bike out and back onto the trail.

After a short excursion along the asphalt, we stopped in front of one of the many gates which Boyd opened for us that day. We rode along a trail through a farmer's field. Then we passed a warning that read; This Trail is Not Appropriate for Vehicles. The trail quickly turned into a steep minefield of rocks and boulders. As the ride progressed, we passed a few more warnings posted beside the trail. Each time I felt a tinge of apprehension. When I asked Boyd about the signs, he said that we were traversing extreme terrain. He had been informed that I was an experienced rider and had bypassed the more moderate trails. (Who ever told him that I was quote, unquote, experienced? My brother! Darn!)That afternoon the trail descended into a marsh and deteriorated altogether. There were several different ruts to choose from. I attempted to pick a line between the ruts, but the lack of traction caused my wheels to slide back in. The strategy seemed to be pick one rut and run with it. As usual I picked the wrong rut. If I had looked at it more closely before getting in I would have realized that it veered towards a barbed wire fence.When it comes to ruts; once I make a decision, I stick to my decision. So eventually I snagged my handlebars on the barbed wire causing the bike to fall over and stall. I dismounted and pulled my glove out from the barbs, but the bike was resting with all its weight against the now taut strands. It was physically impossible to get the bike free. Again I was rescued by Boyd who had turned around to come to my aid. Together we hoisted the bike into the good rut and with splayed legs acting as outriggers I rode the bike along the rut until it ended. So much for showing off my superior bike handling skills to my British hosts...By mid-afternoon the weather had cleared. There were deep puddles everywhere. I took great pleasure in splashing through them as fast as possible, getting totally drenched. At one point in this madness, I watched as George went for a trip over the handlebars when his front tire hit a vertical slab hidden in the water. Later George blasted by drenching me again. The water was dripping off my face under my helmet but it couldn't hide my huge ear to ear grin. I was stoked. It was brilliant as the British say.When we finally arrived at Boyd's house we were all knackered (British slang for exhausted). Although I wasn't able to arrange to have tea with the Queen (in truth not on my itinerary), my trip to England was awesome. I hope that someday I will return and hopefully better my reputation as "an experienced rider". There are some who say, "Big bite of humble pie… No way! Those guys had the hometown advantage", but everyone knows that an experienced rider does not gain that reputation by riding the same trails every weekend.