Picture the scene. You strongly suspect that you’d enjoy off-road riding. The only problem is that you’ve never done it before, and buying a suitable bike and all the kit is a really expensive way to then find out you don’t like it after all. No problem, what you need is someone who will give you a damn’ good go at it and supply all the kit from boots to helmet plus a bike and a suitable venue.
Like the KTM Motocross Experience. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to go down this muddy/gravelly/sandy road you’ve got a better than even chance of ending up on a KTM anyway.
Now let’s get something out of the way right now. As you’re reading this you’re probably already a motorcyclist. That’s cool. But you’ve probably also got friends who aren’t. That’s OK too – we don’t judge. The great thing is that this experience will take anyone who can ride a pushbike. There is absolutely no road or public space element to the course, so you don’t even need a driving licence.
The KTM Motocross Experience (that’s going to get really tedious if I have to type it a lot) is a mobile setup, and as a result there are venues all over the country. Almost certainly one within a sensible distance from you, in fact.
I went to Golding Barn, which is near Shoreham in Sussex, but there are also sessions at Pond Lane, near Winchester in Hampshire, Fatcat Moto Parc near Doncaster in Yorkshire and Hobs Hole, near Walsall in the West Midlands. All the venues are slightly different in terms of the surface and indeed the overall layout, so bear in mind that if I mention specifics about the venue I’m referring to Golding Barn.
You may have done regular trackdays in the past. This is…different. For a start, it all kicks off at a far more civilised hour, with nothing really happening until about 0930 when you get your kit issued and the briefing starts. The team looking after you are (usually) Barry and his son Ryan plus one or two additional locals. Ryan will give you the right sized kit just by looking at you, as well as offering polite and respectful suggestions. Only one part of that is true – he will take the mickey and make sarcastic comments but in a friendly way. Barry is the archetypical Brummie – he’s not exactly rude, but he doesn’t mince his words either. He’s funny, immensely approachable and former Motocross GP rider. Both of them are more than capable of riding rings around pretty much anyone this side of a current national championship contender, so I guess they can get away with the occasional wisecrack.
The next difference is the instruction and progression. It doesn’t matter if you’re Stéphan Peterhansel (six times Paris-Dakar bike winner) or if your bike experience is limited to pointing and grinning when one goes past, you’re going to start off on the rookie track. In our case that was a rectangle with rounded off corners, and the object is to get vaguely used to sitting in what your road-rider brain tells you is the wrong place, keeping the balls of your feet on the pegs and sticking your leg out when you turn. After a session doing that it changes slightly and you now have a tighter corner taking you into a right/left/right chicane to give you a chance to turn both ways as well as making things a little more challenging. It’s easy enough but it’s a useful exercise.
All the while, of course, Barry is encouraging, cajoling and occasionally simply berating, all with a grin. But the message gets through. People learn, even those of us who have ridden quite a lot.
Then it’s on to the big track. Which is quite daunting to be honest. The first session you follow Ryan or Barry to see where you should be and where the track goes. They point out bits you probably want to avoid (like big holes) and occasionally show you the right line round a corner when it’s far from obvious. It’s not a particularly big track, but there’s plenty to learn. As far as I remember, you come out of the pit area straight into a left hander which goes uphill for a bit before a sharper left hander that leaves you coming back down the hill and trying not to build up too much speed before a right hander I always found difficult that goes back up the hill for a good blast before a left that heads briefly back downhill and then goes right with some pretty large holes to avoid. Then there’s a reasonably long straight with a couple of jumps before another left that takes you back on yourself on a proper flat straight. Then it’s a right hander that goes on forever and is incredibly sandy and loose, another short straight with a jump on it, a funny left that goes into a dip then a straight with a proper big jump that leads to the little kink around the pit are and back for another go.
Now when I signed up for this I knew that I didn’t have much off-road experience, But I’ve done a couple of courses, and was sure that it would be fresh. The night before I looked up the reports I’d done on the other courses. Gulp. 11 years ago, and never even looked at a ‘crosser since. A couple of the guys I was there with are massively experienced off roaders, but that was balanced by a couple of guys in our group who had, literally, never ridden a motorbike before. The strange thing is that other than one specific time where Ryan rode up alongside me and yelled at me to sit further forward I don’t remember any actual instruction. And yet it was happening, because I got better at it quite quickly. And so did the chaps who had never ridden before – in fact by lunchtime you would never have been able to guess how little experience they had.
After lunch we discovered that the track was actually quite a lot bigger than we thought, as we were now allowed to play on all of it. Honestly I can’t tell you what it does, except for the fact that there was a berm (a banked corner) and a hugely intimidating downhill that led into a left/right which were actually able to be taken much faster than I expected and led back onto the part of the track we’d used before. Oh, and another couple of jumps.
Apparently Bradley Smith (KTM MotoGP rider) regularly does this. He reckons that a motorcross bike moves around at 20mph like a MotoGP bike does at 200mph, and it’s great for just getting used to the sensation. I’m not arguing about that, I know that I’ve always been, if not happy at least not panic-stricken when the back of my road bike moves around, especially on the track. But what isn’t obvious until you do it is just how much more confident – and competent – you become after just a few hours riding on loose surfaces. It’s like the way that all year round riders are generally more likely to cope with dodgy road surfaces than the dry summer weekend riders. Only magnified several-fold.
Let’s go back to the course, though. By lunchtime pretty much everyone was getting airborne over at least the last big jump and sliding around a couple of the more committed corners. Everyone, without exception, was clearly having a blast. Apart from a couple of wobbles, nobody had fallen off.
After lunch, after the guided lap to see where the new layout goes, it was more of the same. The bigger track was more intimidating, there was more to learn and there were more opportunities to get it wrong. And people did – in our group there were two offs in the last session, but the beauty of Motocross at this level is that you’re unlikely to be going fast enough to do yourself a serious mischief and nobody else is likely to be going so fast or riding so close that they can’t avoid you. And motocross offs are generally pretty funny to see. Especially if the victim is wearing a GoPro…
Before I finish, one thing to know about Golding Barn at least. Facilities are…limited. There is, however, a small industrial estate which you pass through to get to the track, and there are two excellent cafes there. The track itself is limited to a toilet and some drinking water. The two are not, you’ll be happy to hear, connected.
So. Conclusions. A day with the KTM Motocross Experience costs £199. That’s including absolutely everything, and it is astonishingly good value for money. The instruction is top notch, the bikes are virtually new and beautifully presented, the venue was brilliant and the day was about as good as it could possibly be. I’d recommend it, absolutely and without reservation. Just be warned that you will probably find you want to do it again… and then go and buy a crosser and all the kit…
You can book your session at https://ktmmxexperience.co.uk. As Arnie would say (he’s Austrian like KTM so it’s a legitimate reference)…”Do it now!”