I pride myself in being good at physical activities. Gym, kickboxing, assault courses, smashing cars around a circuit (and generally smashing cars up) - completed it, mate. So when Honda invited me and CT’s resident YouTube mechanic Gareth to the Dave Thorpe Enduro Day in the heart of Exmoor National Park, Somerset, I looked forward to getting to grips with another discipline I was sure to dominate quickly. That was mistake number one.
As Gareth and I arrived last Friday morning, we were met by none other than the main man himself - Dave Thorpe is three-time FIM 500cc motocross world champion, and an instantly likeable man with a warm smile, calm demeanor and a Wikipedia page dedicated to his achievements. “So if he can do it, I should be fine”, I thought. Mistake number two.
After a quick briefing, cup of coffee and an introduction to the motorbikes - six-month-old Honda CRF 250RXs that Dave says are the best in the business - it’s time to get the helmets on and jump on the bikes for a five-minute citing lap for the instructors to see how capable we are before being split into groups.
But there’s already a problem. Because my mum attracted the affections of a 5’7 man 37 years ago, I arrived in the world destined to never reach a great height. My legs, especially, are comparable in length to those of a foot stool, so simply jumping on an enduro bike - whose seat height is far taller than I can comfortably manage - is tricky. No matter, we’re quickly on the move, and because I’m known for my good balance and strong core, I surely won’t need to put my feet down at any point of the day. Say hello to mistake number 3.
As we head up single lane tracks with ruts the size of car wheels, it’s obvious I’ll be getting to know the landscape intimately. And before you know it, I’ve made eye contact with a tree stump and embedded myself inside it. That’s when I remember mistake number four because not even five minutes earlier, we’d been told “not to stare at the thing you think you’ll hit,” but to look ahead and plan an escape route. I, on the other hand, stared this stump straight in the face and lost.
Having picked the bike up and caught up with the group - most of whom had also eaten dirt - it was time for a quick breather to be split into groups. At that moment, one of the instructors said “who’d like to have a bit more practice before we head out?” at which point I’d like to introduce you to my final and biggest mistake, number five.
Despite my brain putting its hand up, my body failed to comply, meaning I was now part of a group (including Gareth who I can’t allow to be better than me) that was more experienced and, as much as this hurts to admit,better than me. One thing I did do, however, was admit that my lack of height was an issue, after which I was given a similar bike with a lower ride height.
Instantly, I felt more confident, and as my group of six (including two men in their 60s, an 18-year-old and a six-foot five-inch mountain of a man) headed into the wilderness. Over the next 15 minutes, carnage of the best kind ensued. One older guy face planted a tree at low speed (and was completely unharmed) while Gareth and I at the back of the pack took it in turns to overshoot corners, stall, and hit ruts that would throw us off. At one point, I caught up with Gareth to find him face down in the brambles with his CRF 250RX facing completely the wrong direction.
It quickly became apparent, then, that our two years of motorbike road riding experience were useless here. In fact, the only transferable skills are how to work the throttle and clutch. Everything else is different; in enduro, you lean the bike into corners, you steer with big throttle inputs, your seating position is right at the front of the bike and you stand on the foot pegs 90 per cent of the time. Try that on the road, and you won’t last more than two minutes.
But the thing that surprised me most was how brutal Enduro riding is on the body especially when, like me, your technique sucks and you’re fighting the bike rather than becoming part of it. I’m also not used to being the kid at the back of the group, meaning that my frustration and ego stunted my progress. It got so bad, in fact (and not helped by a bad shoulder) that I threw in the towel with 20 minutes of fun left to go.
As for the bikes, it boggles the mind how much abuse they take in their stride. The CRF 250RXs were thrown, thrashed and crashed without complaint, while the brakes and knobbly tyres scrub off speed more effectively than many of us thought possible.
But the biggest lesson I learnt was that I was a fool to underestimate Enduro riding, because when you do, it’ll kick your head in.
So would I do it again? 100 per cent, and not only because I love a challenge. Despite having a tough time on the mud, the lessons I learnt will be invaluable for road riding because for one, I now I know exactly how a bike reacts when the front and rear get loose on rough terrain which should help keep me upright on the tarmac.
Either way, I’m glad to have done the day and would recommend it to fellow adrenaline junkies. Just don’t go into it thinking you’ll be good straight away!