In the deepest thickets of Derbyshire, a strange new breed of trail-rider is eschewing daytime riding in favour of heading out in the thick of night…
Like playing conkers, gurning or chasing down a steep hill after a lump of cheese, the idea of going trail riding in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, slots straight into the cardboard box labelled ‘British eccentricity’. I’ve done loads of trail riding over the years but the only times I’ve been out in the dark is the odd times when we’ve been lost or had terrible mechanical problems that have made us late. On these occasions it’s never been our intention to be out after sun down, the only reason you’re out there is because you’ve been grubbing round in the dirt fixing a puncture, re-riveting a chain or because you’re completely lost and don’t know where the fuck you are. And generally, all you want by the point of darkness is to get back to your van or guest house before hypothermia sets in.
The idea of actually planning to go out at night on a dirt-bike never crossed my mind until I was invited to do just that by a bunch of mad British eccentrics from Leicestershire. Glen, Will, Lawrence and Tony are all in their 40s and have been mates since the late 1970s when they were all members of a local bike club and competed in motocross. Sorry, that’d be scramble events back then. After they all finished racing and became embroiled (like most people) in all this complicated mortgage/family/business stuff, they found they missed getting out on their bikes. So between them, and I suspect after imbibing a decent amount of alcohol, they came up with the concept of night-time trail riding.
I arrived at Glen’s place, a detached house in a nice suburban cul-de-sac at dusk. My main thought in the van on the way down was not to get drawn into doing anything too daft. The last thing I needed was to end up cuddling a tree at 50mph. Christmas dinner just wouldn’t taste the same through a straw. I needn’t have worried, even as I wheeled my KTM down the ramp the boys were already sipping away at cups of tea in Glen’s kitchen and planning the evenings soiree in some detail. ‘Hm, sensible trail riders’, I thought, another new concept. They were organised with military precision, right down to who would carry the first aid kit and flask of coffee!
Their nocturnal manoeuvres are a series of green lanes (more like brown lanes with the amount of weather we’d had for the days beforehand) linked by tarmac roads. We decided on a three-hour loop, which meant even with my thirsty (but lovely) KTM 300 two-stroke in the party we should be able to do it on one tank of fuel, and so not have to find a gas station open in the middle of the night in the arse end of nowhere.
As we turned off the road onto the first lane and left the safety and comfort of street lighting behind, the first of many discoveries I was to have that night hit me right in the eye: just how feeble enduro bike headlights are. Not only do they produce very little actual light, they never point it where you need it. The soft, long-travel suspension means that when you open the throttle the pathetic beam points up to the tops of the trees, and when you shut off or brake it illuminates a small ring of mud six inches ahead of your front wheel spindle. Funny thing is, this made the riding more intense and enjoyable somehow. You have no time to look around or worry what anyone else is doing, all your concentration is devoted to seeing what is immediately ahead of you and feeling what the bike is doing beneath you. You think you’re going dead fast but on the few occasions I dared take my eyes off the bit of trail 10 feet in front of my wheel to look at the speedo I was shocked to see I was actually doing about a quarter of the speed I felt I was.
Click here for things that go bump in the night page two.
Posted: 21/03/2011 at 11:12
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