By Alan Dowds
UNLESS you've been living under a particularly big rock for the past decade or so, you'll be well aware of how big adventure riding has become. Blame Ewan and Charlie, blame a post-millennial sense of ennui, blame 200bhp sports bikes and speed cameras. But whatever the cause, folk just can't get enough of sitting on tall dirt-style bikes and heading off – sometimes into the wide blue yonder, sometimes just to the other side of the county.
And, of course, where the punter wants to go, the companies follow on. Plenty of bike firms have set up their own branded adventures, with BMW leading the pack via its certified adventure travels and off-road riding experiences. And now, Yamaha's joined in, with a broad platform of adventure tours, set up under the 'Destination Yamaha' brand. Essentially, Yamaha's European HQ has brought together all its existing global partners in this area – current touring, off-road and adventure operators who have commercial tie-ins with Yamaha – and is providing a common worldwide portal online. Check into www.destination-yamaha.eu, and you can pick from an off-the-shelf tour or riding experience, or even build your own bespoke event, from a wide range of options all round the world.
You can go for some really exotic options – but we've not come too far from home for this European launch of the Destination Yamaha operation. We're in Mid-Wales actually, where two of Yamaha's longest-running partners are based – the Geraint Jones Yamaha Off Road Experience, and Nick Sanders Expeditions. Both those names are proper legends in the field: Geraint has been running his off-road schools for nearly 25 years now, and Nick Sanders is a true pioneer in global adventure riding, having probably circumnavigated the globe more times than I've lapped the M25 – including on a variety of Yamaha R1s…
The plan is for us to get a couple of days, er, 'experiencing' the Destination Yamaha experience, as it were. So we spend the first day with Geraint riding off-road, then day two is spent riding on the amazing roads round the Cambrian Mountains with Nick Sanders. Yamaha's given us all MT-07 Tracers for the road riding, and we'll use Geraint's Super Ténéré 1200s, Ténéré 660s and WR250Rs for the off-road elements. After a fabulous dinner at the Nick Sanders' Expedition HQ, we're up bright and early at the Lake Vrynwy hotel, for the off-road day.
The roads round here are amazing, albeit on the narrow and fiddly side sometimes, so it takes us about an hour to get to Geraint Jones's base at Llanidloes. It's a working farm, surrounded by properly awesome landscape – mountains, forests, valleys. Coming from Scotland, I'm sometimes a bit immune to big scenery thrills. But even I'm impressed with the scope and majesty of the surroundings.
Geraint, and his son Dylan are looking after us today, and we’re getting a (slightly abbreviated) version of their Ténéré Experience. As the name suggests, this is an off-road day based on the Yamaha Ténéré and Super Ténéré bikes – so it would make a great learning day if you were looking to build skills before going on a bigger adventure ride. We start off with kit allocation – I've come with all the off-road kit needed, but the School can supply a full setup. Dylan then introduces the bikes we're using today – the slightly older Ténéré 660, and the later 1200 Super Ténéré, plus one WR250R. I grab one of the special low-seat 660s, as better suited to my stumpy frame and stumpy skillz, and we're off.
The Joneses have a lot of Wales at their disposal. Their farm is extensive enough, plus they lease a seven-square-mile area of forest, and there's also a WRC rally car testing ground next door which they have access to. That's on top of the massive network of public byways and dirt tracks round here. So for the next few hours, we have a ball, seeing some incredible scenery in the Cambrian hills on one of the hottest, sunniest days you'll get in this part of the world. Dylan is leading us round, and he's patient, knowledgeable, and keen to help – just what's needed if you're a bit wobbly off-road like me.