Byways - Get'on'em

One massive piece of fun you can have on a bike this winter

Get a heated jacket, man up and get out on the bike this winter … and if you already have then well done, you are a part of just 25% of bikers who ride in all seasons.

Fancy buying a different bike? Good news, now is your chance to have some fun in what is otherwise known as “dead time” to most bikers. In December I took delivery of a Yamaha XT660R - a bike that falls into the ‘dual sport’ category. I needed something that will cope with a daily 90 mile commute but also give me some kicks at the weekends. The XT660R is the perfect bike for covering medium distances and holding its own off road with no more effort other than letting the tyre pressures down.

I’m kitted out with a decent jacket and trouser combo, some adventure boots and a heated jacket. That combination means that it can be -5 degrees and pouring with rain whilst the inside of my trousers are hotter than Hades itself.  You can read reviews on that kit here: W2 Dirt Adventure bootsexo2 heated jacket, Held jacket and trousers

Her at home calls it “lazy mountain biking”, but to you and me the practice of riding off-road on road-legal bikes is known as Green Laning or Enduro Riding. It’s a scene that in the space of just three weeks has changed my biking habits forever.

Chances are there is a Byway within 10 miles of your house, and that's a fact. Byways are ancient roads and tracks that are no longer used by mainstream traffic. Long since bypassed by motorways and A roads, most are now unsuitable for normal traffic and are largely unused. These tracks are still classified as roads so, providing you have a road legal vehicle with an MOT, tax and insurance then you are free to use them. Since the XT660R is a handy off-roader this whole new world of motorcycling is unlocked. The best time to explore it is in the winter and the filthier the better.

Ordnance Survey maps have taken over my life. Highlighting and searching for the locations of the tracks has now become an obsession. It feels like a treasure hunt. Equipped with a Map, Satnav, and a rubbish tesco sandwich I have been seeing the best of the Kent countryside in style. One route takes you high up in the Kent hills looking down on the M20 in the distance. I get to see countryside from a viewpoint that most other people don't.

Some tracks are half a mile long and some up to 5 miles. Some are really muddy and some are predominantly gravel. Regardless of the surface you will find an awkward combination of like-minded bikers, dog walkers and horse riders all enjoying the freedom these tracks promote, albeit a little begrudgingly.

The tracks are policed in the same way that normal roads are. It's well documented that some drivers and riders are choosing to stray off-piste to create more challenging routes. Last weekend somewhere in a remote mud-ridden forest I bumped into the Maidstone Police motorcycle unit who patrol the routes in Kent. Around the corner came three marked Police bikes backed up with a full on Police Landrover. We had a chat and rode off together so I could see the areas of damage that made a fuss in the local news. It’s quite clear where the original tracks were and even clearer where new tracks had been made. As with many things in life a minority are causing trouble in some areas and supported by moaning land owners the councils are closing the tracks down permanently.

Kent happens to be one of the counties with the least amount of Byways. The ones that are left are brilliant and if the 4x4 and us bikers stick to the tracks then we should be able to continue using them for years to come. As I left the Holly Hill area I saw a white van being loaded with bikes, no number plates, no lights. It’s these chaps the Police bikers are there to stop and quite rightly so.

With planning you can link up around six to eight of these tracks in a day, most of which have a have a 2-10 minute road based transfer from one to the other. There are so many more I’ve yet to explore and with the knowledge that the surrounding counties from Kent have even more to offer, I find it hard to see now how my biking life will be without the option to head off-road when I feel like it.

One thing my time on the XT has taught me is that I can see a place in the garage for a off-roader in the future. £1500 will get you a second hand 400cc tool dedicated to hardcore off-roading. With £4000-plus and you can look at dual-sport bikes like the XT660R, this one retails at £7128 and can be used every day of the week.

Searching the internet you will find a host of sites that will give you information on where these lanes are. For Kent check out James Jeremy's excellent resource here. He is what must be one of Kents biggest fans of Green Laning. The Trail Riding Fellowship is the official club for this kind of riding, you can check them out here

You can read my first impressions on the XT660R here and here

More to come...