KTM Experience

Can't stand the weather? Beat the winter blues with an indoor session at the KTM Experience and boost your riding skills to boot

It's winter outside and the weather's grey, freezing and wetter than a five-piece boy band. But there's a place in the UK where it never rains (or snows) and riding conditions are always perfect - the KTM Experience's indoor circuit. And Team TWO were heading that way.

Riding off road is not only great fun, it also teaches you the art of motorcycle control, whatever bike you ride. But while its popularity is spiralling, many road riders jump straight on to a dirt bike with no tuition, despite off-road techniques differing wildly from how you ride on the road. The result is that you never learn to ride properly on the dirt. Which is where the KTM Experience steps in.

The school is run by experienced ACU-level instructors who are hell-bent on teaching you the techniques of riding the dirt, whatever your level. Team TWO consists of a variety of off-road riders from the complete novice to the just-about-to-embark-on-the-Dakar, and we were on a mission to find out who, if anyone, would benefit from a KTM day out. And with kit and bikes supplied, we had nothing to lose.With Wozza in charge of driving the Team TWO minibus, things got a bit hairy on the four-hour journey with several near-death experiences punctuated by Aitch wanting to stop for a wee and idiot boy Harvey letching out of the window at passing female motorists.

Only snapper Heath and his well-stocked iPod kept the mood (almost) sane. So it was with relief that we reached our destination in deepest Devon (near Totnes), where we were shown to our self-contained cottages on the KTM Experience grounds.

True to the Team TWO spirit, chaos ensued over dinner as what should have been a pleasant evening meal descended into something better suited to Dante's seventh level of Hell. Still, much to our own surprise and that of the KTM instructor team, we all arrived present and correct (if a little green) in time for the main event the next morning.

The KTM Experience's meticulously crafted track is built in a 30,000 square foot converted barn and features 'whoops' (a series of bumps), 'berms' (banked corners), 'table tops' (jumps, usually with a flat top) and 'flat turns' (corners using a flat bit of track). Our 11-strong gaggle of TWO miscreants was divided into three groups of varying ability and assigned KTM 250EXC four-stroke enduro machines. In the morning session, 10-minute briefings were followed by 10-minute riding stints, with our every move captured on video so we could see where we were going wrong. Later that afternoon all hell broke loose as we were unleashed onto the circuit to put into practice what we'd learned - with transponders to record our lap times. Sounds like a recipe for disaster. Welcome to the KTM Experience...

NAME: Alex Hearn

JOB: TWO Associate editor

EXPERIENCE: Quite a lot, mainly trail riding with mates

I didn't know what to expect. And at first I wasn't impressed with the thought of riding a dirt bike indoors - I wanted to be rooting down muddy lanes and having a laugh as usual. And that, it became obvious to me as the day wore on and the layers of tuition and knowledge on offer built up, is the mistake I always make - just riding, and not thinking.

I learned loads. What really worked for me was going slow enough to start with to have enough capacity spare to think about using the right technique for each obstacle (which of course we'd been taught, step-by-step) and (really importantly) staying off the brakes. Because you're riding a consistent course that you could learn, working on technique became so much easier. And while my basic bike ability was fine there was a lot I needed to think about - body position on flat corners is crucial and because I was sitting too far back the front was washing way early. The video footage was useful because while you may think you're doing it right, often you're not. I could look, think and act upon what I was seeing on the telly.

As the day went by I gradually picked up speed, still without having to use the brakes hard. And it just felt better and better with every lap. If I ever slipped back into my (usual) self of trying to go too quick too soon, I'd pay the price with a near-bin or close moment, which made me think again, slow down, take stock (plus a deep breath) and rein it in. Then build up again, always trying to think as well as ride.

Everybody came away from the day in the indoor arena a much better rider than they had been. And you never, ever stop learning. You just need to open your mind...

NAME: Dawn Brookes

JOB: Editorial, publishing & syndication executive


Having had very little road experience since passing my test last year, the thought of riding off-road was pretty daunting, but fun. I had no idea what to expect. So when I saw the circuit I shat myself... and decided that staying on the bike for at least one lap would be an achievement in itself. Not breaking any bones during the day would be outstanding...

For the first session we'd been told to go round and get a feel for the circuit in first gear standing on the pegs. Easy you'd think... however climbing on the bike and keeping it running proved to be my first problem. You need to be smooth but positive with the throttle which, when you're inexperienced and scared, isn't easy. Every time I twisted the throttle I headed straight towards a mud bank, much to the amusement of everyone watching. My first lap took the whole 10-minute session.

Next time round and with the patience and encouragement of the instructors, things began to come together. I managed to master (kind of) the throttle, keep the bike rolling at a constant speed and steer round the corners. My confidence was growing. There was so much to think about - which line to take, throttle on, throttle off, stand up, sit down - that when I finally completed a whole lap I was exhausted! My arms and legs were like jelly, but what a buzz.

Watching the video footage, I could see I needed to focus on leaning forward over the front of the bike and relax my arms and upper body. As my confidence grew with each lap so did my speed... until I panicked through a corner, opened the throttle and ended up parking the bike up the bank on its back wheel!

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and it's most definitely improved my two-wheeled confidence.

NAME: Martin Heath

JOB: Photographer

EXPERIENCE: Experienced trials rider, he's entered competitions and everything!

One of the day's early tasks was to stand up on the pegs using your body weight to position the bike over the whoops and around the bends. "So how long have you done trials riding for Martin?" Damn, sussed already! This was way harder than it looked.

Watching the video it also became apparent I was finding it hard to drop my old trials technique of sitting back rather than sliding up to the front of the seat round the corners.

By lunch we'd been introduced to all the pieces in the jigsaw of putting a clean lap together - standing up, flat cornering, berm riding, jumping the table top and attacking the whoops.

I didn't struggle with the berms as much as I thought I would, no doubt helped by the downhill mountain-bike racing I did where you also have pedals to worry about! In the afternoon I concentrated on putting everything together and having fun. Fatigue soon took hold and although I could consistently get my laps within two tenths of a second, I'd soon be praying for enough strength to land the jumps or hang onto the KTM across the whoops. The instructors reassured me that motocross fitness comes from actually motocrossing.

The quality of the instructors really stood out. I'm now hooked, working on upper body fitness and feverishly hunting down my own dirt bike.

NAME: Adam Harvey

JOB: Annoying freelancer and part-time transvestite

EXPERIENCE: One day riding a CCM 660 off-road

The first time I took to the dirt I went down more times than a porn star and learned two things: never put your house keys in your pocket when riding off-road (I almost punctured a lung); and get some training before doing it again.

The KTM Experience was what I needed. I was taught the basics ofoff-roading in a simple and relaxed way. I was taking in all the info (and understanding it, a rare moment). The simplicity of sitting forward, using a constant throttle and looking ahead increased my confidence ten-fold, so much so that I was confident enough to go round the circuit using the berms. By increasing my speed around the corners and focusing on where I wanted the front wheel to go, I managed to take the bike round the course at what seemed an almost horizontal angle. I was dripping with sweat by the end of the day and had accomplished what would have taken me months to figure out on my own. The KTM Experience has opened my eyes to off-roading and made me more aware of what to look out for off road and on.

NAME: Jon Urry

JOB: Chief road tester

EXPERIENCE: One day green laning on an old shitter of a bike. He hated it and gave up

I don't like off-roading. Last year I bought an old F-reg Honda XR250 for green laning, took it out once, ended up in a hedge parked halfway up a rock face and entwined in a barbed wire fence. From that day on I decided that me and the trail don't mix. I gave the Honda to my dad to charge around Somerset on.

So I approached the KTM thing with cautious scepticism. Walking the course didn't help much. Although there were no ruts (the things that literally threw me when green laning), it did have a series of hardcore whoops and some very close walls. The table top looked fun, mind.

The video replay was a brilliant idea for both taking the piss out of your mates and seeing where you were going wrong. I managed not to crash until we moved to using the berms, when I knew I was about to taste dirt.

The plan seemed to be to ride at them fast and let the centrifugal forces take over. Which is easier said than working up the balls to try it. Back off and you fall out of the berm, so constant speed is everything. But trying to not back off when every sense is anticipating rocketing out of the top of the berm and landing in the barn's rafters was a problem. Getting it wrong once provided the inevitable crash, and with that out of the way and no bones broken, I decided it didn't hurt too much and I may as well try a bit harder. Which is when it started to come together.

My confidence grew from there and I'd definitely ride the track again, not something I'd consider with the trails.

NAME: Tracie Heath

JOB: Freelance ad bird

EXPERIENCE: Half a day on a CCM Rideout - the same one that Shitehawk attended

My day's ambition was simply to complete a lap without hurting myself. Getting on the bike was the first obstacle, but I soon learned to park it on top of a whoop as my feet could make contact with the dirt this way. I can't remember ever being this nervous - without the bike between them my knees would have knocked!

I managed to pull away without stalling and ride round the first corner with about 10 dabs of the foot. Except I'm supposed to be standing up. Oh well... I finished the first session a shaking wreck.

Session two was preceded by a lesson on 'flat cornering'. Back on the bike I felt more comfortable, relaxed and confident, and this showed in my riding. I was standing up where required and sitting down for the flat turns, ending the session going faster and still in one piece. Perhaps I could do this after all. I decided to skip the berm advice to concentrate on flat cornering, which is where I stayed for the rest of the day.

The constant encouragement and advice from Jeff, along with the video feedback, couldn't fail in helping me progress. I had never learned so much about anything in one day.

I successfully strung consistent laps together, got 'air' over the jumps, only crashed once and smoked the Hawk... A very good day indeed!

NAME: Warren Pole

JOB: Writer-at-large

EXPERIENCE: A fair bit of trail riding, some motocross and one enduro

The first hour or so was somewhat odd. All we wanted to do was leap on the bikes and tear around the track, but instead we did anything but ride as the basics of motocross technique were explained inpainstaking detail. Here I took a leap of faith, fighting my rising impatience and actually listening. After all, we were here to learn and these guys knew their stuff so perhaps there was a method in their seemingly over-thorough teaching.

And there was, because by taking our riding right back to the bottom rung and building back up from there, they cunningly stripped away all the bad habits (for motocross anyway) that come from years of road and track riding, leaving us free to work on mastering the basic building blocks they'd given us.

The result was one of the best day's riding I've had all year, as finally the motocross light dawned on me, and I was at last able to ride a track with some kind of pace and rhythm rather than doing what I've done in the past - ie grimly hang on, gas it and hope for the best. Obviously I still crashed - spectacularly so on one occasion. After getting a rather strong dose of red mist and convincing myself I could ride around the outside of Jim on the fastest corner on the track, I obviously couldn't and ate hay bales instead. And of course I was far faster in my head than I looked on the post-session video debrief. But what an awesome day.

Following a day learning more about off-road riding than ever, it's hard to say enough about this place. The organisation is bang-on, the location picturesque, the facilities outstanding, and the staff know their stuff and can teach it with all the mastery of Yoda in Star Wars. I'll definitely be going back.

NAME: Harriet Ridley

JOB: Features editor

EXPERIENCE: One year's trail riding with own bike, a Gas Gas Pampera 250 MKIII

Crunch! went the bones in my elbow and wrist last time I ventured onto a motocross track. I'd had no training so I just pointed the bike in the right direction and gassed it until I highsided onto the sun-hardened dirt. I bought my own dirt bike as soon as I healed and took up trail riding, but was still painfully aware that I needed coaching - and this is what I came to get at the KTM Experience.

The KTM instructors taught me to ride the two types of corners you find off-road - flat and bermed turns. As you approach a flat turn you sit up against the tank so your body weight helps the front tyre grip. You then use your arms to push the bike away from you and onto its side, keeping your outside arm bent and your inside arm straight, so your body stays upright and to the outside of the bike. This weights the outside footpeg, which helps rear grip, while you stick your inside leg out to save the front if it washes out. As you gas it out the rear tyre wants to break loose so you push your body back to help rear tyre grip.

Bermed turns are easier, quicker and more fun - but daunting at first. Using the sides of the track to catapult you through the corner Wall of Death style, you sit in the middle of the seat keeping your body in line with the bike and the (raised) ground. Corner entry and exit speed is so much faster using the berms that you get proper air over the whoops and table tops, for which you need to stand up quickly. Try it and you'll understand why motocrossers rank among the planet's fittest athletes.

I learned that in the dirt you're fighting for grip all the time using body positioning and throttle control. It's great fun feeling the bike squirm and you must stay loose and relaxed to let it do its thing - invaluable training for controlling a road bike.

NAME: Mark Shippey

JOB: Staff writer

EXPERIENCE: Riding a KTM at Windy Corner, Barry Johnson Yamaha Off-Road School and two launches

What do you expect to get out of a day's motocrossing? Aches, pains, a sweaty crotch and a faceful of dirt kicked up by the more experienced in the group was my expectation.

Our day was broken down into four training sessions followed by four 'open' sessions. Instruction was clear, concise and thorough, covering everything from how to start the bike to getting air over the table tops. After each session we watched our riding on tape. On track you feel like a god, but we looked slow on telly! This medium is invaluable. If an instructor identifies a problem you can see what you are doing wrong so it is easy to rectify.

Because of my size (6ft 6in) I wanted to concentrate on stance - how to position my body while standing up on the bike. I learned to do this properly - ie stand up straight with the pegs under the insteps of your feet, your body slightly forwards and gripping the tank with your knees (or shins, in my case), so that you're relaxed, well-balanced and in control.

I also wanted to conquer the whoops. I hate them with a passion. Just when you think you have a lap sussed, there they are again like a series of reminders that you are actually shit at this off-road lark. Andy explained that as I stood up over the whoops, I needed to bend my legs more to get the weight over the back of the bike and keep a constant throttle. Lean forward and you risk rolling over the bars if you hit a whoop wrong, but gas it a little on the entry with body weight to the rear and you can jump the first, giving smoother passage. The same was true for the table tops.

Back pain forced me to retire before the final session (big crash after lunch!) but the day had been invaluable. You learn to master bike control which you can transfer from dirt to road. Can we go again?

NAME: Simon Bowen

JOB: Special projects

EXPERIENCE: 20 years on and off road. Owned five different dirt bikes

I'm proud to have started off-roading on a knackered C90 at the age of 11, terrifying rabbits and ramblers alike, though some barren years passed before progressing to Yam's DT175MX and then DT125LC trailies. Despite often having had a decent enduro bike to hand over the years, I always seem to be rusty when I hit the trail. Having no idea what to expect from the school, my intention was to turn up, get hammered and spend the next day mucking about, culminating in a detention.

Though ultimately knackering, the indoor training track had an agreeable soft soil surface, offering a good balance between comfort and grip - the last thing you need is to be bouncing around a rock-hard training track and bashing hell out of your coccyx. Jim, our tutor for the day, watched Alex, Daryll and me like a hawk, picking me up almost immediately on my body positioning. While trying to make adjustments to my elbow height and general stance (and complete consistent lap times), I also had to think about Alex, Daryll and later Wozza, who were focussing with increasing intensity on setting the fastest lap - and using me as traction in the process. Bastards.

Under Jims' orders, I upped the pace and found that with his advice on trying different lines I was able to shave off a few seconds.

It was particularly useful to have a video debrief after each riding session, and amusing to see that as fast as you think you're circulating, it actually looks painfully slow on screen. I ended the day feeling more confident about attacking corners at speed, and pleased about being the only rider to not crash all day.

NAME: Daryll Young

JOB: Road tester

EXPERIENCE: Been riding since age seven, non-competitive MX and trail riding

I was seven when my dad bought me my first field bike. A second-hand Italjet 50cc motocrosser, which I rode around our back garden morning, noon and night, much to annoyance of our long-suffering neighbours. But it wasn't long before I ventured further afield on a variety of machines. For me the way to get the most out of a field bike was to ride as fast as I could, crash, dust myself off, and then ride as fast as I could again. No one told me how to do it properly, so after all these years I was looking for someone to tell me how it should be done.

During the first sessions the instructors ran through everything from basic machine control, to body position, to where we should be on the track. Despite having ridden for umpteen years it was still good to hear it all, although there were a couple of occasions when I stood there thinking: "Yeah, I do that anyway." Fortunately this is exactly why they use video equipment. It's only when you look at the replay that you realise how much you're doing wrong. My weight was all over the place. By getting my body right up to the front of the seat the bike would turn so much quicker, and by getting much further back over the whoops and through the faster sections the front was able to float while getting maximum traction from the rear.

During each of the morning sessions we worked on various parts of the track before putting it all together in the afternoon sessions. In each session after lunch I knocked a couple of seconds off my times until my energy levels were sapped and I started making mistakes. I came away a better rider, and was the only one to clear the table top!


So there we have it. Eleven riders with differing levels of experience came back from a great day out at the KTM Experience better, more knowledgeable riders. Team TWO's outing consisted of the basic KTM Experience day, which at £189 per person includes a full day's riding on the arena circuit with ACU coaches. All bikes and gear are supplied.

But Team TWO sampled only a fraction of the potential the KTM Experience facilities have to offer, as the staff organise a variety of events using their indoor circuit, the nearby field, a supermoto track and the best trails Devon has to offer. Throughout the year you can design your own-style event, with riding options that include guided trail riding with one- or two-day packages to suit, fun events (how about a clubman enduro, clubman motocross or supermoto race?) and a selection of ACU accredited training options for trail, enduro, MX and supermoto riders, whatever their level. For more information call Jeff Philp on 01752 840 831 or activate the internet and check out www.wheeldontwo.co.uk