First impressions: Dave Thorpe Off-Road Experience

We've been bouncing around Exmoor with the motocross legend that is Thorpey...

First impressions: Dave Thorpe Off-Road Experience

HONDA has arguably one of the biggest off-road offerings around, what with its extensive dirt bike range, Montesa trials brand and of course the revered Africa Twin. It even has ATV and SXS models for those less adept on two wheels (and farmers).

So where better to master the art of dirt bashing than at the manufacturer’s own off-road hub, the Dave Thorpe Off-Road and Adventure Centre.

Visordown’s Laura headed down to its new home in Somerset this week to try out both the off-road and adventure experiences.

Here’s what she thought:

“Honda’s CRF250X was the perfect weapon to get my dirt legs, and in the capable hands of instructors Luke Hawkins and Alex Snow the gathered gaggle of journalists taking part in the enduro day soon progressed from the gentle dirt path to trickier terrain.

“We were on one of seven parcels of land that the school has access to at its new home on the edge of the Exmoor National Park, and the hundreds of acres this section offered made for an excellent variety of trails.

“After a number of loops around a circuit of wide paths, we stopped for a bite to eat before venturing into a muddy loop through a river. This was far more technical, but the instructors were stood by ready to offer advice. The loop was then reversed, increasing the difficulty, with a steep lip to climb up straight out of the river.

“The potent little 250s had it under control however, and a spurt of power through the water was enough to send us up, out and over. From here we headed on a gentle trail ride up to a quarry, where a steep technical route awaited us.

“A quick brief from the instructors preluded this. ‘Pin it’ was the gist, and pin it we did, up the steep gravelly gully and into a flower-filled forest. The steep single-track route was as difficult as it sounds, and on a number of occasions an errant tree root or loose rock sent me and the bike flying. But thanks to the armour provided by the school, I was left unharmed and my spirit unbroken. Again the route was reversed, increasing the difficulty, before we took the long (and steep) route back to base.

“Excellent instruction throughout the day really helped up to progress in the dirt stakes, and perfectly prepared us for two days of off-roading on the Africa Twin.

“The next day the 230kg adventure bike felt alien and unwieldy compared to the lightweight CRF.

“Rolling away from the centre’s base at a farm near Taunton, it was hard to imagine that these 998cc bikes would be able to conquer terrain not dissimilar to that we’d ridden the previous day.

“A picturesque road ride warmed us up before we launched straight into a series of slow speed riding tasks on a wide fire road, in order for instructors Pat Jackson and four-time world motocross champion Dave Thorpe himself to assess our abilities.

“Next up was learning to turn the bike by weighting the pegs, and so we rode in a bizarre looking cavalcade, leaning the bike on to one leg, while sticking the bike out to balance. We took in multiple laps of the mile-long track, getting to grips with the bike’s weight and handling. Then, once we were somewhat confident on the bikes, we were instructed to ride one-handed, and one-footed. While this made us look like circus performers, it allowed us to really understand how to balance the bikes while riding.

“A lesson in hill recovery followed – bring the bike perpendicular to the hill before shuffling the front wheel back down the slope – which prepared us to take on something a little more difficult, and so we wound our way up the hill.

“With traction control on a low setting (0, 1 or 2 of 7) and ABS deactivated, the Africa Twin made for a marvelous off-roader.

“As the day progressed, so did the difficulty of the routes, but Pat and Dave – and Dave’s son Ryan – were ready to offer advice on lines to take and techniques to help us progress.

“By the end of the day I was exhausted, but eager for the following day, which would only get more difficult, we were promised.

“On day two of the Adventure experience, I swapped to Honda’s new Adventure Sports edition, with a DCT gearbox. My thoughts on DCT has been marred by an older VFR1200F, but having heard such good things about the latest generation system, I was excited to try it out.

“On road, the DCT in fully automatic mode was brilliant, however off-road it wasn’t quite up to scratch. As Pat put it, ‘the bike can’t predict what’s ahead and switch to the right gear’.

“But in manual mode the DCT was great off road. The flappy paddles were easy to use, and not having to shift with my foot or reach for the clutch improved stability to no end.

“The Adventure Sports model is both taller and heavier than the standard model, and as we headed up through muddy tracks, the extra weight made itself known. On a couple of occasions I lost control in the mud and dropped the bike, but its bulletproof nature ensured nothing was harmed but my pride.

“We took in river crossings, steep climbs, loose descents and narrow single tracks on day two, and by the end of the day I was exhausted but exhilarated. The experience had shown us just what the Africa Twin could do, and it was certainly no walk in the park. In the hands of Pat or Dave, it could push even harder.

“Expert tuition on both experiences had improved my off-road riding to no end, and I was extremely impressed by the bikes themselves.

“While neither experience comes cheap – the Enduro day is £225, while the Adventure two-dayer is £499 – the quality of teaching, brilliant machinery and riding progression makes it, to my mind, worthwhile.”

Check back next week to read Laura’s full report…