My dirty weekend
OK…… So after a summer of weekends away watching BSB, WSB, and Moto GP racing the bug had definitely set in and I was looking for yet another couple of days biking thrills…. The thing was…I wanted something a bit different this time…I wasn’t sure what…but an evening scanning the MCN started a little thought about off road biking. I’m never sure of the difference between motocross, trailbiking, supermotos or whatever, but an advert for trailbiking in Andorra caught my eye!
After a few enquiries by email and a visit to a website - www.trailbiketours.com , I decided to take the plunge (never thinking it would be literally) and book a weekend trip with Trailbike tours. They organised flights, accommodation and transfers all I had to do was to organise my boyfriend – everything was booked by email and we set off to Luton with absolutely nothing in writing, but with great faith and anticipation! (And high level activity holiday insurance…) We flew to Barcelona, and true to his word, Dave, from the tour company was there to meet us. We also met up with our two holiday companions, a couple of like-minded bikers from Scotland. It was a three-hour drive in a jeep, amongst beautiful scenery and lovely weather. First stop was a cosy café in a town square, and then on to Andorra, where we hit the bar, and Dave our host, forgot his Scottish roots, and bought all the drinks!!!!
While we were all getting acquainted, Dave talked us through the plan for the weekend. Each day, after filling the bikes up, we would ride by road a few miles to the start of the trail, then spend all day out riding off road…. (We actually covered about 90 miles off road each day!!) The four of us decided to ride in two groups, each with a guide, to suit our differing levels of off road experience…We got the slower group!! There would be planned stops for coffee and lunch, but he added that we could stop wherever and when ever we wanted for photos etc, and the emphasis of the weekend was on fun!
We then adjourned to the Hotel for dinner and a few more scoops, in anticipation of a new experience.
I have never ridden off road before, but, in my blissful ignorance, thought that I would be able to manage. What a learning curve I had over the next couple of days! We were booked for just two days of biking, so were up early to meet the team in the morning. The garage where the bikes were was close by, so we set off in the crisp mountain air.
All the clothing and equipment was supplied, body armour, motocross trousers and tops, knee/shin guards, gloves, helmets and boots, all quality stuff by Dainese and Alpinestars. The boots certainly felt sturdy enough! All you experienced off roaders will know what I mean. Alpinestar backpacks were supplied too…useful for the fleeces we were to need. Then was the fun bit (for me) – a quick look round the garage – 5 very nice men and me all needing to get changed in the same room! Nothing for it but to strip off…. (See enclosed photo !!!…oh… I guess that one didn’t come out!!)
Now I expect you’ll be wanting to know about the bikes. Please don’t expect anything too technical here, but they were new Suzuki DRZ400s, yellow, and very tall. They were continental spec, the one thing that was noticeable for me was that the exhausts were lovely and growly, particularly when there were a few of us going through those long mountain tunnels. The bikes had sumpguards fitted, and were stripped of indicators and mirrors etc…. They had pukka off road knobbly tyres on too, no speedos and replacement headlight kits…seriously tough handguards looked as though my nails might not get broken too!!!!
We worked out that the DRZ was 6 inches higher at the seat than my GPZ500. This meant that I had to have two men help me set off, and one to catch me when we stopped, unless I could find a boulder or kerb to put my foot on – of course I didn’t look too hard! The bikes had electric start, which I learnt was to be very useful – I couldn’t have contemplated managing a kick start as well… I couldn’t contemplate an off roader without an electric start now! And neither could all the other guys! Nice one Suzuki!
We set off to the mountains, and experienced a whole range of weather – rain, snow, brilliant sunshine and rainbows. The roads became smaller and smaller, the bends sharper and sharper and we went higher and higher until the rainbow was beneath us – magical!
The bikes handled really well, easily taking hairpin bends with massive drops beside them. Then we hit the trails…. We also had to contemplate sharing the trails with the 4x4 vehicles – my first ‘offie’ was meeting a jeep on a corner, forgetting I was in Andorra and going to the left, where the driver went as well! Totally my fault, I managed to stop right in front of her, but because I couldn’t put my foot down anywhere toppled right over! The poor lady was mortified, and I hadn’t yet learnt how to say sorry in Spanish… It was very good experience for me, having never come off a bike before, and I certainly got the practice in.
My next “off” was when crossing a river – lots of boulders and an inability to judge which was the deepest bit – this was of course the bit I fell into! My piece de resistance was certainly towards the end of the day, in thick mud, where I managed to practically wheelie into a ditch and a bank. My boyfriend rushed heroically to my rescue, but was totally incapacitated by laughter for several minutes, after seeing me emerge from the mudbank grinning like a Cheshire cat, with a complexion that any self respecting swamp monster would be proud of!!!
No damage was sustained to my new friend the Suzuki and a big grin on our faces lasted the whole night too – yet more time sampling Andorra’s tax free bubbly stuff…..
The bike felt very strong to me, and I’d got the positioning all wrong, making it much harder I know. At the end of the first hour, I could hardly move my forearms, losing a lot of manoeuverability. This, coupled with the rigidity of the boots, meant that I found changing gear nigh on impossible as well as hanging on, and doing the entire trail in second probably wasn’t a good idea…. Skills I’d learnt through the advanced training really came in use, particularly around maintaining revs, road positioning and looking well ahead. I also found that on my return, I’d learnt bits and pieces that enhanced my road riding.
The café and restaurant stops were amazing – there was real value in using the tour company who knew these fantastic little places tucked away in the middle of nowhere. The guides knew all the trails, could speak the lingo and were extremely patient and tolerant of novices such as me.
I was well and truly ready for the stops – the physical strength needed to hang on to these bikes was immense. Coupled with the fear factor when I was hurtling down these tracks knowing full well that I couldn’t stop because I’d fall off, meant I was pushed right to my limit. I was either stricken speechless with fear, or laughing so much that I couldn’t speak either! Various expletives passed my lips tackling particularly tricky bits, and I did wonder a couple of times what on earth a 42 year old mother of two was doing careering round these mountains on a motorbike totally out of control! I frequently said to myself “What am I doing here?!!”
I was unable to walk at the end of the first day, but made it back to our excellent hotel, and gingerly changed for dinner. This was a superb “all you can eat” type buffet, with loads of choice…swilled down with a celebratory bottle of bubbly…..Well I HAD made it back in one piece!!
We moved to the bar with our two companions Willy and Norrie, and regaled each other with tales of daring-do and heart stopping moments!
I have to say it had been a fantastic day…physically and mentally tough, but incredibly rewarding. I had, however, received some off road education by now, and knowing what it was like out there on the mountain trails, I felt quite awed at the prospect of having to do it again!!!
I have to admit that I refused to continue after lunch on the second day – we were going higher and higher, and the trail was getting more and more difficult. I’m long enough in the tooth to know my limitations and I had reached them! Dave was fantastic, and agreed to take this pathetic female home on the roads.
This in itself was a lovely ride, and still consisted of some pretty scary hairpin bends with sheer drops beside them.(Mental note: I must go back sometime to ride some of those fantastic Pyrenean roads!!)
Then it was back to the hotel for more lovely food and cheap booze. We booked out on the Monday morning, with a bar bill of 12 euros! We were then able to spend the day in Barcelona, soaking up a bit of the culture including the Gaudi cathedral, window shopping and picking up souvenirs for the kids. There were some very interesting shops selling various leather and studded garments that we puzzled long and hard about where they went! (And no purchases were made …sorry guys!)
Then the late flight back to the UK, loads of aches and pains but a fantastic experience.
I would defy anyone not find it challenging and stretch most people to their limits. As a nurse, I have seen the end results of bikers seeking thrills on tarmac roads shared with cars – usually it’s not the biker who comes out best. Well this is a far better, far safer way of burning off those excesses, offering excitement, exhilaration, exhaustion and a load of laughs…. (As well as a good way of getting your knee down…. and your elbow…and your backside…and……)
We spent the weekend in the company of real like minded bikers – there were varying skill levels, but everyone was stretched to their limits. We made new friends, have fantastic photos and memories, and would thoroughly recommend this for a fun, good value weekend away.
Trail riding In Andorra – Fact file
Company - Trailbike Tours
Website - www.trailbiketours.com
E-mail - Send email
Cost €728 (about £465) for 3 nights / 2days riding in 2002. (Various other packages available)
Return flights to Barcelona (We flew from Luton)
All transfers from Barcelona to Andorra
Hotel Accommodation – Excellent Hotel including superb breakfast and dinner
Hire of bikes – Suzuki DRZ 400’s
Hire of all safety gear – all top notch stuff
Guides for two days riding
Lunch and coffee at mountain cafés
What’s not included
Holiday insurance (about £25 each) – Make sure you say you are trail biking!
Drinks at hotel
Train to Barcelona from Airport (about €5 return each)
Car parking/travel to Luton
€300 deposit on the bikes (Repairs deducted from this if you damage the bike. Not taken off your credit card if you don’t though…We didn’t get charged for a broken clutch lever.)
Melinda Nelson, Greenford, Middlesex, 14th October 2002