The Oxford English Dictionary’s official definition of the word ‘Adventure’: “An unusual and exciting or daring experience”.
Bike Social’s unofficial definition of the words ‘Off road riding’: “For the newbie, can be a daunting experience. For the over-confident, can bite back. Ultimately, it’ll improve on-road riding.”
So when I got the call to try out Honda’s new Adventure Centre based in Wales, which provides a fleet of the latest Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin bikes to ride around on in Brecon Beacons National Park, I certainly pre-categorised it as an ‘usual and daring experience’ but one that I was properly excited about. I’ve got a bit of off-road experience having completed similar two-day experience at BMW’s version run by Dakar legend Simon Pavey yet knew I was going to be rusty so approached this with care.
The new Honda Adventure Centre run two day courses throughout the year with prices starting at £499 (including three meals plus bike and kit hire). The courses are on paper divided into Levels 1, 2 and 3 but really the team of professional instructors assess each group on their own abilities.
It’s aimed at those with anywhere between none and loads of off-road experience whether they are prospective Africa Twin buyers, new owners or simply interesting in honing some skills. There’s also the chance to ride the two smaller bikes in the adventure range – NC750X and CB500X. It was set-up and run by three-time Motocross World Champion, Dave Thorpe, who also runs the much more Enduro and Motocross-focused Honda Off Road Centre just down the road.
Thorpe told me, “Our existing relationship with Honda helped when it came to pitching for this idea. When the news broke that the Africa Twin was coming, I thought it would make sense to offer potential customers the chance to ride the bike off-road so we got a plan together.”
Earlier this year we took an Africa Twin to the Brecons as part of a group test to see how it matched up to its closest on-road rivals from KTM, Triumph and BMW. But this visit to one of the most scenic parts of the country gave us the ideal opportunity to see how the popular new Honda performed on much rougher terrain, while under the tuition of some expert instructors including Head Coach and four-time British Motocross Champion, Stephen Sword. The terrain is not an issue for the bike, nothing over the two days is too difficult for the machine. The deepest ruts and the steepest inclines are achievable and are demonstrated to show how accomplished the Africa Twin is. Instead the test is with both the existing and newly found skills of the person in charge of the throttle and brakes.
The Adventure Centre base is a sparkly new industrial unit on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil, a quick 10 mile ride away from the privately-owned 500 acre section of the forest on the southern border of the Brecons and its miles of gravel and mud trails and hills. One particular clearing, complete with a portaloo and some small cones, acts as the course HQ for the remainder of the two days. Here is where the first couple of hours are spent getting used to the controls, changes of grip, body position, low speed handling and variation in torque control levels.
However, before an engine is fired up back at base, there are the basics to work on. In around 30 minutes we quickly learn how to get on and off when the bike is on unstable ground as well as the technique used to pick the 230kg machine up in the event of a spill – which is almost guaranteed! That part takes place in the clean and perfectly horizontally-floored meeting room. Seems like a doddle so far while the inner child in me was just itching to get roosting on gravel and ride through deep, mucky puddles.
The hugely capable 4-stroke, parallel twin, 998cc bikes used by the school have a few modifications to those found in the local dealership. For one, they don’t have any mirrors but they do have additional engine bars both of which prevent the crash damage bill from escalating too high. They also use Metzeler Karoo 3 knobbly tyres to offer extra grip on the slippery surfaces.
Whether newly acquired skills or developed older ones, plenty of what’s learnt over the two days can be transferred to the road – even if it’s as simple as being more confident with the weight of a bike or adjusting your natural reaction to a loss of traction, in the wet, for example.
Throughout Day 1 there’s a steep learning curve including some steep hills to climb and descend. While the day starts on relatively easy, flat-ish ground aimed at easing each rider into the course, progress is made quickly to rougher ground with the full 94bhp on tap to spin the rear wheel and three torque settings to play with depending on how much traction is required. The instructors offer plenty of advice on which level is most suitable for each situation until we get more become familiar with the mix between required momentum and engine power. Flick the switch positioned where the traditional ‘Pass’ button would be to toggle between the three settings and hold it down to disengage, if you’re feeling brave.
The Africa Twin’s ride-by-wire throttle offers smooth enough power delivery ideal for the low speed and often rutted forest trails. Part of the exhilaration of riding such a powerful motorcycle across loose surfaces is the temptation of cracking the throttle open with as little interference from the electronics as possible and this is where skills are quickly developed. A word of warning though; at 230kg, it is a big machine should confidence take over, as I found out.
Attempting to climb a crumbly, rock-laden hill that would be tricky enough to negotiate on foot, I approached via a right hand turn. The ascent began at the apex of the corner but I got a bit carried away with the speed through a rut which caused a slow motion tank slapper for the first third. The result was a topple off but don’t worry about this because every one of the collected journalists had a spill at some point, so even professional riders get caught out!
Honda’s CRF1000F is an exceptional bike for all purposes. The vast majority won’t sniff a blade of grass let alone face Welsh forest trails but owners can be safe in the knowledge that the tall, narrow yet roomy bike has plenty of torque to conquer the most challenging situations Honda’s Adventure Centre course can offer. The adjustable forks with 230mm travel and a light clutch action make the riding a whole lot easier allowing for essential concentration effort in return.
Content for the second day is tailored to the standard of the group and is assessed by the instructors. After a warm up ride, the following exercises include Hill Recovery and Ascending plus off-camber riding.
Perhaps the biggest advice I can offer is ‘momentum is key’. To maintain pace and keep the weight of the bike off the front end then keep the bike moving. The slower you move through deep, muddy, sloppy puddles the more clogged the tyres groves will become, the heavier the bike will feel and the more exaggerated steering becomes. That’s easier said than done though, momentum requires confidence!
Trust in the bike and the tyres – it can get hairy at times but that’s part of the fun of learning. It might be out of some people’s comfort zone but when you drive or ride away after two days of intense learning there’ll be plenty to reflect on.
The course is full-on and physically demanding, every time there’s an obstacle, hill, mound, rut or even a corner there’s definitely a tendency to tense up but the more time I spent in the saddle and the more relaxed I became. There are plenty of breaks to take on enough water to keep hydrated and snacks for energy levels. Overall, the two-days offer plenty of value for money and shows the capabilities of the new Africa Twin. I was impressed by how easy it was to ride in/through/on/over some of the trickiest terrain I’ve encountered, it didn’t let me down.
To book or for more information: www.hondaadventurecentre.com or 01844 266443
Isle of Man TT
Dave Thorpe and his team will be running on road and off road ride outs on 6th - 7th June across the beautiful hillsides inside the TT course. Guided tours are in morning or afternoon sessions. It’s free, including kit hire!
Goodwood Festival of Speed
The Africa Twin will become the first ever bike to take on the Forest Rally Stage, ridden by Dave Thorpe. The occasion marks the 30th anniversary since the first of four consecutive Paris-Dakar wins for the original Africa Twin.
Helmet: BMW GS One World, £450. Fitted with BMW Communication System, £325
Suit: BMW Street Guard Jacket (£599) and Trousers (£499)
Gloves: BMW GS Rallye 3, £65
Boots: TCX Pro 2.1, £240
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