KTM’s first Adventure Rally UK recently took place on a sweltering July weekend at the Sweetlamb off-road complex in mid-Wales. Seventy KTM owners, armed with their own orange-brand adventure bikes, spent three days camping, drinking, eating, enjoying the stunning scenery of the 6600-acre off-road training venue – and, most importantly, learning a raft of new riding skills under the tutelage of a skilled crew of Sweetlamb instructors. All under a blisteringly hot sun.
It sounds pretty close to the ideal UK adventure-riding weekend, and so it proved; the event was so well-received KTM has subsequently announced the KTM Adventure Rally UK will most likely become a regular on the calendar. Simon Roots, KTM UK’s Marketing, Events and Motorsports Manager, explains why the Rally matters: “In the UK, KTM have a motocross school and an enduro school, but on the adventure side we haven’t got anything until now,” he admits. “We had to hone down what a KTM Adventure School would look like; now we’ve tested it as a community event, and it was perfect. So we’re hoping to run a second event next year, only bigger and better.”
An annual event is a no-brainer from a marketing point of view; the Rally would be a chance for KTM’s substantial adventure-riding fan-base to get together and experience a bit of communal Mattighofen love, and also to experience the off-road ability of their bikes.
To give us a taste of what could be on offer, KTM have invited BikeSocial to sample the Sweetlamb centre on their 1290 Super Adventure R and 1090 Adventure R. Today the site – with its rows of empty tents and food hall – has the slightly deflated air of a missed party, but the presence of Chris Birch, KTM’s rally expert and test rider, to show me round the complex is compensation enough. And it needs to be – like, I suspect, many KTM adventure-bike owners, my off-road experience and ability are both strictly limited.
As I kit up, sheltering from the oppressive heat in a log cabin mess tent, I realise I’m actually the perfect candidate – I’m nervous of the inevitable falling over, and worried about my capacity to learn new tricks at an advanced age. Just like many other KTM adventure customers. But unlike them, I’ve already ridden KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure R off road, at its launch in Peru last year. I remember being impressed the sophistication of its electronics package and chassis design meant a total idiot could safely ride around in light sand without spannering himself. I hope the same applies in Wales.
As I wobble out into Sweetlamb’s scenery, sprawling majestically across 6600 acres of prime hillsides, streams, forests and gravel roads totalling 24 miles, I relax – the 1290 and 1090 Rs are both a big machines, and their physical size alone can be intimidating. But with a perfectly lucid, one-thing-at-a-time common sense that avoid flustering or overloading with too much information, Chris Birch explains how to control the bike to do your bidding; where to put your body – your feet, shins, knees, hips and torso – and how they enhance (or impede) the bike’s behaviour and stability. It makes perfect sense, and a few hours mucking about on a grass slope does wonders for my confidence. Which is another step forward in itself.
As the day moves on, we head out along Sweetlamb’s gravel trails and up hillsides; a momentary lapse of concentration combined with over-confidence has me hanging onto a wildly careering, out-of-control 1090 R, shooting off the path and towards rocks as I land awkwardly and can’t shut the throttle. For a split second it has all the hallmarks of a painful conclusion and sole witness Luke Brakenbury, from KTM’s Austrian office, is already calling the air ambulance in his head. But I manage to cling on while the bike regains composure; somewhere in Austria, a software and chassis engineer ought to be high-fiving right now.
Back at KTM Adventure Rally HQ I chat to Mark Molineux, who runs the two-wheeled training and off-road riding side of the Sweetlamb venue (the site also doubles as a rally car venue). His experience in motocross, enduro and rally riding gives him a great perspective across most off-road disciplines.
“Basically, we offer everything and anything,” says Mark. “We cater for the first-time novice, who’s never been off-road, right up to someone wanting to enter the Dakar rally – we cover the entire scope of off-road.”
That’s comforting news for us novices. For most of us, the idea of taking our bikes off-road is great but in reality the worry of damaging it, damaging ourselves, and meanwhile learning a new set of riding skills, is fairly daunting. The final hurdle is finding the opportunity; a location and a time.
It’s a pretty formidable array of disincentives. But they’re exactly the issues the team at Sweetlamb are set-up to cope with: “We get a load of guys who are predominantly on road bikes, 40 to 50 plus, fancy a dabble off-road but don’t know how to go about it,” says Mark.
If the KTM Adventure Rally UK becomes a reality, 2019 will be the perfect year to give it a try.
Pics: Chippy Wood