My interest in off-road motorcycling was formed during a recent trip to Vietnam. There I found enjoyment in traversing the muddy roads along the way to small mountain villages. Over the following months, I participated in the Deus Swank Rally, an off-road event riding my Deus Custom. The limitations of this pretty, although not entirely suitable motorcycle was soon uncovered, leading to the idea of buying a bike more purpose-built bike; a lime green Kawasaki KLX250S.
The following weekend, we loaded the bikes into a friend’s van and headed north to the Ourimbah State Forest, 90 minutes outside Sydney. In the intervening week, I purchased a range of gear including knee-high boots (so important when rocks and tree branches pose a danger to your shins); body armour (inevitably, there will be falls in muddy terrain); plus a new helmet and goggles. Any thoughts of being a stylish rider disappeared when I saw the available options. Unlike other forms of motorcycling, functionality and garish colours reign supreme in the dirt biking world. This is as good as it gets.
Arriving in Ourimbah, there was a feeling of anticipation mixed with a modest amount of fear as we off-loaded the bikes. I was keen to try out the new machine while being keenly aware that I am an inexperienced off-road rider and prone to mistakes. Watching a variety of YouTube videos the night before certainly helped, although errors are inevitable when doing something for the first time.
Setting off along a narrow trail, we stopped partway down an embankment and had to turn the bikes back up the hill. This, it turns out is not as easy as it sounds and I dropped the bike twice getting back up the incline. Ten minutes later, I hit a muddy section and went over again without injury. These minor falls showed the Kawasaki to be built tough enough to withstand rough treatment. I was impressed.
Five minutes later, and we were heading down a rocky path that was far beyond my modest skills; barely able to keep the motorcycle upright. Stopping to catch my breath, I noted that the group had not followed, remaining safely at the top of the trail. It turns out that ignorance is not always bliss. Getting the bike back up that rocky section was fraught with difficulties including dropping the bike two more times. By this stage, only 40 minutes into my first ride, my confidence had taken a hit. Looking up the path, I had to focus, telling myself that I could make it. Fortunately, this little internal pep talk worked, and I made my way safely to the top.
A group decision was made to stop riding these narrow, rocky paths preferring the wider gravel, sand and rocky trails instead. This more natural terrain rebuilt my confidence as I got a feel for the bike and its capabilities. 20 minutes later and I was flying through the forest. It is incredible how fast a motorcycle feels at 70 km/h when you are riding between trees. It requires focus to ensure you are prepared for the continually changing terrain. By this point, I was really having fun, leading the pack on one track after another.
Several hours later, spent from the days riding, we visited the Wyong Milk Factory for some much-needed sustenance. This is an impressive redevelopment of the 1906 Milk Factory with food and activities for all ages. Dropping my motorcycle in the first hour of riding was the challenge that made finding my feet on the bike all the more rewarding. Tired and muddy, I was already looking forward to the next outing as we made our way back to Sydney.