Early trail bikes
The Honda XL125 suited me fine probably because it was light and nimble and was such a fantastic improvement on the Bianchi and getting away from the various problems of the BSA B40SS90. It started first time and never missed a beat. When I went riding with the TRF (Trail Riders Fellowship) I found myself under a bit of peer pressure. They said it was not powerful enough to plough through deep mud and they said there was no room to fit a really large rear tyre. And if I fitted a slightly larger rear tyre I would have to change the sprocket to gear it down for enough torque. And the rear suspension was not very good.
When a year or two later I succumbed to the peer pressure, and found what they said was reasonable when I traded it in for a Yamaha DT175 (a two-stroke with a membrane inlet valve giving me more torque and importantly with metered pumped, 2 stroke oil doing away with premix) I could see that this was indeed more fun in trail riding. But if you were content to go slowly at a steady speed the Honda XL125 was perfectly okay.
Without a doubt the Honda 125 is the bike I should have had from the beginning. I look back in horror at the messy two stroke pre-mix the relatively poor performance and poor suspension of the Bianchi, and all the problems with the BSA and waiting many months for a spare part.
Riding the high passes in the Lake District
These are ‘Gates Head Pass’, ‘Garburn Road’ and ‘Walma Scar’, near Coniston (now sadly closed to motor cycles).
Although these passes are not so very long they have wonderful scenery and you find yourself transported from one part of the Lake District to another, with a very different type of scenery. So crossing the passes is quite ‘magical’.
Technically these are said to be the most difficult longer distance trails in the country although, later I have experienced some very short trails in Devon which I would say are technically more difficult. Some TRF members are so skilled they could ride the Lake District passes with their lady friends on the pillion. And some could even ride “unmanageable” “too heavy” big flat twins over the passes.
I went on a TRF weekend to ride these passes and found it hugely enjoyable including joining up these passes with other trail roads.
A year or two later I did the trip again, this time on the DT 175 it was no more or less enjoyable with a more suitable machine which made it less of a challenge and I also I had become more skilful myself.
Living in York I was well placed for both the Yorkshire Moors and the Yorkshire Dales. I systematically made sure by using maps I’ve been on every legal trail on both. I particularly enjoyed long distance trails which took you from one lot of scenery to another. Of these, I particularly enjoyed the trails which branched off from the main road from Thornton ‘le’ Dale to Whitby in the direction of the coast near Scarborough.
I also have done a great deal of trail riding in Scotland several times over the Corrieyairack which carried General Wade’s military road from Loch Ness to Lagoon, taking you “magically” from one part of Scotland to another, A very scenic ride and more challenging than the Lake District Passes, due to deterioration in parts – mainly caused by flowing water.
Coming from Aberdeen and my family still there I did many trips over the ‘mouth’ roads from Deeside over Tar side, including the extremely challenging track over Mount Keen, exceedingly steep on the Dee side. I often rode the well-known Fungal track. That and the other mouth roads were mostly used by drovers taking the cattle south.
Unfortunately the number of legal trails has diminished over the years because some trail riders rode in groups that were too large and/or in an anti-social fashion which put people against trail riders. Even worse, some people charged money for taking commercial groups around on the trails. Many trails which might only see a few trail riders per year began to be over-used including some trails which were not legal but where the land owner would turn a blind eye to trail riders. Because of this the objections began. And there were legal actions to close some trails so my very strong hobby of trail riding became diminished over the years. I am glad I managed so many trails while I was younger.
I had some wonderful trail rides in the north of Scotland – not all on legal tracks, but with so few trail riders there it was tolerated .And sometimes with the land owner’s permission. On 13 successive years I attempted to get to Cape Wrath (at extreme North West of Scotland) by different routes I eventually succeeded – and was in a way disappointed as “the last challenge had gone ”.I believe I am the first to do it on a TRAIL bike and certainly on the same bike all the way from York .I heard of two men that got there before me but on TRIALS bikes which are much more suitable and helping one another over obstacles .And for taking the bikes to the vicinity on trailers. So I can easily claim the moral victory!
I also did a hair-raising ride skirting Loch Morar to Tarbet where there is a post office shown on the map but where there are no roads and mail comes by boat twice a week. The part-time postman was a most interesting character who delivered to his own house and two others.
I did a still more hairy journey zig-zagging up the side of a very steep hill to join up two places about seven miles apart on the map. Each of them on a long “dead-end” road – places maybe 100 miles apart by road! Permission was given only grudgingly (because of the erosion on the hair pins the zig zags) and reluctantly, so I won’t give the exact location.
By this time I had got over my feeling that I would be killed or maimed if I rode a big bike and bought a Kawasaki 500 Twin, which could also be used on easy tracks. Later Kawasaki brought out a trail bike version of it. With that, and the number of people prepared to use the very heavy Yamahas XT500 trail bike, it is clear that I was far from alone in wanting a good trail bike that is as fast and comfortable on the road as possible, to ride to the vicinity of the trails
Then I bought a Honda 250 twin which was fine as a commuter but not as a longer distance bike, then I bought a Honda 350 twin which was far more capable than you think from 35/25 it was my first satisfactory touring bike and I fitted a full fairing and did some long distance trips including to London and back in a day. Without much discomfort stopping off at many of the Little Chef restaurants on the way.
People spoke of the “bullet proof” motorcycle, HONDA XT500 V Twin, with shaft drive. I eventually I traded the Honda 350 for one but I did not like it as it was top heavy and the seat was nowhere near as comfortable as it looked. I feel ashamed to have been influenced to change something that was fine for me.
I then changed to another V Twin – an Italian Motogussi – lighter with the weight much lower, a far nicer to ride, but on that bike the electrics were a complete nightmare.
Next I changed to my best road bike ever-by a long chalk, a simply delightful Honda 4 cylinder across the frame. (I think the designation was CBX550.) Light, nimble and willing., maybe too willing liable to lose your licence as it comfortable cruising speed was 80 mph and it did like to go slower I look back in horror by comparison with the CX500 V Twin. I had several years of delightful riding with this bike.
Back to trail bikes
I made much effort to get a trail bike which was also fast and nice on the road. My next effort Honda Endura 250 which looked the business. It had wonderful suspension; you could hit a speed bump at 65 mph and hardly notice it (yes I know!) but for trail riding it was not so nice, as it had top end power rather than low down ’grunt. It might have been okay if I’d been younger. I then tried a Yamaha XT 250 trail bike – good on the road and for easy trails but hard to start and a bit tall for me.
I then bought a Yamaha ‘Serow’ 225 trail bike. A good compromise, accepting that excellent trail riding was more important than road speed and because I was getting older I was happy to transport by car with a trailer. However, I rode this bike on a 450-mile journey to the North of Scotland without too much discomfort. Besides, as my grandfather used to say, “If you get there two minutes earlier, what will you with the two minutes?” Especially when you see “mad” people over-taking on blind bends.
As I moved to live in different parts of the country I rode the local trails, for example when I lived in Stoke-on-Trent, as well as those in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, including the Peak District. While I was on holiday I rode those around Castle-Douglas and Dalbeattie and Glentrool and when in the South West I rode many along with the Devon TRF and I think I astonished them when at age 68 I rode some extremely difficult trails and they put some videos of this on YouTube.
During all these years I tried to find an ideal bike for the trails, which was also ideal for driving to the trails, rather than taking it on a trailer behind a car. The best off road bike which was a Suzuki PE250 Endura. That bike steered itself! The Yamaha XT 350 while fine on the road was unsatisfactory on the trails. A very good compromise was the Yamaha Serow 225 but eventually I found something even better that started well and drove as smooth as silk – so much so you would think it was fuel injection. This was Honda’s answer to the Yamaha Serow 225, which was also a 4 stroke 225. I rode this bike on the high passes of the Lake District and even on Gates Head pass it was effortless, so as an older and not very strong person I was able to ride tracks without too much effort where young people were struggling with less suitable motor cycles. Unfortunately it was stolen and I had to drive all the way to Swindon to get a second hand replacement. I did some trail riding in the Swindon area while there.
I thought it would be very nice to have a trail road from Northumberland to Scotland but all I could find were some short disconnected sections. I also rode some trails South of Guilford – very different.
On two successive years I went with a friend to the middle of France with Yamaha Serows on a trailer had the most wonderful time and incredible selection of tracks in the ‘Tarn’ area. One day when my friend wasn’t well I saw a lovely mountain covered in snow in the distance and I rode towards it with no map and I eventually reached it I found a track that must have been built to install the ski lifts and got up to the snow line which I later found was seven thousand feet – the highest I had ever been on a motor bike.
Eventually I bought a motor caravan and put a Honda 225 Trail Bike on a rack at the rear. So no more problems with long rides and no need to worry about B&B in remote areas.