"Do you remember the first thing that made you dream of motorbikes? For me it was the final sequence of Bruce Brown’s 1972 epic homage to American motorsport On Any Sunday. I can’t remember how I came across it "
Off-road culture: True Automotive Freedom via the knobblies
Get far from the madding crowds, go offroad and get knobbly, dirty and dangerous
The problem with roads is that they have rules. The good thing about offroad culture is that there aren’t as many.
Whether you like it or not the road is in itself a piece of administrative coercion. No matter what kind of machine you drive or ride the freedom these things represent is curtailed, limited, palsied. It’s one of the contradictory truths of international motoring.
This is directly contrary therefore to the huge majority of the aesthetic of marketing. The motoring industry universally tempts us with promises of freedom, transcendence. We are beckoned to this brand and that via a series of spurious images hardly any of which stand up to scrutiny in this crowded urban world.
This is, then, where the beauty of offroad riding and driving comes in. Sure, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Green Lanes, for example, have well-administered rules and regulations concerning what you can and cannot do. And if you choose to ignore the codes of the ancient byways that criss-cross the land you’re sure to fall foul of a farmer or residential landlord. But there exists all over this planet a range of ways that you can get away from the strictures of the state – all you really need is a vehicle, you see, with a set of knobblies. All you need to do is go offroad.
To experience the raw thrill, the primal buzz of moving freely across a landscape at speed – it is best to do this away from the paved roads. It is best to stray as far as possible from the madding crowd and the laws that administer it.
Here are a few avenues of inspiration to set you free of the streets.
Trialling is a non-speed event on small, light bikes. it is a test of riding skill over a series of observed sections. Rather than speed, Trials is about balance, fine motor skills and concentration – especially when you’re talking the trickiest of terrain like that in Scotland – and considering the sort of focus needed for almost a week of continuous riding.
When riding observed sections, the aim is to stay on the pegs and negotiate flagged markers and obstacles – which could range from river fords, gullies and boulder-strewn gorges. Trialling is most popular in the United Kingdom and Spain, though there are participants around the globe. Modern trials motorcycles are really hi-tech, skeletal machines with huge ground clearance and tiny fuel tanks. The kind of terrain their riders need to negotiate require fine throttle, balance, and machine control.
Trialling may not be the most glamorous of motorsports – it has struggled to shrug off the image of the flat cap and the trench coat – but its riders are some of the most skilful out there. One of the biggest events in the trialling world is the Scottish Six Day International Trial, which every year brings a legion of the finely-tuned trials men together in the Highlands. And if you’re a child of the seventies or eighties, your motorcycle consciousness may well be born of Junior Kickstart!
If your trailing is populated by your flat caps, farmers and throttle-tweaking geniuses of exactitude, then the acolytes of the Motocross creed are the shaka throwing extremists of offroad motorsport. Motocross evolved from ‘observed trials’ to a race-based format and from a point-to-point format to circuits known as Motos, while enduro has branched off again to a more endurance-based, ground-covering race format. Now, with the development of freestyle motocross, the sport has come to occupy a space firmly between your action sports like surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding and mainstream motorsport. And the marketing departments of energy drinks love it, of course. The freestyle aspect of the sport features extreme air with flips, spins and other radical moves. Having evolved with the sort of automotive technology that can cram the power of around fifty horses a bike that weighs around 100KG – and the kind of suspension that can deal with huge, repeated compression. Back in the day your classic motocross bike was a snarling two stroke single up to 500cc that leapt to life in the power band. Most manufacturers still produce some two stroke bikes – but with environmental considerations rearing their heads four strokes are more common out there these days – and remain as competitive as their brash cousins. the FIM world championships has a category that allows bikes up to 650c.
Check this video to see 10 incredible FMX tricks.
Rally-Raid is the daddy of the offroad world. Long distance, multi-class rallies where international boundaries are often crossed and where bikes, quads, cars, trucks and even huge multi-wheel lorries compete against one another for overall classification as well as in their own races-within-a-race. Multiple stages can involve up to a thousand kilometres or more per day. Each category is broken down into categories of their own – and hundreds of teams and individuals have been known to slog it out. The most famous ‘Raid’ event is, of course, the Paris-Dakar – but the Budapest-Bamako event is thought to be the largest amateur rally in the world and boasts a plethora of gung-ho privateers. The first Paris-Dakar race came in 1979, and famously included barely tweaked production cars like Renault 4s and Peugeot 504 – as well as the spectacular six-wheeled Pinzgauer. These days Dakar specials are ground-up builds from people like Bowler, who may or may not use base production models as the starting point of their construction. Works teams like Mitsubishi have been very successful in the overall classification.
Stay tuned for the next Dakar event – which is being held in South America in January 2017.
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