Welcome to the TRF
Members are often asked their views in answer to the question ‘What is the best trail bike?’ The answer is simple – it all depends on what sort of rider you are, what sort of riding you intend to do and what sort of bike you would like!
The internet is awash with information that will help you make the right choice, and we’ve referenced some useful resources to explore on our ‘Useful links’ page.
So, instead of trying to persuade you one way or the other, read below what some of our members say about their choices of machines….
I have been into bikes since I was 16, and have been all round Europe many times, but hardly done any trail/off-road riding. I decided that trail riding should help me improve my riding skills.
I bought a bike (more of which later) and joined the TRF at the NEC bike show which is where I met one our committee members (Andy).
I’ve been in to engineering and manufacturing duringmy working life so I’m not, and never have been a bean counter, but after attending a good few meetings it was clear that Andy needed some help, so I volunteered to count beans anyway. I liken my role to losing control of my bladder wearing a dark suit. It gives me a warm feeling but nobody notices.
My Trail Bike – XR250R bought late 2016 for £650
My logic for buying old and cheap being that I was going to be doing a lot of falling off so I didn’t want to trash a newer bike due to my ineptitude. It ran and didn’t look too bad, but I knew I’d have to do some work on it. I didn’t mind as I’m pretty handy with spanners.
I was right about it needing some work. So far the list includes:
- Exhaust headers
- Steering head bearings
- Swinging arm bearings, spindle and nut (It took 3 days of hammering to get the spindle out!)
- Rear shock
- Rear brake shoes (one of the linings had detached from its shoe and was lying in the drum)
- Tyres, tubes, rim tapes
- Control cables
- Chain slider
- Oil, filters, plug, fork oil etc
- Tappet adjustment
- New horn
- Gear lever (splines worn out)
- Tool/spares holders for fixes on the move.
- MoT (Sails through every year, but daytime use only, no brake light)
- Bar risers
I was also right about doing a lot of falling off. I have done, but the bike is crash proof and just comes back for more.
Has it been a good choice? Yes, and no.
Good: Easy to ride, reliable, powerful enough, crash proof, light (108kg), 2.1 gallon tank. It’s much more capable off road than I am.
Not so good: Burns some oil, no electric start, can’t be ridden on the road at night, not great for road miles. The last point is a pain as it means I need to borrow a van (thanks Matt) or cadge a lift (thanks Matt & Ben) to go anywhere unless I ride locally.
Have my riding skills improved?
Sad to say, no, not really, at least not yet – but I’m still hopeful.
I should explain. After one or two ride outs with the TRF I went out quite a few times on my own, got on OK and built my confidence. I then went out for a ride with the TRF and had a fairly innocuous off when my front wheel climbed out of a rut and spat me off. I hit the ground quite hard although I wasn’t going that fast. I was pinned to the ground by the bike on my ankle, lying invisibly in long grass. My leg was at an unusual angle. Not good. The guys in front had gone, and the guys behind had also fallen off. It was then that I saw fuel dripping on to a hot exhaust pipe and thought “This could get interesting pretty quickly”. I sounded the horn on my bike and eventually the guys who had fallen off behind me came to my rescue. Thanks Ian! I’d torn/strained some ligaments, and couldn’t kick the bike over (Ian to the rescue again). By the time I’d ridden home I couldn’t get off the bike so had to call the long-suffering Julie to help me get off it.
I’m over the injury now, but I don’t go green laning on my own just in case….
So why am I hopeful that I will be able to improve my skills? Ben has offered to help, and he really does know his stuff. We’ve been out in Thetford Forest once with the group with Ben following me giving me just the kind of hints and tips I need. Needless to say, I am looking forward to the end of the Covid 19 lockdown!
I’ve done quite a few of these. We ride around collecting score cards from fences to raise funds for the club. Good fun events, not too serious, and the opportunity to ride off-road all day where normally no riding would be allowed. What’s not to like?
Andy’s KTM 690
I joined the TRF back in 2014 primarily to get out on the local lanes and increase my ability in ‘Off road riding’. My ultimate aim was to gain the skills to do better in BMW’s GS Trophy as my bike at the time was an R1200GSA. Not wanting to be totally out of my depth or wanting to damage the GSA I picked up a tatty F650 GS Dakar that I thought would be much easier to handle. I soon found out that it wasn’t!
Following advice from other group members I looked for and found a much smaller and lighter bike in the form of a Yamaha TTR 250. A brilliant bike and absolutely perfect for trail riding. Totally manageable on the lanes, absolutely reliable and very low maintenance. It helped me gain the experience as well as confidence in riding as you could be certain that you would always be able to get through difficult conditions on it, or at least be able to pull/push it out.
It was the increase in confidence that made me think I was ready for something a little bigger and more powerful. Wanting to return to only have one bike and not having the opportunities to make the most of my GSA, I needed something in between.
A number of factors seemed to align and I heard that another member of the Cambs group was selling their KTM 690. I really hadn’t considered a KTM, but checking out the spec of the 690, it sounded good. After a very short test ride I was convinced that it was the bike for me.
I’ve now owned it for 3.5 years and still love it. It’s such a versatile bike. Plenty of power for the road and light enough to remain capable on the trails. I tend to do more miles on the lanes, so keep a more dirt bias tyre fitted. I’ve added far too many adventure bike accessories to it in the hope that I will get further afield one day, but as they don’t affect my ability off the tarmac I’m happy to keep them on.
So, it can take a while to find the right bike for what you want to do, but it’s also a lot of fun looking!
Ian’s Beta Alp
This is my 2019 Beta Alp 4.0, though you would be forgiven for thinking it’s looks much older than that.
It’s built around the Suzuki DR350 engine and gearbox from the 1990s, and the design hasn’t really changed in 17 years. It’s only recently gone out of production, having finally been killed off by European emissions regulations.
They are fine on the road and for linking up local lanes it suits the more relaxed, less technical type of riding I like to do: it’s why some TRF members decide to stick with the type of ownership and riding experience provided by bikes like this.