Taking the MX Express to Chippenham
As a Londonbiker (someone who rides primarily in the captial) I am fairly comfortable when filtering and almost 'used to' the constant suprises the road throws at me in the shape of suicidal pedestrians, errant taxis looking for fares and drivers paying far too much attention to things other than the road and who else might be using it etc.
I'm not the most comfortable on country lanes and twisty roads - I'll be the first to admit it, but that is only because of a lack of experience riding them. Off-road, is even worse! I had a constant fear of falling when attempting the previous off-road/ green laning experience I had and with only the informal advice of my fellow supermoto green laners to go by, I was nervous the whole time when riding, although thankful when I reached the end relatively unscathed!
So, after getting home from work at 10pm the night before, I managed to do some last minute LB business and then check my kit for the following day - I would also be bringing some bits and pieces to help me create memories of the day. As it turns out, I'm very glad I brought them.
Getting the early morning tube into central London to get my connecting train with all the sleepy commuters, I thought that I should do my best on the track and was determined to make the most of the day as I had let myself down on a recent outing on a supermoto trackday by not really pushing myself.
This would be made slightly easier by the fact that I wasn't using my own bike or kit!
The thought was always in my mind that I mght come down too hard and brake a wrist etc, but I'd warm up beforehand to lessen the severity of any sprains and twists.
On the Day
The event was being run by the recently formed Hucklebridge Events run by husband & wife team Mark and Emma Hucklebridge in conjunction with the invaluable help of Express Insurance (more about both a little later).
There were six people taking part in the event as learners; the numbers are kept down to maximise the time with instructors and ensure that real learning takes place. It was also pointed out that a great deal more kit would be needed with a larger amount of learners to cater for!
Sent out in three pairs, we had a 'paddock' session to begin with and two sessions on the track, each session lasting approximately 25 minutes. This may not sound like much, but after the later sessions, any longer would have been left us unfit learners exhausted.
All clothes, helmet, boots, gloves and armour were supplied although I chose to use my own boots. Gear for the events is supplied by Wulf Sport International and Smith UK, the bikes we used were Kawasaki KLX 450cc Enduro bikes supplied by Kawasaki UK (see accompanying gallery).
As we got ready, we were shown how it's really done by three MX youth riders who have all attended the ACU Academy and are champions in their own fields. In the photos and video, they are easily distinguished by the race plates on their bikes, their speed and the clouds of dust they left after them on the track!
On the Bike
After the short warm up I had promised myself, the first session saw myself and Benjamin, my motocross learning colleague, being shown around the bikes and being given instructions on the basics of riding off-road as opposed to riding a road bike.
I was assigned to Brian Wheeler, an experienced motocross rider, qualified ACU instructor and long term colleague of Mark Hucklebridge (who was Ben's instructor for the day). In the image gallery, Brian is on my left and Mark is on my right in the last photo (I'm the one gurning in the middle).
As the instruction was one-to-one, Brian was able to focus on my errors and I quickly progressed through riding positions - standing correctly on the pegs in the straights and seated forward with the foot out around the bends, slow riding - requiring balance and throttle control, riding in circles, figures of 8 and then combining everything we had learnt.
With my experience on the KTM, I think that I had a bit of a head start, whereas Ben rides a GSX-R1000 which has a, slightly, different riding style.
We were told to perform basic manouvers one the bikes and taken through any mistakes we were making and how to correct them.
Who are Express?
After a fairly placid first session, I had a better chance to talk with the organisers of the event, Express Insurance. Express already sponsor a variety of biking interests - it is the official insurance partner to the Maxxis ACU British Motocross Championship, widely considered to be the premiere UK Motocross Championship. Express also sponsor World Superbike rider Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne, Team sponsor of the Worx Crescent Suzuki British Superbikes team (since 2004) - Sylvain Guintoli, the official insurance partner to the R&G Racing Suzuki GSX-R Trophy (since 2007) and the proud Title Sponsor of the Express Insurance British Youth Motocross Championship
Of course Express Insurance also support the 'Learn to Motocross' days.
I was very impressed with the set up they had there with a great hospitality tent packed with snacks and drinks of all kinds which are laid on throughout the day. There was more than enough for everyone and I helped myself to the fruit bowl as Emma explained that the Hucklebridge Events is reletively new as Mark has only just decided to stop racing. Mark had been racing off road competitively since the age of 10, raced at an international level and is still the youngest ever winner of the Weston Beach Race. He is a fully qualified ACU instructor, rider assessor and Moto-X coach. Emma is also an accomplished MX rider in her own right, her and Mark having competed against each other in the past!
Any conversation was brought to a close as we were told to get ready for the second session. I couldn't wait although my colleague was more apprehensive.
Let's Off-Road! - and then have some lunch
The second session was about getting to grips with the Leigh Delamare track which is small & technical, just under a mile long with approximately 14 turns, good for practicing, ruts, cornering and small jumps.
Brian, my instructor, made sure I could recall what he had shown me in the first session and let me loose on the track! Well, the first time round was the 'sighting lap' so we could become familiar with the layout and what to expect. After the initial go around, once our instructors were satisfied, Ben and I were encouraged to get moving a little. Every so often, either Brian or Mark would pull us aside and point out errors in our riding in an effort to improve things for us.
As I returned to the start/finish area, I got the feeling that, despite the helmet and goggles I had on, people could easily see my broad smile underneath!
Although, of course, I was not alone; all six 'trainees' were swapping stories like excited schoolboys. We were motocross heroes.
Then it was time for a very welcome lunch.
I remember being very impressed with the spread laid on at the beginning of the day; this was more of the same with a good selection of hot and cold food. There even two types of cake for dessert (which I chose over the fruit this time) - congratulations and thanks to the Hucklebridge Events catering team!
While tucking into my baked potato lunch I got chatting to, a different, Emma who works for Express Insurance. Previous to this day I hadn't really heard of Express, but she told me all about the sponsoring of events and riders (mentioned above) and that they are an intermediary, offering great on-the-road insurance and tailor-made policies for all sorts of cover. They even have policies suitable for people that have points on their license (not me yet!).
Back on Track
The third session was basically a repeat of the second one as we were allowed on the track, although with a full stomach and the bolstered feeling of confidence I had from doing well so far, I was ready to take on anyone!
I'm sure most of the organisers would agree that I was the fastest of the learners there (even if I say so myself), but I was also the only one to high-side off the track after taking a tricky corner too enthusiastically, expect a video later.
I blame the cake.
The day concluded with a debrief and we were even presented with mini trophies to commemorate our acheivements!
I had an amazing time despite the unscheduled 'off-track' end to my riding, and I would thoroughly recommend the experience to anyone wanting to improve their general riding skills or just have fun off-road in a safe, friendly and well catered for environment.
I would like to thank Brian, Mark & Emma and the Hucklebridge Events team, Emma J from Express, Suzanne, Matt and all the other people who made the day possible. It was great to meet some fellow road riders turned motocross enthusiasts for a day, well done everyone!
The day after - the warm ups seem to have paid off as I can actually walk and, despite my off, I don't have that many aches and pains.
I have an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that comes with having learnt something new about myself, biking and having walked away from an accident (and a 'crash video' to show people)!
Map of the Leigh Delamare track -
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