Sand Training in Surrey

Click on any photo to see a larger version. Return to Paul Blezís stories and snaps

Sand Training in Surrey

In early December 2006 I did some 'special sand training' with a dirt riding virgin on the not-so-hot-and-dusty trails of Surrey. Jason is an extremely experienced road rider who took his R1100RS around the world with Nick Sanders in 2002 and has subsequently helped Nick on several other tours. He's still got the faithful R1100RS, which now has 140,000 miles on it, but he's recently acquired an R1150GS Adventure because he's signed up for Nick's inaugural ride to Timbuktu and back, which deliberately coincides with next month's Dakar rally. He wisely thought that it might be a good idea to get some experience of dealing with sand before heading for the Sahara...

Sunday dawned grey and miserable after a night of torrential rain but the weather had brightened up considerably by the time the three of us set forth around mid-day with Jason on my KTM640 Adventure, Elspeth having her first ride on my 450EXC and me on the freshly revived Dominator that I bought off Bill Naismith ≠ I'd replaced the utterly knackered engine sprocket the night before and tightened up the sloppy gear lever after first hacksawing a wider opening for the pinch bolt.

We did the easy trail from Albury up to Newlands Corner as a warm-up then rode straight to the bottom of 'Coldharbour' via the A25. I have never seen this trail so wet since I first rode it with Alan Seagrave on my XR500 way back in about 1982. In those days there were puddles so long and deep that you could almost lose a Land Rover in them, but since the lane was re-graded several years ago I've hardly ever seen any puddles in it. The main reason I chose Coldharbour was because it's got a sandy section at least half a mile long but this weekend it was so wet that the sand was more like firm dirt and much, much easier to ride than usual. There were a lot of riders out and about ≠ we got caught in a real traffic jam at one point with a trail rider and two horses coming towards us and a group of about six dirt bikes, plus a bold chap on a Twinduro-shod R1150GS Adventure coming up behind us.

When we got to the end of the lane, opposite the pub in Coldharbour village, we turned right and did the trail to Leith Hill tower which was also very wet but the steep drop back down to the tarmac road wasn't as treacherous as I'd feared it might be. We then turned around and retraced our steps back to the A25, encountering more dirt bikes, a couple of horses and a pair of 4x4s along the way. Jason struggled in a couple of places and disappeared into the shrubbery at one point, but did well for a dirt virgin considering that the 640 is a fairly big beast, although it obviously helps that he's tall, strong and fit. Elspeth did fine on the 450 once she'd got used to the fact that it has double the power of her customary Serow, yet weighs about the same. She also had a spin on the Dominator on the way back to the tower and pronounced it pleasant but gutless compared to the 450. Elsp however declined to take part in the second and most important part of our little training session as she feared we'd end up riding the trails in the dark. (And of course she was right!)

Part Two - The Frensham Sands

For part two, Jason and I headed east to the sands of Frensham Common (south of Farnham) with him still riding my 640 but this time I was astride his R1150GS Adventure, complete with top box (a snip at £5K with only 12,000 miles on the clock). The monster Beemer of course makes even the 640 feel like a lightweight, but it still felt good to be back on one for my first proper ride on an 1150 since I drowned my own Boxer twin in the second Welsh rally of Discovery in the Spring of 2005. (It's since gone to a better home in the Emerald Isle). You can't beat those heated handlebar grips, either! The mile-long Frensham trail is pure sand but it was the wettest I've ever known it. I don't think I've ever seen a single puddle on it before but last weekend it was full of Ćem. However, all the wetness also meant that it was much firmer than usual and so much easier to ride. I was still slightly concerned about how the 1150 might behave since the tyres were well-worn Tourances at full road pressures rather than the knobbly Continental TKC Twinduros that most people use for trail riding. I needn't have worried, the Beemer was like a big pussycat and just purred through everything unperturbed. Back in September (when I rode it with Bill and Mick) it was a challenge just to keep the 640 pointing the way I wanted it to go in the soft dry sand, but last Sunday even the 1150 was a piece of the proverbial to ride on the transformed wet stuff.

There were only a couple of sections which offered any real challenge, so I made one of them the focus of our practice session. Once Jason was able to ride the 640 through it in a straight line I got him to zig-zag as much as possible through it. I dropped the 1150 for the first time as I attempted to demonstrate what I wanted him to try on the 640, which provided a timely reminder of just how heavy those bally Beemers are! Once Jason had built up a bit of confidence we did the whole length of the trail again, both ways. Finally, I said, "How do you feel about having a crack on the 1150?" He was distinctly nervous but I pointed out that this was, after all, the beast he was going to be riding in the Sahara next month, not the 640, so it would be very good if he could get some experience of sand on it, right now.

Jason took a deep breath and said he'd have a go, and did very well. He struggled a bit on the little step on the hill at the end near the car park but when I suggested riding the whole trail once more back and forth all the way on the 1150, he went for it and came through with shining colours, only dropping the big twin once in the softest bit. He admitted it had given his confidence a huge boost and I know that when he does encounter sand on the road or piste in Africa next month, he'll be a lot more confident and competent than he would have been if he hadn't first done Frensham on the Beemer. I swapped back to the big Ćun for the last couple of trails as darkness fell; the first was the whoopy one across Tilford Common which again, was uncommonly full of puddles, and a slippery challenge on the smooth Tourances, especially in the dark. The last lane was the one which runs from the River Wey and comes out at the Donkey pub at Charleshill. The 1150 just purred along in second at 1500rpm while Jason disappeared out of the mirrors a couple of times and put some new battle scars on the KTM's fairing ≠ thank Gawd for those pop-off KTM indicators (which I've finally worked out how to pop back on!).

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon's riding, and as an added bonus my new black Army Goretex socks kept my feet dry through all the immersions. (£12.99 from Dragon Supplies of Colchester: PNB