Review: Going off road at the Mick Extance Experience
When you think of new riders you think L plates, 125s and rear brakes being dragged in car parks in full view of a bloke in a fluorescent jacket.
And for most new riders and wannabe bikers, that’s exactly what your first taste of life on two wheels is like.
But it doesn’t have to be that way and, after seven hours in the capable hands of Mick Extance and his team, we’re convinced it shouldn’t be.
The Mick Extance Experience
Set in the hills above Llangynog, the Mick Extance Experience has been giving riders the chance to go off road under expert tuition for seven years.
We’re late to the party but better late than never, as one lucky member of The Bike Insurer team explains.
It doesn’t feel like enough. I’m inexperienced, and I feel it on the road, but I can still ride a bike unsupervised.
The onus is on the rider then to get out, get more tuition and improve, but it’s not always obvious where and how to go about improving.
And not once did I think I’d find the solution by going halfway up a Welsh mountain and jumping on a 250cc bike.
Our day out
Arriving in Wales I was immediately given a brew and my kit, before listening to a briefing about what the day would bring, as well as techniques and tips about the controls that would be used.
From there it was on to the bike and a short ride along gravel tracks to the training area.
Immediately I was given a glimpse of why you’d ride off the beaten track: the views.
It was stunning and compared to sitting on a dual carriageway; well there wasn’t a comparison to be made.
The short ride reaffirmed my fear of riding down slight slopes but I was convinced I’d hidden it well and that nobody else had noticed.
I was wrong. One of the instructors, Rich, had been riding near me. He wandered over and gave me a few pointers on what he thought I could do to make me less of a wimp.
It was another reminder that a CBT doesn’t mean you can ride. It just means you’ve got enough skills not to get yourself into trouble on the road.
Simple techniques for starters
The training centre is a reassuring stretch of flat ground smattered with a few cones, some gentle slopes going into the trees and a gravel mound.
None of which concerned me because that all seemed too much to do within 20 minutes of going off road for the first time.
Again, I was wrong because after some clutch control exercises, I was faced with a mound of gravel and what felt like my first proper attempt at something slightly motocrossy.
I had to ride up onto the gravel, across a couple of bumps, roll down the other side and bring the bike back to where I started.
And I did it. Admittedly with an ear-piercing number of revs and a couple of false starts, but I got across none the less, as did the rest of our group.
Our confidence soared, we were all convinced that we could now take on anything and then we were pointed towards a short, sharp hill and all that confidence fluttered away again.
It was a sequence set of feelings I got used to as the day went on.
First there was disbelief and then there was panic, followed by a reluctant acceptance that I was going up, down, over, or through whatever it was that was in front of me.
From there, determination reared its head as I tackled the obstacle before delight and absolute confidence made a welcome return, once I’d realised that nothing was broken.
Then Mick would show you the next challenge and the sequence would start all over again.
Here’s a sneak preview of our video. Full version to follow.
As the day panned out our group was introduced to more difficult challenges and techniques.
From going down steeper hills with the front brake, your feet and gentle clutch control to tackling steep deep puddles, gradually the difficulty was ramped up.
Improvement and tips
Throughout the day the instructors are never far away and help in lots of different ways.
Whether they’re offering gentle encouragement or tips to improve your riding, giving you time to weigh up an obstacle or offering a nudge when you’re starting to doubt yourself, Mick and his team make learning fun and cooperative.
Objectively, going off road should come after going on the road, where arguably there should be less mud, fewer obstacles and lots more flat ground.
So you’d think a visit to the Mick Extance Experience should wait a few years until you’re used to riding on the road.
But after a full day in the Welsh hills, going off road makes sense for all abilities, even if you’ve never ridden a bike.
After all, if you can ride down a gulley through a steep forest in the rain, taking on a roundabout is a lot less intimidating.
Learn more about the Mick Extance Experience.
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