The Sweet Lamb centre has been around for a long while, often frequented by rally car drivers for it has miles of private gravel roads that are just perfect for their high-speed antics. But these roads, plus the rolling hills (mountains in fact) and sheer scale of this place (yes, 6600 acres) also make it an adventure bike mecca.
So KTM has partnered with long time rally/adventure aficionado Mark ‘Moly’ Molyneux to create a bespoke KTM adventure experience (and ACU-qualified training facility). There’s now a brand new welcoming centre with changing room and a hefty fleet of 790 Adventure Rs and 1290 Adventure Rs all ready to welcome adventure riders both new and old (can be both of course). And of course there’s a curriculum to follow – start with the Bronze course, then go Silver, Orange (not gold – you can see what they’re doing there) and even Orange Pro. All courses are two-day.
After a day with Moly, Pat and the team here are our top-five takeaways:
1. GRAVEL IS A FRONTIER
Long-standing dirt riders see gravel roads as simple flat-out liaisons, you don’t think, you just pin it. But if you’re brand new to adventure and only known sealed road then the loose feel of gravel is actually very unnerving. So to have so many miles of the stuff, going up, down, off-camber etc is a damn good thing. Even the simple mastery (or at least familiarity) of this medium is a huge step toward being ready for a great overland adventure. With the advice from Moly and his team (who’ll start you slow) you can find your happy on gravel.
2. FEEL STARTS AT 2MPH
It’s often said trials is the bedrock of motorcycle control. It’s not trials as such, just slow-speed techniques. Moly and his team have a couple of nice flat dirt corrals, complete with fun obstacles and challenges, where you can learn and practice slow speed skills, improving balance and feel for the bike’s controls. Getting a feel for a bike’s weight, its balance, how it reacts to even the slowest-speed inputs greatly enhances the rider’s ability to deal with challenges at higher speeds on the trails. Part of that is building confidence, but equally by developing a sub-conscious feel for bike control means you’ve got more brain capacity to deal with the trail’s challenges in the moment.
3. ROAD RIDERS RIDE ON THEIR BUMS
Just as car drivers do, in standard highway conditions there’s little or no need to do otherwise. But dirt riders understand (as do road racers, incidentally) that actually most rider input into the bike comes through his/her feet. We’re talking weighting the footpegs to make the bike turn, using the articulation of the hips, knees and ankles to help use legs as suspension units, and how weight through the pegs, as against weight through the seat, lowers the combined bike and rider’s centre of gravity. This again is a major breakthrough point as a road rider transitions to dirt.
4. LOOK AHEAD
You see this in car drivers, too. Beginner dirt riders fixate on the rider ahead, and if there isn’t one they’ll probably shorten their vision even more to the trail just in front of their front wheel. Dirt riders know you have to take in the bigger – distant – picture. Anticipate the upcoming challenge ahead of time and formulate a plan. Perfect example on the day: a tight, slick uphill switchback, with wet clay on the inside and loose gravel on the outside. Rider A slows, takes a wide line, has a monetary slip on the loose stones, but with balance and straight exit line gets through just fine. Rider B, riding too close to A, reacts to A’s momentary stop by diverting to the inside line where the steep inline and wet clay means he instantly slips over. Riders C and D riding too close behind B stop nose-to-tail right behind, mid-corner and given the incline and slippery clay are riveted to the spot, needing assistance to go forwards or back! Again, experienced dirt riders rarely if ever get into this situation.
5. TRAINING IS A MUST
For anyone without dirt experience (or with!), training is THE fast track to more enjoyable, safer adventure riding. Forget aftermarket bolt-ons, forget even fitting knobblies – without the base skills you’re not going to have a fun time. Money spent on training is always the most productive use of your cash, hands down. At Sweet Lamb (short of deep sand) there’s virtually every variable in terrain (or at least enough variation) to prepare you for riding your adventure bike anywhere in the world. And even aside from the training, catch Sweet Lamb on a clear sunny day and you’ll be rewarded with some great vistas, it’s a beautiful location in its own right. Moly and his team are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and will take the time and care to see a rider right. It’s all good.