#306 – Up and Down and Up Again

An honest little town-and-country bike wins friends wherever it goes.

Up and down and up again

Truth be known, I crave adventure. My latest came in the form of a versatile bike, well suited to both city and country riding. It started at the bike show. While everyone else was sharking around the latest, greatest models, I hunted for the object of my desire: a perfect little enduro. I had a 400 KTM for a time, the sexiest ever! But I had to face facts that I didn’t want to admit. The handlebar vibration caused me problems and the bike required a trailer hitch on a car, plus a trailer took up residence in my small backyard. All that plus insurance for a few good sessions of dirt riding a season just didn’t balance out right. Sadly, I parted with the thoroughbred Orange Crush and gladly parted with the trailer.
But my passion remains. So there I was at the bike show, slipping past the crowds to see those small bikes in the back. You know the little dirt bikes? I found Matt Fletcher from Yamaha to be highly informative. We talked about the intriguing FZ-09, among others. Then I steered over to the little bikes and learned that the XT250, designed way back when, now has fuel injection and might be on their press fleet this year. Guess what? I got to borrow one!
Compared to muscling something much bigger around town, the 250 was a treat. It was a pleasure to roll around my driveway and it seemed slightly heavier than handling a bicycle.
The seat may be 31.9 inches high but it’s narrow and easy for me at five feet four inches. Push button start worked like a charm. Brakes worked great. I did find myself popping through gears around town, riding in fourth in a flash. And there was as much room to pack a bag or passenger as on many street bikes.
What do you say to someone who rides a big heavy cruiser when you’re in a rush to get to the Toronto Burlesque Festival and parking is an issue? If you’re me, you say jump on the back! It made perfect sense to take the smallest bike that can zip through traffic and park easily in Little Italy. And I just don’t get why some people think they can’t be on the back, because I can. So I upped the ante and said, if you get on the back, you can drink! And so it was that I got to learn that the blue XT250 moved more slowly when carrying two on the Gardiner Expressway, but was in no way bogged down. Even the speed bumps in Cabbagetown were no problem on our alternate route home. The burlesque show was great too.
Of course I wanted to go dirt riding, but my social circle is lacking. My friends ride street bikes and I know better than to go dirt riding alone. That was another problem I had with the lovely KTM, which remains a problem for me. So I gave Steve Weycamp of Trail Tours a call and asked if I could possibly join a class but bring my own bike. I’ve taken numerous Trail Tour classes over the years because it’s a viable option for someone like me. He said yes, so off I went to the Ganaraska Forest one Saturday morning, leaving the city in full dirt gear, carrying my lunch in a backpack.
They’re doing something new since I last attended. People can now sign up for a full day, morning, afternoon or evening sessions only. I thought that was cool. I could happily sleep in and take just an afternoon class some time in the future. But not knowing that, and wanting the most out of my time, I chose a full day. I arrived in time to remove the mirrors, which are in peril against trees in the forest.
My day began with clear instruction; I always feel like a beginner, so Dylan set me out to warm up on a little track, then took me onto a training trail set up in the woods. I went around and around this small single track. He said to do one lap standing, once sitting (which was weird) and then standing again. After following me, he gave a bit of advice, and then we set off to do what I like best: single track in the woods.
At lunch break I got to hear everyone talk about his or her adventures. The kids were the most expressive; the adults all talked of buying dirt bikes of their own. These classes are taken by people considering the sport, couples where only one has riding experience and needs to convince their partner, or by parents wanting something fun and sporty for their children. And me!
I spent the afternoon class with Clive playing follow the leader. We relaxed on dual track and jumped around the forest on fire roads, but the majority of the time we stayed on single track. I had a blast, and was really impressed at how well the street legal bike handled in all situations but one.
I can now say with certainty that even the most aggressive dirt/street tires aren’t equipped to handle more than one puddle in a row. They handle one, but I got spat out the first time I encountered two. Spat. Out. Ouch! And there seemed to be no reason for it at the time. There I was going straight ahead when suddenly I was going off into the bush. I ended up with my foot pinned under the bike after a hard thud. But I realized nothing was broken. Before I even tried, the bike was lifted off my foot. I got back on and rode some more.
I rode home tired, but with a grin on my face. I rode the bike to work, covered in mud. I rode the bike to play. If I had to do a long haul I’d definitely want something greater than a 250, but that little bike did 120 km on the highway. The XT250 managed well as a commuter bike that stays close to home. It’s height made it all the more fun. It’s no thoroughbred that needs its oil changed every 10 hours but a most versatile machine for those not doing more than a short weekend ride, or plenty of around town riding.
This little enduro can get me to work, dinner and a show, or the lake and forest, all without sweat. At $5,199, I think I should have bought one. Maybe soon I will.