An enduro adventure with Birch

January 28, 2018 @ 10:00AM
By AMIR HAMZAH

IT’S difficult to find a great off-road coach, especially one who is a champion and also a current enduro competitor as well. The problem lies in the ability of the coach to be able to convey and impart the knowledge easily and effectively.

Enter Chris Birch and his colleague, Chris Whitehouse. Both reside in New Zealand, the off-road and enduro heaven if there ever was one, and both travel the world competing in various enduro competitions such as the Red Bull Romaniacs.

Incidentally, Birch is a KTM sponsored rider as well as a Red Bull rider, the blue and silver helmet a veritable badge of honour in any form of sport.

KTM Malaysia and KMOG invited Birch to conduct a crash course (pun intended) in enduro riding last weekend. Funnily enough, they roped me along with the keys to a KTM SuperAdventure, even though I am a relatively inexperienced enduro newbie.

I am slow and steady, very much unlike Birch’s enduro school slogan, “Say No to Slow”.

After a relatively slow ride to KTM’s Sungai Buaya motocross track following a short introduction to Birch and Whitehouse, the enduro school began in earnest.

Birch was an excellent coach and he started off with how to set up the machine to better suit enduro riding.

The SuperAdventure came standard with a road-oriented set-up and required some tweaks to go off-road. The handlebars needed to be slightly tilted for stand-up riding and the passenger pegs needed to be removed.

The rear brake needed the lever adjusted higher and tyre pressures also needed to be lowered, although Birch explained the compromise between the need for traction and the possibility of punctures was inversely related.

The students set about doing the necessary tweaks themselves, assisted by Birch and Whitehouse.

Then came a lesson in riding position. While the basics were similar to motocross, the riding positions and weight transfers for big dual-purpose bikes were tweaked to suit the weight as well as weight distribution of the heavier bike.

Birch then had all the riders do a slow lap of the track while he assessed and coached each rider individually.

Next lesson was turning and cornering the big D-Ps were slightly different to motocross. More exaggerated body weighting was necessary due to the excess weight.

Both sitting and standing techniques were demonstrated and duly practised and critiqued by both Chrises.

Here, Birch stressed that looking forward as far as possible was necessary as the students gradually increased the speeds.

This, he said, created a smoother rider and a faster rider as well. This lesson then smoothly transitioned into braking technique with the necessity to modulate the rear brake, emphasised by Birch.

With the students new found confidence, Birch then went to the final lesson; negotiating obstacles.

On a normal motocross bike, an obstacle is just another excuse to gas it hard but on a big D-P, momentum is key. The objective is to merely use enough throttle to preserve momentum to hurdle the obstacle.

This was demonstrated and practised on a large jump situated on the motocross track.

As a heavy monsoon shower beat down on us, we retreated to the food tent and were entertained by Birch riding up a steep muddy hill at insane speeds in torrential rain. Legend!

The next day, we went on an 80km trail ride. It rained all night beforehand and as the trailride went on, I gradually forgot what I had learned despite Birch being an excellent off-road coach.

The first part, a run through disused tin mines with wide dirt roads, allowed me to utilise the cornering and turning skills, both sitting and standing. The SuperAdventure, suitably set to Offroad settings on Ride Mode and Suspension Mode, proved to be an able partner.

The weight was not an issue, and gassing out of turns with the rear sliding was controllable and enjoyable.

The second part was also not too difficult, a long section of palm oil estate roads. Only overhanging palm fronds and deep water puddles were challenging. The muddy section at the end was surely the worst (or so I thought). Most of the students fell and got stuck (me included) but with teamwork from the KTM staff we got through.

The last part was short but through a hilly palm oil trail, long disused and overgrown with short shrubs and grass. This proved to be the hardest section, with fatigue and hunger creeping in. I crashed twice here, once on grass and the other in a mudhole. It was a chore to reach our destination, the Sungai Buaya track.

Still, 215kg will always win the contest anyway. But at least now I have the knowledge to utilise and put in practise. All thanks to Birch.

Say No to Slow (in my case, not yet).

Chris Birch explains the finer details of bike setup.
The weekend was open to all bikes, big and small.
Birch flies his 1290 over a jump to demonstrate how to handle a big dual purpose bike.
A student puts his new found knowledge to use.