It sounded easy enough. All I had to do was ride 500 km of off-road sections, of varying difficulty in six loops, in a four-man team consisting of three media riders and a guide. But there were challenges.
For one, that 500 km of off-road would more than double my total off-road experience. For two, my hand was broken in two places just three weeks earlier. No drama though – it’s only my clutch hand. Not an important part or anything.
My colleagues were Motorcycle Mojo editor Glenn Roberts and Costa Mouzouris. Costa is an autoTRADER.ca contributor and rode on behalf of Canada Moto Guide. Joining our squad was Jim Vernon, a local rider and close friend of the late Fundy founder, Rob Harris. Jim would function as our guide, something the good folks at Honda had insisted on, given we would be abusing their bikes for the day.
There is a growing trend among adventure riders: In an age where the capabilities of modern motorcycles far exceed boundaries we can legally explore, there’s a push to find new challenges – new ways to connect with our bikes and our talents. And so the adventure bike crowd and dirt bike crowd are finding themselves on shared trails, and shared events. Some will choose their regular adventure bike for this challenge, others, like our team will be on traditional off-road machines.
This is part of the reason the Adventure Bike category is growing. More people are seeing the benefit of a comfortable-yet-capable bike that can hack a comfortable pace on winding mountain roads and then challenge the rider when the road ends.
Enter, the Fundy Adventure Rally. Not the only opportunity for an off-road adventure, the FAR is nonetheless one of the better ones. Adair’s Wilderness Resort hosts the hundred-plus riders in attendance, and the route follows trails in and around the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick.
Three days of preparation culminate in one day of six loops, each between 80 and 100 km long, with three versions of each loop to cater to various skill levels. For some riders, the day takes as much as 12 hours, for others, it can be whipped through in a little over six. But it’s not a race.
The “winners” are the team that scores the most points. Each team must be made up of two or more people (because safety). Each leg is given a certain amount of points, the easiest path in each leg is labelled “A” and given the least points, the intermediate is “B” and the most difficult is a “C”. By racking up points you can qualify for a Bronze, Silver, or Gold finisher’s certificate. If more than one team completes all Cs for example, and it’s a draw, the mandatory tracking software is used to find out who made the least amount of deviation from the course.
Time is not a factor.
Out of respect for my – um – “challenges” our team decided to tackle mostly the intermediate stages, with a couple of Cs thrown in for good measure. We carefully studied the guide book and determined which stages looked particularly rough – those ones we’d make sure we chose Bs for.
The starting gate opened at 6:45 am. We were released at one-minute intervals to make sure we weren’t all tripping over each other on the trails.
Nonetheless, we soon found other teams out on the trails and it became an intellectual exercise for me watching where the dirt bike squads like ours were stronger than the bigger adventure bike guys on things like the Honda Africa Twin; and then again how the bigger BMW R1200 GS and F800 GS folks fared better in other sections.
Water crossings? Big bikes did brilliantly in those, and on the fast, flowing gravel stuff where my little CRF was tapped out – except for the times when I was airborne like a noob. Concrete water pipes are hard, yo.
Being on a smaller bike meant I had to carry a lot more momentum on the run up to ascents, particularly the rocky ones, but despite the single-cylinder worth just 23 hp, the nimble 250L with its 222 mm of front and 240 mm rear travel plus light(ish) 146 kg chassis meant I didn’t have to worry too much about bouncing around. Just peg steer to try and guide the bike roughly in the direction I want to go and up she scrambles. The one time I didn’t carry enough momentum and stalled halfway up the hill, the low weight and unbreakable nature of the Honda meant I could simply stop, step off, and try again.
And when I took too much momentum into a mud hole and bounced the bike over the bank and into a tree, no harm no foul. Well, kind of. The bike could only be pulled out from the left side, and because of my broken left hand, someone else had to come extract me. Riding in teams is a good plan whenever you’re off-road, for that reason and many others.
There’s more to the rally than just the rally, too.
A day of training from adventure riding Yoda, Clinton Smout, is available for those who want it, and Saturday is spent taking part in talks and presentations from people like Canadian Dakar Rally finisher Laurence Hacking. That leaves plenty of time to also explore the logging roads and technical trails in the area. The Bay of Fundy is home to some dramatic mountain landscapes and true off-road riding routes. You’ll experience large rocks, rutted, craggy and downright ugly hills plus deep, sodden mud holes. Not to mention the odd beaver dam crossing.
The Fundy Adventure Rally will return in 2017 sponsored by BMW and hosted again by Adair’s Wilderness Lodge. It will run from August 17–20 and registration is now open.
You’ll find spectacular, quiet roads complete with eerie ocean fog, and if you miss the logging-road closure times may find yourself having to do the old “slide under the gate” trick – all of which just adds to the adventure. Some of the best stories from our 100-odd colleagues were from the day of exploring before the rally itself, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll even encounter some wildlife.
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