THE MOTORCYCLE COPS WERE EVERYWHERE!
Of course they were; it was the National Bikesafe Show at Castle Combe circuit near Chippenham in Wiltshire, and they had turned up in numbers from far and wide to lead motorcyclists on taster assessment rides. The idea being that if a rider found the experience useful, they would sign up for a full assessment in their local police area.
The assessment rides were £35, but there was an incentive. After your time on the road you could take advantage of a fifteen minute session on the circuit with your own bike. The popularity of this was endorsed by the number and variety of motorcycles that pitched up on the day.
I'd ridden down the previous day on a Triumph Tiger 800XC, on loan from the factory at Hinckley. And as well as road experience aboard, what is no doubt, Triumph's bid to capture a slice of the long distance tour/adventure market. I was hoping to ride a few not too challenging trails to test its off road ability.
Lots of Power
My early impressions over the ninety plus miles from Hinckley to Chippenham along the glorious B4455 Fosse Way and through the quintessentially English Cotswold towns of Morton in the Marsh and Stowe On the Wold, was that I was going to enjoy my time with this bike. Lots of power from the responsive triple engine that has been developed almost to perfection by the company's engineers and technicians. Plus a comfortable riding position and seat; which I had on the low setting to enable my diminutive legs to allow me to come to a stop without looking for a supporting kerb.
I'd booked my assessment ride for 10.00am, and after signing on was given a number 22 sticker and told to look for the corresponding number along the row of police liveried BMW's. Phil was my copper for the session. He was a member of Lancashire's police – a long ride to Wiltshire. The other rider in our assessment trio was Paul, riding an R reg (1967/68) Aprilia Pegaso that he'd purchased on ebay for £650: deciding to come back to motorcycling after a long time away. My bike was in top condition and only warranted a brief inspection from Phil before we took to the road.
Paul led us out of the circuit with Phil observing. My turn at the front would come after about twenty five minutes riding when we'd stop for a briefing on Paul's riding: then it would be my turn to have the big yellow filling my mirrors - I'd signed up for this to find out if after many years on two wheels I'd acquired any poor riding habits.
Speed limits were to be strictly adhered to, and through the first village, Burton, a group of citizens were pointing a radar device at approaching vehicles. Phil gave them a wave, and they must have wondered what was going on as trios of cops and riders were to and fro most of the day.
Paul's riding was exemplary, and then I was being followed so to speak, looking at Phil's indicators to see where I should lead the turns. The local police had sorted out thirteen routes through the Wiltshire and South Gloucestershire rural roads and villages, and those police from outside the area had to learn them prior to the event. A good move to choose an early slot as there was little traffic to contend with.
Assessment time back at the circuit; I hadn't become a poor or unsafe rider and Phil just had a few observations about my roadcraft and positioning. Before he picked up his next riders we had an interesting discussion about braking: Paul never used his front brake, and I rarely used the rear.
Phil explained how correct use of both brakes helped to maintain balance, and gave an example of an observation at one junction where, using just the front brake the Tiger pitched forward causing me to put my right leg down rather than the left that the police teach (when using both brakes). Thanks. I've begun remedying that already.
Very, very fast
In the race day briefing room John McGuinness, the guest for the day, sat comfortably amongst the track-anticipating assembly, chatting away just like they were old mates. McGuinness is an anti-celebrity; not standing apart from those who admire his skill and daring as a racer, or displaying any ego as a consequence of his achievements. Just another motorcyclist, but one who can ride very, very fast.
Time for the Tarmac. The emphasis was on relaxing and 'enjoying the ride', as the Triumph sales slogan says. I was definitely intent on doing this rather than risking throwing the shiny machine up the road. The Castle Combe instructors had placed cones at each bend; at the braking point, peel off point and on the apex, which I found really useful, and it added to the enjoyment of the brief time we had out there. Plus the Tiger was fast and very stable under braking (mostly front) and could be dropped into the bends effortlessly.
The show element of the day followed conventional lines with manufacturers/dealers displaying bikes. Plus the usual variety of bike and clothing gear. There was of course a strong emphasis on skill and safety with a number of advanced motorcycle groups having a presence. The police Bike Safe team ran a tutorial programme throughout the day on various aspects of riding on today's high traffic density roads.
I noticed a larger than usual group of spectators had gathered round the Moto Gymkhana arena. Their interest enlivened by a couple of police riders who were displaying some exceptional machine control skills around the course that had been laid out. As the name implies this is similar to the competitions horse riders compete in, and is about control and reactions. The organisation www.motogymkhana.org runs a national series; check them out.
Bike Safe is a national organisation, but each police area has responsibility for funding and organising its own programme: the website www.bikesafe.co.uk allows you to click through to your nearest set up. There are 43 police areas in the country, but only 32 run Bike Safe courses. Let's hope that these are not cut from the ever diminishing police and public expenditure budgets, as it is a very positive way of assessing how you ride, survive and enjoy.
Footnote. A few days later I was in a London Bus Lane stopped at red lights; where an enthusiastic Police Community Support bloke was asking riders if they had heard of the Met Police Bike Safe course. When I told him I'd done an assessment last Saturday, he beamed with delight.
A long line of Tigers
About the bike The 800XC comes from a long line of Tigers, and the current models incorporate all the latest electronic modes that are becoming standard on many motorcycles, some of which will be superfluous to many peoples' riding experience. Stick it in 'normal' I say. What can you do if the mpg figures are not what you expected?
The ability of this bike to go everywhere and do anything has been exampled in recent days by the completion of a 56,400 mile round the world journey by New Zealander Rhys Lawrey, riding this very bike. He reported no problems with the well tried three cylinder engine, and was impressed by the handling over terrain many of us will never go near www.2mororider.com
Even if you don't intend crossing continents this is a very well set up motorcycle for road and trail. It's comfortable, and the 800cc triple engine delivers oodles of power right through the range. The bike I rode was equipped with a screen that was effective and cushioned the body and head against wind pressure and noise, allowing for long periods in the saddle. I completed around 500 miles in wet and dry conditions. I'm used to big mileage rides, and this is a bike for that purpose.
I've always found the 21” wheels fitted to the Tigers a little incongruous in the look it gives the bike, but it really works in terms of overall handling confidence and across rough patches of road and holes at speed. So much so that you might go looking for them. I'm not very tall and putting the seat on the low setting I could cope with slow control on the road, but it might be a different story on trails considering the weight, 480lbs. I'd intended to use the bike off road, but a combination of poor weather and scheduling meant it wasn't possible.
The direct competitors in this 'adventure' market are BMW and KTM. The basic Tiger 800XC costs £9K, and there are lots of extras available if you want luggage capacity, comfort seat, screen, lighter, punchier exhaust etc. The BMW F800GS will cost £9650 in basic trim, and the KTM 990 £9995. I haven't ridden either of these 'rival' bikes but in terms of the engine the Tiger has a unit whose development has probably enabled Triumph to be ahead of the game as far as power and flexibility is concerned.
Our thanks to Triumph and the staff at Hinckley for the use of their motorcycle.
John Newman for Wemoto News
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