My first time riding off-road at Tristan Park, Johor

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I’ve always wondered what the fuss about enduro riding was about, seeing as to how several of my friends have encouraged me to experience it for myself. I did understand how, skills wise, it would inculcate a greater sense of bike control, due to the low traction conditions of riding on dirt, mud and water which could be translated to circuit riding, where the tarmac allowed for much fewer allowances in tail-out manoeuvres.

Nevertheless, I had been itching for a long while to get some seat time on a dirt bike. My chance finally came when Motor Culture was invited to Tristan Park for a day of off-road fun and I finally had my enduro virginity gleefully pried from me.

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06:45 – Having agreed to meet at the foyer of Motor Culture editor, Kevin’s house at 7:30 am, I eagerly jump out of bed in the wee hours of the morning and prepare to leave.

08:00 – Arriving, I meet up with the rest of the Motor Culture crew and friends. Shaun, Elton, Ian and Ploy would be joining Kevin and I in our day ahead. Despite the being a little late, it turns out that I wasn’t the last to arrive. 

09:10 – We make it to Woodlands Checkpoint and make our way through Customs as the day starts to warm up. Thankfully, we’re in a car with air-conditioning and not on our motorcycles. 

09:55 – We finally make it out of the Malaysian immigration checkpoint! Freedom, finally! We leave the sight of gantries in our dust as we make our way straight for Tristan Park.

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10:20 – Bad news, a light tropical rain descends upon us just as we arrive at our destination, a nondescript semi-detached house, signalling how it could possibly be a rather messy off-road riding session. Unfazed, we proceed with registration and the signing of indemnity forms.

10:40 – With the paperwork all done, we start gearing up. The gear provided is extremely comprehensive. Basically, everything we ever need to prevent our own stupidity from killing ourselves is there. Even the boots look like they’re going to cause a lot of pain, should we decide to kick each other in the plums.

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11:20 – We finally have our gear on and bags waterproofed. Leaving the property, we make towards the bike garage where Tristan Park’s fleet are stored. Shaun works the car’s pedals in his enduro boots, causing us to have minor heart attacks as we jolt our way to the shop.

11:25 – Some of us grab a quick bite at the coffeeshop before making our way to a spartan Toyota Landcruiser hauls us to our starting point with a trailer of bikes in tow behind. The ride over unpaved roads is jarring, to say the least, but it’s tremendous fun to just mow over everything in our path.

11:40 – Having unloaded the bikes, we start up them up, preparing for a day’s worth of hoonery. The carburetted soul of my Kawasaki KLX 150S toys with my feelings for a little, refusing to stay “awake” until several throttle-blipping “snoozes” later, she relents.

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11:45 – We ride around the practicing circuit, getting used to the bike’s basic handling and making turns in the muddy terrain. We tackle the small trails set up in the circuit for beginners to get the hang of things a few times. Eventually satisfied, we head off into the wild!

11:55 – Our first incident of the day has occurred. Riding through soft tracks made by industrial 6×6 trucks in the mud, Kevin loses control and drops his bike. Albeit with a bit of dignity lost, no one is injured and the bike is undamaged. We continue on.

12:10 – We enter the palm tree plantation, and the trail becomes discernibly rougher. This makes for plenty of bouncy fun, though I’m initially not used to the juddering of the bars and grips. Within a minute, I’ve come into my element, embracing the experience of it all.

12:25 – The first proper ascent begins here. Ahead looms a 30-degree gradient lined with tree roots, bricks and plenty of stones. Thankfully, I’m right behind our leading guide. Taking note of his line, I follow, using my instincts to navigate the various obstacles, letting the suspension provide feedback and applying power accordingly when I feel the rear start to lose traction. I arrive at the top unscathed, victorious in my tackle of nature! My confidence grows by the minute as I realise my childhood days of mountain biking have paid off, allowing me to apply the techniques learnt.

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12:30 – After the mental wall overcome, I immerse myself into the experience even more, intentionally sliding the rear when I power out of the sharper turns just for the fun of it. All the more, I am made aware of how the world’s top asphalt racers have honed their skills through dirt riding, not that I am even thinking of comparing myself to their calibre of expertise.

12:45 – Our guide leads us to a weathered slope in a small hill, accelerated by the recreational use of bikers similar to us confronting it. It is insignificant in the vast range of the jungle, but the loose dirt and slanted angle of attack makes it a worthwhile challenge to attempt. Each of us takes turns attacking it, proving our prowess to the camera lens pointed right at us. We take a 10-minute break in the clearing as we catch our breath and pose for photos in a clearing right above the hill. A local plantation worker – dressed in slippers, shorts and a singlet nevertheless – passes by on an underbone motorcycle, putting us to shame as we watch on.

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13:05 – Regaining our composure, we head to what is the mother of all inclines we would ever encounter that day. Approximately 2 storeys tall and covered in mud with patches of wet undergrowth, it was intimidating in its very presence. Even our veteran guides had difficulty ascending it, sliding about throughout the course of making it up. One of them even had to back down, with loss of traction and momentum rendering it impossible to make it up on the first attempt. Despite this, I was determined to give it my best and aim to make it up without aid. With the severity of the gradient and the danger it posed, only one was allowed up at a time.

Watching everyone struggle, I planned my line, not wanting to make the same mistakes. When my turn came, I gunned the throttle, insistent on not relenting to the forces of physics pulling me down. Disappointingly, I lost grip near the top but had not dropped the bike, yet. With the throttle still pinned wide open and bouncing off the rev-limiter, all I got was a whole lot of wheelspin but no forward movement, which was exacerbated as my rear wheel slid into the wet grass.

With the 2 guides heaving away at my bike while I pressed on, I finally made it up. Looking back down, the sense of achievement was real, but Elton’s casual advance up promptly eclipsed it. Of course, he had prior enduro-riding experience, so it was not at all surprising when push literally came to shove and his technical skills shone through. After the ordeal, we took yet another short break and posed for more photos.

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13:45 – Having continued for another half an hour (which seemed like 5 minutes), we arrive at a peak of some sort, overlooking the industrial area surrounding Tristan Park. The view is serene, the breeze pleasant, and we rest there for a good part of nearly an hour. During this time, we come to the agreement that the earlier drizzle had actually been a good thing, as it had lowered temperatures to ideal conditions while allowing for more tail-out fun. Meanwhile, Ian and I take the opportunity to test out Elton’s CRF 250. With an additional 100cc, the CRF is significantly more powerful, which might have helped with “mum” earlier along with Elton’s riding know-how. I revert to my KLX, and use the time to try some sliding manoeuvres under Elton’s guidance as the rest watch on and Kevin snaps yet more photos.

14:35 – Firing up our engines collectively, we start the descent down the 20-degree grade of the peak. I look to the left for a last glimpse of the view, and focus my attention to the path ahead of me. It is relatively easy, but every once in a while, there are bricks jutting out of the trail and I have to make sure to avoid them. Body positioning also helped here, with me leaning towards the rear of the bike to avoid going over the bars, in case I overcooked the front brakes. Stopping several times for the rest to catch up, the guide pulls some wheelies on the flat concrete sections each time we move off. With the mighty little KLX and I jinba ittai-ed and having gone through proper coaching on stunt-riding last year, I manage to execute a decent wheelie myself, but nothing impressive when compared to our guide’s consecutive displays of skill.

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14:40 – Finally, a proper water crossing! We are now back in the jungle where our route is separated by a fast-flowing but shallow stream. Always content to play with water, I plunge into the stream, glad for the cool respite. Water fills through the ventilation holes in my boots and significant smoke is given off as water comes into contact with the hot engine and exhaust headers. It is straightforward enough and I am out of the water in no time. The next 5 minutes are filled with wonderful stretches of long straights, allowing me to enter 5th gear for the first time and truly bring the bike up to full trot.

14:50 – With our guide still navigating, we are lead to a part of the plantation not encountered thus far. The trail from here on is much more treacherous, made out of narrow ruts, jagged rocks and yet more bricks. It seems like he’s decided it’s time to take things up a notch, with concentration the key here. Every so often, the dirt and rubble turns to ridiculously slippery mud and the rear tyre steps out even under straight and slow riding. If anything, I enjoy it even more.

14:55 – We stop in another small clearing as Elton’s CRF faces some issues far behind, but it quickly gets sorted out and both Elton and the sweeper guide rejoins us. I take the opportunity to do some burnouts in the dirt just “for the lulz”, inadvertently digging a deep hole in the dirt by the time they arrive. Quickly, I speed off before anyone has anything to say about the “damage” I’ve caused.

15:05 – I finally have my first wipeout! Well, sort of. In trying to keep up with our guide ahead of me, I misjudged a deep rut and ended up flinging myself into a makeshift fence along the side, knee deep in some plants. Luckily, the full riding gear has done its job and I’m unharmed. The bike is also okay as I cling on to it, barely. Letting the others past, I wrestle the bike out by myself and quickly recover to join them ahead.

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15:10 – We enter what looks to be a horribly unpaved back road used by construction vehicles. Despite being accustomed to rough terrain by now, the ride here is extremely unpleasant and I have to constantly half-squat to ease the pain off my arse. My wrists start to become sore and I can feel the onset of blisters even through the gloves. We stop after 2 minutes, and for good reason; apparently, Ian’s KLX has lost its exhaust end can due to the vibrations of the harsh undulations. With the help of the sweeper guide, it was recovered and strapped onto the seat of his bike. Without an end can now, Ian’s bike is essentially a tuba on wheels.

15:35 – The sight of asphalt has never been more welcome! Leaving the back road behind, we merge onto the main road that leads us to Tristan Park itself. As Ian overtakes me intermittently, I can feel my ears go a little deafer with each pass he makes. 

15:40 – We’re back at the bike shop, where the resident canine seemingly enjoys the taste of mud as he licks off our bikes when they’re returned. Posing for group photos, we’re exhausted but the sense of accomplishment is mutual between everyone. Heading for a late lunch at the coffeeshop, we realise the extent of our hunger.

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16:10 – We are brought back to the semi-detached house to return our gear and wash up. Removing the protection a piece at a time, I am reminded of just how much it has helped in my enjoyment of the day. Had we not been well protected, I definitely wouldn’t have tried some of the things I did today for fear of injury. I take a quick cold shower, rinsing off whatever necessary as Shaun goes to collect the car.

16:50 – Everyone is ready to head home, and we thank our hosts for their time. The drive back to the customs is an uneventful one, but the jam has us caught in traffic for over an hour. Once clear, we return to Kevin’s house before separating.

We did it!

With my first off-road riding experience done and dusted, I can’t help but wonder why I never did it earlier. Without posted speed limits or regard for others apart from my riding friends, it opens up plenty of freedom to have fun, without the worry of unforeseeable hazards such as careless drivers. It is definitely a must-try for anyone looking to hone their bike control skills and become a safer rider, considering how the low-traction conditions and rough terrain means that you constantly have to be on your feet adapting to the changes. With yet another slice of “motor culture” under my belt, I’m definitely looking forward to my next foray into enduro riding!

TRISTAN PARK AD QPP 51

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