If you live in the GTA, and you want to learn dirt biking, you’re likely out of luck – especially if you don’t own a dirt bike.
Thankfully, there’s a solution to your problem: hit the road to the Ganaraska Forest, about 100 klicks northeast of Toronto, and sign up for Trail Tours Dirtbike/ATV School. They’ve got the location, the instructors, the safety gear and the bikes to get you on the road … or in this case, the off-road.
When Honda Canada had their CRF250L launch last October, they hosted it at Trail Tours’ base camp in the woods; after the two-day launch, Editor ‘Arris and I stuck around for a third day in the woods with Trail Tours, with ‘Arris’s pal Jim Vernon in tow.
Right away, savvy readers will see ‘Arris’s cunning plan; I rarely ride single-track, so no doubt he figured I’d crash. Gimpy Jimpy has a lot more experience in the dirt than I do, but he also seems to crash every time he heads out offroad with ‘Arris. After all there’s nothing like a good crash story to keep readers interested, so no doubt our Limey leader was expecting some fine tales from this expedition.
I foiled his plan by thinking ahead. Instead of picking one of Trail Tours’ more powerful Honda CRF250X dirt bikes for the day, I stayed aboard a trusty old-school air-cooled Honda CRF230F; I wasn’t planning on any Johnny Campbell-style heroics, and if I crashed (I didn’t), I didn’t want to break any radiators. Jim, too, resisted the urge to rip around on an unfamiliar bike, sticking to his Yamaha WR250.
The Trail Tours staff seem like they’re pretty smart about what machines they let customers take out; there was another customer trying dirt riding out for the first time when we were there, who figured he should be aboard the most powerful bike he could find.
The guides shut that idea down pretty quickly. They don’t want anyone getting hurt, or their bikes getting crashed too hard.
By the way, customers can purchase insurance ($25 for a full day, $15 for a part day) for their rented bikes while they’re at Trail Tours; otherwise, there’s a set rate that you’ll pay if you destroy certain parts.
Here’s a tip: If you’re new, buy the insurance – it’s easier for everyone.
We started the day with guide Alan Lakas taking us out on the sandy practice field to go over the basics of dirt riding again. If you’re a trusted customer with plenty of dirt experience, you’ll likely spend more time on the trails after the riders meeting, but Jim, Rob and I didn’t complain about the instruction time.
Obviously, this instruction is invaluable if you’re a newbie, but even if you’re a regular single-track rider, don’t poo-poo the review time in the morning; instructors will remind you of plenty of tips that keep you safe on the bike.
We spent our time going over cornering tactics, tight-space maneuvers, and safe rider positioning on the bike. We went over the safety rules (do shoulder checks, know your hand signs) hopped a few logs, spent some time on the slalom trail, did a few spins on the practice loop, and then headed out on the trails for the day.
Considering how close it is to Toronto, the Ganaraska is a trail-rider’s paradise. Trail Tours has 500 kms of trail to use in the forest’s 11,000 acres, although you share it with hikers, bicyclists, horse riders, ATV riders and other dirt bikers.
We didn’t see many other people using the trails, but a couple of times we met horses and had to pull to the side of the trail and turn the bikes off; once, I didn’t see Jim pull over ahead until the last second, and ended up bumping into him when I locked up the rear brake, though failed to get the ‘Arris hoped for carnage in the process.
Terrain ranges from loose sand to slick clay to loose rock. Trail Tours takes their clients down everything from gravel roads to super-tight single track, and everything in between. They also include asphalt, if they’re doing a dual-sport tour. Check out the video at the end of the story for an idea of what to expect.
Our guide did a great job of varying our route – we weren’t on any single type of trail for too long. He started us out on fairly straightforward stuff to assess our riding experience, and ramped things up as the day went on.
Rob was looking for a day of aggressive riding, and Jim hadn’t driven all the way from Montreal just to futz around in the woods at slow speed on easy trails. I was just looking to have fun without killing myself. Our guide took care of all of us; Rob and Jim ripped down the trails behind him, then everybody waited at a junction until I showed up.
Unfortunately for Rob, but fortunately for Jim and I, the day ended without any major incidents. We saw a lot of beautiful fall forest, especially from the park’s lookout, but the highlight of the day was the riding, for sure. Our guide made sure we had challenging terrain all day long, but nothing outside of our abilities.
That’s one of the advantages of going to a company like Trail Tours to learn the ropes of dirt biking. They’ve been in business 20 years, and their guides have seen it all. They know what bike to put you on, they know what drills to work on and they know what trails will fit your talent level. They’re also trained in first aid, and some of them are actually also firefighters or EMTs, people whose job is to keep you alive.
You can sign up for a full day of riding (9-3, lunch included), or a half day of riding. You can even book online.
Beside the CRF250X and CRF230F, Trail Tours also has several other dirt bike models to ride, and different dual sport models, if customers want a day of street-and-trail training. They’re supposed to be getting a load of CRF250Ls for customers; they also have quads for ATV training. If you don’t have the motocross boots, an off-road helmet, or the gloves, jerseys, or armour you want when riding dirt, Trail Tours can offer those as well.
So, if you’re in the GTA and you want to learn off-road riding, or brush up on old skills, or just get a guided off-road tour of the Ganaraska, consider giving Trail Tours a call. It’s the most fun you can have in the Toronto area … well, almost. According to their Facebook page, they’re hoping to start off this season on May 1.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.