Despite Britain and the rest of Europe playing host to some brilliant roads and green lanes, many of us tend to have a niggle in the back of our mind urging us to head further afield in search of a greater adventure.
The Philippines is just one such example. The scenery is spectacular, people couldn’t be friendlier, and the trails are challenging but rewarding. And there’s nothing better than relaxing on the beach under palm trees, cold beer in hand, watching the sun set after a good day on the trails.
However, tropical isn’t always a good thing. In exchange for beautiful weather most of the time, we have to contend with humidity, typhoons, and depending on the time of year, almost daily rain showers.
These events can dramatically affect both the riders and the trail conditions, but with a proper approach it can still be enjoyable even by those who are not off-road experts or in perfect physical condition.
So to ensure you make the most of your next adventure, we got Jim Bender from Philippine Offroad Adventures to reveal some crucial tips for riding in exotic locations. While these tips are specific to riding in the Philippines, they will also apply to any exotic location.
1. We are their guests
First and foremost, before addressing anything related to riding it’s worth remembering that we are guests in another country and should give the locals the respect they deserve. Not just on a personal interaction level, but in terms of their community and culture too. Expect things to be different than they are back home.
We are fortunate to be riding in a country where nearly everyone welcomes us with open arms, even when we turn up in their front yard looking for where the singletrack goes.
We have Filipino guides that always ride with us and this helps us feel more like a part of the community rather than a bunch of obnoxious foreigners invading their spaces. We always urge people to ride carefully when near locals and houses – no showboating, no roosting and keeping the speed down.
Even though the rider is just passing through and may never set foot there ever again, the locals have to live there, and we have to go there again on the next tour. It is always best to be greeted with open arms and smiles rather than scowls and shaking fists.
2. Dress right and hydrate
People arriving for our rides know about the weather. They know it is warm and humid. But some still show up with too much gear. You don’t actually need that enduro jacket or those three layers of shirts.
The body armour or kidney belt? Well some guys prefer to keep it for their protection, even if they are suffering, but most stop using it after a couple days. Rain gear? Pointless. If it rains you will just be wet from sweat instead of the cool, refreshing rain! Even when dressed lightly you are going to sweat during the technical sections so hydration is a must.
Many places we ride there is no bottled water available during the day’s ride as the areas are just too remote. The locals in the area will have water of course, and it can be used in an emergency but as a general rule it usually isn’t a good idea for foreigners to drink it. We urge all riders to start in the morning with as much water as they can carry.
We do not run a support/chase vehicle for several reasons. One being the fact that it simply cannot follow us on many of the routes we use. Therefore, everyone has to pack smart and carry what they need themselves.
Everyone drinks at a different rate. We urge riders to carry more than they think they will need. No room in your pack for water? Take something out and leave it. Water is by far more important.
3 Ride smarter, not harder
We have seen a lot of riders go from hero-to-zero as soon as the trail gets bad. Riders half my age end up huffing and puffing and cussing and struggling while the slower, more meticulous riders wait on the other side of the obstacle.
Ride too fast and fail to approach a technical section in the proper way and it can mess up your frame of mind. This results in more offs and more cussing while each incident saps more energy and ensures more mistakes will come. Each mistake makes it that much harder for the rider to clear the obstacle. Then the rider has nothing left for the next technical section! Pacing and energy management are key!
In the technical bits speed is not always your friend. Sure, sometimes we need a bit of momentum to carry us up a gnarly hill or through sand or sloppy mud, but nine times out of 10 attempting to blast the technical section is going to get you into trouble.
We see it all the time. Bikes dropped in river crossings, stalled or flipped over on uphill sections, stuck in the deepest part of a mud hole, the list goes on. In these situations it pays to slow down and give it a bit of thought before attempting the obstacle.
Choose the line carefully and proceed with caution and finesse, especially in situations that could lead to injury such as falling off a hill or mountainside trail.
You do not want to get seriously injured in a remote area in a foreign country where the helicopter is not coming for you and your long journey to hospital will probably start on the back of a water buffalo. Always ride smart and consider where you are.
4. It isn’t the end of the world…
Shit happens. Always does. In South East Asia it happens a lot. Don’t sweat the little things. Flat tyres, broken bridges, trail blockage, minor bike trouble, rain… It happens all the time. We fix it, look for an alternate path, and move on.
Very often these things add to the adventure and no ride is ever the same because of this. Sure it might make us late for that first cold beer after the day’s ride, but some folks take these problems a bit too seriously and it can cause issues for the entire group.
Riders need to be able to embrace the situation and ‘make lemonade out of lemons’ as the saying goes. For example, that flat or breakdown gives us a chance to stop and see some nice scenery and meet some friendly locals that we would not have seen if we just blasted through.
Proper attitude goes a long way. Good or bad, it is infectious and will affect the entire group. A negative attitude from just one rider can be devastating to the overall morale and enjoyment of everyone. On the other hand, a positive attitude when things are going wrong can keep everyone’s spirits up and that is when the mishaps turn into adventures rather than ordeals.
5. It isn’t for everyone
Our annual extreme rally is an epic adventure… 2,000km (1,240 miles) and 12 days on off-road bikes. Just the thought of that much time in the saddle alone will send some guys running for a soft couch.
We go places nobody else goes and take the bikes places no bike should go. It’s not a leisure cruise on the tarmac by any means. We expect riders to have off-road experience but you do not need to be an Erzberg champion or Romaniac to make it.
Riders on trips such as ours want to be challenged and that is what happens, not only with the trails, but the distance too. Endurance is an important part of trips like this, and while you do not need to be a perfect physical specimen, you should be able to pace yourself and manage your energy and effort levels.
A successful off-road rider is one that has the drive to see things through, and will not give up when things start to get difficult or after a mistake or two. These riders thrive on testing themselves and while they may be hating life for a few hours in that difficult section, the rewards are immense – sharing war stories with the mates over cold beers at the end of the day, basking in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Here’s how to do it
Philippine Offroad Adventures offer a range of off-road tours that take riders through the spectacular terrain that the country has to offer. Want to go further or longer? Not a problem, they can also accommodate custom tours to suit the riders’ needs. Find out more on their website by clicking here or by visiting their Facebook page.