Back at the end of June, I joined thousands of other adventure bikers from across the UK – across the world even – at Ragley Hall in Worcestershire, for this year’s ABR Festival.
Run by the people behind Adventure Bike Rider magazine, ABR is a festival dedicated to the things you can do and the places you can go on adventure bikes. Whether you ride a small CC bike on dirt trails, or a large touring adventure bike around the world, or, indeed, any combination of bike to activity, the festival is designed to provide heap of adventure and touring inspiration, and to give people opportunity spend time with likeminded riders.
I was invited by the ABR Festival to go along as their guest, to see what a road trip and motorcycle camping loving GS rider made of the weekend. If you read Weekly Blog Episode 110 you’ll have had a sneak peek at which bikes I got to ride at the event. In this post, I want to share a bit more of a more general roundup, with a few of my highlights.
We (my husband and I) packed up our GSs with our camping gear, and headed over on the Thursday evening for the VIP night. The night-before access meant we had priority camping in the field below the main house, could attend the first-night party (with hog roast and drink included), and could get in line to book test rides before the main crowds arrived on Friday morning.
Hot Showers at a Festival?!
I’m not going into all the details of the camping side of the festival, but there were a couple of things I wanted to note. First up, there was no slumming it re the toilet situation. There were loads. And they were clean, with toilet paper, soap, and hand sanitiser, at all times. Nice.
There were also hot showers. That’s right – hot. Yes, there was a queue for the main showers in our camping area each morning, but there were plenty if you walked elsewhere. I showered in the middle of the afternoon on the Friday and walked straight into a clean shower and didn’t feel like I had to be super-fast to help the people who were stood waiting outside.
The facilities, despite being brought in especially for the event, were superior to those I’ve experienced on some permanent campsites. Well done ABR Festival, you certainly fulfilled that promise.
I should preface this short bit by saying that it’s no secret I prefer my campsites large and open with lots of distance between me and other campers. Or at least, enough space between tents to not feel like I’m sleeping with the people next to me. And on the Thursday night, that was just about the case – I was pleasantly surprised. Not bad.
While it was definitely festival field and not organised campsite, it felt like there was space to move around the tents – it was neat, even, with lovely rows of tents and bikes (and some cars and vans) up and down the site. This was billed as one of the benefits of having a ticket to the Thursday night – prime camping on the polo field in front of Ragley Hall.
However, by Friday lunchtime, the camping field we were in was utterly rammed. It seemed the message about where to camp didn’t get to those arriving from the Friday morning. New arrivals took a b-line straight for the first camping field, and filled in every available blade of grass. Whereas the other camping areas, just a little further down the track (but no further from the action), were half empty.
I don’t know whether people were ignoring signs, didn’t see signs, or just rode to the first lot of tents they saw assuming that was where they were meant to be. Whatever the reason, it was a bit too close for comfort in one area, and hugely spread out in another. I wonder if any of those later arrivals noticed how empty the other camping field was after they’d pitched up?
Anyway, no matter, it really was only a place to sleep, there was a lot going on around the site to keep us away from our tents – and let’s face it, that’s what you are here to read about.
Fuelling the Wanderlust
The ABR Festival organisers arranged a schedule of talks and presentations from some well-known adventure bikers including Ted Simon, Elspeth Beard and Austin Vince. We’ve had the pleasure of hearing them speak previously, over at the Overland Show, so we decided to check out some of the other names and presentations on the timetable.
We enjoyed listening to Ryan F9 talk about motorcycling YouTube, Vanessa Ruck (The Girl on a Bike) chat about riding electric bikes, Billy Ward tell us about riding through Iraq (he gave my husband a copy of Long Way Down to read, which was nice), and a panel of fabulous female bikers discuss both being and getting women on the trail. I admit was disappointed Sam Manicom and Spencer Conway didn’t make it to the festival for their slots, but there were plenty of other people to hear from.
Peak Design for Motorcycles
Apart from the talks, there was also a film festival, a photography exhibition, and a market where motorcycle gear makers and service providers were showing and selling their wares.
It was so lovely to catch up with friends made on our recent trip to Iceland. Dom was representing Globebusters (the company we went to Iceland with), and John, who we met on that ride, was doing a roaring trade with Cool Covers (fantastic product for anyone looking for a seat cover, I love mine).
I’ll certainly be ordering the new Peak Design phone case and motorcycle mount (actually, probably the RAM mount as I’ve already got one on my bike), just as soon as I upgrade my phone. We had a great conversation with a guy on their stand, and he definitely sold it to me (and not just because he offered me a beer!).
I’ve seen their camera accessories in use before, a couple of friends swear by them, so I know they make good stuff. This is their first time making stuff for motorcyclists, and I reckon they’ve done a pretty good job.
Bikes for Adventure
Without doubt, the biggest pulls of the festival, the reason most people buy a ticket, has to be the test rides and on-site trail. All the big bike manufacturers were there, along with some of the smaller ones, showing off their adventure bikes. I sat on adventure bikes of all shapes and sizes, from the new Ducati Desert X and the Triumph Tiger 1200 (no chance reaching the ground on either of those!), to the Royal Enfield Himalayan and Ural Ranger (much more my size).
But more than just sitting on the bikes, there were also heaps of bikes available to ride, on and off-road, an opportunity which you just don’t get anywhere else. My height (okay, my lack of confidence), meant most of the bikes were off the table for me (this year…), but I didn’t let everyone else have all the fun – more on that in a moment. My husband had a ride on the new Triumph Tiger 1200 and the Royal Enfield Himalayan, and came back from both rides with a big smile on his face.
The Adventure Trail wound its way through the grounds of the Ragley Hall Estate for 20km, designed to provide a fun ride for people on their own bikes. It was certainly popular – there was a steady stream of bikers heading out to the trail throughout the day.
There was a beginner’s loop, which I rode on the Ubco 2X2 Adventure (more below), a general loop, which my husband rode on the Royal Enfield Himalayan, and an “expert” section, which I tore up in the Polaris RZR (keep reading for that). Trail access is an added extra to the main ticket, because the Estate require numbers to be limited, but most people I saw had that bright pink sticker on their helmet so there was definitely a lot of fun being had.
Go Anywhere with Electric
While the car market is moving apace towards electric, with most of the big players having an all-electric option, the bike market isn’t quite at the same stage yet. Apart from Harley Davidson, with their Livewire, I don’t think any of the main manufacturers have come out with an electric option yet.
What is happening so far seems to be by smaller manufacturers. There were a handful of different electric bikes on display, but one stood out to me as doing something – and looking – a little bit different. On Saturday morning I giggled my way around a short section of the off-road trail on the Ubco 2X2 Adventure. Just look at it, I think I love it!
This electric motorcycle has been borne out of the needs of New Zealand farmers, so it’s rugged, utilitarian, and makes no promises it can’t keep. With two-wheel drive (very unusual for motorcycles), it is designed to go over and through anything, and I can confirm it stuck to that dusty and rutted trail like glue.
I’d have loved to take the bike out on the main trail, but the beginner’s loop gave me a great taster. At full power it’ll only do 27mph, but it gets there with absolutely no delay, and with that incredible grip, it was so much fun to ride.
Touring on the Ubco?
I can genuinely see myself having one of these as a commuter, as the 75-ish mile range and near-30mph top speed would be great for city riding. Given the off-road capabilities it would also make a brilliant toy for local green lanes, and would be much kinder to the environment than a traditional dirt bike.
I mean, I would love to take something like this touring, too – it probably needs a bit more range before I could do that, but I’m up for an experiment if Ubco are reading?! I don’t know, a tour around the coast of Great Britain on one of these would be amazing fun. Or maybe it would be more suited to a ride up the Fosse Way, maybe it would even manage the UK section of the TET?! Oh go on, that would be pretty awesome.
I did well not to place an order… I admit I’ve still go the page open on my laptop nearly a month later. I’m so tempted. Maybe next year.
Muddy Fun with Polaris
Okay, so this might not be a motorbike, and I was surprised to see them at the ABR Festival, but when given the chance to experience a Polaris RZR Side by Side on a ridiculous off-road trail, you’re going to take it, right?!
I rode this amazing machine on the expert section of the on-site trail on the Saturday afternoon. It was, without a doubt, a section of trail there was no way I’d survive on my GS (!), but one that I’m so glad I got to experience on four wheels.
It was a bit of a wild card, really. Booking for test rides started at 8am on Friday morning, and when we wandered into the main area all the big bike manufacturers had long queues. We quickly decided to try something completely different, and ended up with one of the last spots offered by Polaris Britain (and as it happened, still had time to book other rides too).
It was honestly the best fun. I don’t think I’ve quite recovered, even now. After a short orientation ride on Polaris’ own little track at the show, we headed out onto the main trail.
My steed and I slid around corners, whizzed up and down steep hills, and splashed through a massive muddy water crossing (apparently titled “the bog”). I know my demo RZR had a limiter on it, but honestly, I didn’t care. It was such an adrenaline rush, and one I hope won’t be a one off – I need more side-by-side action in my life.
I did my best, but there is still mud in my lid vents; cleaning that out is a price I’m willing to pay for that experience. Sadly, I don’t think we have quite the opportunities to run an RZR here in the UK, but if we lived somewhere a bit more buggy friendly, there is no doubt I’d have one of these in my garage.
I really enjoyed the ABR Festival. It was a fun weekend full of adventure biking inspiration, I’m glad I went. There is just something special about being in a place with so many other people who enjoy similar things to you – whether it was by interacting with the displays, hearing people speak, or just wandering around the festival campsites seeing how other people live their adventure biker life.
And I haven’t even mentioned the massive street food market (I ate rather well…!), or the evening musical entertainment. Or, indeed, the skills training or guided trail rides you could book onto.
Of course, there is no doubt that getting to ride the Ubco and drive the RZR were my highlights of the weekend. And it would be that opportunity to test out other, hopefully slightly unusual, bikes that would motivate me to buy a ticket for next year’s event.
Ticket’s for next year’s ABR Festival are already on sale. It’ll be at Ragley Hall again, from 23-25 June 2023. You’ll find more information and tickets on the Adventure Bike Rider website.
A big thankyou to ABR Festival for inviting me along to the event this year, I’m really glad I came.