Last weekend I was invited by Honda to visit an estate between Oban and Fort William on the west coast of Scotland, to ride out their new FourTrax quad bikes on the hill. I realise this has little to do with shooting per say, except that very few shooting estates are quad-free any more. We followed a shepherd across his daily routes that take in any number of steep banks, bogs, ditches and streams. The bikes dealt with it all impressively. Perhaps even more impressive though, was the shepherd’s collie Moss, which managed to stay on the back of his master’s bike throughout, riding the bumps and inclines like a side-car racer.
They’re hard work for a first-timer and the whole group struggled to walk the next day, with extreme stiffness in our arms, thighs and bums. Well worth it though, as they are great fun, over and above being a useful tool. I’ll admit too that once I got used to the bike, I was sorely tempted to take my helmet off and go faster. Complacency, over-confidence, casualness – I guess that’s how serious accidents happen.
The following day our press gang was invited to the World Championship Downhill Mountain Biking event on the ski ranges of Aonoch Mhor, just outside of Fort William. This has nothing at all to do with shooting, but it was fun none-the-less! Honda has their own team, which boasts three of the top riders including the world number one, South African Greg Minaar. We were able to interview the riders beforehand, which is always an inspiration meeting competitors at the top of their sport. Greg eventually came fourth, which was a fine effort given he’d broken his shoulder half way down.
These extreme sportsmen can have very little regard for their own safety. The course runs down the steepest slope of the mountain through mud, round trees, over roots and across wet stone slabs, all at breakneck speed. We took the gondola up to get a closer look and watched one of the junior girls come a cropper after a sharp incline, her front tyre catching a rut to send her over the handlebars. She must have used her wrists and collarbone as a brake, before finally coming to a crumpled stop, while her bike continued to somersault down the hill.
The atmosphere was brilliant at the finish line, especially as the Brits have a strong showing in the sport. The route is also lined with spectators, who can get just inches from the riders as they flash past. There are not many sports where the spectators have to exert such energy to see their heroes, so mountain biking seems to be a healthy pursuit for all concerned. As long as you don’t fall off!
For more information on shooting-related shoulder injuries, see next week’s (27th Sept) instalment of Taking Stock in the magazine. Riding tips for quad bikes will feature in the issue out on the 11th of October.
For Honda’s new FourTrax and their mountain biking team, visit www.honda.co.uk/atv/ and www.world.honda.com/MTB/