No License, No Problem: Off-Road adventure at the Calabogie Boogie

    Posted by Shane Kalicharan about 3 months ago

    Motorcycling in Canada. On paper, it doesn’t seem like a great idea. Insurance rates are high for new riders, your riding time is severely limited by our colder climate and laws like lane splitting don’t really exist in the country. And yet, Canadians can’t get enough of it. In fact, statistics from the Motorcycle and Moped Industry Council (MMIC) show more and more Canadians purchasing bikes – especially motorcycles meant for off road use.

    Off-road riding is an interesting area of motorcycling, as, in many cases, you don’t actually need a license to do it. You’ll certainly find your share of licensed riders – both new and seasoned – partaking. But you’ll also find riders of all skill levels, and even ages. Some as young as 4-years-old can hop on kid-sized off road bikes and start tearing up the dirt and gravel – all within the confines of the law. That’s the kind of diverse ridership you’ll find at the annual Calabogie Boogie – a two-day off-road trail riding experience celebrating what it means to ride off the beaten path.

    Registration for the annual Boogie fills up fast every year according to Rome Haloftis, the event coordinator for the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders. This year’s event was sponsored by the longest operating motorcycle company in history when it comes to two wheels: Husqvarna Motorcycles. We were offered us a chance at testing our skills on the dirt, and naturally, we took it. If a 4-year-old can do it, surely a grown adult with a motorcycle license could too, right?

    As a shorter rider, I always found dirt bike and enduro style motorcycles intimidating because of their height. Luckily Husqvarna Motorcycles was prepared for my lack of verticality, having one of their 2-stroke TE 150 off-road bikes – complete with a lowered suspension – ready for my use. Standing on its own, the bike was still taller, but once I hopped on, the suspension compressed to a comfortable height. We set off on a gravelly road shared by fellow off-road riders and ATV operators towards our trial grounds.

    As a street rider, you naturally do your best to avoid gravel and loose surfaces as it’s a nearly sure-fire way to quickly meet the pavement. The smoother tires you find on road bikes will lose traction on loose surfaces. But the TE 150 and its off-road rubber made the gravely surface feel as grippy as asphalt. The only thing holding back the bike was me, and the mental hurdle I needed to get over. But soon enough, we went from loose gravel to soft dirt as we arrived at our destination.

    Before us lay a 1 km long twisting and turning dirt track carved into a grassy field. The surface was soft, loose and riddled with deep wheel-width grooves from other riders. Again – all things you’d want to avoid on the street. But as Haloftis, and Husqvarna Motorcycles’ marketing mechanic Marc Brunet assured us, sometimes the way you ride off-road will seem counter intuitive to what you know.

    Our first venture on to the dirt was slow and treacherous. At least, mine was. The soft, slippery surface was no obstacle for the TE 150, but with an inexperienced rider like me behind the wheel, getting used to the little slips and slides took some work. Haloftis and Brunet suggested one of their aforementioned  counter-intuitive methods – putting weight on the outside peg of the bike. This, coupled with taking a standing position when riding, greatly improved my control on the dirt track. After several more runs, I gradually took turns faster and more controlled, feeling more confident in my abilities and control of the motorcycle.

    After getting used to running the track on the TE 150, I tried another of Husqvarna Motorcycles’ bikes – the four stroke FE 250. This bike was an inch higher than the TE I spent time on, and admittedly I dropped it while trying to get on, ultimately snapping the end off the clutch lever. I was assured this was normal and happens far more often than you think. In fact, Brunet carried a tool kit full of spare levers and other essential parts for off-road riding. The four stroke bike was very forgiving, predicable and user friendly once I got it going, and I genuinely enjoyed it. But the height was too much and I decided to return to the faithful – and shorter – TE 150 after one run of the dirt track.

    By now, we mastered the soft surface of the dirt track and it was time to get a taste of what brings riders back year after year to the Calabogie Boogie. Haloftis and Brunet led us to a small snippet of an actual route for this year’s Boogie, cutting through a section of forest. There would be a narrow path slaloming through trees, an incline, and at the peak of that incline, a log obstacle we’d have to ride over. No pressure, right? But that’s exactly it – there’s really no pressure. The Boogie has trails for riders of all skill levels and ages without the need for a motorcycle license. After the lessons imparted by Haloftis and Brunet, I was able to tackle this small bit of trail with confidence. I was able to fully appreciate why the Boogie attracts as many people as it does – and why they keep coming back. 


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