It was a little while ago now, but special opportunities to ride factory bikes are few and far between. We let Jonathan Pearson buckle up and ride some of the best offroad motorcycles on the planet, and at the home of Antoine Meo. Sounds like the perfect day out to us at the KTM BLOG!
Antoine Meo’s place, what a place. What a place to grow-up, what a place to spend your life learning to ride dirt bikes and what a place to hone your skills to become a legend in the sport of Enduro. What a place also to host the 2016 Red Bull KTM Enduro Factory Bike Test.
Five times Enduro World Champion, Antoine Meo needs little introduction to KTM and offroad fans around the world. Since injuring his wrists in the 2016 Dakar Rally, Meo has spent eight months off bikes recovering his fitness. It has been a tough time for the Frenchman but he was in happy mood as he welcomed both the Farioli Enduro Factory Team and a selection of the world’s offroad media to his mightily impressive playground to host the 2016 factory test.
Along for the ride to Mezel in the Farioli Factory Racing Team truck were four bikes fresh from their season-ending GP at Cahors including the Women’s Enduro World Championship-winning KTM 350 EXC-F of Laia Sanz, Taylor Robert’s final overall GP-winning 350 EXC-F, Nathan Watson’s E1 250 EXC-F and to add some extreme spice to the mix, Jonny Walker’s 300 EXC. Four very different machines for four very different riders – as the various members of the offroad press found out.
Meo couldn’t have been a better host: from head chef for the assembled Farioli and KTM staff during course set-out day to track course setter, he even got down on his knees to help swap an exhaust on Walkers’ 300 EXC that one of the journalists managed to ding early on in the day’s testing. Meo’s talents are wide and he made a great host!
With Team Farioli hot-footing it across to Meo’s home village Digne-les-Bains from Cahors together with the KTM staff and the Future7Media photography crew, all busying themselves setting up at the offroad park, the apocalypse arrived. Truly some biblical weather fell out the sky which not only called a halt to course-setting but caused some head scratching in terms of planning for the next day. As Meo kept say: “No stress!”
The following day dawned brighter and it was an early start for all to make the most of the morning’s dryer weather and ahead of rain forecast later in the day. The morning session took in a sweet little loop in the woods and rocks in the valley above Meo’s house. It was the second choice option for the test, enforced on the crew because of the tremendous amount of water that fell 24 hours earlier. But the second option was no second best and provided a great little loop for riders and photographers to work their magic.
With the main track across the other side of the valley drying out all morning the riders were then able to revert back to ‘plan A’ after lunch. Lunch? What a lunch! A very rural French method of producing hand-made, freshly cooked pizza and pasta on site was an unexpected treat.
The afternoon took in the original loop of Enduro, technical and MX test which has been the bedrock of Meo’s training for decades. It was the perfect place to test and despite some slick patches in the trees it gave riders the chance to test the range of bikes from Walker’s EXC to the different Enduro factory bikes on the MX test.
To test the KTM factory bikes is a rare honor for the media and riding in Meo’s backyard added to the great privilege everyone enjoyed. Plenty of people were left wanting more, which is always a great sign.
Post-ride talk from the riders was rich with questions, judgments, differing opinions about how the suspension felt, how easy a bike was to ride and how surprised they were by the different bikes. Perhaps the surprise package was Laia’s bike which almost to a man, everyone praised.
Although some rain did eventually call a halt to proceedings it had been a fantastic day’s testing with all riders getting good amounts of time riding the four Red Bull KTM Factory Bikes through Meo’s playground. Everyone left wishing they too had such a playground!