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TRAIL RIDE | VIP EXPERIENCE, HAMPTON, BLUE MOUNTAINS

VIP Experience tragic, Josh Evans, returns to ride the entire GASGAS Range in Hampton NSW, but this time on the expanded 2024 range and loves them!

I did my first VIP Experience two years ago and as I stood there, gazing at the new improved and expanded 2024 line-up for the VIP Experience, Hampton Ride, memories of my first VIP Experience flooded back.

I wasn’t bike fit, and the Gardens of Stone trails were a shock to my easy-single-trail-tuned body. With the help of Grabbo and Mitch, I discovered how to ride the 300, keeping the revs down low. I ended up buying one, albeit a different brand with a carby, as learning hard enduro was a goal I set for myself, and the TPI wasn’t so good for me off the bottom. Since then, I’ve spent many hours practicing, doing drills and over a dozen days riding the Gardens of Stone, and I am now a much better rider.

Fast forward two years, and these 2024 Gassers and VIP trails are also very different. The bikes, and riding with Grabbo, are obviously what drew me to the VIP Experience, Hampton, but the people on the ride, and who you share a beer with afterward, are an equal third of the experience. This group was from Queensland, Brisbane, North, and Central. It was basically impossible to get them to drink anything but a XXXX Gold, if it was available.

As my fitness is still my weakness, I quickly scanned the group for anyone that hopefully needed a bit more rest than me. There was an old bugger on the VIP Experience, Hampton, at least 12 years older than me, but unfortunately, that guy was Geoff Ballard, and this is his backyard. Also, sadly, despite the slower pace of most of the Queenslanders’ speech, there were some definite riding guns here, and I gauged that I’d be towards the bottom of this pack.

I had a plan for this VIP Experience, Hampton to start on the 500 as there was a transport section up first then move down through the 450/350/250 thumpers then the 300 and 250 two-strokes. My plan quickly failed as the transport section was split up, and in 10 minutes, we were into a picturesque ghost gum forest single-trail. I wasn’t used to the stiffer suspension setup and higher tire pressures, compared to my hard enduro setup, and was a little tentative. The 500 was very easy to ride, but I took it easy for the first hour to avoid the dreaded arm pump.

After 10 minutes I was relieved to see a small group stopped ahead, it was the Central QLD fellas. Zeth was the kid immediately boosting off every rock and stick while I was trying to relax and not hold on too tight. 26-year-old Jack was just plain fast and keen to have fun. Their farmer boss, Jason, maybe late 40’s, slim and trim, looked smooth on the bike and threw rocks out of every gravelly corner like he’s using someone else’s tires.

VIP Dave was in the mix but pacing himself mid-pack. Then there was Brissy Bart who said he rode twice a year in the Glass House Mountains but was getting stuck in and rode while always laughing maniacally. He was fun to try and follow and a similar pace to me. Biloela Bob aka Randal kept a steady pace, and I enjoyed following him too while I warmed up and settled in.

Grabbo said the bikes share many crucial parts, the 4T’s all share the same gearbox and frame, and all models including the 2T’s share the subframe. We were more or less comparing the characteristics of the engine capacity. That made this ride even more interesting.

Next was the 450, and for me, 450’s have a racy reputation that’s not my bag at all. It was some easy fire trail ahead, but with some monster jumps tempting me to launch off. I let the Central Gun Gang go, showering me with rocks again.

I was relieved when trying to navigate the gnarly double fist-sized rocky trail that the 450 was very rideable. Despite everything being the same, it just felt more nimble and just a bit livelier than the lazy 500. Jumping on the 350 was the same, less power but more nimble.

The 250 was different as it had done a desert race, had 700k’s on it, and the suspension felt very soft. We were commenting on it, and Grabbo assured us that it was the same stock suspension but had just settled in. Going from the four-strokes to the 250 two-stroke was full-on. It was knife-like in the steering, extremely precise, and extremely light flicking between trees.

Swapping to the 300, my big mouth caught Grabbo’s attention, he wasn’t having it that I could tell the weight difference and feel between my legs. He said they’re identical in every way except barrel size. Riding it, it felt heavier and slower steering but the power was good for lugging up the longer hills.

I’ve been a bit snobby about the injected 300’s as I love the bottom end grunt of the carby 300’s. Without a side-by-side test, I’d be thrilled to own a Gasser 2T. If I wasn’t doing hard enduro type riding, then the 250 2T would be the bike I’d choose. I couldn’t fault it.

Following Geoff Ballard was a highlight for me, what a top bloke. He was chilling out mostly, but at lunch, he was very keen to know “Are we eating at that fancy restaurant again tonight?”

“Yes, mate,” and with that confirmation, GB was beaming all afternoon and into dinner as he entertained us with stories from the last 40 years, many involving TTR forks.

At the end of day one we’d clocked over 150k’s in 8 hours on the VIP Experience, Hampton. We were down a rider for day two, and one more was talking of exiting early. Dave had a big buster mid-morning on the 500 and came to rest 30 metres down the trail that took the wind out of his sails along with quite a bit of skin. He finished the day with an arm like Popeye and a bloody elbow ironically sticking to his elbow protection.

At dinner, Dave hatched a plan to help GB replace the smashed-up phone he dropped on the trail. GB would take Dave to the hospital followed by Dave’s dream of a hot lap of the Mt Panorama circuit.

Day two of the VIP Experience, Hampton, presented a dense fog, and Randal needed a push start in his Hilux to get the hell outta Dodge, he was too sore from riding and a few minor bingles. Fitness is key on this ride and I was losing my buffers fast. At breakfast Brissy Bart informed us he was exiting after lunch.

It was then I realised that after lunch on the VIP Experience, Hampton I won’t get any rest! I’ll be last up every hill and Grabbo will laugh when I take my helmet off and then take off to the next trail. He noticed my improvement and was keen to push me a bit. We had an epic morning with insane views. I was feeling great with no arm pump due to the regular rests and good mix of singles, hills and fire-trail.

The afternoon on day two was one of the best afternoons of my riding life, we barely stopped. I had finally adapted to the pine forest loam and root singles and even better I was on the 250 4T with traction control. It was a revelation up ultra-steep, greasy, snotty, hellish, root littered singles. It replaced the 250 2T as my pick of the bikes.

I was even somehow keeping up with the Central QLD guns! Then I realized poor old Jack was holding them up. On Day one Jack had a flying W moment and badly bruised the inside of his knee which slowed him down a lot. He slowed down exactly to my level.

We were all snaking up and down mountain after mountain. I was always last but managed a few moments rest now and again and have never ridden faster or better. Being pushed was exactly what I needed and have now got past my plateau. I even managed a few hero passes.

Following young Zeth back along the fire-trails, I played a game of “if Zeth jumps so will I”, and he jumps off EVERYTHING! I almost felt like a teenager again, I just ignored the stiff back and numb thumb and sent the 250 4T. My next bike purchase is going to be tough as I like my 300 but the 250 4T has won me over. Unlike last time this 2024 model did not flame out or stall once, just did everything to help this 53-year-old do his best-ever riding.

Name: Zeth Bond

Weight: 88kg

Age: Young and virile

Pace: Races Qld Off-Roads

My favourite bike would’ve been between the EC 350F four-stroke and the EC 250 two-stroke. I’d probably settle on the EC 250 because it just felt a bit faster and more nimble. I did like the EC 450 at the start but that’s probably because I’ve got a 350F at home so it just feels more comfortable.

Name: Josh Evans

Weight: 95kg

Age: Silver fox

Pace: Most improved trailrider

My favourite bike was probably the EC 250F. I ride a 300cc two-stroke at home but this time the EC 250F felt like a knife. It’s sharp and accurate and so easy to handle. I love it, it’s great.

I chose a 300 at home for more difficult hard enduro stuff but the trails we’re doing on the VIP Experience are more flowing single track and general trailriding. It’s easier and better to ride in that stuff.

Name: Jason Hubbard

Weight: 75kg

Age: Season vet

Pace: Off-road vets racer

My preference for this kind of riding where we’ve been this weekend would be the EC 250 two-stroke. My second preference would be the EC 300. I just find them so much easier to ride and I’m definitely the kind of person who leans towards a two-stroke over a four-stroke.

Name: Randall Urquhart

Weight: 98kg

Age: Mid-life madness

Pace: Loves a trailride!

My favourite would be either the EC 250F or the EC 350F. I got pretty tired this weekend and they were good bikes to ride. I do like the two-strokes but they seem to be knocking me around a bit today.

I didn’t actually ride the EC 500F but the little four-strokes really suit me. I was on the EC 450F for half the day but the smaller bikes were easier to ride. They still crawl up everything sometimes with a bit of clutch but they crawl fine.

Name: Jack Hornick

Weight: 88kg

Age: In his prime

Pace: Trailrider that should race!

My favourite bike was the EC 250 two-stroke. Just being something I’m used to. It’s light and nimble and perfect through the pine forest. The Balance point on that EC 250 is so good for pulling wheelies, better than any other bike I’ve ridden. It feels so comfortable and once you get it up there, it feels nice.

Name: Bart Ennis

Weight: 110kg

Age: Dad mode and still killing it

Pace: Underrated Trailrider

My pick would be the EC 250 or EC 300. They just feel so light nimble. I have a 300cc two-stroke at home and I’m used to that really nimble feeling and the power is still great. I couldn’t pick the two if I had to, I’d take both!

Name: David Balmain

Weight: 100kg

Age: Tough as nails and still got it!

Pace: Diesel, larrakin trailrider

I would have to say the 500cc four-stroke was best for the fire trails but in the tighter stuff, I’d like to jump back to the EC 300 two-stroke. It was just so nimble in the trees, it’s a great bike. So if I had to take one home I’d like a combination of the two!

Name: Geoff Ballard

Weight: 75kg

Age: Way younger than he is

Pace: Pro enduro legend

That’s a pretty tough question. I’ve never been a huge fan of the 450 but I really like it in this GASGAS EC 450F. It’s always hard to go past the EC 350F because it’s just that perfect mid-capacity.

The other big surprise is EC 250. You had to be active on it but it was fun and it goes really well. It was such an awesome exercise ride all the different bikes and the GASGAS range is so impressive.

Don’t miss out!

The VIP Experience crew have limited availability for the two remaining rides this year. It’s a unique experience to sample the entire GASGAS range over two epic days of trailriding. It’s an aweome way to help pick your next bike or just give you the knowledge to shut that loud-mouth up the next time they try telling everyone which bike is the best having only ever ridden one capacity.

WORDS JOSH EVANS AND MITCH LEES

PHOTOS MITCH LEES AND BERNIE DEN HERTOG