There can, surely, be no purpose whatsoever to driving a Ford F-150 Raptor in the UK. It may hail from the same Ford Performance division as the Focus RS, the Mustang and the breathtaking GT but, unlike its brethren, it has no global remit.
Inspired by Baja racers and trophy trucks the Raptor is built to dominate sand dunes and desert floors in a country where parking places are supersized and petrol is still cheap.
It is about as irrelevant to British motoring as anything on four wheels. And yet here it is, outside my house. Looking utterly preposterous.
Given the unapologetically pumped-up American machismo I expected a level of derision from those with more mature tastes than my inner (and actual) five-year-old.
Yet there’s none of the envy you sometimes get in supercars, everyone seemingly swept away with its childish sense of fun. I need something to do it justice though.
Chatting with friends in the mountain bike world I ask if rumours two-time downhill champion Danny Hart has one are indeed true. They are and he loves it, according to a contact at his new team Madison Saracen.
“If you want to ride the really good stuff you need to go off the beaten track”
It certainly fits the image, big pick-ups like Raptors a feature of ‘uplift’ riding culture in North America where riders sling their bikes over the tailgates and lift-share drives back to the top to avoid wasting energy on dull, grinding forest road climbs.
Resort-based riding spots like Whistler and those it’s inspired in Europe have their chairlift infrastructure of course. But if you want to ride the really good stuff you need to go off the beaten track, an off-road pick-up the essential tool for off-piste riding and DIY uplift shuttling.
All I’ll need to get the look is a pad to sling over the tailgate to protect paintwork on both truck and bike, Dakine being the go-to brand for such things.
Turns out a local contact has one I can borrow too, the drive to his house on the edge of Saddleworth Moor offering a chance to stretch the F-150’s legs a little.
Model: Ford F-150 Raptor Supercab
Price: From £85,000 upwards via independent import specialists
Engine: 3.5-litre twin turbo petrol V6
Power: 450hp @ 5,000rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
0-62mph: Not disclosed
Top speed: Not disclosed
Economy: 16mpg (US combine)
On sale: Now
I know the roads round his way well and they’re fast and open but shockingly surfaced. Which isn’t a problem for the Raptor, given the dune-swallowing capabilities of its Fox Racing suspension.
I’ve driven all sorts of fast and exotic cars along these roads but, against all expectations, an all-American pick-up might be among the most fun. There’s temptation to just turn off and drive straight across the moor but self discipline prevails and I instead entertain myself by taking the extended, on-road scenic route.
And with the tailgate pad in place the Raptor looks complete to my eyes. Time to expand on the plan.
Uplift mountain biking is gaining popularity here in the UK, centres on both Forestry and private land springing up and inspiring local scenes all of their own.
Some, like Antur Stiniog in Snowdonia have properly metalled roads for a smooth and quick ride to the top, others like nearby Revolution Bikepark have rather more gnarly off-road tracks that test even their beaten up Defenders.
Quite reasonably – given that’s how they make their money – most insist that you pay for their dedicated uplift service.
Everything about the Raptor is close to parody of stereotyped all-American automotive engineering
Revolution are up for having the Raptor on site but mid-week in January is a hard sell for willing riders.
I look further south to the Forest of Dean, perhaps less extreme in its terrain but home to a thriving mountain bike community of which a freelancer friend is a part and free to play out.
I sling my bike over the tailgate and my body armour and full-face into the back of the surprisingly cosy Supercrew cab and am good to go.
‘BUILT TOUGH!’ shouts the dash display as I press the starter button, everything about the Raptor close to parody of stereotyped all-American automotive engineering.
The steering wheel is massive, the gear selector clunks and there are toggle switches in the roof to connect to the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ outdoors accessories of your choosing.
True to expectation the plastics are cheap, hard and some way off what you’d expect of a vehicle costing the £100K a Raptor will set you back in the UK. Like it matters.
Big changes for this latest Raptor include lightweight body panels and a downsized 3.5-litre Ecoboost engine in place of the previous 6.2-litre V8.
“It’s hardly a desert highway in New Mexico or forest trail in British Columbia but I’m getting into the mood”
To avoid your average F-150 customer interpreting this as some sort of communist plot Ford is quick to point out that the aloo-min-um it uses for the body is ‘military grade’ (obviously) and the engine has more horsepower and a lot more torque than the old one.
It also drives through a 10-speed transmission with a choice of various on- and off-road driving modes, the most exciting of which is labelled ‘Baja’.
On the basis this is probably overkill for the M1 I leave it in 2WD and mooch south, seat set like a La-Z-Boy recliner, one hand on the wheel and enjoying the thumping bass of the Kicker Subwoofer and same Sync 3 infotainment system you can have in your Focus.
It’s hardly a desert highway in New Mexico or forest trail in British Columbia but I’m getting into the mood.
I enjoy the total smothering of the tha-dump, tha-dump expansion joints on the elevated bit of the M6 past Birmingham, suspension designed for flattening rutted desert floors also suitable for our poorly-surfaced motorways it seems.
WHAT TO BRING
The beauty of lift-assisted riding is that you only need to dress for one job – the downhills. So no need for drinks packs, lycra shorts or GoreTex, instead focus on a moto-influenced look of baggy shorts or motocross pants, full-face helmet, goggles and body armour.
To get the most out of it you need a proper long-travel full-suspension bike too – leave the hybrid at home and hire one if needs be, PedalABikeAway offering fast-rolling, enduro-ready machines like the Yorkshire-built Orange Stage Six for £65 per day.
A full day of uplift from FlyUpDownhill costs £33 with pre-booking advised, on-the-day and single runs available according to demand.
Turning off the M5 and onto the twisty roads that lead to my rendezvous at the Forest of Dean PedalABikeAway trail hub the Raptor is suddenly thrown into a network of tight and twisty British B-road, territory about as far away from its comfort zone as you might think.
And yet it’s actually great fun, the engine’s 450hp more than enough for making swift progress while the long-travel suspension seems as appropriate for the road as any drilled-down, stiffly sprung sports car or hot hatch.
The quality of the damping is the secret, this off-road motorsport spec kit offering water-bed style float with spooky levels of body control and composure. The Raptor is hardly a precision tool but it can still be hustled along with way more control than you’d have expected.
The bike hanging over the tailgate also has Fox Racing suspension, the 170mm of travel on the forks almost exactly half that of the Raptor’s but underpinned by the same engineering expertise.
Honed on Californian motocross tracks in the mid-Seventies, Fox has grown into a global suspension giant specialising in off-road machinery from desert racing trucks to mountain bikes.
And the same technology that makes a stock Raptor a Baja-ready race truck (Ford has successfully competed one in street-spec) is what will be helping me get down Forest of Dean’s downhill trails in something close to control.
The FlyUp Downhill operation from the Cannop trail hub is FoD’s officially recognised uplift service but the guys at PedalABikeAway have kindly let us get the Ford’s tyres muddy in the forest to set the stage for some American style uplift.
Over the mud and bumps the Raptor is as smooth as it is on the motorway, huge axle articulation gobbling rain ruts without drama while our bikes remain secure on the tailgate.
On two wheels for the way back down it’s somewhat more hectic, the FoD downhills not offering huge height drops or steep gradients like the centres further north in Snowdonia but it’s no soft option.
I’m on a enduro-style Scott Genius LT, its clever mix of downhill geometry and switchable suspension meaning it can alternate between viable cross-country machine and gravity-assisted monster with a flick of the bar-mounted lever.
On two wheels or four, Fox has been offering off-road racers superlative control on all surfaces and the interlinked fork and rear shock smother the roots and rocks, letting me concentrate on line choice and holding my nerve to preserve speed and cushion otherwise harsh landings.
This is expensive kit, a set of Fox forks easily running to a grand or more. But the difference between these and budget suspension is night and day, the sight of those massive blue anodised, Fox-logoed struts on the Raptor likewise a sign of boutique engineering for those in the know.
In Canada I’ve uplifted in F-150s with eight bikes stacked across the tailgate and happy riders chilling in the load bed for the drive back to the top.
“America may not feel the need to share the Raptor with the rest of the world. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work away from its natural environment”
Sitting out one ride in half a dozen to act as driver is a chance to catch a breather, the pick-up’s easy integration into yet another outdoor activity one reason vehicles like the F-150 are so ubiquitous.
Mountain bikes, snowmobiles, motocross bikes – you’ll find Raptors on Instagram loaded up with all of the above, the fit with Danny Hart’s wild and exuberant riding style totally making sense of him running one as a statement vehicle.
I can’t quite claim his level of talent on two wheels. But for a vehicle that seemed so outrageous when it arrived at my house it’s suddenly fitting in with my life very nicely indeed.
America may not feel the need to share the Raptor with the rest of the world. But that doesn’t mean it can’t work away from its natural environment.
If only they’d make one for the rest of the world and just slightly more appropriately sized for our roads. Wait, they are?
WHERE TO EAT
The PedalABikeAway café is a natural hub for hungry riders looking to refuel between runs and means you don’t have to go off-site and miss out on your all-important uplifts.
All the usual staples you’d want are available including generous portions of home-made cake – for lunch our recommendation would be the boar burger.
Just hope your only encounter with one is between two pieces of bread and not out on the trails, the Forest of Dean as famous for its wild boar as it is its mountain biking. Suffice to say they feel like they own the place and aren’t going to give way without a fight!