Observed Trial competitions, or Trial for short, have been popular in the UK for almost as long as motorcycling has been around. The precursor to Scrambles and Motocross yet still a thriving sport in its own right, Trial riding is the ultimate test of a rider’s skill in handling a motorcycle.
Most popular in Britain and Spain historically, trials are competed around the world; however Anglo-Spanish dominance in the sport is clear. Riders such as Dougie Lampkin MBE (5 Indoor World Championships, 7 Outdoor World Championships), Sammy Miller (11 British Trials Championships, 2 European Championships), Jordi Tarres (7 Outdoor World Championships) and Antoni Bou (8 Indoor World Championships, 8 Outdoor World Championships) have completely dominated the World and European trials scene for the last 50 years.
Spain are also leading the way with bike development too with several of the top manufacturers all based in Spain- GAS GAS, Sherco, Montesa Honda & OSSA
Split into two fundamental disciplines, Indoors Trials (X-Trial) and Outdoors Trials, riders compete not to be the fastest or against the clock but to ‘clear’ an obstacle course with the least number of faults. Faults include putting your foot down (a ‘dab’), stalling the engine, riding out of bounds, dismounting, going backwards or failing to complete the course. Trials works on a low scoring system and penalty points are assessed for each fault ‘Observed’ by the Observer through each section (Hence the name, Observed Trial). The rider with the fewest point at the end of the event is the winner.
In both Indoor and Outdoor trials a course is set out which competitors must follow. An Observer follows the rider around the course to assess faults as they go. Many courses are split into sections which will be completed in turn. Some competitions call for the rider to have a spotter assist them in picking the best route through the course; they may join their rider on the obstacles, talk to them and advise them on how best to negotiate the obstacle but must not assist physically.
Indoor trial courses are constructed by a course designer utilising a wonderful array of natural and man-made materials to create a course that is both challenging to the rider and aesthetically pleasing to the spectator. Courses can be built from virtually anything you can imagine; some are very inventive!
Outdoor trial courses are less manufactured than their indoor cousins but are no less challenging. Rather than building the course from scratch, designers make use of the natural landscape to create outdoor routes set through woodland settings, rocky outcrops, steep hill climbs and any other obscure, seemingly impassable terrain that can be found. Small flag markers show the rider the course and he/she must pick their route through the sections.
Once no different to the standard road going models, modern trial bikes couldn’t be any further removed. With the special, lightweight design they are hard to compare to anything else in the motorcycling world. Designed to be ridden standing up, the first thing you notice is the lack of a seat on these machines. With much shorter suspension travel than motocross bikes and a low slung engine to make the centre of balance as low as possible, trial bikes are very distinctive.
Typically using small capacity but very torquey engines they can hop, jump, and bounce around the course as if they are as light as air. Cat like balance and razor sharp throttle control are the key to successfully harnessing these machines.
Trial competitions are broken down into similar classes to those that compete in motocross. Men and women compete separately and have their own world championships as do the juniors. Different classes are created to accommodate competitors of different levels of ability making the sport accessible to all levels. Specific events are available to various vintage classes with particular year of manufacture ranges, twin shocks, air cooled, sidecar, etc.
World championships in both indoor and outdoor competitions are administered by the FIM while the ACU oversee British and other domestic levels of competition.
As with other types of motorsport, there are plenty of local Trials clubs around who will be pleased to help you explore the sport and get involved.