I thought I knew all about Trials, but I now know that I knew nothing.
I don't even know how to define this moto-discipline anymore.
Is this a problem? I think not, and therein lies the fundament of this story.
I asked Seb for 'words' to describe how he felt right at this moment in time. I got only one: Dejected! Anyone that comes into the shop knows Seb as the one that is always grinning. Well, I now know he has other facial expressions, such as 'the grimace'.
I first contemplated trials in 1998. I can't remember where I went to check it out, or who I was chatting with, but I went to an event for an eyeball and ended up on a bike having a play! Such is the nature of Trials riders; they are an all embracing and very trusting mob. I guess the bikes are designed to get thrown at the ground ad nauseum, so the prospect of me falling off this total stranger's bike was, most likely, as much expected as it was well-considered.
I purchased my first bike in 2009 to use as an 'all conquering' off-road mobility device for remote field biological survey work (I'm not kidding BTW: see this link). But, as much as I loved the bike and the idea of Trials, I was never actually able to ride an event.
That all changed this year.
After an interminable period of procrastination, and following more than a decade of bike ownership, I FINALLY competed in my first event. And then my second, and then my third. It was the Summer Series. The air was crisp and dry, birds sang, kangaroos hopped out of the way; yes, there was a bit of dust, but all was well with the world.
It is not about the bike, it is not about the rider: it is about the synergy of the two.
After completing Rounds 1 -3 of the Summer Series, I thought I knew what this sport was all about. But by 3pm on Sunday the 19th of June, 2022, reality had hit hard and I realised I knew nothing. Three PM was when they called 'engines off' on Round 1 of the Prestige Winter Series.
It is hard to determine the etymology of the term Trials, or MotoTrials. But a five minute faff around on the Weird Wide Web, and you can determine a definition by default.
The Trial, by definition, is the actual process of riding through a 'section', from the entry gate to the exit gate, following the course representative of your grade/level (as directed by the arrows), staying within the confines of the section (as defined by the flagging tape) without 'dabbing' or 'prodding' your foot to the ground, stalling the engine, rolling backwards or generally creating what is called a "fiasco" or total fail. Petty simple.
But that definition is wrong. Totally, utterly and absolutely.
Trials is a trial. It is a trial of the mind, the body and the machine. To complete a Trials event is not just an achievement: it is an accomplishment. And those that do it regularly, from Black Plate to A Grade Expert, possess a little something that not everybody has: Tenacity beyond reproach.
An Observed Trials Event comprises 8 - 10 sections, with each section ridden 3 - 4 times. The courses are set to 'grades' representative of rider ability. But who defines this 'ability'? Club Committee members and experienced riders alike set the courses and, intuitively, there is a chasm of variability in what one person will define as achievable, or even reasonable. Add the unpredictability of winter weather and the result, that is the Prestige Winter Series, is a frothing, bubbling broth of mud, sweat, tears and despondency.
I will shamefully admit that I turned back to the pits to retire not once, but three times. I found any excuse I could to run screaming from the sections: comprised of tractionless mud and greasy sharp rocks that wanted to suck me into the upside down vis-a-vis Stranger Things.
But a little something kept turning me around and sending me back out there. After more than 6 hours of going 'toe to toe' with the hills of the Ferguson Valley, I emerged: wet, cold, sore, but ecstatic. I'd made it through a real Trial. And now I know what I never knew before: Trials is a tribulation. But it is one well worth experiencing over and over again.
See you at Round 2.
Photo Credits: Ken and Kelly Hodges.