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Beez' Blog of Moto Greatness - Observing Observed Trials


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Last weekend the World Trial Championship came to Exeter, Rhode Island, home of Twisted Throttle. I'd seen trials on TV and as an exhibition at other motorcycle events, and I've even putted around on a real trials bike or two, but I'd never actually seen a trials competition in its natural habitat. With Twisted Throttle being an event sponsor I had a free ticket and no excuse not to go. Not only was this happening right in our backyard, but this was World Trial -- as in, the best trials riders in the world. Needless to say, I was pretty excited!

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Eight time World Trials champion Toni Bou from Spain is the Valentino Rossi of trials.

I consider myself a pretty big motorcycle racing fan in terms of both current championships and moto racing history, but I found myself not knowing anything about the rules of observed trials or the riders in the current series. A quick internet search got me up to speed on the riders, but I decided to get the lowdown on the rules by asking people at the event.

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Albert Cabestany, lead rider for the Sherco team finished 4th overall.

I rode over to Stepping Stone Ranch Friday after work to check out the vintage trials event and shoot some photos. Vintage motorcycle racing of any form is always much more low-key and full of friendly folks, and trials is no different Maybe even more so for trials, because they want to recruit you and turn you into a trials rider.

Observed trials is not a race where the first over the finish line wins. Trials is a natural terrain obstacle course where the rider tries to ride his bike through the section without making any mistakes. I asked this friendly dude from the Rhode Island Trials Club a little more. He explained that the rider enters a section through a gate and then must choose his line through more gates until exiting the section. Each time he puts his foot down, called a "dab," he get a "mark" or 1 point. After losing three marks he is allowed to dab as much as he wants without incurring any more marks. However, if he falls or stalls the bike with both feet on the ground he loses 5 marks, which is the maximum one can get in a section. When a rider gets no marks, he's said to have "cleaned" the section. A trials event is made up of 12 sections, and they do 3 laps of all the sections. The rider with the lowest score wins.

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Toni Bou dominated the U.S. round in Exeter, RI winning both days and stretching his already formidable points lead.

Riders negotiate the sections with the help of assistants or "minders" that help them pick out the best line and avoid mistakes the other riders made. Many of them use helmet-mounted, rider-to-rider communication systems like Interphone to talk to each other before and during the section. Minders wear helmets and the same gear as the riders but can be identified by their green vests. Each rider’s mechanic is also out on the course and is identified by a red vest.

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Friday was the vintage trials event, something mere mortals of any age can do. Lots of hard work was done by the Rhode Island Trials Club to put on this world class event.

Yellow/orange vests identify the checkers or referees. Most checkers are trials riders themselves and are intimately familiar with the sport and how to score the competitors. One checker will start the rider, another will punch the rider's scorecard at the end of the section, and several others will be standing at various points in the section to observe the run.

One of the things that is quite different from other forms of motorcycle racing is how much more intimate trials is. It's sort of like a golf crowd in a lot of ways. First of all, we're all watching one man against the course in a sport of precision, much like the golfer making a putt or chi shot. Second, it's much quieter than any other form of motorcycle racing; in fact, it's very quiet much of the time. When a rider is on the course, it's just one bike, and trials bikes are pretty quiet. That means when a rider makes a mistake you can hear the disappointment in the crowd, and when he cleans the section everyone cheers him -- but it's a more reserved, golf-like round of applause.

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The paddock was as professional as any top team in motocross or road racing.

As a spectator I was pretty well prepared for the event, but here's a tip to make it an enjoyable experience. Gear up like you're going on a day hike, because you are. I must have walked 4 miles through the woods, and it wasn't flat, well groomed walking trails. You will want sturdy hiking boots with lots of traction because you'll be rock hopping and going up and down steep hills. The sections are typically remote, so carry everything with you that you might need, like water, sunscreen, bug spray, snacks, etc. I carried everything in my Klim Nac Pac. One thing I really could have used was a compass. I'm terrible at directions and had trouble orienting myself in the woods as to which way to go to the next section.

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The Wagner Cup has every winner of the American round from 1975 to present. Not exactly the Indianapolis 500 trophy but there aren't any ram's heads on that.

Watching observed trials is very different than the typical MotoGP, Supercross, or flat track race as far as the spectator experience goes. There's no seat in the grandstands or 20 feet of fence between you and the track. At a trials event you are out there on the course with the riders, sometimes inches from the competitors. You're out there walking the same terrain in the woods with them. A little prep will make that much easier.

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Twisted Throttle, the company Ernie and I work at was one of the sponsors. There's a t-shirt Ernie designed on the left and Ernie on the far right.

The other thing I noticed is that when you watch the world's best supermoto rider back it into a corner, or Supercross rider land a triple, you might not be able to ride like them but you can see how it's possible. Watching the world's top trials riders, you will see the impossible! You'll scratch your head and say, "How did he do that?"

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