So You Want To Ride ISDT?

So You Want To Ride ISDT?

SO YOU WANT TO RIDE ISDT?
Ardent readers of my column, ref the Scottish, will be pleased to know that I shall not bore you with
exploits and tales of daring-do for 1971. However, after 2 rides and 2 finishes in the Scottish, the
Royal Air Force and others are keen on me riding in the ISDT as it was called then.
For those of you not familiar with this event it consists of every country entering 2 teams in the
competition. The top teams compete for the Trophy and the lesser teams compete for the Vase.
The Trophy teams are each countries top 6 riders with the best 4 to count while the Vase teams
are more clubman level and military and consist of 4 riders with 3 to count.
Prior to the event, normally held in September, there are a series qualifying events and special
track and test days. The first of these was always the Welsh 2 Day held in central Wales at
Llandrindrod Wells ……. So, June sees me venturing into the unknown riding a trials bike amid all
the full blown enduros and modified motorcrossers . The format of the event is identical to the
ISDT in so much that each day is about 200 miles divided up into stages of 12-20 miles in length,
and depending on conditions the organizers will set one of three speed schedules for the day….
Wet 22-25mph, Average 25-28mph, Dry 28-31mph, which obviously gives you the times between
the checks. You can arrive early at the check, BUT DON”T CHECK IN! And up to 3 minutes late
without penalty. If you are late you lose 1 mark per minute until 60 when you are excluded.
To get the “prized” Gold Medal you must not incur any time penalties or you slip to Silver and then
after 25 to the lowly Bronze. On top of that there are special tests twice a day which consist of
stretches of unknown done WFO with a flying finish. During these you must stay within 10% of the
class leaders time to stay on Gold standard. Not that that worried most people as the fastest
usually didn’t finish! ……… and if you want to win you had best be there at the end!!
That’s the basic idea but it’s not a Trial! It’s like riding the loop, only its 200 miles and you have
no idea of where you are going! Just follow the route markers … White = Straight On, Blue=Left,
Red=Right and hope you find the next check point and your support crew.
So here is my plan, Jim Sandiford {a regular British Trophy Team member} is starting 5 minutes
behind me….. Well, let’s see… I think he will come into each stage with about 10mins to spare……
so as long as I’m at LEAST half way through the stage when he overtakes me I should arrive on
time. That’s the Plan!
Jun15 1971!  Day1 …… 300 riders take the start in groups of 2 every minute.  Keep an eye on the
numbers of anyone passing you and you should be OK. All fired up and away we go, through the
town with friendly police waving you through turns and traffic lights…the roads are NOT closed to
the public and you MUST OBEY the speed limits…..Yea Right!

Initially on the highway and I’m passing people who are dawdling along at 40 then its on tracks
and woodland rides open fields and back on public highways. 5mins into the stage and I come
across 2 rabbits {less than friendly term to denote clubmen lacking ambition, speed and ability}
flash past them  and now I must be nearly half way through the stage….and no sign of Jim, Yellow
and White signs?  Well it’s the end of that stage. Next 2 stages same deal, all kinds of terrain and
when a full blown motor crosser whips by you at the speed of heat you feel a little underpowered
on a trials bike, however at the bomb hole and thick mud the trials bike purrs through while
Roger De Coster and other scramblers are stuck or legging it to get out with ropes and chains!
A few hill climbs in some muddy leafy woods through the trees sees the same as the high geared
top end machines grind to a halt or go end over backwards while pop-pop trials bike crests the
summit unaided….Maybe not such a bad decision after all.

Well like everything in life there is a surprise around every corner and I’m about to get mine!
A mountain road, no sign of Jim!  And I can see the 2 rabbits ahead and below me so start
winding on the power around the corner……. Small problemee! I’m not on the same road as the
Rabbits! There is a right hand hairpin followed by   left-hander before we get to the piece of road
they are on …ooooOOOPPS and other choice expletives the machine is leaned further and further
until knee and handlebar strike terra firma…..bike disappears over the edge and I find myself
wrapped around a snow post looking into the valley below…….Huummmm!  Well best get the bike,
amazingly still in one piece but the right handlebar is up in the air at a strange angle. No matter,
on we go past the rabbits and into the check……. Change the bars, stop shaking, and on we go
again. Now I’m crossing a farmer’s field in long lush green grass following the tractor tracks when
up ahead on this berm, I can see a large group of people….thinks must be some Press around ,
might get my picture taken for Motor Cycle News….Lets give them my best side …..here comes the
berm……. Up-up and AWAAAY!!!……..OH S***** and ****** all that can be seen is endless WATER!
 GERWHOOOSH!     Brrrrrrrrrrrrr hiiiiiish   Remove goggles, wipe eyes and face, jacket, helmet,
boots all full of water! …..look back to berm ….. people rolling around in side splitting laughter  look
back in disgust to what might have been and when the mist from hissing red hot engine clears I
find myself surrounded by other riders in the same predicament…. Sploosh, sploosh, splooosh out
to side of thigh deep lake and the old upside down bike and pump the water out the plug-hole
trick AGAIN!
Some time later old faithful fires into life and off we go again. Don’t see rabbits this time and just
make it to check on the last of the 3 min allowance. Didn’t see Jim either!
Blasting along and trying to regain some composure, heart rate returning to near normal try some
brake finding exercises which results in nothing as mud and water in drum brakes never dry out.
Oh well, take the wheels out later!
Oh good here come the “Rabbits”…… catch them on a left-hander on a  single track country road
with high sides and lots of brambles and bushes up the sides…..round we go only to be presented
with WET TAR and a road roller coming head on!!!
Rabbits scatter on the wet tar and roll around waiting to be “feathered” while yours truly takes
evasive action up the bank collecting brambles, branches, leafy twigs and a collection of wild
flowers. As the machine runs out of whoof, rider, camouflage and machine tumble sideways down
the bank striking the roof of the 1 mph road roller, bounce of this monster with sore elbow and
land astride bike on freshly graveled road, the jolt bump starts the dead engine and several rapid
downshifts later all is well. Press on and now we are going downhill and its getting steeper and
steeper and narrower and narrower……uuuummmmh, brakes would be nice!! Downshift, downshift
this does nothing except to increase rpm and horrendous ding, ding, ding, ding from screaming
engine….time to try the Sidi boots …..Gravel, sparks and nothing else!…A hairpin bend comes up
with a 5 Bar Farmers gate …. It’s getting BIGGER v quickly!!!!

Now we have all heard stories of “how I just stepped off the bike etc” ever tried it?? It’s not that
easy!! …. As the prospect of wearing a 5 Bar Gate does not appeal and choices are becoming
limited the “manoeuvre” {English spelling} is attempted and I find myself on asphalt for the
second time in my life and both on the same morning! ……as I spin and bounce along the bike is
now behind me ….But catching up! another 360 and as I come face upwards the bike clears me
like a faithful horse and I see it land on its backwheel when it bounces clear over the gate and
lands in the farmers field. As I stumble over to the Gate, questions are being asked.  So you do
this for fun? So you want to be a stuntman?  Etc, etc.

Surprise, surprise the bike is still rideable! Save for the left handlebar being near vertical…..
thinks hope we have another set at the check point because this is getting silly. Back on the
road at a slow pace I notice my left arm is numb and very cold…… peering through the holes in
the sleeve all I can see are bones! Into the check and new bars go on….Medical assistance is
on hand and push all the cloth back in the holes and 3 layers of Duct Tape and alls well.
  Lessons learnt, the rest of the day is ridden at a more subdued pace and I occasionally see
Jim!
I take the “Doctor’s” advice and drink heavily!
Day 2 comes and I have little recollection of any of it, save to say reckless overconfidence had
been dampened by a major self induced headache but I guess I finished and if JIM passed me,
as I’m sure he did, then I didn’t recognize him . The Rabbits were still there and they became
“my” yardstick….. a bit like the tortoise and the hare!
Later events, usually held at Army bases are where all the special mechanical tests were done.
Usual loop of about 5 miles but now as you circulate officials suddenly step out of bushes and
give you special instructions   “flat rear tire”, or  “ broken throttle cable” and a collection of
other fun things to do. If you want to get into the British team the time from being given the
“rear tire slip” to being back on your bike again is FOUR MINUTES!!!
Well of course an ISDT bike is a bit different with the wrench [we call them spanners] welded
onto the nut and a pull rod welded on the other side of the axel. The chain, sprocket and
brake assembly usually stay in the frame… but not always. The security bolts in the rims either
have distance pieces , so only a couple of turns release them , or self tapping screws are used
instead going sideways through the rims and directly in to the sidewall of the tire. Each rider
carries a front and rear tube in the back pockets of the good old “Barbour Jacket” and we the
“Royal Air Force” have a new trick up our sleeve with some CO2 bottles which come out of our
flying life jackets [gives about 18 lbs with one discharge] …. Of course everybody now uses
this method but WE started it back in 1971!
 Two small 6 inch tire irons and with little bites {start and finish at the valve} the cover is off …..
burst the current tube and in with the new one…… use your little pump and separate the sides
and in she goes…. No problems with rim tapes as these have been replaced with electricians
tape and also stop the spokes from coming loose. One knee on tire, little bites [about every
2 inches]   until she tightens up then walk the cover down into the welt…. Move on …push up
valve and pop the tire is back on! One squirt and its inflated …. Wheel in … kick the wrench
tight and away we go!  Sounds easy ?? try it and time yourself!!
September 71 and here I am riding for the Air Force team in the Isle of Man in my first ISDT…..
but more of that in another story
Keep your feet up
Tony Down

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Memories of the Scottish…

Memories of the Scottish…


MEMORIES OF THE SCOTTISH
From time to time as I sit and gaze at the “new” vintage trials bikes that are rapidly overrunning
the house, the mind returns to those halcyon days… 8 rides… 8 finishes… the ultimate Trial… The
Scottish Six Days.
Return now with the author and let’s see it as it was…
Jokingly advertised as “A Sporting Holiday in the Highlands”… always run the first week of May,
300 riders and usually about 150-180 finishers…yes, a pretty high attrition rate… but, then it was
a “reliability trial”.
My first Scottish was the 1970, no comments on age please!  Drive 650 miles up to Edinburgh,
a few beers in the clubhouse on arrival and try and understand what whisky swilling gentleman
is saying.  “Gang awaw doon the burn laddie”, etc. and no, Scottish Whisky doesn’t have an “e” in it,
that’s only Jack Daniels.
Sunday morning, the check in, and lots of feverish activity with people putting on new tires, chains
and collecting handfuls of plugs and other goodies… Not forgetting all those stickers. Finally the
time comes and your bike is subjected to dabs of mysterious colored paint on all of its vital parts
and then your riding number is scratched into the drying fluid. Your aim, I’m told, is to somehow
get some of this paint… even if it’s only on your finger, because back in the support truck we have
every little tin of aircraft modeling paint and the support crew will spend hours color matching just
in case we need to change a marked item. Cheating? NO, this is Gamesmanship!
Monday morning, 2 riders leave every minute on the 200 mile run to Fort William.  45 miles of public
highway to the first group of sections. Spend too much time looking at this riverbed with a few
rocks in it trying to find a problem… No, there isn’t one, as these sections are traditional dating
back to the 1930’s! So, clean all those and on we go, next group easy too, and then with 100 +
miles gone we are off the roads and onto the moors in Glencoe.  8 more sections in a set of 4,
2 and 2, continuous style, with the little pink sign which says “finish of hill” at the end of the last
one and on to the lunch stop. I’m riding with last year’s winner, Bill Wilkinson, on the Greeves,
although he did call it a foooking fish pot or something like that when he got a 5 on one that I
dabbed. (Ed note: very difficult to understand what Yorkshiremen say at the best of times).
Well I’m pretty pleased because I’ve only lost 7!  Well of course this doesn’t last long as the
first BIG section after lunch is the notorious PIPELINE… And now with 8 rides under my belt I can
say I have only seen the top of it twice, once with a centipede 3, and once with a miraculous dab
and using a spectator for traction. Today park the bike, hand in the time card to the checker. 45
minutes to wait, stumble up the hill amid Trials Greats from around the world…. But mainly British
in those days! Usual questions, 2nd or 3rd?  And what about that step? My time comes, set off in
REHEAT in third and through section 1 of the 3. Looking upward through an unbelievable crowd
lined climb I hit yet another rock, get airborne and land minus chain in more rocks 2 feet from the
start of section 2! Choice expletives later, and dragging new Montesa downhill with chain broken
and jammed in everything it could find, I arrive back at the start of section 1. Well no sweat, I
have a new chain under the bash plate and I’m carrying more tools than Sears!  Forget the link,
the chain is twisted, have to take the wheel out, and now the engine cover off, not forgetting
the bash plate, and finally with bits of chain everywhere and a now worn out chain breaker
I’m ready to go again. Flat in third…. Onward and upward, through 1 again (don’t remember
any of this!) into 2 and where did all these rocks come from? Ooooops, that’s 1 lost, good
recovery, Oh, oh! there goes another (that’s a 3 in those days  feet everywhere, still in third
and running out of speed and ideas the engine dies 18 inches from “section three begins” card…
NOT NOW!  I’m not doing this again! Reverse hands on the bars, squeeze in clutch and carry the
Mother into section 3 for a well earned 5!   (Ed note: you have to get into the section or you are
disqualified.)
Physically drained and feeling pretty humble it’s off across the moors… bottomless bogs crisscrossed
with rivers (burns) and huge boulders and some smaller ones hidden in the grass. The grass
comes in 3 colors, Yellow, Green, and Lime Green and unless you know which color to ride on you
are in the proverbial S***!
Running late, find another group of sections and career through them dabbing at random, and on
across the 30 miles of nothing.  Gulooop!  In to the handlebars!!  Well now we know Lime Green
is not good! 30 minutes later having dragged bike out spoke by spoke and trying without much
luck to ride this slippery bar of soap a new noise comes into play, Woiink, Woiink, Woiink???
…What’s this?!!

Joy of joys, the left swinging arm bolt has fallen out!!  Advanced problem solving for beginners…
Let’s jam a screwdriver in the hole and use the handle as the footrest… Off we go again, and in
the fading light there in the distance is a TRACK, thank you Lord, thank you.

Now with the Track just above me only this little whitewater river to cross… Pop, pop, pop, pop…
Gerbang! The front wheel nudges a rock which rolls downstream and I ride into the hole vacated
by the rock… So near and yet so far!  As you watch your hands and handlebars slip gracefully
under the surface and hear the Buuuurrr of the engine sucking in ice cold water you wonder if
your earlier praise to the Almighty wasn’t just a shade premature?
With full boots once more the secondhand Montesa is hauled to safety and sat on it’s bars while
the water is pumped through the plughole. Eventually in the gloom of nightfall it fires into life
and finally runs. It’s dark,  I’m late, and with no brakes at speeds close to 70 mph I arrive in
Fort William for the last section “Town Hall Brae”… 2 flint walls and a cart track in the middle…
no time to look, over the sidewalk and gone… where now?   Spectators pointing, I slide into the
finish 45 minutes late, covered in mud, cut, bruised, and my new bike ready for the scrap yard…
and just think 5 more days of this to come!  Are we having fun yet?
Many, many, beers later DAY 2 comes along, 15 riders unaccounted for from yesterday, still out
on “that” moor we think, a few seized going too fast on the road sections, some who couldn’t
change a tube and one poor soul who hit a COW in Fort William high street en-route to the last
section . Sympathetic organizers have cancelled the afternoon time portion due to multiple
protests. Some non-starters this morning, either it’s too much or they are sleeping in. Into
Parc Ferme and with the 15 minutes available let’s rebuild a Montesa!
Off we go again back to Kinlochleven, and very soon we leave the relative safety of  the public
highway and we are going uphill.  Needle sharp pieces of granite everywhere and we pass
several unlucky souls with their wheels out. First group, Grey Mare’s Ridge, which isn’t too bad.
Onward and upward!  Eventually all good things come to an end and now its time to come back
down. The joys of Loch Eild Path, a steep path strewn with rubble, and 2500 feet back down to
the town again. Back up over the mountain passing Pipeline, and on to Altnafeadh which again
goes fairly well. On the road again and back to Kinlochleven again, only this time the route takes
us to the dreaded Blackwater.  Some sections up a path by a ravine, and some netting in the
trees to catch the stuck throttle men and their wayward machines. Into the Valley of Death rode
the 600! Mile after mile of that bottomless bog and no idea of where you are going or even if you
are going, as it all looks the same and as you gain the summit of any crest you get the impression
you have ridden round in a giant circle. Some hours later a track appears and then a ROAD! A
little rest at 50 mph on the way to 4 sections at the bottom of Ben Nevis, and at last a saunter
into Fort William to tackle Town Hall Brae again. Oh! That’s what it looks like in daylight and the
markers have changed. Finally it’s over and back to the finish where, scores, horror stories, and
moments of brilliance are relived for the adoring public. Now it’s time for some serious drinking!!
During the course of the evening I meet an “older lady” who has just won a fortune on the Football
Pools who insists on feeding me beers and malt beverages all night.
Day 3, the morning was an alcoholic blur, but with Loch Eild Path (15 sections) and Martium
(which I rode well) behind us, time to tackle Rannoch Moor. 1970 was not a good year as it
was a warm spring, so most of the snow had melted and was now down in the valley as run-off.
Onto the moor and past the checker recording your entry to Hell, a few miles in, a group of
“new machines”…  Yes, these are the “works Christmas trees” for anyone needing that spare.
Find our Royal Air Force Landrover, refuel, cup of coffee and away on 30 miles of the deepest,
blackest peat bog imaginable. Over crests, gazing at endless mud and water, try and find a line,
any line, that will keep you out of trouble.  The body is saying sit down, take a rest, the mind is
saying stand up you fool… hands hurt like hell, no gloves in those days! Shoulders feel like
someone has hit you with a pickaxe, passing people in up to the tank, can’t stop, more riders
out of fuel! Cooked plugs, and other disasters. Finally there is the welcome sight of the Landrover.
Arrive like the creature from the black lagoon, towel down, coffee, smoke and fuel.
Later in the bar I’m looking at my hands, black palms from the rubber, calluses the size of dimes,
and red streaks running back to the center from the crystallized blood underneath, are we still
having fun? 3 days and nearly 600 miles gone, feeling pretty sorry for myself thinking of all the
things I did wrong and just how badly I had ridden… I could have retired at that point!  Well a
few beers later, following Doctor’s advice of “drink heavily”, it’s time for the film show of previous
years’ events. Laugh!!  I thought I was going to die, watching others in all the same predicaments
I had been in!
Day 4  “The Road to the Isles”, only 110 miles today and mainly on the road, not many people or
bikes at the start as 33 are still on Rannoch, having spent the night there in some bog.  Lots of
famous sections today and in truth not that difficult, “Ravine”  “The Devil’s Staircase”, “Camp”,
and “Bay Hill”… but then day 4 is a “traditional” day and by previous standards a rest day! Returning
in daylight Town Hall Brae again! Results show my rival in the Services competition has retired so
things are looking up!
Day 5, only about 150 of us left, so nothing flashy today, no riding it like you stole it, only 2 days to
go.  First group, Laggan Locks, 8 sections in groups of 4. Nice round 12 inch boulders in a 20 foot
wide gully. Like giant ball bearings on a sheet of glass, walk the first group see the line and meet
older lady again offering yet more warm beer… breakfast of champions!  Boy your mouth sure runs
away when you are up late drinking!! Back on the bike and off we go around the first blind corner,
but the rocks have all rolled the other way so the line is on the left now… great!  Through the last
group in centipede style and, Oh No! Here she is again with another beer!  A lot of riding to the
lunch check and then Bradileig, or ‘Break a Leg’ as we called it, for 8 horrors of the rock kind. Now
back into the moors again, follow the color code and stay out of trouble, and eventually find the
Mamore Road (road? you must be joking!)  Off the so called ‘road’ and across the burn, to the
start of Callich. What have we here? 8 delights up a 2000 foot mountain along a goat track of
loose rubble with hairpin bends.

By now the body is saying I quit, you are on your own. Onward and upward once again, too difficult
to walk so lets just ride, and up we go collecting dabs and threes and maybe even a clean but 1000
miles of this is taking its toll. Pass some who have collapsed over the bars struggling for air and
others lying in the heather with little interest in the proceedings. Observers waving “come on” while
you gaze through the red mist as the sweat dribbles into your eyes. Finally the pink sign says it’s
all over, and just follow the route to the top. Up here you can see Kinlochleven way below, and
the Loch leading all the way back to Fort William. Bouncing along the ridge taking in the view, I
come upon a giant DUNLOP sign pointing 45 degrees down to the valley below. What are those
little ants? No, they are riders! Well here goes, 2nd gear, bum well back, point her straight down,
arms flexed… gerding ding ding, crap brakes, thank God for the heather. See others in peripheral
vision, some riding, some walking and some detached just rolling alongside errant machines. At last,
back on the joke Mamore road to Callart, which I seemed to ride quite well. Off the needle sharp
granite of the roman road and onto the tarmac leading the back way into Fort William. The road
has some huge dips and without even trying I’m getting airborne on some of them, but not as high
as one Southern Center rider who landed smack on the windshield of Ma & Pa Kettle, leaving an
imprint of his footrests on their roof! You have to ask yourself if you set off down a narrow country
lane in deepest Scotland and people keep flying at you head on at breakneck speeds every 20
seconds, then maybe, just maybe, you should be somewhere else? Town Hall Brae for the 4th time
of the week and back to the finish. I have a good day, so follow the Doctor’s advice!

Day 6…  just a few simple sections and then the long ride back to Edinburgh to the finish. Sounds
easy?  Not if you are following the “Doctor”  At 0730 screaming team Manager arrives to find me in
the dining room, still in lounge suit, with a large glass of malt,  putting the World to right. 15 minutes
to start time! This does not look good!  Collect bike in drunken haze and do no work on bike,
confident that if it’s got this far then it will last one more day. Mustard keen spectator says my
chain is slack, so lean over saddle to check… ERROR!   Fall headlong in parking lot with bike on
top of me, can’t work out how to get up, as I’m looking through the spokes of the back wheel.
Oh God, here comes that woman again!
Try to remember how to ride, first sections Pipeline (avid readers will recall my earlier disaster)…
Here we go, Mister Floppy  bouncing off everything, but too tired and/or drunk to care!  Feet
somehow welded to the rests, through 1 into 2, bounce, bounce! Ooops, bounce again, S***!
I’m in section 3! Slowing down, too much grip from the rear wheel, the bike enters a near vertical
wheelie, and pivots at 90 degrees across the hill!  A poor soul tries to protect himself from the
menacing front wheel, which he grabs as he falls backward, so I ride over him, take a dab on
some part of his anatomy, and exit the section to a round of applause!
Over the Mountain and a few more sections, which only cost me a couple of threes and then I’m
following this rocky track ever upward, just bouncing and staring at the front wheel when I see
a PINK thing!   Oh S***!,  it says finish of hill!??  What Hill?  Brilliant!
Park the wreck, trudge back down the hill, consult knowledgeable checkers one by one, with
shaggy dog story… “Excuse me Sir, I’m number 85, have I been through your section?” “Yes”,
says one, “You are the only clean we have had. Everybody else is coming in tight on the rock
step, but you went very wide right on the edge where the big drop is”.  “What big drop?!”  I ask.
Oh, JEEESUS!  “I did WHAT?” …well, so endeth  Day 6. Now, it’s 70 miles on the road to Edinburgh,
and its mind over matter as you try to ignore all the noises from the heap… Gerding, ding ding,
woink, woink, woink as the no longer round wheel keeps hitting the swinging arm, and the fender
stays are looking pretty wonky too! 2000 nuts, bolts, and rivets loosely assembled in Spain and
tested to destruction in Scotland.
At the end the best ride of the day was Malcolm Rathmell on 3, and the Winner was Mick Andrews.
Yours truly lost only 7, thanks to sponsors “Johnny Walker” and “Mc’Ewans Lager”. So the first
Scottish and I walk away with the R.A. Castle Trophy and I’m also sent to collect the Services
Team Prize, “The John Bull Cup”.
Hope you enjoyed this story of yesteryear and if so, there are 7 others and 2 ISDTs as well.
Relish your 5 in the way it was achieved!
TONY DOWN (A.M. Down)

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Comments
  • 12/8/2007 6:24 PM Outlaw Dave wrote:
    Ah ! Tony – I laughed so hard at this account – although I never rode Scotland I was there quite a few times as a spectator, so I recognize the sections etc, plus your nights on the town sounded very familiar. I recall meeting Mart and Malcolm in one of the pubs in 72, when they bought me a pint as I was acting as a photo journalist that year. I heard later that I got to bed before either of them.! And I do like a beer. – I was there in 92 and offered to buy Malc a pint but he said “Oh no Dave I only drink half’s now”.!!! Truly the best people and the best experience ever, at the World’s greatest Trial.
    Reply to this
  • 1/18/2008 2:24 AM Tom wrote:
    Tony,

    You have fantastic recollection and, you’ll be pleased to know, the Scottish hasn’t changed at all. The RAF put a team of 3 in last for the first time in many years. Two of us finished, with the third having his bike washed down a waterfall on open moorland and injuring his knee. It was my first time, and I have never done anything so difficult. You’ll be pleased to know that we’re entering a team again in 2008 and our riders have all been forwarded your blog as preparation. Best wishes, Tom
    Reply to this

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  • 10/7/2011 3:49 PM Anonymous wrote:
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    Reply to this
  • 2/11/2014 11:32 AM Chris wrote:
    Hi there, Tony,

    Hope all’s well. Always enjoy reading your tales here.

    We’re running a story on the Pre-1965 Scottish in the next issue of Octane magazine and I was wondering if you might be good enough to let us use the image on this page, please?

    I’d be grateful if you could drop me a note to let me know.

    Thanks very much,

    Chris
    Reply to this

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Trials Back Then

Trials Back Then

TRIALS BACK THEN

As a child I was lucky enough to be brought up in a motorcycle orientated family. Father
was Secretary of the local club and my uncle, a well known rider in all the sport’s disciplines,
was the Chairman. Uncle Tom had been a road racer, grass track rider and of course a trials
man. He owned a car/motorcycle/agricultural equipment dealership and sponsored many
riders on the famous “Arter AJS and Arter Matchless” and one of his machines was the first
to do the”100 mph lap” on a single cylinder in the Isle of Man TT races.

Trials back then had a slightly different flavor as they took place on the public highway so
you had to have a license {16 years of age!} and the machine had to be street legal. No
lights required but must be licensed and have a horn and speedometer. Indeed in those days
many people would ride to the event, compete, and then ride home. Most often there would
be a 25 mile loop with 2 laps but on the bigger trials it might be one lap of 50 miles with up to
50 sections. On the smaller club trials the loops were a lot shorter but there was always that
element of roadwork and riding down leafy lanes in the country dodging the wildlife and Granny
and Granddad out for their Sunday afternoon drive.

The make-up of events was Club, Combine {6 or 8 clubs formed a combine in one geographic
area and put on an event every second Sunday of the month},open to Center where the
country was divided up into Centers, National, and finally the “Olympics”, The Scottish Six Days.

The starts of trials were usually easy to find either at village sports grounds, Public Houses
or major motorcycle dealerships. Apart from club events you had to make a postal entry and
depending on the location of the event {Southern UK mud/chalk/sand or Northern UK
rocks/rocks/and more rocks} the first 50 entries would be balloted. Be early on the mud and
late on the rocks! So arrive in good time relative to your start number and sign in. Collect your
2 paper riding numbers, one for the bike and the other, {double sided} for your jacket belt.
Back then there were only 2 classes, Expert and Novice, and everybody rode the same line.
If it was muddy or hard frost you went like a bat out of hell to get to the front and if it was
rocky you took as much time as you dared staying just ahead of the back marker who closed
the event. Southern trials were great, as you could rush round getting to the front and then
as the sun came up and melted the frost and turned everything into an impossible quagmire it
was time to stop at a roadside pub and have a couple of beers. Keep an eye on the numbers
going by and then join in with the late runners. Now the mud has gone, the ground has dried
up and in trials parlance “it was like a main road”.

After the event you signed off and went on your way. Results, section by section were mailed
to you and if you hadn’t got them by Wednesday it was a frantic search of Motor Cycle News
to see the winners. Awards were given for Winner, Runner Up, Best Novice and then 1st Class
Awards for the first10% and then 2nd Class Awards for the next 10% of finishers. As a young
kid you pawed over the results, trial by trial, seeing your progress or otherwise, and in those
days you only get the Best Novice once and then you are automatically up-graded to Expert.
Awards were given away at that clubs annual dinner or the following year if you turned up at
their event again. A bit hap hazard but that’s the way it was. Just like clubs today, it was the
genuine friendship and camaraderie that made trials the fun sport it is, and the overriding reason
that I came back to it after a 23 year layoff.

At the end of the 1978 Scottish I returned the “Works” Suzuki and after they told me my new
bike wasn’t ready yet I explained that I didn’t want another one! For me the fun had gone out
of trials, nobody spoke, nobody laughed or drank a beer or two. People were self orientated and
trying far too hard……… What a delight when one day in 2001 I’m at Premier Motorsports in
Phoenix picking up my KTM when I spot a trials bike??? Get the information I need and go and
watch the trial at Alto Pit. Walk around, WOW! people talk, there’s laughter, people are genuinely interested and friendly. Sheldon lets me ride his new Gas Gas and I think …… yes, I could still
do this and 2 months later I’m aboard a new bike!

When I retired you could ride a trial every Saturday and every Sunday throughout the year,
all within 100 miles of your home. During the summer months when it didn’t get dark until
10 pm there would often be Friday night trials as well. Just in case you hadn’t had enough.
The post-event procedure was always the same, drive home, unload and try and wash it
before the mud set solid or froze. Monday night wash it! Tuesday night wheels out clean the
brakes and every 3rd week boil up the chain grease and remembering to use an old clothes
hanger through the last link watch it sink like Titanic into the goop, pull it out and let the
excess drip off. Wednesday polish it! And using a mix of 2 stroke and fork oil spray everything
to give it show room looks and stop it rusting. Thursday look at it! Friday…. Well that’s a drinking
night and then it’s Saturday and the cycle starts again. Every third week, turn the back tire
round and every sixth week throw the tire away and fit another free one from Mister Dunlop.
 

Yes I miss the flat out climbs in third and the axel deep mud and the rain coming down in
buckets, but trials are trials no matter what terrain you ride and the challenge is the same.
It is YOU and your machine versus the elements, conditions and the hazard or obstacle, not
YOU versus another rider, and maybe that’s the joy of trials riding and being able to laugh at
your own mistakes and applaud others brilliance.

Keep ‘em Up  

Tony Down

 

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  • 4/1/2008 6:57 AM Mark Cousins wrote:
    Hey Tony,
    I’ve just read ‘Trials back then’ after coming across your blog looking for TY175 info (I have 2 moneypits on the go)I’m an expat like you except I’m in Perth Australia. Was your uncle really Tom Arter? What a character, by bruv and I bought a few Ossas from him late 70’s. I remember he had an (even more) eccentric brother, Edge who dissapeared without trace occasionally! I knew Tom Jr a little better,he is still active in the Barham club but refuses to get the Ossa out of the shed. Looking back, that time when you became disillusioned was for me the best time in trials, loads of roadwork, 1 route for all, pubs on the way and great trials like the Ashford Dunlop, Mutton Lancers, Langmaid Trophy, Ron Bramley, Garden of England… The list goes on. My favorite events were those when it chucked it down, people retired all around you and what I lacked in skill and technique was made up for in just getting to the finish.. Happy days indeed. I see you are a friend of Geoff Chandler, now there is a man who knew how get the big Bulto to grip in the wet… I really think some of the old riders had real talent as opposed to some of the current breed who learn their skills spending hours bouncing around on something more resembling a pogo stick than a bike! Here’s a test, see who you can remember.. Dave Weller, Ozzie & Graham Hayward, Murray Brush, Tony Puxted, Michael Knowles, Charlie Harris, Alan Ketley, Ted Jelf, Mick Baldock, to name a few.
    Ok to the point, I have 2 175’s, one to be original and the second to be a bit of a special. The first is nearing completion (After 4 years, a divorce and a sale of a Sherco!) how do you get that lovely fin finish on your TY’s? Do you paint first then carefully cut back each fin with emery or do you mask the fins after cutting back?

    Yours, wishing for mud
    Mark Cousins – Perth Western Australia
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  • 11/24/2010 11:15 AM puzzle games wrote:
    I feel your remark stands as a better example than I might’ve been written myself on how NOT to
    Reply to this
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Welcome

Welcome

Welcome to this site which will cover, in a light hearted manner, all aspects of vintage trials from my early days in and out of the saddle to todays current competitions in AHRMA and ITSA. There are stories of major events, both current and yesteryear, sagas of building vintage bikes, and technical articles for the shade tree mechanic.

A little history of the author; English by birth but now dual citizenship. Joined the Royal Air Force straight from school and flew predominately fighters for 30 years finishing up after  Gulf War 1 as a civilian flying instructor in Saudi Arabia teaching the Royal Saudi Air Force how to fly the Tornado. Now a resident in Arizona running a large Grading and Trash Removal company and, between phone calls and scheduling, building and selling Vintage Trials bikes.

Past experiences include; first competition in 1963, 8 rides and finishes in the Scottish Six Days, 2 Welsh 2 Day events and 2 ISDT events. More recently 7 years riding Trials in Arizona and 4 years on the AHRMA circuit and all the fun that that entails.

When not competing or building there is a chance that just maybe “We” (that’s the Royal we) will get the Harley or the Beemer out for a ride and failing that I might get to ride a Crotch Rocket to Team Arizona to teach road riding to beginers as a MSF instructor…….

I hope you like what you see so far and will actively join in the blogs with questions and comments.

So, step back in time and enjoy the first article  “Trials Back Then”

 Yours in the mud
 Tony Down

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