The “Pipes” they are a’calling !

Time for a wee dram……… and some memories

Being lucky enough to ride and finish in last year’s Pre 65 Silver Jubilee the mind turns once more to
the Highlands and Trials Central tells me of all the stories in and around Fort William this week. Of
course when I rode my 8 Scottish Six Days back in the 70’s it was a different event in so much that it
was twice as long but still the same flavour. It seems from reports that little has changed in relative
terms. The event is still one of the toughest out there and obviously the pinnacle of every trials rider’s

A return to the Highlands for the 2009 Pre 65 Silver Jubilee

Of course I was lucky and some what priviledged being in the Royal Air Force with a full support
team and all the transportation and accommodation aspects being covered by others. For a privateer
it is still an exceedingly daunting event and for a first timer even moreso. The magnitude of the
moors, the fear of getting lost or breaking down, the unknown of passage controls and section
delays, the energy sapping riding across those bogs and trying to mentally adjust to every new line
as it appears from nowhere. Keeping the will to ride when the body is saying take a rest, and hoping
against hope that you are going the right way until the relief of seeing the next group of sections.
Believe me this is NO, two mile loop around your usual Sunday afternoon event!

1974, the main event and close on 1200 miles of riding

Route marking was always adequate but as the trial progressed markers started to vanish, either for
legitimate reasons or better riders running late after a mechanical mishap giving them the “boot trick”
worked on the premise that “If I’m going to be late, then so will everyone else!” Usually if enough
protests came in then the sympathetic organizers would abandon the afternoon timing and everyone
was happy again for bar time. I do remember some of those rides, cresting ridges and looking for
some sign of flags only to be presented with a sea of black mud in every direction and tire tracks
going everywhere. A whole load of “deja-vu” as the mind tried to remember previous years routes and
questioned navigational ability as you wondered if you had gone round in a giant circle ? Always try for
the high ground and remember the color codes of the grass on the moors….. Brown= normally safe
and dryish with embedded rocks, Green= wet with rocks, but excercise care, Lime Green= Too Late!
up to the bars in all manner of the proverbial!  Water?……. is it 2-4″ on solid bed rock? or 2′ + deep in a
bottomless hole? Usually only one way to find out but sometimes a clue if there were plenty of tracks
on the other side. Open moors with all color grass and mud and water = constant jumping of ditches
and brooks and burns and hoping for some drive as the swinging arm touched down and the rear bit
into the far bank. Too much power and the back wheel would cut through the peat and you were going
down in another bottomless stinky hole.

Another mini burn to jump

Another goopey peat bog to get through

Sometimes you would get a breather with a relatively easy track or a faster ancient Roman Road.
Plenty of surprizes here too! with bridges that had no middle, turns that got ever tighter on loose shale
downhills and the sickening bang from the front wheel on sharp faced rocks that came out of nowhere
at 30+ mph! …… and then the wait to see if your nightmare was coming true with another concussion
burst ?  The long seemingly never ending jaunt over Callert with the very uncomfortable goat track with
rocks placed at the perfect distance to hit front and rear at exactly the same time…… and then the long
downhills trying to hold the line and escape the worst going by venturing just slightly off the track to
find some hard ground. As the years went by I seemed to get better at this, and of course it DOES help
to have some experience of where you are going compared to earlier efforts when the mind is in a
total state of shock and saying  “Idon’t believe it! how much more of this is there?”

The joys of a flat tyre on the moors

……..and then just when you thought your day was done and you were back on tarmac….. “what can go
wrong here after all we have been through?” ……. only to find the so called road was more akin to a
series of ski jumps and you were airborne over most of them with a resounding WOIINK! to come on
landing as the back shocks bottomed out.

I suppose the most pleasing thing from an “Oldtimer’s perspective” is that whilst the bikes have
become more capable, so therfore the sections have become tougher, the Edinburgh Club has
maintained the perfect balance of severity versus ability over all these years and if I look back to my
days some 30-40 years ago the rank and file clubmen are losing EXACTLY the same number of
marks on a daily basis today as they were back then.

Some would say the reliability portion has gone out of the trial with the almost perfection of the
modern bike, but I think things are much about the same seeing Dougie have an ignition problem
losing him a big time penalty, and this morning the current leader’s bike refused to start in parc ferme
within the minute allowance losing him more marks than he has lost all week! I often sit and wonder
about the tubeless rear tires and how you would cope if you knocked one off the bead? I think if I were
riding this week I would have a different back wheel and a spare tube to get me on my way again.

As I pen this I can visualise being there, or even riding it, I can see “those” tracks and moors, and this
year the weather seems somewhat kinder with perhaps near perfect riding conditions. The Scottish,
was and is, a balance of many things, preparation of machine and body before the event and a fine
tuning of the mind during it. The will to finish must be paramount as it is all too easy to give up as the
many hurdles come in front of you on a never ending basis. As we always said ” No good being the
best rider on day one if you aren’t there on Saturday”. Other than continuous long distance riding there
is little you can do to prepare for an event of this nature, sure, physical fitness will help especially if you
are not up there in the very top division but its the mental mind set that will get you to the finish and a
whole truck load of determination and mind over matter.

While the Experts and top riders flow over sections and zip across the moors the less talented are
losing energy with every 5 and rotovating 3 as they struggle their way round lifting bikes out of rock
piles and huge black lagoons. To see those faces, and the all telling eyes, it is a wonder that so many
finish, but finish they do, and by week’s end many arrive at the sections and never bother to walk them
as they know what the section will be. Just follow the muddy line through the rocks, keep an eye on the
cards and hope!…. as the section will be similar to what you have been riding over for the last hour or
so. I have seen many through the years collapsed over the bars gasping in the highland air and
wondering if last night was such a good idea?  but each evening the “relief” period in the bar and
rehydrating, however you choose to do it, has it’s own stories to tell and does somehow dim the pain.

More rocks! and another energy sapping Three.

Another “quick dip” and then pick it up and start again

More lifting and struggling

Very close, now pick it up and struggle out for the next one

New plastics ? Bars ? and levers?

On the mechanical side our preparation was pretty intense stripping the “new” bike down about a
month before the event and getting to know how exactly the manufacurer had put it together. Lots of
“Locktite” on known problem bolts and a fair number of bolts and nuts drilled and then wire locked to
stay in place. Cases maybe filed away to give access to sprockets and brake pedal linkages and a
whole host of things on the ignition side and quick release systems to get into carbs and air cleaners
in the event of a “drowning”. Wheels painted where security bolts and valves were and new nuts and
distance pieces fitted to save time.

Feeling sorry for Dougie I can only say that we ALWAYS fitted a spare COIL under the tank for
Scotland complete with a quick changeover. Very simple, no spark? change the plug, still no spark
change the hot wire to the new fitted coil. Still no spark off with the side case and look at the points.
Things improve, but they STILL go wrong!

The Last Day. Well having dragged your battered and abused body down to parc ferme the mind
thinks of many things, the route, the sections, where refuelling and support will be and how to make
it to the end. Normally if the bike has made it this far it will probably last another day despite all the
battering it has taken. One final go over in the allotted time checking for loose this and thats. Fender
or mudguard brackets may now be twisted and bent and all the plastics will need changing after the
event. Wheels are no longer round and many other parts are in a sorry state to. All the rattles, ding,
gerding noises from the motor have to be put to one side, no more riding it like you stole it, and just
nurse it to the finish. In my day the trial effectively finished at luch time and then it was a 90 mile ride
back to Edinburgh hoping that it would stay together and not fall apart. In later years it was usually a
run off the Mamore Road or in from Ben Nevis to Town Hall Brae, which although a section was
always a bit of a joke, but many have 5’d it over the years.

The old “joke” of Town Hall Brae circa 1975

………. and then there is always next year!

Town Hall Brae today with a few imported rocks!

So to all those that finished , Well Done, and to those that didn’t for whatever reason, Bad Luck,
I Salute You All ! ……. and of course there is always NEXT YEAR.   Now where is that “Special Whisky
and my Scottish Glass?”


What did you think of this article?

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  • 5/15/2010 7:55 PM David GMcGaw wrote:
    Hi Tony , being a scotsman ,my mind drifts to the ssdt in may , thanks for sharing your memories of the trial. great trip down memory lane
    Reply to this
  • 5/16/2010 10:25 AM Outlaw Dave wrote:
    Congratulations Tony on an excellent article – Every rider from this side of the pond that is thinking of riding the Scottish, should read it – Can I use this on my site?
    All the Best
    Reply to this
  • 5/31/2010 1:01 PM Steveo wrote:
    Whew,what a totally exhausting spectacle,it fairly makes me tired to read about it.Such punishment ,it is tough to understand why there are so many repeat offenders,especially the older riders,we are supposed to get wiser as we age….
    good on you for attempting it again,and my thanks for sharing!
    Reply to this
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