OBSERVED SECTIONS BEGINS….. the sign that marked the entry on all trials of my youth and
back in the 60’s the rules were pretty simple front wheel spindle in, front wheel spindle out and
now you are under the eagle eye of the Observer who might offer suggestions, or not, might
tell you how many cleans there had been, or not, and after your attempt might tell you your
score, or not!

Classic Observer, with the big board, pencil at the ready
A very famous rider? On a James????

The dedicated band of enthusiasts known as Observers and now Checkers would
professionally record your scores as you blundered round leafless woodlands, bomb holes,
rivers and moors. They came to the event professionally attired for the worst that mother
nature could throw at them as they stood for hours watching us attempt section after section.
Invariably they had their old Army kitbag at the base of the tree with sandwiches, a left over
bit of christmas cake and a Thermos of hot coffee. Being professionals they often had several
presharpened pencils and a big plastic bag to go over the vital evidence of the section score
card. No individual cards and punches in those days just good old pencil and paper.

The Observer is pencil ready to score another “Famous Name?”

Back then there were only 4 scores available the Clean for a 0, the Dab for the 1 point and
then for more than one dab, footing which scored the 3. Failure, breaking tapes, going the
wrong way, missing a gate, or when “the front wheel ceases to rotate in a forward direction”
was deemed a 5. However in all my years, coming to a brief standstill with feet on the pegs,
was never penalised and was not considered to be a “fault”.

A not “So Famous” rider with a left handed Observer

Moving on in years there came the 2 dabber which made sense for all those hard luck stories
of the giant woodland climb or the long water filled muddy ditch where you could often dab on
entry and then ride the 50 yards+  without fault only to dab again at the exit and collect the
same score as someone else who had sat down at the start and paddled like a centipede all
the way through.

All seems well on the trials front until the introduction of “arena trials”  and riding over VW
Beetles. Suddenly a whole new level of “trick riding” enters the sport and feet up backing up
on corners until the line is just so becomes the norm and goes unpenalized…… and then the
hopping begins and goes on and on until nearly all of our modern trials consist of leaping
about doing nose wheelies and flicking the back end around.

A Scottish Observer with the armband…. he must have seen the dab?

Currently our “rules” seem to have lost track with reality! In a modern trial you can take a dab,
fair enough, 1 point, but equally you can STOP with your foot down, take a breather, check
everything and set off again having only lost the same score…… and of course the same is true
for a 3 where you can be non stop footing all the way through the section and come to a
grinding halt and then take a breather while you reassess what to do next and as long as you
don’t go backwards all is well. The other annoyance in a modern trial is engine running/engine
dead where you lose a 5 for a dead engine. Well I suppose if you are one finger clutching and
braking, to stall the engine is poor control and worth a 5. Thankfully ‘No Stop” rules allow you
to manhandle the bike through the ends cards with or without the engine running.

I’m quite sure foot down stationary penalties should get the correct score they deserve FIVE!

Thankfully for us old timers the Twinshock Movement and AHRMA uses the “No Stop” system
which was the norm for the period when the machines were actively competing. That of course
is fine but we often lack experienced observers/checkers necessitating a pre trial briefing and
demo session to bring them all up to speed. Within the sport, and Vintage trials in particular,
it may not be that important that all our checkers are dedicated judges who travel to the ends
of the earth to check for no reward other than the sport itself. We should however acknowledge
their time and effort and not be abusive or argue over a score. Just ask yourself how many
times in your riding experience have you GOT AWAY with a clean when you actually dabbed?

I have had the “new boy” checker Hitler who overplayed his authority when one day I’m the
ONLY rider at a section and having walked it, paid salutations to all, gone back to my bike done
all the usual checks and then ridden around to get in the rythmn and looked up and seeing that
“the observer from hell” is watching I set off, enter, and line up to cross the fallen tree, over
that and into a classic tight turn and now as I exit the turn he grabs hold of my handlebars and
stops me dead in my tracks.
“I’m in charge here, and I didn’t give you permission to enter the section” !!!!!!!!!!! ****!

Another way to go is the “Buddy Check” whereby a group of you all riding the same line all
ride round together and score each other. This can often be a lot of fun and keeps the
competition keen as well as being a very sociable affair. There are of course pros and cons
and some people do not like riding in groups as they like to go at their own pace and fairly
obvoiusly with big groups there is a lot of hanging around and engines go cold during the wait.
Ideal numbers seem to be groups of 3 or 4 and then it flows very well. This system is also
good for some of the novices to get some tuition from senior riders while actually competing,
and a few “claps” go a long way to help somebody’s confidence when they are just starting.

Use ’em or abuse ’em but RULES is RULES


Tony Down

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  • 4/10/2008 7:11 AM Outlaw Dave wrote:
    Ah! yes – those were the days, – Nice pics of Sammy and Don Smith – I had a James very similar to the one Sam is riding (1954) this was the Cotswold listed as the Scrambles model, while the 54 Official Trials bike still had a rigid back end.
    Couldn’t agree more about the rules, and the state of the sport today – my comments regarding the World Trials on my blog I think say it all. – These Trials have developed into Xtreme events, which one day will see one of the top riders badly injured ( In my humble opinion)
    Reply to this
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