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
    Reply to this

  • 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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