The object of trials riding is not speed. Its about maintaining control in the toughest of conditions. Up a steep climb, with loose mud, tree branches and rocks to negotiate, or through a stream and over a fallen tree, or in a car park, through, around or over any variety of man made obstacles like scrap cars, skips, see-saws, or tyre piles etc.
In practice, at an event, you have a number of 'sections' that make up the course. These sections are marked out with tape or pegs, and the idea is that you start at the first 'gate' and try to follow the route through the section to the last 'gate', without stopping, stalling, falling off or putting your feet down. Whilst you attempt this feat, an 'Observer' watches you and scores your 'faults'. Once you have completed the section, you move on to the next.
There are usually something like ten to twenty sections, and you might have to ride them between three and five times. Sometimes, you might have to ride the same section in different directions. It all depends on the event. There's also 'Duel Routing', which is when there may be one, two or three routes marked through a section. Each route will be easier or harder, and intended to be ridden by different classes of rider or machine.
Sounds confusing, but what you do is find section one, park up, walk round it, watch a couple of other riders go through, then do it yourself. You get the hang of it quite quickly.
The 'winner' at the end of the day is the rider who scores LEAST faults.
Full details of the rules and scoring system are available in the ACU hand-book, available on the web at : http://www.acu.org.uk/uploaded/documents/ACU-HANDBOOK_2012.pdf
Who Can ride Trials?
Just about any one can ride competitively in Trials.
Youth classes start for ages six years and up, boys and girls. At sixteen you can ride in the Adult classes, but you can still compete in the Youth classes until you are eighteen, if you wish. For 'Grown Ups', there are classes for beginners, and novices, as well as experts, while there are also often separate 'ladies' classes, just show they don’t embarrass the boys too much. And no, you are not TOO old. There is a very active 'Over 40' class, for the more mature rider, and sometimes a 'Veteran' or 'Over 50' class.
It really doesn't matter. Trials is open to just about ANYONE physically able to ride a bike.
What do You Need?
Well, to start with you need a bike. To go with it, you need a helmet, and a sturdy pair of boots. The rest of your riding attire is up to you. A pair of jeans and a rugby shirt is good enough, or you can go for the full-on riding gear from people like AXO. Only stipulation for competition is arms and legs should be covered. Gloves are optional, but recommended.
After that, you need to join an ACU affiliated club, (See clubs listing for one near you, or the ACU web-site), and get the club secretary to sign your application for an ACU 'Affiliate' membership, which is your competition licence and insurance for 'Observed Trials', riding. (Make sure you check the box on the form that asks 'Do you take part in Observed Trials?'). Your Club dues for the year should be between £10 & £20, and your ACU licence & Insurance £10. If you are under 18, and want to compete in the Youth classes, the licence regs are a bit different, but only in as far as you need a Youth Licence not an ACU affiliate one, and you need a parent or guardian to countersign all your application forms. Details are on the ACU web site:- http://www.acu.org.uk/
So, with that, you are ready to enter competition. Next problem, how do you get your bike to the event?
The obvious answer is on a trailer, but a lot of competitors prefer vans or pick up trucks, while for many, the simplest solution is a tow bar mounted bike rack.
Bike racks are fairly convenient, and cheap if you are just setting out. They cost between £50 and £100, depending on maker and what accessories they come with. They are good value compared to a trailer, are easier to store, and you aren't restricted to 40/50mph like you are proper towing.
Trailers are a bit more expensive. Single bike trailers start at about £150, and can go up to as much as £500 for a well built three-bike version. They are often the easiest to load & unload & still get in the boot of the towing vehicle, but they are more difficult to store, take up more room in the 'paddock' and can take a bit of getting used to, to manoeuvre around. New drivers should also check their driving licence before towing; it's sometimes a separate category now.
The next option is a van. This can be the cheapest option, if you happen to have one or know some one, like your boss, who will lend you one. Otherwise they could prove a bit expensive for just the odd Sunday outing, and you often can't carry more than one or two passengers.
But the choice pretty much depends on your preference and what best suits you and your bike. For example, a modern fly weight 'Gas-Gas' is not difficult to lift and strap to a bumper height bike rack, but a 1950's Rigid Framed Matchless 500cc thumper would be a different matter.
Note that you can often get racks or trailer's second hand, and who ever you buy your trial bike from will have had the same problem of transport as you. Ask them when you are negotiating for your bike, how they transported the it. It will give you an idea of how easy it is to move, and what's best for moving it. You might also be able to negotiate their trailer or rack into the deal.
Starting Out - What bike's best?
I really cannot answer this one completely, but…. If you find a local club before you go looking for a bike, go to an event or two, watch them ride, look at what they are riding, and talk to the riders.
It depends on your budget, what you might want to go for, and to be honest, even bikes that are thought of as 'old' now are light years away from anything I've ever ridden.
What I would say though, is, there is more to consider than just cost, condition & competence.
There are broadly four generations of trials machine, from the youngest:-
Typical contemporary machines are water cooled, single cylinder two strokes, with a six-speed gearbox, mono-shock rear suspension, disk brakes, and usually aluminium beam frames.
Typically, twin shock trials bikes, are air cooled, single cylinder, two strokes, with probably four or five gears, twin shock rear suspension, drum brakes, and a steel cradle frame.
Typically, pre-65 machines are British, air cooled, single cylinder four strokes, with usually four gears, twin shock, or 'plunger' rear suspension, drum brakes, and a steel cradle frame.
Typical, 'Rigid' machines are British, air cooled, single cylinder four strokes, with a separate three speed gearbox, no rear suspension and possibly 'girder' type front suspension.
There is overlap, and some contemporary machines may have steel frames, or even twin shock suspension. Similarly, some machines from the twin-shock era had mono-shock rear suspension, or disk brakes long before they gained water cooling, and its similar between Rigid & Pre 65, and again between Pre 65 and twinshock.
OK, well the advantages of contemporary machines are that they are probably the most readily available, they are probably also the easiest to ride and so get into the sport, and they are pretty well supported by the dealers. That said, competition trial bikes aren't something you pick up in Sainsburys with the dog food and washing powder, and the manufacturers offering comp-trial bikes aren't the same makers selling road bikes to Joe public. So that its worth while checking out how close your 'local' dealer for any particular make is, or making sure you have a credit card available and the telephone number of a spares stockist who's good with mail order. And have a word with your local independent bike mechanics, if you aren't particularly mechanically minded.
Which is actually the next point. The contemporary kit is pretty hi-tech stuff. OK, it's not rocket science, but still. If you intend, would like, or would have to do your own spannering, the modern bikes are not the easiest to work on. Firstly, they are very compact, so there's not a lot of spare room to get in and do maintenance. You have to take it apart. Secondly, they are comparatively sophisticated. They have multilink mono-shock rear suspension, and watercooled engines. This means that firstly, there is more to go wrong, and secondly, it can take a bit more figuring it all out to fix it.
Which brings me onto the main advantage of Twinshocks. Technically, twin-shocks aren't much more advanced than earlier stuff, in fact, in some ways they are actually simpler. What this means is that they are a lot easier to maintain, work on and fix. When you are starting out, this can be important. If you are working to a budget, this is very important. The main thing that twin-shocks have over pre-65 & rigid machines though is cost and availability.
Once upon a time, pre-65 was a class for obsolete old British bikes, from the 50's & '60's, and there were a lot of them. Compared to the then modern stuff coming out of Spain and Italy, they were not that competitive - so they got their own class. When old BSA Bantam's & C15's or Triumph 'Cub's were cheap and plentiful, no-one thought twice about taking an abused MOT failure and building it into a 'trails chop'. Sort of removing all the unnecessary street gear, altering the head angle, fitting trials rims & tyres, lowering the gearing and moving the foot-pegs back.
But, as time has progressed, the 'Classic' scene has changed. Motorcycle restoration has become a more accepted hobby, and the watchword is 'originality'.
The early pre-65 movement saved a lot of obsolete old iron the ignominy of the scrap heap, but now has to live with the classic movement which has driven up the prices of second hand, sorry 'original' parts, to the extent that its sometimes cheaper to buy a modern bike than restore an old one!
Any way, it's not too bad - at least the guys taking part in Pre-65 trials actually ride the bikes the way they were meant to be ridden, rather than parading them around shows and rallies, but it is a bit more expensive, and you do have to know what you are dealing with, just in case you damage an oh so never to be got hold of again 'original' part, or risk being disqualified for a non 'original' machine.
Twin-shocks is a bit less constrained. It's interesting to note that when I bought my Montesa, the youngest pre-65er would have been younger than my Montesa is now! However, while the twin-shock class rules encompass the now obsolete machines from the late '60s through early '80's it was intended for, because it isn't date bound, it manages to also encompass some more contemporary machines as well as machines that might be more akin, but ineligible for pre-65.
Which is a bit of a diversion, but in essence, a typical twin-shock like my 248 Cota, will have a two stroke engine that is easier to work on than a pre-65ers four-stroke, and parts that are possibly slightly cheaper and more available. Compared to a contemporary machine, there's less to go wrong, and what there is, is easier to get at maintain and repair.
In short, they are rugged, rider serviceable, and competent little machines that don't cost the earth to buy, run or keep running, and so make a pretty good introduction mount to the sport.
Typical Twin-shock fare are bikes like:-
Montesa 247; 348; 249; 349 & Montesa Honda; Honda TLR (Fourstrokes - engines based on XL road bikes); Bultaco 'Sherpa' - (Developed by Sammy Miller & EXCEPTIONALLY well supported - a good novice machine to choose) OSSA; Fantic; SWM (Now part of Cagiva I believe - very rare, and not recommended as spares may be neigh on non existant); Yamaha TY's (80cc to 250cc, very popular and a good model to go for as its well supported); 'Beemish' Suzukis (250 & 350, I think - based on TS250 motor. Enjoys about 'Typical' spares support from Sammy Miller & Suzuki specialists)
There are probably others, I seem to remember one a few years ago, I think it was called a 'TRX', and I think that Clews CCM had a go at making a trial bike in the mid seventies too.