Motorcycle Trials Riding: A Test of Skill

Balance and technique are more important than speed in motorcycle trials riding.

Trevor Clancy used to feed his need for speed through motocross racing.

But when his dad switched disciplines to trials riding, Clancy thought he'd at least give it a try, although he was somewhat dubious how much he'd like it.

"At first, I thought, 'This is going to suck.' I like going fast." Clancy said. "After I tried it once, I was hooked."

The 22-year-old Clancy and some 80 others riders from across the country will be at Sipapu Ski Resort for the North American Trials Council/American Motorcycle Association National Championship Trials Series, rounds 9 and 10. The New Mexico event is the final one in this year's series. Clancy will be riding in the expert class, one step below the professional class, a section he aspires to reach.

"That would be great, but those guys can really get after it," he said of the top-tier riders.

Trials cycling is a brand of racing unlike anything else, with speed being less of a factor than technique, balance and skill.

For one, the motorcycles are small, with engines rarely topping 300 cubic centimeters. They're also extremely light, coming in right around 150 pounds.

And, perhaps most important, they have no seat.

"The bikes are designed to ride over obstacles," said Bruce Bolander, one of the event's organizers. "You have a lot of torque in the engines. You have to ride standing up to keep your balance. It's the most fun you can have on two wheels."

Riders have to complete three loops each on 12 different sections, each with its own particularly demoninspired impediments. They have about 90 seconds to complete each section. The object is to complete the section without putting your foot down, said Chuck Sutton, a longtime rider who is the trials master for the event and is designing the course.

"We carry a scorecard just like in golf," he said.

Points are awarded based on footfalls, with zero being the best and a five given if somebody bypasses an obstacle or strays out of bounds in a section.

The bikes are climbing machines, capable of charging up rocks up to 4 feet high, Bolander said.

"You stop in front of it, get the engine going and let it go and the bike just jumps up the rock," said the 54-year-old Bolander.

There are some particularly challenging sections awaiting the riders, Sutton said.

"We've ridden up there for years," he said. "But there's a lot of virgin work going into (the course). A lot of what we ride on isn't hard enough for these guys."

The course has a couple of sections that will splash through the creek. Climbing the steep inclines are also a part of the course, Sutton said, and there are plenty of big boulders to negotiate.

Before entering a section, riders have the option of getting off their bikes and walking it to see how they want to attack the terrain. But once going in, they have to compete it.

Riders go off at one-minute intervals, "so you often don't see the riders you're competing against," Sutton said.

But it's really more of an individual test anyway, said Clancy, who credits Sutton with much of his success.

"You can challenge yourself without killing yourself," he said. "You can really get after it and there and are some parts of the loop that you can open it up and go about 40 miles an hour. But you can make mistakes and learn from them without really worrying about injuring yourself too bad."

What's more, Clancy said, it's a great way for families to spend a weekend.

"Trials are a great family thing," he said. "You can have 12-year-old girls to grandpas out there. Everybody's out there to help everybody. It's not cutthroat like motocross."

While it helps to have riding skills prior to getting involved, the discipline is more about improving with experience.

"A lot of it is mental skills," Clancy said. "Telling yourself that you can do it and then doing it."

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