Observed Trials: What is it?
by Jack Chermak, UMTA Member
This is intended to be a helpful understanding of Observed Trials, for those of you new to the sport, or spectators unfamiliar to the objectives and scoring of Trials.
Observed Trials is the cheapest and safest form of off-road motorcycle competition. It’s easy to get into the sport, and you can compete at any level comfortable to your skills. The whole family can enjoy this form of riding. Most basic skills can be practiced in a small back yard. In the Advanced, Expert, and Champ classes, Trials can be as intense and challenging as any two-wheeled sport. Trials is not a race, but instead it is a sport that emphasizes balance, traction sensitivity, boldness, split second reactions, and execution of all of your riding skills. Trials will improve your riding performance and skill in any motorcycling activity. Think about giving it a try!
Observed Trials is an off-road motorcycling sport where the rider is challenged by the terrain. The ultimate goal is for riders to pass through marked sections of terrain, one at a time, without falling, going out of bounds, backing up, or putting their feet down. The start and end of the section are clearly marked. The left boundary of the section is marked with either blue tape or blue flags, and the right boundary of the section is marked in red tape or red flags. Speed does not matter. The rider proceeds through the section at whatever speed he determines will allow him to clear the obstacles in his path. Stopping is also not permitted without a penalty for each stop. (See the scoring section of this summary.)
A typical Trials event will generally have between eight to fifteen marked and sequentially numbered sections. Each section could be from 25 to 250 yards in length. Riders generally ride each section 3 to 4 times in successive “loops.” The sections will include challenging obstacles such as fallen logs, large boulders, water, rocky creek beds, mud and steep hills. In general, any obstacle to cause the rider to fail.
We have eight classes of riders within our club events. Vintage, Youth, Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Super Sport, Expert, and Champ. Winners are declared within each class or riders. Vintage riders must compete on bikes that are at least 25 years old, with twin shocks and drum brakes. A rider may ride with any motor displacement he chooses, in any class, with either 2 stroke or 4 stroke engines permitted. All riders must complete a Trials event on the same bike it was started with.
Each rider uses a scorecard to keep track of his progress. As he passes through the section, either the section observer or an assigned fellow rider will determine the score for the rider in the section. Much like the game of golf, the lowest score wins. If the rider passes through a section without putting a foot down, stopping, backing up, going out of bounds, or crashing, he scores a zero (clean) for this section. Each time a foot is touched to the ground a point is counted, up to a maximum of three points. After that the rider can use his feet all that he wants as long as he stays in the section and continues without crashing. If the rider goes out of bounds, crashes, or backs up (even an inch) he will receive five points for the section. Getting a five is considered a failure, and no rider wants this score if at all possible. At the end of the day, all rider’s scores are totaled for all of the sections and the rider with the least number of points is declared the winner.
These motorcycles are made specifically for Trials. Modern Trials bikes have ‘V’ shaped frames for easy maneuvers, have no seat because all riding is done standing up, are very light and compact, and a power curve that comes on ‘instantly’ to get over those obstacles. The steering head angle on all Trials bikes is much steeper than other off road bikes so that steering at slow speed can be very quick and precise.
Crashes You Say?
Although Trials sections can be very challenging, injuries in Trials are very rare. Competitors are riding at slower speeds in sections that they have carefully surveyed prior to riding. If a rider finds a section too intimidating or beyond his personal ability, then they can opt not to ride the section, receiving an automatic five points. The rider will then continue on to the next section, however the rider must still arrive at each and every section to make this determination and avoid further penalty.
Your job as a spectator is to stay out of the section boundaries, applaud the riders, and stand there a look amazed. Try not to interrupt the rider’s concentration as he walks (developing his riding plan) or rides the section. Just enjoy your day watching these skilled riders having fun. Following the riders from one section to the other is sometimes difficult. It’s best to find a couple of sections that are interesting or somewhat close together and stay there waiting for the riders to come to you. Then move on to the next and wait for the next group of riders. The expert and champ sections are the most spectacular, but generally the fewest number of competing riders.
(This is not intended to be all of the rules for competing riders, but a general outline for the spectator.)
General Scoring Objectives
Each rider uses a scorecard to keep track of his progress. As he passes through the section, either the section observer or an assigned fellow rider will determine the score for rider in the section. Much like the game of golf, the lowest score wins. If the rider passes through a section without putting a foot down, stopping, backing up, going out of bounds, or crashing, he scores a zero (clean) for this section. Each time a foot is touched to the ground a point is counted, up to a maximum of three points. After that the rider can use his feet all that he wants as long as he stays in the section and continues without crashing. If the rider goes out of bounds, crashes, or backs up (even an inch) he will receive five points for the section. Getting a five is considered a failure, and no rider wants this score if at all possible. At the end of the day, rider’s scores are totaled for all of the sections and the rider with the least number of points is declared the winner
- A ‘Clean’- No Points. The rider completes the section with no footing. This is every riders Goal.
- One Point- The rider puts a foot to the ground (a dab) only once in the section. A rider is also charged one dab (point) if they use any other part of their body to maintain or regain stability or forward motion. Rotating on a foot (a wheelie turn for example) is scored as one dab. Stopping while balanced also receives one point. Sliding a foot is scored as three dabs.
- Two Points – The rider dabs twice while in a section. Also, stopping with one foot down receives two dabs. One for the foot, and one for the stop. Another example of two points would be stopping while leaned against a tree with any part of your body.
- Three Points – The rider dabs three or more times in the section. Three points is the maximum penalty given to a rider who gets through a section successfully even if they sit down and paddle their feet all the way.
- (There is no ‘four points’ given in Trials sections.)
- Five Points – The maximum penalty for failure to complete a section. Any backing up, or going out of bounds, or even breaking a section marker is a five. Crashing is a five, or any time a rider steps off of the bike with both feet on the same side of the bike, which in either case indicates a total loss of control. A rider may also request a score of five if they choose not to attempt a section. Restarting the engine in a section also receives a five unless the rider can stay balanced on the pegs, with only the tires touching the ground (no bashplate).
- Twenty Points – Twenty points may be given for a missed section. A rider must come to each section in numeric order even if they don’t intend to attempt that section.
Have fun and cheer on your favorite Rider! Maybe give trials a try yourself.