Interspersed at the most hazardous junctions are arrows pointing the route a rider must follow depending on his classification: green for Youth, blue for Junior and red for World. The red arrows designate routes a gecko would avoid, but even the less-difficult green routes demand fortitude of heroic proportions.
Soon trials riders of international flavor on motorcycles so specialized they’re almost comical will make a circuit of the seemingly erratic and assuredly dangerous pattern, and attempt assailing each obstacle — without, of course, ever touching feet to terra firma.
Walking the different sections, gauging the severity of the impediments and the corresponding unlikeliness for success, daydreams of twisted metal and compound fractures accompanied by merciful cries of pain piercing the wooded canopy play out in gross detail. A self-fulfilling prophecy if I was given the task, but luckily the best balancers in the world are present. Men who look upon such impediments with a calculating eye, and then, like having solved a mathematical equation, grab their low-slung steed and ride out the solution.
Most of us have seen, at one motorcycle event or another, a trials riding display utilizing large wooden or metal contraptions with practiced routines and a limited arsenal of tricks. While entertaining, these temporarily inspiring demonstrations do little to convey the skill, and especially the bravery, of trial riders in their natural habitat. In other words, watching an accomplished trialsman parade his wares in a parking lot at a large roadracing event is nothing compared to witnessing a pro rider, under the pressure of competition, launch a bike out of a moving stream toward a towering chunk of limestone greasy with condensation and moss.
Many consider Trials to be the tortoise to MotoGP’s hare, but it offers more nail-biting anticipation, muscle-tightening suspense, exhaled relief, and oftentimes, even after having witnessed the feat, utter disbelief than more popular forms of two-wheel competition. There are “down times” when a trials rider must take a moment to seriously contemplate his next series of moves, but this thought process often takes place while balanced perilously on one wheel atop a precipice that normally no motorcycle should be balanced atop of.
'Action is everywhere...a three-ring circus atmosphere of motorcycles engaged in surgically defying the laws of gravity and traction.'
The layout of the first section becomes defined as each of the 17 riders comprising the Youth group follows the “green line” up, down and back up Grady’s Hillclimb. Following them are the Junior and the World competitors, and with each new group a subsequent rise of difficulty in the routes the more accomplished competitors must travel. As the World riders are completing Section 1, the Youth and Junior groups are progressing through sections 2 through 5: Bilbao Falls, Geoff’s Jump, Hemlock Bend and Ot Leap, respectively. Action is everywhere — the tall oaks comprising a big top for a three-ring circus atmosphere of motorcycles engaged in surgically defying the laws of gravity and traction.
After completing all 15 sections, ending at Cabin Hill on the far side of Fred’s Field, each group returns to Grady’s Hillclimb to complete the circuit again. Nothing about the course has changed except for the time allotment given to finish. In hurry-up mode the pressure intensifies. The equivalent for a roadracer would be to lap an unknown track once, leave for two hours, then return and shave 10 seconds off the lap time on the first outing.
When the bikes finally fall silent and my day of hiking from Cat Splash to Limestone Jungle ends, the promise of a few cold brews and a night under the stars on my Thermarest gives my mutinous knees and ankles a reprieve before a prompt sunrise, a camper’s breakfast (hot dog, Rice Krispie treat and Coleman-brewed coffee) and a return to the forest for Round 2 of the double-header event.
Rainfall early Sunday morning moistens the course but does nothing to dampen the competition. On Saturday it was 2003 World Champion Takahisa Fujinami standing on the top box with his Repsol Montesa HRC teammate on tier two. Today the teammates swap positions. The 2005 and 2006 World Champion, Adam Raga, managed a fourth and third, while seven-time World Champion (1997-2003) Dougie Lampkin, son of 1973 World Champion, Martin Lampkin, finished in seventh and eighth place on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
“I am very pleased with a first and second this weekend” said Fujinami in a press release. “The conditions on Saturday were very good and it was a nice trial. Sunday was very different, though, and the scores show how much harder it was after the rain.”
Two years have passed since the last time the FIM SPEA Trial World Championship stopped stateside. This year’s event was held at the same location of the previous U.S. round in 2006 — 30 miles west of Chattanooga at the Trials Training Center in Sequatchie, TN.
The TTC is a 650-acre, all-inclusive two-wheel resort offering everything from lodging and bike rentals to expert trials or trail-riding instruction at private or group rates. Over hot Bar-B-Q and cold beer, Vaughan Jackson, son-in-law of TTC owner Dan Brown, tells me the TTC is one of a few, if not the only, year-round trials resort in the United States.
“I’m not a trials rider. I need four wheels so I can balance my beer,” says Jackson motioning to the nearby ATV with a half-empty can of Bud Light. “My son, Joseph Jackson, though, he’ll be competing with these world guys one day.”
From Sequatchie the teams travel to Motegi, Japan, for Round 4 on the 2008 calendar, and the second fly-away event of the year. For more information on the U.S. round, the web site http://www.trialsusgp.com/ has event coverage, pictures and video, and while these media and the story you’re reading attempt to convey the thrill of observed trials, nothing compares to being there in the flesh.
When the FIM World Trial Championship returns to the United States, I recommend attending. Just like roadracing or motocross, television doesn’t do the sport justice (not that there were any TV cameras present). The only drawback after attending a trials event is the desire to ride a funny looking motorcycle into the forest, purposefully seeking obstacles of bone-crushing capacity you either can or can’t overcome then creating colorful names you’ll later use for identification purposes on a crudely drawn map.
2008 FIM World Trial Championship
Round 3 – Sequatchie, U.S.A.
1 Takahisa Fujinami (JPN-Montesa)
2 Toni Bou (SPA-Montesa)
3 Albert Cabestany (SPA-Sherco)
4 Adam Raga (SPA-Gas Gas)
5 Marc Freixa (SPA-Gas Gas)
1 Toni Bou (SPA-Montesa)2 Takahisa Fujinami (JPN-Montesa)
3 Adam Raga (SPA-Gas Gas)
4 Jeroni Fajardo (SPA-Beta)
5 Marc Freixa (SPA-Gas Gas)
Current World Trial Championship Standings
1 Toni Bou - 74
2 Takahisa Fujinami - 67
3 Adam Raga - 65
4 Albert Cabestany - 48
5 Jeroni Fajardo - 44