MOTORCYCLE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
FUN AND GAMES ON HUNGRY HILL
Back in January I was offered the chance to be a passenger in a trials sidecar (that's 'outfit' for the uninitiated) taking part in the Talmag Trial. It is one of the foremost events in the Classic Trials world so I was very happy to accept. I haven’t done much trials riding, but have had a fair bit of enduro and greenlane experience both driving and falling out of the chair.
John, the generous soul who invited me, is an experienced solo trials person who fancied a delve into the wonderfully irrational world of three wheels. He was about to find out quite how different and difficult it actually is.
The Talmag takes place at the romantically named “Hungry Hill” just outside Aldershot in Hampshire, on military land. The MOD provide quite a number of venues for trials & enduro in the south. I live in south east London and planned to ride my road bike and meet John there. As everyone will be well aware the weather was due to be, well wet and cold as usual - after all it was January.
Green light for go
So at 7.00 am I set off for the countryside. An indication of how well my day was going to go became immediately apparent. I live near the end of the Old Kent Road which, for those who don’t know is quite a long busy route even early on a Sunday morning. From my end of the Old Kent Road to the Elephant & Castle is a little under three miles and there are, I believe, just about 24 sets of traffic lights, which works out at a set of lights every 200 yards (ish). That morning every one of those lights was green. This had never happened before, no matter what time of day or night, so my spirits were lifted right from the off.
About a mile later, as I approached the Oval tube station I met the next sight of interest. An example of the contrasting lifestyles that can only be experienced living in cosmopolitan places. There was I dressed in all my warm and waterproof gear that was appropriate for the forecast, looking like a colourful Michelin Man at the start of my day. While in front of me, heading for the tube station was someone wearing knee length boots, a very short skirt, looonnng legs and a flimsy jacket. I don’t know whether it was a he or a she, 18 or 48. Presumably they were on the way home from a big night out just as I was setting out for a big day out.
Fortunately the rain held off for the ride down and I was able to enjoy the big left hand bend as the A3 leaves the suburbs and goes from 2 to 3 lanes, just after Tolworth, my favourite route out of London. I arrived early at Hungry Hill and had plenty of time to watch people unloading and starting their wonderful classic machines. They looked, sounded and even smelt fantastic, that would be the evocative odour of Castrol”R”. Scrutineering seemed a little superfluous as I’m sure the brakes were rarely up to much but it gave every one the chance to have a chat while they waited their turn.
High hopes on Hungry Hill
John arrived with his Ariel 500 outfit on the back of his Landrover, on an impressive rack that he had constructed himself. After going through the administrative procedure we got ready just as the rain started.
A motorcycle Trial follows a simple formula. A trail is set out with a series of sections set out along the way. The idea is to ride through the section without stopping or putting a foot down, if you transgress you are awarded penalty points and points definitely do not mean prizes. Competitors trundle round the course and queue up to wait their turn, park their bike and walk around the section, seeking out the best route, watching the other riders. The Talmag is a very well supported event with about 150 solos and over 20 sidecars. The outfits go last so it meant quite a bit of hanging around giving plenty of time for the rain to do its thing.
It's not the winning, it's the taking part
I have to say here and now we didn’t win. In fact we didn’t finish but we did have a darn good try at a number of the slippery, rutted sections. John was clearly disappointed and realised that there is a significant difference between riding a solo machine and an outfit. That skinny wheel on the side has an enormous effect, adverse cambers, particularly downhill ones can be very challenging. Also the bike was playing up a little, we thought it might have been all the rain getting into the carburettor but when John got the bike home it proved to be the points closing up. (You might have to Google contact breakers to understand that one).
A trust exercise
John was very apologetic about the situation but I had a great day, saw some fantastic old bikes, watched some truly amazing riding and met some interesting characters. Probably the most impressive experience was when I realised that the passenger in the outfit in front of us was blind! Whilst waiting at sections we got talking, as you do. The young guy doing the driving was similar to John in as much as he is an expert solo rider but it was his first event with an outfit. His passenger was older and far more experienced but has been blind for six years. I can’t put into words my admiration for what they were doing. Riding an outfit off road is all about trust, understanding the terrain and communication. In a nutshell it is bloody hard. Before we left we met my new heroes who were also having problems with a misfire. Your man explained that he had fitted a racing ignition from a Triumph twin to their BSA single and it should work with a bit of tweaking. Of course he didn’t use those words but informed, knowledgeable words and it became clear that not only can this man climb around a trials sidecar without any sight but he builds the engines too!!
No more Sunday Driver
One thing more about my day. There is an interesting phenomenon that I experience after off-road riding, competing or greenlaning. I find wet roads far less intimidating than I usually do. This in itself is not surprising as after spending time on ground that is unpredictable, slippery, loose then getting back on tarmac, even wet tarmac, one feels more confident. And so it was on this particular day flying back through the busy traffic of London town on a rainy Sunday afternoon. However this time I hadn’t been riding, just clambering round a mobile climbing frame. What is most interesting is that following a nights sleep all that extra confidence is completely gone and I’m back to my usual cautious riding on wet roads. Am I alone in this experience?
Anyhow, for me the lesson of the day was that despite the crappy weather and lack of trophy (never gonna happen) I had a great day and that’s what it’s all about. Also I am now inspired to do more of this mad sport, watch this space.
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