3 Stage Trial, what’s that all about? No nothing to do with Oscar Pistorious, a 3 Stage Trial is an off-road competition which is a mixture of trials and enduro. This is how it works:

Stage 1.

A lap of several miles is laid out with a number of sections spread throughout the lap. The sections are observed like in a standard trial. (See: A generous time is allowed to complete the required laps.

Tea break

Stage 2.

The sections are made a little easier and the times are somewhat tighter. The scoring is made simpler too

All important Tea break again

Stage 3.

Enter the sections through the entry gate and then exit wherever you want. Providing you enter the section there is no penalty. Times are a lot tighter. Making this stage fast like an enduro. Well for some anyway.

If this all sounds a little complicated, I can assure you it all makes sense on the day. The idea is that trials and enduro riders can compete on a level playing field, except of course the field is anything but level. The uppy & downy bits at Bagshot Heath in Surrey are quite extreme and testing. The land is owned by the MOD and frequently used for events. The organising club was the Aldermaston Nomads, who have been around since the 60s and this event is called the Pathfinder 3 Stage Trial. The club had laid out a tight and twisty 5 mile lap with 10 sections.

I hadn’t entered a 3 Stage Trial for many, many years, the last one I believe was at Tidworth, Witshire and I may have used a Suzuki SP 370, now that was a long time ago. I had almost forgotten that these events exist so I was happy to be sent a link to the Aldermaston site. I’ve been told by a number of fellow competitors that this is the only remaining 3 Stage Trial. If this is so it is a great shame as these events are enormous fun and really help with improving bike control. Also it is a good type of event in which to enter the competitive off-road world because it is not taken too seriously. I’m sure there are a few who do take it seriously but the vast majority of riders are there to enjoy the challenge and have a laugh.

With that in mind I had a young guy with me for whom this was his first event. He joined a club, obtained his ACU licence, both with the minimum of fuss on line and came along.

Bright Sunshiny Day

Fortunately the sun was shining. It was the same day as the London Marathon and the conditions were spot on. Although the climbs and descents were quite challenging, the loamy soil gives pretty good grip even with a well-worn rear trials tyre. I was using an old Honda XR 250 that has an engine from a CCM 230. Somewhat tamer than the Honda, very gentle and tractable. Trail bikes are popular at these events, there were several Gas Gas Pamperas and a sprinkling of KTM Freestyles, both 2 & 4 stroke versions. A number of pukka trials bikes were there but enduro machines were the most abundant.

Four bikes start per minute

With the number 23 on my bike I left at 6 minutes past the hour and followed my three fellow riders through the woods till we came upon the first section. The route is marked out with orange arrows which you need to look out for. Missing a corner is easy and if the lead rider messes up we tend to follow like sheep so awareness does save time.

There was already a queue for the first section which had a tricky steep, off camber left turn. I waited my turn having had a good look at it. With a firm plan of action in my head and with intense concentration I entered the gate, got to the corner and stalled. Why was I in second?!? Doh!! That will be a five then. It got better from there on, mainly because I checked two or three times at each section that I had remembered to change into first.

The second lap was better and I was even enjoying some of the sections. My style was somewhat unorthodox as I remained seated through many of the sections, perceived wisdom is that balance is greatly enhanced when standing on the pegs but I found sitting worked for me…..some of the time. I kidded myself that I was lowering the centre of gravity. I even “cleaned” a few.

Tea time

The first tea break gave everyone time to take on refreshments, check bikes over and have a chat with fellow riders about how the sections went, how different bikes coped and general bike related chit chat, very civilized.

The sign at the start of the second stage let us know we had two laps to do in 1 ½ hours. Should be easy enough. The sections were made easier by opening them up a little. However any little dab of a wayward foot brings three points. Care must be taken, or not as the case may be.

I really got into the riding during this stage. I had pretty much learned the track so could anticipate what was coming next. Towards the end of the second lap and whilst almost tasting the coffee waiting in my flask, I came across a downed rider with another helping. The guy was clearly suffering a significant degree of pain in his shoulder. It was decided that the first helper would set off to tell the marshals. After a little while our injured compadre reckoned he was fit enough to ride slowly back on the main trail. It soon became apparent that it wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately the pit area was only a few hundred yards away as the crow flew so he was able to walk to the medics. Riding, the track twisted for another quarter mile or so. It was a reminder of how quickly a great day can turn bad.

A straightforward race

Following the second tea break the third stage was a straight forward race. The faster guys in the quick class had more laps to do but down in the billy class we had 2 laps. We only needed to enter the sections through the entry gate and then get out by the quickest route possible. I fell off as soon as I got into the dreaded first section. Don’t know why or how but it wasn’t just pride that hurt. Thank goodness for electric starts! Later on in the lap and I found myself on my ear again. This time it was clear what the problem was and I highlighted the exposed, polished tree roots to the following riders by lying down on top of them, cursing and moaning.

Things come in three’s so I should have anticipated another incident. I went too fast into a corner, overshot, decided to carry on across a piece of open ground to the next corner. The bike came to a sudden stop, I managed to stay upright but it took a while to realise what had happened. A thin branch that had been lying on the ground, had managed to wedge itself between the front disc and caliper. It was well jammed in there and I ended up laying the bike on its side and wrestling with the wheel till the damn, stupid stick began to move. By now I was puffing and panting but relieved the wheel was spinning free and the brake working OK. “What are the chances of that happening?” I thought, laughing inside my hot sweaty crash helmet. No you’re right I wasn’t laughing. I was clearly getting tired.

Deep breaths for the start of the last five mile lap

Something came out of my memory as the lap got underway. Back from when I did enduros on a more regular basis, no matter how knackered I got over the preceding hours when the end was in sight a second wind, or was it third or fourth, would take over and quite often the last lap would be the best. And so it was again, but I made damn sure I didn’t make the same mistakes that I had on the previous lap.

Fantastic days riding, a superbly organized event by the Aldermaston Nomads and all the people who observed and marshaled. A BIG thanks to them.

Also I must thank Amanda, she came to my rescue as I completely omitted to bring a camera. She generously gave us the accompanying pictures to use. Thanks Amanda.

The young lad who was doing his first ever event also had a good days riding. He is now planning to do more races, which can only be a good thing.

For the next few days muscles let me know I had exerted myself and the bruises confirmed it but it was more than worth it.

Next month I am off to Turkey for a very long trail ride. When I get back I am thinking of doing some more races
Dawn to Dusk 24 hour is beckoning……We’ll see.

Many thanks to Dave for this great story and to Amanda Briggs for the excellent photos of this event - cheers :0)

Been to a 3 Stage Trial yourself? Or anything else to add email us at:
Posted by Dave Newman
for Wemoto News on 24 April 2014 in General News

Edited By: Lucy England



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