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Having a Gas Gas Time Trials Riding in the Mountains Last Week!


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Well, last week about this time I got a call from the Trials Training Center in SE Tennessee, a world-renowned 600 acre, very mountainous retreat dedicated to training riders in trials, dual-sport, and trail riding. This is a shot of the course for the national finals last year. Riders have to stay between the tape, cannot lean against anything, and lose points by putting a foot down while they climb the rocks.




I had earlier tried to sign up for a two-day trials class, but since it was full, they put me on a waiting list. A slot never opened, but they did decide to go ahead and create a class for Sunday, and asked if I was interested. "Yes!" was my immediate answer, and then I asked if they had any other open slots. They did, so I called up Larry Rudolph of Evansville, IN (LJR here on the site). He's just foolish enough to do stuff like this at a moment's notice, having tested this theory on him before! He had a family reunion to go to Saturday night, but afterwards he saddled up and road the 4.5 hours to Sewanee and spent the night. We agreed to meet at the Awful House for breakfast (exit 134 off I-24), a place we'd just happened to meet at early this year by accident and spend the next couple days riding together. From there we'd head to the retreat.


I got there on time, though the roads were a little treacherous. I had only slept 3 hours the night before (thanks to Mr. Kris Beasley), and so I drove. There were three accidents on the interstate, all a mile from the agreed breakfast spot, so I wondered how Larry was going to fare with the light coating of ice on Mt. Eagle. It warmed up a bit by the time we ate, though, and so he followed me on his bike.


You feel like you are headed to the capital city of Nowhere, only because you are! The first thing we find is that two of the students had to cancel, so instead of five, there are now three: me, Larry, and a motocross racer who just purchased a trials bike. So the instructor ratio was pretty darn good.




We wear our normal motorcycle gear, but they didn't like our tall leather boots and make us borrow thick leather motocross boots to protect our ankles. They also insisted that we have knee armor (I had them in my Savanna II), and that we not wear our full face helmets because of the lack of visibility. They provided 3/4 helmets.


On the phone they also quizzed us about any broken bones in the last year. I don't know what Larry told them on the phone, but I told them I was fine, ignoring the broken ankle earlier this year from racquetball. Apparently the motocross racer guy (Scott) wanted to ride, too, because he didn't tell them about the three bones he broke in his right foot last month in a race!


Charlie, a 55 year old man, was our instructor. He'd been riding competitively for 15 years, and interestingly enough had never been on a sportbike. He was a very friendly guy, really knew what he was doing, and had an excellent teaching style, starting with little things and building on them.




As we talk through the bikes mechanically, we see this little kid riding around doing wheelies, jumping logs, etc., and finally he pulls up. Charlie introduces him as Alex, his 12 year old step son. I didn't think much about it (except noticing how well he road) until it became clear that Alex was going to be with us all day, demonstrating every move, giving us feedback, etc. It was a hoot. More on that later.


I rode a Gas Gas powered by a 280cc water-cooled, carbureted, two-stroke single with a six-speed tranny. It has a lot of pull, and I would regularly start from a dead stop in 3rd gear. All trials bikes carry low pressure in the tires (10 lbs?). The bikes have lots of suspension travel, a hydraulic wet clutch. and a .85 gallon (yep, less than 1 gallon, which you can run all day on). They have no seat, since all trials work requires you to stand. And best of all this one weighed just over 150 lbs.




So we learned to start them first, which required opening the fuel petcock, choking the carb, and kick starting it. They did require a bit of warming up, because it was in the low 30s all day.


The morning consisted largely of riding drills. We started with open field riding just to learn how to control the bike. It requires very precise inputs and very little muscling. That means one finger on the clutch (remember it's hydraulic, with a very light pull) and one finger on the front brake. The rear brake is seldom used, though it is in a conventional position, ready for use when necessary (like an overambitious wheelie). The shift lever, though, is not at all conventional. It's far forward and actually requires you to take your foot entirely off the peg to reach. The good news is that you seldom change gears.


Next we do a stop and start and stop and start and so on, all in a straight line. You have to stop completely and balance, never putting a foot down (scoring in trials is all about a low score--every time you put your foot down--called a "dab"--or lean against something, like a tree, you get a point). The key is to look up and out to keep your balance.


Then we weave the cones, all ten of which are spaced about four or five feet from each other. He emphasizes steering with the pegs, not the handlebars.


Tight circles are next, using small flags in the grass. The goal is to keep going in a circle, getting as close to the flags as possible without touching them. The circle is about ten feet across. (While he was helping someone else, I ran around and around on the inside, and it's not difficult.) The key is to look about three cones ahead. Here's Larry navigating around them:




He told us that we weren't going to jump the logs in a day long course, but that didn't seem fun, so Larry and I ignored him!




So it's coooold out, right? I have long sleeve mid weight long johns (top and bottom) on, as well as a full Savanna II outfit with liner. In no time I'm hot as can be, and for nearly the rest of the day I wore just a light long sleeve t-shirt. And even with that there were times when the sweat was pouring down my face. It's a lot of work.


Speaking of hard work, I have never been that sore from riding a motorcycle before. I was sore everywhere--arms, legs, hands, back. Essentially your body is acting as a shock absorber, lever, and spring board. And of course you are standing up all day.


Occasionally when we are resting, Tom and Adam (the two sons of the founders) swing by to show off. We gladly stop what we are doing and watch them demo the moves. They are both nationally ranked. Their father (Tony Bussing) is one of the best trial riders there is, and their mother Laura still competes, too.








By the way, our instructor and Alex are best friends with Tommi Ahvala, the nut who does those trial demos at the motorcycle shows.




There's lots of instruction about using your body. There are no seats, obviously, so lots of the instruction has to do with standing correctly. Slightly bent knees (to act as shock absorbers). Very light on handlebars (to not affect steering). Wide on pegs (so the bike can be angled from side to side without hitting the inside of your legs). Proper use of the clutch and brake handles (to allow for super fine control). Steer with pegs (by leaning the bike into the turn, and learning yourself away from it to counterbalance). Using this method the front wheel tracks the input called for from the lean--it doesn't shove the bike around. You are trained to stop dead in turn, without losing balance (since there is no momentum to counter the lean). Butt pointed where you've been, with your outside elbow far out. Crack outside ankle (to bend the knee properly). Looking "far out" means ten ft. instead of five ft. Very little gear changes.


We finish up the morning with a ride up a moderately challenging trail. That was first time I had a "dab," believe it or not. Two other times I had to put my foot down during the day. On the way back we learn to speed up enough to sling the red clay off the tires to restore grip.




We take an hour break for lunch, while watching videos of former nationals. I'm tired enough to go home, but I know that the real fun will be this afternoon.


Sure enough, we start back up at 1p, and the exercises are more like practice on real obstacles. We cross a deep, cold stream, then work on "v-wheelies" so that we can hop up on, cross, and then drop off a rock that's 20-24 inches high, depending on where you climb it. This is called the "double blip" exercise, because the first blip brings the front up and the second accelerates from the back wheel up onto the rock. Scott did the best. Then Larry. Then me. I couldn't get the timing down like I wanted.


Incidentally, riding up to the hill on which the rock was perched, Alex was leading and I was right behind him. This kid never saw anything that he didn't try climbing or jumping. There was a rock about 4.5 ft' high, and he decided to climb it. He got up on top, and then lost his balance. He flipped over and landed upside down, with the bike on top of him. He thought that was pretty funny! I wish I'd gotten a picture.


Next we moved to another section of the property to practice real tight turns, back and forth, around obstacles. There are some hills here, about 50-55 degrees up, with boulders, stumps, and wet leaves. Alex, in his usual fashion, says: "Dad, can I show them how to climb these?" So he heads up, no problem. Then again, no problem. On the third try he gets too much rear wheel spin (wide open in 3rd gear), tries to shift his weight back, which brings the front up, requiring him to shift forward...and then lose all traction. So he dumps the bike and yells down: "Dad, I crashed gracefully!!!!" Charlie explained that he's been working with him on that--jumping off the bike in the right way.


Alex is a hoot. He's been on the SpeedChannel and ESPN, and he's (rightfully) proud of that. But he's just a normal kid, too, who loves riding. He takes to us, too. One time he said: "David, that wasn't very good. Here's how to do it." Toward the end of the day he said: "Excellent, excellent work. Couldn't have done it better myself." Then finally, after we finish, he says: "Dad never takes people up to this waterfall after one day. You all are doing great."


This steep turn exercise that we finish is designed to help you set up several turns ahead so that you don't run out of room. It's great experience for road riding.


Finally, we have about an hour left and Alex says: "Can we take them to the waterfall?" Charlie pauses, and then says yes. Then we discover why he's nervous. It's a very steep path with large rocks, stout tree limbs, and slick clay everywhere. The first thing for me to master is the proper gear. I often guessed too low, since it's important to keep moving to keep your balance. The next thing I experiment with is loading and unloading various tires by shifting my weight, both going uphill and downhill. I also have to overcome my instinct to disengage the clutch while coming down some very steep terrain. It's best to leave it engaged for the braking action.




We head back to the lodge and get ready to head back. I told Larry to come back through Nashville and spend the night at the house, but being a real man he decided to ride all the way back to Indiana. Not sure how he did that, frankly. I was exhausted.


Leading the way out I got turned around, but then decided to take him on a shortcut up 41 through Tracy City. Then I missed the 41/41a turnoff, and had to hang u-turn. I thought I was still on a trials bike, so I took the pickup truck off road and bottomed out! Oh well.


I strongly recommend that you do something like this. No matter what your level of riding, it's invaluable. I'm exciting about doing more of it.


The highlights?


  • Learn to the trust the bike. Learn how to coax performance out of it. There were several times when I "knew" I was going down, slightly off balance, barely navigating a large boulder and seeing an even higher one coming up, or losing the front/rear end in the mud. But just do the counterintuitive thing: loosen up, keep the throttle on, look far ahead, and let the *&^% bike rescue you. I'm amazed at how inherently stable it is, if you stay on it and keep riding. Don't give up! Ride it until you can't!
  • It's a great challenge without the danger of high speed.
  • It brings back a wonderful simplicity to riding. No gauges. No traffic. No speed limits. No watch.


As they say on their web site, "trials is uniquely challenging as it requires razor-sharp focus and intense concentration while negotiating very challenging terrain." As Larry wrote me when we finished, we had a "Gas Gas"! All for $150, including bike and gear rental.

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Now THAT looks like fun. I'm bookmarking this thread ....




Chris (aka Tender Vittles),

Little '77 KZ400 in the Big Apple

Black '99 RT for Everywhere Else, such as...color=green>


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Wow! I haven't watched a trials event in over 20 years. Looks like the bikes have improved a lot.


Trials riders are truly the "gentlemen" of the sport. What a wonderfull skill. I truly envy those who can compete in these great exibitions of talent.


I am in aw...

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David, you're a tease.


I remember reading about Sammy Miller and Martin Lampkin back in the 60s and 70s, and thinking that observed trials looked like a blast. I toyed with the idea of trying it when I quit racing motocross, but alas, haven't done any serious dirt biking in 26 years.


It wasn't till a few years ago that I finally went to an event, held at a haunt from my younger days, Motosports Park in Byron Illinois. Geez, you gotta be a mountain goat just to spectate!


We have a trials presence around here, with events sponsored by the Northern Illinois Trials Riders Organization. (NITRO) One of these days.....Hmmmmm........


It might be fun to have another dirt bike, especially one that doesn't need a ramp to be loaded on the truck!


Ummm, how much does a Gas Gas cost cost? ?

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Thanks for the great story, David, and the wonderful plug for Trials Riding. It was the sport my brother and I grew up with, since my mom wouldn't let us ride motocross, then in its infancy in the U.S., but growing with the annual appearance of the Europeans in the Inter-Am events.


I held the #1 Expert Plate in CA in 1970, my brother Martin in 1971. That sounds impressive until you realize that above Expert there was the Masters Class. Still, I was proud. My brother continued on to compete nationally, eventaully earning the #5 AMA plate.


My dad, through whose efforts all this was possible, noticed very early on that there was a HUGE gap in the skill levels of the European riders vs. the Americans. With help from the U.S. importers of Bultaco, Ossa and Montesa (for whom Martin and I rode), he started El Trial de España, in tribute to the homeland of the then three top trials bike manufacturers mentioned above (only Montesa still exists).


ETdE was an annual event which was used as a fundraiser to send the top two U.S. riders to Europe to compete for a couple of World Championship rounds and to get some seasoning and see where we really stood against the best trials riders in the world. Although my dad is now 80 and is no longer involved in the event, this year will be the 32nd Annual El Trial de España, still a fundraiser although now the money goes to help fund the U.S. team for the Trials des Nations, a country vs. country event that is considered the Olympics of Trials.


My brother, for whom trials was a much greater passion than me, turned the Montesa factory ride of his youth into his current business. He imports the current and multi-time World Championship-winning Montesa Cota trials bike into the U.S. He is also involved with the AMA and the National Trials Council and has, for the past 8 years been the captian of the U.S. Trials des Nations team, organizing and taking care of all the details required to get the U.S. team, bikes and equipment to wherever in the world that year's event is held, and serving as the U.S. management representative to that world event.


Trials, when I rode it, was nowhere near as challenging as it is today. While our bikes were specialized, the current generation of machines is capable of things we never dreamed of. Kind of like the difference between an R75 with drum brakes, and a new Boxer Cup Replica. The riders today are also FAR better than we ever were. And I'll bet you saw Alex, at a mere 12, do things that were far beyond our reach, even at our best.


Trials teaches riding fundamentals. Balance, throttle control, body position. These are skills that every rider, be they street biker or motocrosser, needs to have in their aresenal. They are the foundation of everything else you will ever do on two wheels. It's no wonder that the top European, Japanese and American motocrossers and roadracers do a lot of off-season training on trials bikes.


I strongly urge anyone who wants to become a better rider to follow David's suggestion and visit the Trials Training Center, or pick up an old trials bike (the ones from the 80's are still good, plenty competitive in the Novice and Amateur classes, and cost as little as $1,000) and do some riding on them, or even some low-level club competition. There's plenty of it around. It's challenging and fun. It's quiet. It's a family atmosphere. And you've never met a nicer, more helpful group of people in your lives.

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FB, I knew you had a strong Trials background, but I had no idea it was that deep. My, my. Everything you said rings true from that day. The folks I met and worked with were very helpful and kind. Sounds to me like you need to get back on a trials bike, man!


Ron, I never got on a street bike until 2+ years ago (except as a passenger on an old BMW as a kid), and so you and I share a common background in enduro, motocross, dirtbikes, whatever. And I hadn't been on one of those for 26 years. Don't worry, it was like it had only been a week. You should have seen Larry adapt, too. He was great on it!


It brought back so many memories of riding my Yamaha 175 Enduro up and down steps, down rocks, and all that stuff it was NOT designed for! As FB said, these bikes have come a long ways. They just walk across the obstacles without drama. You hit the skid plate a lot, but otherwise it's like you are on a horse with long legs.


All this has fed into a dream of mine. My wife and I would both like to move to more property. Maybe move to a less expensive part of central Tennessee where we could get some land. Have a big garage for working on bikes, a grass airstrip for an ultralight, and lots of space to have fun with a trials bike.

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In reply to:

Fernando said:


Trials, when I rode it, was nowhere near as challenging as it is today. While our bikes were specialized, the current generation of machines is capable of things we never dreamed of. Kind of like the difference between an R75 with drum brakes, and a new Boxer Cup Replica.


To illustrate Fernando's point, here is a trials bike from his era, the Bultaco Sherpa "T":





And from an earlier era, here is Sammy Miller's 1950s vintage Ariel HT5:




Now, scroll back to the top and compare them to the Gas Gas.




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David, I'm BLOWN AWAY! What a great writeup!


I've heard of these bikes and seen a few maneuvers like riding over picknic tables etc., that's about it. Thanks for the colorful introduction.


Is there anything you're not going to try? What next? Salt flats racing? An ice racing bike? Gravity games MX stunts?


I may have to try trials riding now.

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The CycleWorld Internation Motorcycle Show had "Team Extreme" showing off trials riding. The rider was the top international trials rider, but I don't recall his name. They had setup an indoor track and he showed off the sorts of stuff he does. It was extremely impressive work. A couple of the guys I was with had never heard of trials, so I think it made a good introduction for them. I enjoyed watching it.


Now if you could just grind the rail on a trials bike, I'm sure it would become popular in Southern California.



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Richard, they can be purchased at dealers, as you would expect. There aren't as many dealers, obviously. As far as I know all the brands are European: Gas Gas, Sherco, Beta, Bultaco, etc. They run $4,000-7,000 or so, new that is.


Me too. As soon as I can figure out where to ride it, I'm going to get one. My wife's parents live an hour from here and have 50 acres, and there's some good riding there.

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In reply to:

Where can someone purchase these machines and approx cost.


Richard, try the following website. Trials Action.


This is an international website. On the opening page there are 4 pull-down menus near the top:

World Events





Pull down the Interactive Menu and go to the Bulletin Board. Then click on the Trials Mart. There are several newer and older trials bikes for sale there. Again, this is an international board so you may find some are located abroad, although many are here, stateside. Good luck.

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Nice post David. I had a great time there last fall, and hope to return soon. It's a great way to spend a day or two and sharpen lots of skills.

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Good writeup David. Terry and I were there for 2 days in August '01 and agree with you completely. We have never been more sore and physically beat up but had a great time. As a result of our visit Terry now rides a GasGas Pampera 250. you may have seen one while there. It is a 205lb trail bike with a modified 250 trials motor in it. Perfect for the vertically challenged no inseam riders. Like the trials bikes it'll climb just about anything in 3rd gear if the rider can hang on. Terry says it's cheating on slick hills in the woods and to prove it she has embarressed several guys and a few other girls we ride with. If you didn't get to see Laura ride you really missed a treat. She was our instructor on the second day and would practice the sections when we were catching our breath. With great smoothness and skill she made it look easy which we both know it isn't! Now I've got the urge to break out the dirt bikes this weekend!


Merry Christmas


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Hey David, motosoup.com usually has a few trials bikes too. They usually have more than cycletrader.com. Happy hunting.

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David, Trials Training Center usually has used bikes listed on their homepage. Also the gasgas.com homepage has a used bike listing.


Sue and I did the XTraining101 course in 2001 and had a blast.



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