Friday 4 May 2012

Trial - Six Days in the Saddle

This is a 35mm slide from the 1987 event!

One of the best kept secrets in the British motor sporting calendar gets under way on Monday (7th May) at Fort William. The Scottish Six Days Trial doesn’t get the coverage it deserves in the ‘popular’ press, so the only folk ‘in the know’ are the motor cycle enthusiasts.

And yet this is one of the biggest and most spectacular events in the UK motorised calendar. Over 270 riders will be taking part this year from 17 foreign nations, such as Andorra, Austria, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, plus many European countries, as well as all the home nations.

Over the course of six days the riders will tackle an average of 30 ‘Observed Sections’ each day, and this is where the competition takes place. The riders are supposed to traverse these sections ‘feet up’ i.e. no footing and paddling to maintain balance as that constitutes penalty points. And if that sounds simple, you ignore one little fact – the organisers are a bunch of masochistic sadists. The kind of people who put whoopee cushions in cathedrals, and tie kittens to buses. They make the Sections as difficult as possible by sending the riders up waterfalls, across rocky streams, through muddy bogs and throw in the occasional six foot boulder which has to be climbed, on a bike – and this has to be seen to be believed. And all in the name of sport.

Again from the 1987 event
Adding to the joy (misery?) there is a daily time schedule. Riders have to complete each day’s route without speeding between the Sections or speeding on the roads, just like in a Special Stage Rally. Each day takes the riders from the Fort William start and back again through and over some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. By the end of the week they will have travelled around 700 competitive miles over some of the roughest terrain in the UK and the majority will be well and truly knackered. And all that creaking and groaning you will hear at Parc Ferme at the end of each day’s run will not be from swinging arms and tortured tyres, it will be from aching joints and peched-out lungs.

And then there’s the weather. One thing Scotland has in abundance. In the past I have seen frozen riders being lifted off their bikes at the end of a day’s ‘sport’. Sometimes just too wabbit to manage it themselves, other times having been frozen to the handlebars riding over snow covered mountain tops. This is truly an extreme event, but truly a wonderful spectacle.

It is also very reminiscent of following stage rallies of old, as half the fun is finding the Sections out in the middle of nowhere, close to the back of beyond. Although the organisers issue maps and details, finding some of the ‘accessible’ Sections is as easy as eating porridge with chopsticks.

The legend that is Sammy Miller - 1987 again
So once you have found your chosen vantage point the idea is just to lie back in the heather or coory under a brolly till you hear the melodic chatter of two-strokes and four-strokes coming through the glens and then pick your spot and marvel at the antics of all these foolhardy souls. And if they do record a ‘clean’ you’ll know about it, because the spectators applaud. None of this chanting and whooping nonsense. Just a very polite appreciation of skill, technique, throttle control and balance. Trials spectators are a very genteel bunch.

This is one of the last great free sporting spectacles in the world (OK, so there are some car park charges, but these support local communities) and it’s an event not to be missed, even if you don’t like motor cycles. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Just once.

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