Take a look at the bike classes first to see where your bike will be allocated.
If you’re an experienced off-road rider, then classes A to E, which compete in the main trial, should be no problem. If you’re unsure about your abilities, try Class O, which can provide a good introduction before you move into the main trial next time. If you’re more interested in keeping to scheduled times, opt for class R.
Class O leaves out the first part of the night run, which is from one of three starting points, to a common assembly point. While some Class O sections are easier, this class shares some sections with the main trial, but still offers a challenging ride.
Class R is tarmac based with the competitor’s choice of tackling some of the milder sections. The class is newly introduced and the challenges could differ slightly between the three trials.
Carrying a passenger on an outfit, or in a three-wheeler? They’ll need club membership and an ACU Registration Card.
With a better idea of what bike you’d like to use, consider the choice of bikes. People compete in our trials on all sorts of bikes, from the latest BMW GS to the humble Honda C90. Triumph twin-powered models, Enfield Bullets, Ariels, Matchless and all sorts of classic machinery are still ridden competitively. The most popular bikes are 250 to 400 cc trail bikes, such as the CRF250 and DRZ400.
Whatever bike you choose, it must have adequate ground clearance, good lights, reliable electrics, good starting, a road-legal exhaust, a fuel tank of about 9 litres and preferably folding footrests.
Inadequate ground clearance will have you struggling to control the bike. Electrics that pack up at the first whiff of rain will leave you stranded (we compete in England; it rains). Dim 6 volt lighting, or corroded headlamp reflectors will make navigating in the lanes dodgy. An engine that is a poor starter will have you sweating at the kick start, or sitting on a flat battery; worse still, holding up other competitors on a section. A loud exhaust could get you excluded. The less noise you make, the better for our image and our public relations.
Heated grips aren’t essential, but many competitors fit them. Ensure that your electrical generator can cope with their load.
The basics are obvious and we’re not going into detail here. We know you’re going to give the bike a service; grease the suspension; check the front fork seals, wheel bearings, chain and sprockets, cables, etc; the usual stuff. Note that your bike will be scrutineered at the start so make sure your bike will pass without any ‘issues’.
Our trials are also a test of reliability. Modern bikes are pretty bullet-proof, but depending on your bike’s previous history, things can still go wrong. No-one wants to be a non-finisher due to some trivial fault that could have been sorted out before the trial.
If you are riding an old classic bike, the chances are that you’re switched on mechanically and electrically so you don’t need our advice. Most problems are electrical related; if you’re not so clued-up, pay particular attention to the following:
Check electrical connections; clean and grease with Vaseline as necessary. Ensure that all the earths make good electrical contact. Replace any crimped cable joins with a soldered joint and heat shrink sleeving. (Corrosion of the copper wires inevitably works its way down the inside of the insulation sheaf so you might have to replace the whole wire.)
Handlebars and levers
Another subject about which there are many opinions; if you’re unsure of your set-up, do some research. For what it’s worth, here’s our advice…
The handlebar and lever position on our events has to fulfil two functions; an on-road, rider-seated position and an off-road, rider-standing position. You may have to compromise a bit, one for the other. Levers must be ball-ended for safety.
You’ll spend a long time on your bike, most of it on the tarmac, so you want to be comfortable. Adjust the bars so your arms and shoulders are relaxed. Don’t assume a hunched position because you’ll end up with neck and shoulder ache. Find and assume a relaxed riding position. In the sections and a lot of the access paths, you’ll be standing; poor leg position will produce twanging thigh muscles.
Adjust your levers for when you’re going through a section, i.e. while you are stood up on the footrests. That position could be with the fingers, back of the hands, wrists and forearms all forming a straight line with the fingers resting on top of the levers.
The final position is the one that that works for you so experiment with different positions.
If you use a lower powered machine, gearing needs to be low enough for the sections, including re-starts, but not so low that you cannot maintain a 45 – 50 mph cruising on the open road where you need to cover long distances. If you’re riding to and from the event, you might think about different size gearbox sprockets, for example a 16 tooth for the journey and a 15 tooth for the trial.
In brief, you need to fit a trials pattern tread. The most popular tyre currently in use is the Pirelli MT43, which has the required characteristics of grip, flexible walls and wear rate.
For class C only, you can fit the Bridgestone Trailwing 302, the Continental TKC 80 tyre, the Dunlop 603, the Kenda 270, or the Michelin T63. The reason is that bikes in this class usually have 17 inch rims, for which a trials pattern tread is unavailable, or not recommended. Suitable tyres for some sizes of wheels, e.g. 18 inch front, are becoming difficult to source so you may need to speak to other competitors, or officials for advice.
What you can’t fit are MX, or Enduro type tread patterns (too aggressive), or soft compound trials tyres, e.g. Michelin X11 (they wear excessively and shed blocks on our trials).
Read the MCC Standing Supplementary Regulations (SSR) for more information on tyres.
While we’re talking tyres, we might as well mention inner tubes. These can be purchased in different wall thicknesses. There’s plenty of people with opinions on what thickness to install, but what you fit is up to you.
Finally, on this subject; wheel balancing. A lot of people will tell you off-road wheels don’t need balancing. That may be true for the bikers that are riding down the local country lanes and byways open to traffic. However, cruising at 50 – 60 mph on the A303 for tens of miles with the handlebars vibrating will give you a slightly different opinion.
Competition numbers must be fixed to the back and front of the bike so that they’re in an upright position on a firm, flat surface. The method of fixing mustn’t spoil, or hide the figures. Ensure that they won’t fall off and can be seen clearly by officials and observers on the sections. If in doubt, have a look at examples in the photo gallery on the Club’s website. Laminating the numbers in transparent plastic, or something similar, is a good idea to stop them turning into papier-maché if it rains. For reference, the overall dimensions of the competition numbers are 110 mm high x 150 mm wide.
Remember the rain? You’ll need some sort of weather-proof holder, or laminated sheets to display the route directions. There are some fancy route holders on the market, or you can make your own out of a clear, plastic, sandwich box and couple of lengths of plastic, or wooden dowel. A handlebar-mounted clock alongside the route holder will enable you to keep track of time.
Some competitors use electronic route books and navigation devices. This is permitted. Ensure that you understand how to use these devices reliably.
Tools and spares
Carry only the necessary tools and spares. The more you carry, the heavier and bulkier the bike. Think ahead to when you are standing in a section, on the down side of a slope, trying to get back on the bike and a pile of stuff is in the way. Keep it neat and light; make a list. So what should you carry?
A guide is as follows:
- Brake and clutch levers
- Headlamp and tail bulbs
- Puncture inflation aerosol, or sealant, e.g. Tyreweld, Slime
- Inner tubes (a lot of punctures are due to splits from running on low pressures and hitting a rock)
- Puncture outfit
- Tyre levers
- Selection of spanners specific to your needs
- Clutch, brake and throttle cables, or inner cable and solderless nipples
- Engine oil (are you a two stroke running on petroil?)
- Chain lubricant
- Chemical metal (for a punctured engine case)
- Cable ties and gaffer tape
- Good torch and a spare one, or perhaps a head-torch
- Tyre pressure gauge
Take your bike out for a shakedown ride at night in the condition the bike will be at the start. Is all that gear on the back, or tank going to stay in place if the bike falls over on a section? Will another couple of bungee straps be a good idea? Don’t leave it until the last minute. Remember, ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’.
If you can, find what tyre pressures work for you on various off-road surfaces. Every biker has an opinion on pressures and we’re not going to debate that here. Suffice to say; high pressures on mud will most likely have you with the wheels slipping; low pressures on rocks and boulders will most likely give you a concussion puncture.