Letter from America

Jon Stoodley is a trials superenthusiast and more, who lives in Muskogee, Muskogee County, Oklahoma, United States of America.

He has been a reader/follower of Trials Guru from the very start and he has kindly written this article for us.

Jon Stoodley enjoys his trials riding, seen here on his Gas Gas

Photos provided by Jon Stoodley/JSE Trials


An observant man once said, to the effect, “You don’t choose your passions, your passions choose you.” Each of us came into the sport of Trials or ‘Mototrials’ as it is called in some areas, from different directions. Some of us were, in a way, born into the sport as a result of their father’s or even grandfather’s influence. Some, like me, were involved in other forms of motorsports and thought we would ‘give Trials a shot’ and took up the sport.

I had been involved in racing cars and motorcycles as a hobby since I was 15 years old and one fateful night, in 1971, while I was sitting on my TT bike, waiting for the flagman to start my race, I looked around and thought to myself, “Darn. These guys are trying to run me over all the time and I’m not having fun anymore!” So, that was it, I sold my bike and equipment and just took some time off to see what I wanted to do next. As I always loved motorcycles, I was pretty sure they would be involved somehow in my future, but to what extent, I didn’t know.

A short time later, I went to a big off-road motorcycle and equipment show in South San Francisco. There were lots of bikes and stuff on display as well as local motorcycle sports clubs being represented. Over in one corner, was a small booth with a group of riders who had some of their bikes on display. The bikes were weird looking little things with little seats and what looked like street tires on them. I had seen a few photos of them in magazines, so I had an idea they were what was called ‘Observed Trials’ bikes and a bunch of guys in the U.K. bounced around on them all over the countryside. They didn’t look loud, mean or terribly fast like other racing bikes but they were very compact and simple.

One of the riders at the booth came over to me and in a friendly way, asked me if I was interested in riding the, new to me, sport of Observed Trials. I told him I didn’t know much about the sport but was curious. He introduced himself, “I’m Whitey Webb and I’d be happy for you to meet some of the other riders here.”  Whitey took me over to the group, which was friendly and welcoming and obviously really enjoyed the sport they were involved in. I hung around their booth for some time and Whitey turned out to be a good salesman as I decided to give this weird sport a try at their next event. There is a Zen saying that goes, ‘When the Student is ready, the Teacher will appear.’

I guess I was ready as a great teacher appeared. Whitey Webb is the father of Kip Webb, a top level U.S. National Trials rider as well as the grandfather of Cody Webb, past U.S. National Trials and EnduroCross Champion. I guess I got real lucky!

So, I converted a bike I had laying around the shop and showed up at my first Trials event, secure in the knowledge that an experienced and supremely talented racer such as myself would surely show this bunch of old ladies how to REALLY ride a motorcycle, well, we all know what happened next. I flopped, dabbed, crashed, dragged and moaned myself through the sections and loop and generally made a complete fool of myself. My shins were as bruised and bloody as my over-inflated ego at the end……but, you know what? …. I actually had fun.  Looking back, I had lots of fun and everybody was helpful and encouraged me to keep going and, most of the time anyway, didn’t laugh when I made rookie mistakes and I made a LOT of them.

That was it, I was hooked. Something about this, in the U.S. anyway, relatively unknown sport spoke to me. It was challenging and rewarded personal effort, but most of all, it was enjoyable, if even in a sadomasochistic way at times. But there was something else….the people. This sport attracted a certain kind of person and I became aware that these were the kind of people I wanted to be around.

As far as motorsports is concerned, Trials is a weird sport. It’s a lot like golf in that I have friends who are as passionate about golf as I am about Trials. They are always buying the latest, high-tech equipment and a couple of them have even been to Golf’s Mecca, the famous St. Andrew’s Links in Scotland. Trials is also like Golf in that it looks so simple but in reality, is much more complex than a description would indicate. Don’t believe me? Try explaining Golf to a person who has never heard of it: “Well see, you got this little stick and this little ball. There are a bunch of holes in this huge lawn and you try to knock this little ball into the holes with as few whacks as possible. You win if your score is smaller than all the other people. It’s really exciting!”

Then there’s Trials: “Well you see, we got these spindly little motorcycles with no seats. We look for places that nobody would ever ride on (and some places you can’t even walk over) and thrash these little bikes through rushing water, boulders, and other nasty stuff while trying not to fall off.

Oh, yea, and we do it for hours on end in rain, snow, sleet and flood. It’s really exciting!” You can get an idea of what I mean, in that the physical description does not do justice to the reality of the experience.

In Psychology it’s called “having a mental equivalence”, in that the person you are describing the experience to, does not have the retrievable mental images necessary to accurately frame the physical descriptions you are giving them.

325 Bultaco Sherpa mounted, Jon Stoodley in the British-America Cup trial around 1974

What is it about this sport that I enjoy?

Well, you get to ride for hours in some of the most beautiful scenery around. It’s personally challenging and rewards practice and commitment.

The other participants are helpful and supportive, probably because we are all trying to solve the same problem of trying to ride the section successfully. We all have a common purpose.

The bikes, in comparison to other forms of motorcycle sports, are a lot less expensive and you can get a good entry level bike at a very reasonable price. The bikes, in most cases, are well under-stressed in use and seem to last forever. At least here in the U.S., trying to find a Trials bike in a motorcycle salvage yard is next to impossible. They are just passed on from one rider to a new owner.

I’ve rode events alongside first-time beginners and World Champions and in what other sport can you say that? You can ride just for fun or compete on a serious level, the sport allows for both types of riders at the same time.

Trials is a reasonably safe sport and injuries are rare. A Clubman rider can compete on Sunday and he or she can have a more than reasonable expectation that they can report for work on Monday, unscathed. The list of positive attributes of this sport goes on and on.

Riding a creek on the 325 Bultaco Sherpa

Another point is that Trials riders are, as a general rule, easily approachable and love to share. It’s fun for me to wander around the event pits and talk to riders. If I admire one of their bikes, inevitably the next thing I hear is “want to take it for a ride?”

The approachability factor applies not only to Clubman riders but also to World Champions. I’ve chatted with Martin Lampkin when he got to my sections early  (even though I knew, in part, he was buttering me up so I’d go easy on Dougie if there was a close call on his scoring. Martin was as good a salesman and had as good a sense of humor as Whitey Webb), I’ve drank beer and talked about motorcycles with Mick Andrews for an afternoon, sat around camp with Tommi Ahvala and talked about everything and sat with Dani Oliveira, 125 World Champion, in the GasGas pits while he was putting on some small parts he had brought from Spain to make an otherwise stock bike work at the World Round level.

This reminds me that Trials is primarily a sport of talent, not machinery. At the World level, of course, the competition is so intense that any advantage, however slight, is important but for most of us mere mortals, the bikes anyone can buy are essentially race-ready and require little preparation. I don’t know of any other motorsport here in the U.S. that one can buy a stock bike, do reasonable maintenance and adjustment and enter it in a National event and have a good chance of doing well, it not winning. Trials is a ‘no excuses’ sport.

On the smooth but very powerful 370 model JTR (Jordi Tarres Replica) Gas Gas of 1997 at the Frank Raines Trial

The sport of Trials has, and continues, to mean a lot to me. I’ve got long time Trials friends all over the world because we share a common experience. The very nature of Trials competition promotes camaraderie and friendship and I would imagine this is because of the fact that we are alone in the section and essentially competing against ourselves. Like I say, Trials is a ‘no excuses’ sport, you can’t blame the other riders for cutting you off in the turn, running into you or jumping the flag at the start.

I love Trial’s rich history, it is one of the oldest and most enduring forms of motorsports there is and one only has to look to the Scottish Six Day Trial to get an idea of the sport’s remarkable lineage. Although I don’t compete anymore I really, really enjoy helping to set up an event, helping new riders and observing a section.

I sometimes think I enjoy checking a section more than I did riding in competition. Even after checking sections at three World Rounds, numerous Nationals and over a hundred plus clubman events, I still love standing in a section encouraging the riders. I always want the riders to do well in my section and I always get there early to make sure it is safe, there are no tree branches hanging down in their way, no unnecessary debris is at the entrance or exits, the boundaries are secure and whatever I need to do to make the section as trouble-free yet challenging as I can.

I enjoy seeing the riders analyze the section, picking unique lines through the obstacles and then using their talents to conquer the problems set before them. I take pride in the fact that Trials riders help each other and you only have to see the upper class riders take time to answer the questions of the lower class riders and watch as the spectators cheer on and encourage both beginners and World Champions.

I like the fact that people of all ages and genders can be involved in this equal opportunity sport and even old geezers like me can participate to whatever level they enjoy. I probably appreciate my time spent with other Trials people now more than I ever have. There are not many activities one can say that about.

When my friend, John Moffat, asked if I would write a piece for The Trials Guru, I first thought of a technical article. Through the years, I have written many technical articles for both Motocross and Trials publications but John suggested: “how about a letter from America?” This got me to thinking, “how about a love letter to Trials?” a passion that chose me and I’ve enjoyed for over 46 years and counting. I’ve tried to give back to Trials what my talents would allow. It’s been a really good investment as Trials has rewarded me tenfold. I love this sport.- Jon Stoodley

A true enthusiast puts back what he/she takes out, here is Jon observing (checking) riders at a trials event

The Premier Trial Sport Website for photos, articles, news and the history of motorcycle trials

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15 thoughts on “Letter from America”

  1. Big Thanks to Jon,it’s like a Christmas letter ,but hundred of times better.also great to have you as a friend from the other side.good health to U and d Good Lady,cheers as they say in d UK,thats d other Country beside us.

  2. Thank you Jon for a walk through the past, present and future. It always comes down to the people and that is what I love about this sport. I was with you at the motorcycle show and grew up with you and your son through the years with PITS club. I am now making new friends and riding trials in New Zealand. I wish you and the family the best for 2017 and thanks for keeping the sport alive.

  3. Jon – well done. always a pleasure to see you at the regional events.

    as you said about the bikes, from out of the box …. to on the box so to speak, got to love the trials machines and the people.

  4. What a great love letter to Trials!!! I enjoyed reading it because every word I read was the same I thought. Yes, you are a really trials lover, and one of the best things of trials is to find people like you!!! Thanks from Spain!

  5. Jon you have expressed perfectly how we all feel about OBSERVED TRIALS ! This letter should be printed in all motorcycle publications . Thank you for everything .

  6. Thanks Jon for such a wonderful tribute to an awesome sport! I spent many of my younger years being amazed by watching my Dad, Larry Hobkirk, and Brother Jimmy ride what appeared to be an impossible trap. The commaradre amongst the trials family is second to none. My dad loved the sport, the bikes, and all of his “Bultaco Buddies “. He would talk motorcycles with anyone who would listen till the day brain cancer took his life. Thanks to all who treasured the sport and lifestyle with him.

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