All posts by bigjohn2014

World Champion Trials School in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Photo Credit: Scott Williams, USA.

World Champion and Scottish Six Days Trial winner Bernie Schreiber conducted his ZeroBS two-day Masterclass on May 13 & 14 in Tulsa Oklahoma at Tulsa Mountain Trials. Schreiber, being the most successful Trials rider ever from the USA, shared his experiences with participants attending from 8 nearby States. The event was hosted by one of the oldest clubs in America, (N.E.O.T.T.) North Eastern Oklahoma Trials Team, founded in 1969 by Mike McCabe, who became the first American to compete at the Scottish Six Days Trial in 1972.

Schreiber first discussed the event with his long-time friend, Kirk Mayfield of Oklahoma who competed in the 1973 Scottish Six Days Trial on a Mick Andrews factory Yamaha. Mayfield and Schreiber competed together in the Turkey Creek U.S. National in 1975, an event that included many of the best riders in US history.

Schreiber treated the 30 participants to his structured format based on lessons learned in becoming a World, National, and Scottish Six Days Trial Champion, but also basic techniques from his book “Observed Trials” by Len Weed and other sports such as golf, where direct comparisons become involved. Mastering the sport, hands on riding and the all-important Mastering the mind were covered in great detail.

Schreiber said, its not just skills and hard work. Everyone at the top level has great techniques. Your mindset is what makes you the winner or the loser. That’s the only difference.

“Practice doesn’t make you perfect. Only perfect practice does.”

He continued to focus on the competition successes and practicing with purpose by design. The best way to practice is prioritize on the things you need to practice, and knowing which tasks should get top priority, then act to get maximum returns. Progressing consistently in a way that lets you maintain present skills, but also allows to move to the next level continually is a priority, while keeping yourself motivated and maintain focus so you can stay in the best possible state of mind for achieving results.

The sit-down classroom setting began first before feet on the pegs riding, by covering the most important aspect of motorcycle trials, the proper stance. Motorcycle trials has always been a very unique form of off-road riding which requires certain techniques that do not always apply to riding a “normal” dirt bike, especially when it comes to the fundamentals. Many aspects were demonstrated during what Schreiber calls “Impact Zones” throughout two full days of instruction.

Schreiber also covered what gave him an advantage over his rivals, that being the technique which he introduced and perfected, the floating front wheel turn. Also known as the “Pivot turn”, Schreiber used this to great effect in winning the World Championship and showed exactly why this technique is just as effective today.

During each day of the school, each individual student was given one on one instruction on the techniques of this challenging sport and an insight into what actually makes a World Champion, the attention to detail, leaving no stone unturned.

The Current State of Modern Trials

This article has been reproduced from the world famous trials website, todotrial in Spain. Permission given by todotrial owner, Horacio San Martin to Trials Guru.

(Main photo: Rene Opstals)

30 points to understand the decline of the sport of Trials

The sport of trial is currently not going through its best of times, but it is not something new, rather it has been declining slowly for no less than two decades. In this article we will try to analyze the causes by giving 30 points to help us understand what is happening.

We have been hearing that the sport of trials has been in crisis for 20 years or more , and although it is true that the trial situation is difficult, it is also true that depending on the places and areas the situation may seem less dramatic . And it is that there are areas and sectors in which the sport enjoys good health or trial competitions with plentiful entries.

However, these bright spots should not distract us or mislead us, the reality is that the trial market has been in decline, little by little, but inexorably, giving rise to concern.

Undoubtedly, this widespread news that shakes the motorcycle press each year does not go unnoticed, especially those in which the decision of prominent young riders, to abandon this discipline is revealed , mainly due to lack of finance. These are not just a few cases in which riders who aimed high have decided to switch to enduro in search, no longer of greater fortune, but simply to earn a minimal living without going bankrupt.

This has been happening for more than a decade, but the problem has been getting worse , since now even pilots who are among the best in the world are seen in this situation , such as the recent case of Toby Martyn , world champion. Trial2 in 2021 and British trials champion in 2021 and 2022, or his compatriot, Jack Dance , who was Trial 125 world champion in 2021. Dan Peace’s move to enduro this year does not go unnoticed either, or that of no less than one of the World Cup top, Miquel Gelabert , although the latter is a more special case due to his personal complications. There are many more cases like those of Jack Price ,Eric Miquel , or Sergio Ribau to name just a few of the most recent.

But let us not fool ourselves, trials has always been and will always be a minority sport, in which there has never been more than 15 or 20 official or semi-official riders, what happens is that as things are, now there is hardly any room for 5 or 6 professional riders and in the highest category of the TrialGP World Championship it continues to decline.

When this type of news is made public, the comments posted on social media are many and varied, logically there are opinions of all kinds, but the reality is that few get close to the real substance of the matter, and that is where we will try to achieve in this article, where we will analyze the situation in the most objective way possible.

1- The volume of trials machines sold has been stagnant for almost two decades and has dropped in the last two years. This factor is critical, since to assess the health of an activity, be it sports or of another type, the main measurement factor to take into account is the market, the volume of business it generates, is ‘sales’, the true measure. This is the base that sustains everything, and if it fails, the rest will follow.

2- The current volume of trial fans is much lower than that existing in the 70s, 80s and 90s. This factor is what determines the stagnation of the previous point, and therefore it is the most important. We can see the causes that cause it in the following points, but it is also essential to analyze what that mass of fans is like today.

3- The average age of most current trial fans is well over 40 years of age. This is because they started trial in the 70s, 80s and 90s, therefore it is a “mature age” hobby. The positive part is that in this age range their disposeable wealth allows them to renew their motorcycle regularly. This also indicates that the trial of that era had more power to create fans.

4- The young riders who entered the sport in the last 30 years, do so mostly by “inheritance”. That is, because they are children, nephews, friends of older people who practice it and who influence them to take part. They come to the sport by external influence, not by their own decision, becoming an “inbred” sport.

5- The current leisure options are endless and the culture of the “online” is significant. Being the “son of a trials rider” does not guarantee that this young man will also be a trials rider, many are not attracted to this sport and adopt other hobbies, also today there are many leisure options and the emergence of video games and other online entertainment captures the youth more effectively. This point together with the two previous ones makes the possible growth factor zero or negative.

6- The pressure of a misunderstood radical environmentalism. The current fashion of environmentalism is actually a big business, so it has gone from being something logical and recommendable to something absolutely disproportionate, radicalized and even harmful to society. The pressure exerted by environmental groups has “brainwashed” the population based on speeches that are often false, aided by politicians and the media that are not very objective, with a background of economic interests. We trial riders know that our sport is completely compatible with sustainability and respect for the environment, but our image has been badly damaged.

7- Environmental laws harm, but not globally. From the previous point derives the creation of very restrictive laws, which on many occasions simply prohibit instead of regulating, making clear the incompetence of a political class at the service of the pressures of environmental and economic power. This has undoubtedly harmed the practice of trial in many places, but its influence is not as important as it might seem, since Enduro has the same problem, and yet the volume of practitioners and motorcycle sales is enormous compared to trial . On the other hand, there are many countries without these problems, where it is clear that there are hardly any trial practitioners, but the enduro market is very broad. This indicates that this is a problem existing only at the local level.

8- Few trial practice areas in certain places. Like the previous point, this is a problem that occurs only at the local level. In those places where there are restrictive laws for the free practice of sport, it is necessary to have places where you can practice legally. In some countries it is very easy to create private areas as you only need the owner’s permission, but in other countries with more intrusive governments, creating an area can be enormously complex in terms of permits, bureaucracy and conditions, as unfortunately happens in Spain.

9- The volume of new potential clients is very low. All economic and business activity is based on attracting new customers, the advertising and promotion of brands is based on that foundation, being the basis of its growth. Currently, potential trial clients are very scarce. Where they could be most popular is among those who are already fans of off-road motorcycles and already practice other more widespread modalities, such as enduro, motocross or trials, but very few of them show interest in trials.

10- The power of attraction of current trials is much less than previously. In the previous point we have said that the volume of potential clients is very low, however we have mentioned enduro, motocross or trail practitioners as such, which are quite numerous, why this contradiction? Well, because today the number of fans of those other off road disciplines who are attracted to trial is very low, despite the undeniable advantages of mastering the trial technique to improve off road driving in general. Because? We see it in the next point.

11- The Image of elitist, static sport and only available to a select few. This is the reason why in the previous point we say that the power of attraction of the trial is much less than before. The evolution towards a more “indoor” and acrobatic trial presents a very elitist image of the sport, that is, extremely technical and difficult, which is only available to a few, distancing it from the potential public. To this are added other keys that we see below.

12- The empowerment of trials as a spectacle, causes a loss of interest as a sport. From the previous point we come to this one, Trials seems to have evolved into a show, in which it seeks to impress the public with bigger and higher obstacles. This can cause a greater attendance of the public who occasionally go to see a high-level event (World or National) with the intention of seeing a show, but at the same time it prevents them from being interested in becoming participants. Like when you go to a circus to see trapeze artists, these can cause the sale of many tickets, but not the interest in becoming a trapeze artist, because it is something extremely difficult, dangerous and elitist.

13- Indoor trials have clearly become a show, whose main objective is to sell tickets. Initially, the objective of indoor trials events was to bring the trial sport, which was conducted in the natural environment, to a larger public, in order to try to increase the number of participants of this sport, increase potential clients and thus increase machine sales. However, now, as has been said in the previous point, the objective is to increase ticket sales and it is difficult to generate interest in trial participation.

14- The Indoor has greatly influenced the natural trial or “outdoor” changing its characteristics. This influence has made outdoor trial areas much more indoor in style, with large steps, very tight turns and very little space, demanding riding techniques from Biketrials, even in regional amateur trials. It has completely changed the layout of the zones making it an even more difficult and demanding sport than it was before.

15- Passage from a sport of dynamic balance to one of static. The previous point has meant that trial has gone from having an image of a dynamic sport of overcoming moving obstacles, to an image of a much more acrobatic and static sport, in which much of the time the pilot is standing in balance or doing lateral movements without advance. We die-hard trial riders may like it, but the number of people that this type of trial attracts is much lower than the dynamic trial that was able to attract. Here we return to the previous points. Many off road fans prefer enduro or hard enduro (very similar to trial) because their preference is to “ride a motorcycle” and not“standing every little while placing and balancing” , which gives an image of a “boring” sport . This point is very important, since it makes many potential clients dismiss their interest in the current trial.

16- The stopwatch in the section does not solve the image of trials as a “static balance” sport. Yes, the time limit in the sections adds dynamism, but it doesn’t change the fact that the current basis of the sport is static balance in which Biketrial techniques must be mastered equally, with the added stress of having to do everything as quickly as possible. In summary, it does not solve the lack of potential clients who are interested in trial, although it may please some of the current fans. However, another large part of current fans reject the inclusion of the stopwatch in trial, since it is something that was never part of this sport. Trials is not strictly a ‘race’.

17- The No-Stop attempts to regain the dynamic image of the sport, but its application is difficult. Aware of all of the above for years, the motorcycle manufacturers and the FIM are trying to recover a less static, less indoor, and more dynamic image of trial “for riding a motorcycle”, which is closer to the origins and essence of the sport of the trials. For this reason, the old No-Stop regulation was re-intriduced, with which it wants to give a closer, less elitist image, which once again attracts potential new participants and followers. Regardless of whether or not the current youngest participants who have grown up in the “indoor” style like this regulation, the objective is to ensure the future of the sport by making it feel closer to the target audience again, and therefore have more ability to attract new participants. The problem is the difficulty of applying equally by all the section observers, which provokes the rejection of many riders and fans. In addition, for many, their personal interest prevails over the general interest in the subsistence of the sport itself, as is logical.

18- The evolution of trials has made the figure of the minder necessary. This did not exist in the early 1980s, but it was gradually introduced and its presence was recognized. As the sport changes with the incorporation of Biketrial techniques, becoming more static and with more indoor, more difficult areas, and with higher steps, it ends up becoming a fundamental safety element. The positive point is that it provides security, but the negative is that it currently represents one of the biggest expenses for each rider, leading to the impossibility of sustainability due to lack of finance. Today there are top riders who earn significantly less money than their minders, or who earn nothing.

19- The expenses for the competitor are increasing. Competing in trials is now much more expensive than previously, since the expenses are numerous: motorcycles, spare parts, tires, travel, accommodation, training, licenses, registrations, coaching, minders. Comparatively, the cost of licenses and registrations has skyrocketed, especially in countries like Spain. The expense increases notably in international events.

20- Motorcycle brands and importers cannot afford several official riders. The current volume of riders contributes sales of around 7,000 new motorcycles per year among all brands , with no growth but stagnation or decrease in recent years (in 1984 only Fantic sold 15,000 trial motorcycles). The figure is ridiculous compared to other off road sports such as enduro or motocross, and even more so if we compare it to mountain biking, for example. Despite everything, brands and importers make a huge effort to have official pilots and be present in world and national championships, and they can hardly afford to have more than one or two official pilots or increase their aid to semi-official pilots.

21- The low volume of sales of trials motorcycles causes the price of motorcycles to rise. To make its manufacture viable in such a reduced market, the only option is to raise the price, which harms us all. That is why it is essential to try to attract new fans to this sport, and try to ensure that its evolution is oriented towards it, making it a more accessible, more practicable sport, with a closer and less extreme image, regardless of the trial that each one we like it.

22- The mistake of comparing Biketrial to Trials. The motorcycle trial has an obvious parallelism with the evolution of the Trialbici or Biketrial. In view of all the points seen in this article, following in the footsteps of an even more minority and declining sport, “practically dead” for some, would be a serious mistake. More and more people maintain that when a top rider publishes videos doing zones on one wheel, they will get many “likes” on their social networks, due to the admiration that this high mastery of the motorcycle causes, but at the same time causes distancing from trial with their potential customers and therefore undermines its growth.

23- More specialized and less versatile motorcycles. Trial bikes have evolved to become extremely competitive and specialized, which has meant that they are only usable for increasingly extreme competition and therefore less valid for use at an amateur level that does not compete. In other times, the same motorcycles with which the professionals competed were used to make excursions through the countryside comfortably. This caused many trials bike buyers to switch to other options. Aware of this, the brands have recently begun to release their ‘Trial Excursion’ models, with larger capacity tanks, seat and even electric start.

24- The mistake of considering World Trials Championship as a show. The main objective of the world championships remains the same as the 70s, 80s and 90s, to show the image of this sport to the public with the aim of promoting it and making it grow, facilitating the sale of motorcycles and the entire related industry. This function cannot be forgotten or transferred to local amateur trials. Motorcycle brands are only interested in being in the World Cup or National Championships if it helps them sell their products. For this, it must be shown as a feasible, accessible, attractive sport, difficult by its nature but not impossible, without ever losing sight of its essence or its origins. It is true that it must continue to be the elite of the sport, but not become something that only 10 people in the world can do, because we would be back to the example of the trapeze artist.

25- It has been late to control the evolution of sport and motorcycles, which must be done by establishing limitations.The two previous points lead to this one, so that the trial does not end up becoming something else, something that for many has already happened. It is necessary that the evolution of the sport and its motorcycles be logical and not free, and for this to establish limits in the sporting and technical regulations. If this were not done, tomorrow the trial could be something like a fusion between the Biketrial and an EBike and it would stop being a motorcycling sport to become completely different. The entities that watch over the subsistence of a sport must try to maintain its essence, its origin. That is why measures arise that may not be understood but are necessary, such as the minimum weight limit on motorcycles, which also help to keep costs from skyrocketing.

26- Little interest from sponsors in a championship without possibilities, with a “fixed winner”. The current maximum level of the world championship is only achievable by no more than 10-15 pilots, of which only 5 have podium options and there is an almost absolute dominance of one pilot, which subtracts emotion and therefore interest. This decreases the chances of other pilots and therefore the interest of possible sponsors in them. Result: it takes away the interest, the emotion, and with it the money from the sponsors.

27- Low economic return of the sponsors in the trial. When a company decides to sponsor a rider, a team or a brand, it usually does not do so for charity, but in exchange for an economic return on their investment. A minority sport has less impact, but also a lower cost for sponsors. Therefore, the companies that can obtain a return that compensates them in the sport will hardly be the large corporations that seek to reach a massive amount of public, but rather those that have a direct interest in trial participants, such as accessory brands, motorcycle stores, insurance, sports or food products. Therefore, to feed this income generation, it is necessary for the volume of the trials market to grow.

28- Competitiveness and emotion, few options to fight for victory.A sport that attracts the public is a sport with uncertainty, with emotion, with an open struggle for victory among the greatest possible number of participants, representing the greatest possible number of countries. A company that decides to sponsor a professional pilot needs to have options to fight for victory, or at least to be in the leading positions. If the difficulty level is so high that only three drivers can fight to win, sponsors lose interest in sponsoring drivers other than those three. Therefore, the chances of fighting for victory should grow and for this the level would have to be lowered, making it more accessible to other pilots, as well as facilitating the incorporation of new young pilots, even if this harms a few.

29- Media and television. In the 80s and 90s the presence of trial on television was much higher, but the media broadcast what the public asks for, and if there is hardly any public interested in trial we cannot expect it to go back to the way it was before. Aware of this, federations such as the Spanish RFME are making a notable effort to broadcast summaries of the Spanish Championship events on television. Also along these lines, the FIM announces that it will broadcast the Trial World Championship via streaming on Youtube, this being a very good decision, as long as it does not become paid content, which would destroy the objective of doing so to spread the sport of trial and generate market.

30- Little support for specialized media and clubs. In line with the above, the work carried out by specialized trial media by fans of this sport, such as Todotrial, is little valued by some federations, brands, shops, since only a few support this dissemination work. Hiring advertising campaigns. In the same way, Motor Clubs often receive little help. This is the reason, together with the lack of a greater number of fans, for which there are so many motocross or enduro magazines, but hardly any for trial. Today, both clubs and magazines (on paper or digital) bring together the few fans who are willing to continue fighting for this sport, investing their work and time, which deserves a little more support and recognition that allows them to continue forward.

To conclude, there is a ‘Rupture’ between classic and modern Trials fans. This is a worrying and increasingly frequent symptom. Many veteran riders, and even some young people, feel less and less identified with the high level competition that is shown in the World Championship or even National events, losing all their interest. Many veterans think that today’s events are no longer trials but a different sport, and prefer to participate exclusively on classic motorcycles. Some young people also say they prefer this type of “classic” trials, whether on a modern or classic bike, and some declare that they are only interested in trials such as the SSDT or Santigosa 3 Days Trial. The case is even more evident when you discover that many trials fans have no interest whatsoever in the results of the World or even National Championships, so they are not even interested in going to see any of these events, and even less so if it is an indoor event. This leads to major opinion differences on issues such as regulations or even the inclusion of minders. This division is undoubtedly detrimental to trials in general.

Many thanks to todotrial for allowing their permission to reproduce their original article, published on 13th April 2023.

Article 5 – The Artwork of Practice (Part 1)

“Practice doesn’t make you perfect. Only perfect practice does.”

“It’s not just skills and hard work. Everyone at the top level has great techniques. Your mindset is what makes you the winner or the loser. That’s the only difference.”

TG1: Why is it that some athletes progress much faster and succeed vs. the majority?

BS1: After practicing my own sport of Observed Trials for approximately 25,000 hours, and more than a decade of competition and experimentation at the highest level including coaching others, I discovered the process in which you practice will determine your success or failure.

The reason why some Trials riders progress so much faster at skills or results has a lot less to do with HOW HARD they train, but much more to do with HOWthey train.

It’s important to understand that behind every accomplishment, behind every success is a process. The majority of riders often even with hard practice, can’t get half as much done, not even in twice the time, or worse, with no progress at all or very little.

TG2: Understanding that process, you obviously could have more control over the outcome, right?

BS2: Yes, but most riders spend 95% of their energy and attention working on their outer game, their outer execution. Many often think about their movements: how high they should be, how low or how fast, etc, and though it’s true these things are very important, they are all merely just an effect of whatever system of practicing they use in order to progress.

If you practice anything a certain way, whether consciously or unconsciously it’s because you think that’s probably the best way and the way it should be done, but “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

Those without a practice strategy of what works, often ask themselves how to achieve twice as much progress or increase results, and the only plan they can think of is to do twice the amount of work. Coaching those who might have already put in some tremendous amount of hard work and have already seen how difficult it can be to continue to progress once they are past a certain point is challenging. Some riders learn a new routine in just a few days, others might have started a skill much later than you but caught up and even passed you by.

TG3: Is there a universal way to progress and achieve results faster?

BS3: Well, simply doubling your efforts doesn’t seem to be the key to effective progress for most riders or athletes, but having strategies and perfect practice plans does. Many riders feel overwhelmed by all of the next-level skills, drills, or moves they want to learn, but it’s impossible to practice everything, even if you had all the time in the world.

The best way is to prioritize on the things you need to practice, and knowing which tasks should get top priority, then act to get maximum returns.

Progressing consistently in a way that lets you maintain present skills, but also allows to move to the next level continually is a priority, while keeping yourself motivated and maintain focus so you can stay in the best possible state of mind for achieving results. We often put naturally talented athletes on a pedestal, and tell ourselves the story that they were destined to be great, and that they have some mysterious power. But in reality, that’s not the case at all. What often makes sense in the moment is not what usually leads to success.

Len Weed photo

Often, the things you wouldn’t think will work and go unnoticed are the things that will, but almost nobody does.

A process that gives you the best possible results that you’re capable of achieving, and knowing your current practice is the best possible way for achieving those results, regardless if your competition day is a “good” or “bad” one.

TG4: Is there a secret to “Perfect Practice”?

BS4: Not really, but there are multiple processes for improvement and the higher you go, probably the less you know, so probably more discovery than a secret. The reason I know the challenges so well is because of my personal experiences that I needed to deal with throughout the years.

The truth is, I was terrible at practice. And when I say terrible, I’m really talking about a whole other level of dysfunction compared to a rider like 3 x World Champion Yrjö Vesterinen at the time. I know how the struggle feels and tried everything that you could think of to become better at winning.

3 x World Champion – Yrjo Vesterinen – Photo: Giulio Mauri / Fontsere

I’d brute force my way through the slightest of progress, only to become burned out right after, without having much to show for it. Most of the stuff I tried didn’t work at all especially in the mud and the only reason I could think of for my lack of progress not working was “not hard enough”, while practicing many hours a week.

That’s why nobody would guess that the sudden change in my progress came from applying simple rules and processes that made me progress in a faster way than usual, that helped me to compete, share and break world records in the sport at 20 years old.

It’s because certain systems I had and certain mindset I had helped me get past those blocks that allowed me to dominate over my progress. Yet more than anything, it involved having to change how I believed practice works to what actually worked.

What I didn’t understand at the time is that if we’re practicing in a way that is against the fundamental laws of progress, we won’t get any better no matter how hard or how much we practice.

One lesson I learned early on was that practice won’t make you perfect, but “Perfect Practice” will and does pay off.

Winning the 1982 Scottish Six Days on Pipeline – Giulio Mauri / Fontsere

TG5: Should we practice with better riders?

BS5: Absolutely, and some riders are better at what they do than others, and it’s not simply by chance that they got better. I saw first-hand after observing and practicing with some of the best riders in the world, that it wasn’t the strength or physical powers that separated the good from the best.

The big or small differences are always present in the background, and often, one little shift, just one simple change, is all it takes. It was their mostly unconscious approach and mentality that looked dramatically different from the rest.

I found throughout the years, the basic rules of the “successful” are surprisingly uniform and predictable.

For me, one defining characteristic is an athlete who can perform under any circumstance. Most athletes can perform when conditions are perfect, but it is the rare athlete who can perform when conditions are terrible.

TG6: Don’t you find the technical practice gap is growing for many riders?

BS6: Yes, and this gap has spread worldwide to a point of no return for most. It’s really an obstacle point for the sport in my observation. Picture it as a ladder, and the horizontal steps become far apart midway up, for anybody to continue climbing. The top riders like it, because it gives them longer careers, but most riders coming up, cannot climb and surpass the big gap.

That’s why focus on perfect practice matters so much for future champions who want to improve results. Part of the reason top athletes burn-out or get frustrated early is that being famous is not the same as being a champion. Conviction is about being dedicated to becoming the best athlete your mind and body will allow you to be, not the conviction to becoming good enough to be a paid media star on social media.

The tough reality is that 95% of athletes really have no clue what it takes. They want the fame, glory, and money of a World Champion, but they are unwilling to endure the suffering, pain, and heartbreak of that dream. The journey is a long one that requires thousands of hours of boring, focused training, numerous failures, many heartbreaks, and super human resiliency. Today, it requires an army of family, friends, training partners, coaches, businessmen, companies, and fans to make it happen. The truth is that talent and hard work are simply prerequisites for this journey.

Lastly, it takes some luck to become a World Champion. The road to becoming a World Champion is littered with many, many talented and hard-working athletes who never got a lucky break. When you put all of these pieces together, it highlights why World Champions are few in millions.

It’s not all about talent or hard work or competence. It is 100% about what is in a person’s soul. It is the will to win, and the application of that will to find a way to win. It is a level of mental toughness and intelligence that very few people in the world truly understand. There are many gaps to be filled and variables to consider during your perfect practice sessions.

Schreiber Masterclass at Alvie Estate, Scottish Highlands – Photo: Jaxx Lawson

TG7: Many riders wonder how to improve during practice without a minder?

BS7: That’s a good question, considering most clubmen riders practice and compete without a minder, so in many ways, modern trials for the average person, are more like Classic Trials, not only techniques but also in the section difficulty.

Consider that 95% of riders in the sport, will never have a professional minder to practice or compete as World or National Championship riders do, so the vast majority of riders are really practicing and competing traditional clubman Trials their entire career in the sport.

This understanding is what is missed today in the sport. Not only will World or National Championship techniques not be best for the average clubman, but their machines will not be tuned the same for a Championship contender as it would be for the clubman.

Simply meaning, the bike that a top rider competes on, will not perform the best for the average clubman rider. Likewise, the techniques needed to successfully enjoy club level trials to the fullest, is not the same as what is needed to win a National or World Championship. That’s created false illusions for many and one reason traditional classic trials are so popular across Europe. Thinking and understanding what you practice for is so important. The challenge today is we have a lot of clubman level riders on modern bikes who think they can “one day” do BOU tricks and this perception is wrong, distracts from learning the sport and dangerous to be honest. There is a huge difference between learning BOU tricks and traditional trials skills. There is nothing wrong with practicing trick skills, but that’s a different and unique skill set for highly trained riders. You don’t just learn them at a trials school. It’s an act, which includes a variety of acrobatics, gymnastics, aerial acts and a variety of other routines, but not the traditional sport of Trials.

Photo: Solo Moto

The Artwork of Practice (Part 2) will focus on some practical solutions to help riders reach their potential, manage expectations, set goals and practice with purpose by design.

Barry Robinson 1931 – 2023

It is with deep sadness that we report the passing of photojournalist, Barry Robinson of Ilkely, West Yorkshire today, Sunday 26th February 2023.

Barry Robinson tests the factory Bultaco Sherpa of Malcolm Rathmell in 1974. This is the rare Model 133 of which there were only 13 ever made and were supplied to factory riders only. Photo: M.C. Rathmell

Barry was one of the first to report for the fledgling Motor Cycle News in 1957. Barry became a member of the National Union of Jounalists (freelance division) and reported on many trials and scrambles events over six decades for the daily newspapers as well as the motorcycle press. He also reported on the many Yorkshire trials for Trials & Motocross News from 1977.

Barry Robinson, John Moffat (Trials Guru founder) and Eric Kitchen, shortly after Barry’s 90th birthday at the Scott Trial.

In a statement issued by his daughters, Liz and Sarah on social media, it read:

“Barry Robinson – FINAL POSTIn true “Robbo” style, “I am not retiring” was his most recent post. True to his words he did not – Barry’s last parting words from this mortal world were “bring me a notebook and pen when you visit tomorrow in case anyone rings with results” from his hospital bed at Airedale.

Unfortunately this is the one deadline he will never make!

Barry Robinson NUJ 19-Oct-1931 to 26-Feb-2023. RIP Dad – we love you and you will be missed by your family, friends and the motorcycle community which you served for 64 years.”

Trials Guru send sincere condolences to the Robinson family at this difficult time and thank the late Barry Robinson for the use of some of his photographs since the website was formed in 2014.

Barry Robinson’s Funeral Arrangements:

The funeral of Barry Robinson will be held on Thursday, 23 March 2023 at 12.30pm at Skipton Crematorium with refreshments at Herriots, Broughton Street, Skipton thereafter.

Barry Robinson captured by John Hulme.

Barry Robinson Feature

Barry Kefford

We have learned from Trials Guru reader, Geoff Bridgwater that trials sidecar designer and competitor, Barry Kefford from Sutton Coldfield, has passed away recently. Geoff was Barry’s passenger during the period between 1967 and 1972 when they were successful in sidecar trials. The pair also did sidecar racing and sprints. 

Kefford will be remembered by many as the brilliant designer of some of the earlier lightweight trials outfits known as BKS, which influenced many other competitors and won British Trials Sidecar titles. The earliest example was a BSA B40 powered outfit which used Reynolds 531 tubing and clever triangulated framework, later moving onto the BSA 440 victor and eventually a lightweight Kawasaki KT250. 

British Sidecar Trials Champions, Adrian Clarke & Mike Bailey on their Honda/BKS outfit. BKS stood for Barry Kefford Sidecars – Photo copyright: Mike Rapley

Barry Kefford was also a brilliant engineer who built scale model traction engines and a scale steam lorry and later went into building steam trains. 

BKS chair in action with the Clarke/Bailey pairing using a 349 Montesa

Barry Kefford’s funeral will be at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium Wednesday, 15th March 2023 at 3.15pm. 

Ian D.B. Millar 1947-2023

It is with sadness that we inform you of the death of Edinburgh born trials rider, Ian Douglas Buckley Millar on 21st February 2023 at Periana, Andalusia, Spain, where he had emigrated to with his wife Marjory some years ago.

I.D.B. Millar (centre) with his father (left) and Grandfather (right) in 1950

Ian Millar began his trials riding career at 16 years of age in 1963 on a 250cc Greeves, a member of the Edinburgh St. George MC, following in his father’s footsteps as a trials competitor. His father was William John ‘Ian’ Millar and was a well known master slater, having been a member of the family business of William Millar and Sons Ltd, based in Scotland’s capital. Ian’s first machine was a Francis Barnett.

Ian Millar aboard his 250cc Greeves at the end of the 1965 SSDT in Edinburgh.

Ian Millar went on to compete in the Scottish Six Days Trials on several occassions from 1965 and also took part in the 1969 International Six Days Trial as part of the Great Britain/SACU Vase B team on a 125cc Dalesman Puch, and then again in 1974 at Camerino, Italy.

1974 Scottish ISDT squad for Camerino, Italy, Left to Right: George Baird (Team Manager), Allan Forbes; Jimmy Ballantyne; Jackie Williamson; Ian Millar; Stan Young and fitness coach, George Bryce.
Ian Millar with his new 244cc Bultaco Sherpa in 1967

Photos courtesy of Mr. Graeme Millar, Edinburgh.

Ian Millar receives a trophy from Mrs. Betty More at an Edinburgh St. George awards dinner in the 1960s.

Trials Guru extends sincere condolences to the Millar family at this time, particularly Ian’s widow, Marjory and their son Darren and Ian’s younger brother Graeme.

Colin Dommett 1940-2023

Totally committed to motorcycle sport for six decades! – By David Cole

Main photograph: Mike Rapley

Commentating at a  North Devon Atlantic Classic Scramble Club meeting at Combe Martin a couple of weeks ago, for the last time, was Colin Dommett, one of the country’s best known, well respected and most knowledgeable men in off-road motorcycling.

Can we really believe he’s retiring? That’s not meant in any unkind or rude way, it’s just that Colin has been there, keeping us entertained and updated, on matters concerning our sport, both nationally and in particular the South Western and Cornwall Centres, for over 60 years – no doubt longer than many of us can remember.

Colin was born in Devon in 1940; he spent his early years near Broadhempston, between Newton Abbot and Totnes, on the land farmed by his father.

The first trial he witnessed was when he was six years old, a section of the annual West of England National Trial, “The Open” as it was known in those days, which was very near to the family home (I assume that this would have been 1946, the first running of this event after the war, Jim Alves of Street in Somerset won the trial on a ‘works’ 348cc Triumph). This event must have had a lasting effect on Colin, although he was upset by the noise of the bikes at the time.

At the age of eight Colin moved, with his parents to Cornwall and during the six weeks summer holiday from school he regularly stayed with an uncle on his farm near Axminster in East Devon. Whilst enjoying these holidays his cousin’s, who both owned motorbikes, took Colin to Exeter Speedway, local Scrambles and Road Race meetings at Blandford Camp and Castle Coombe, these he really enjoyed and made him decide that when he was old enough he would have a bike.

The bug had by now well and truly bitten and as Colin grew he attended as many Cornish trials and scrambles as he could get to. Too young to drive, of course, he either cycled or scrounged lifts to events from his local competitors, Ally Clift being one of the regulars.

When he was about fourteen years of age Motor Cycle News was formed (many years before Trials & MX News appeared) and Colin managed to persuade the Editor to give him the position of “Sports Reporter” for Cornwall. Colin was so keen he was a natural and continued to report for MCN until 1964.

When Colin left school he went to work for W.H.Collins motorcycle shop in Truro, riding his first trial at Colwith Farm, Par, in 1957 riding a Triumph Tiger Cub. It was a week later that Colin won his first award, the event was a ‘Time Trial’ (marked on time and observation) and he picked up a first-class award for his efforts which immediately upgraded his status to ‘Expert’.

The Cub, like all Cub’s of that era, proved pretty unreliable and it wasn’t long before he changed to a 197cc A.C.S. (Ally Clift Special), a Villiers powered bike which proved very reliable and took Colin to his first Open-to-Centre win in the East Cornwall Club’s ‘Kings of Oxford Trophy’ Trial plus many other awards, as well as representing the Centre in Inter-Centre Team Trial in Wales.

It was around this time that Colin took up scrambling, again he proved to be a natural, riding a 250 Sundry (Sun/Villiers with a Vale Onslow conversion) as well as a few outings on Ally Clift’s (Collins sponsored) BSA Gold Star. Now competing in both trials and scrambles his successes continued.

In 1960 Colin bought a new Cotton trials bike and rode it from the factory in Gloucestershire, where it was built, back to his home in Truro. He immediately won five out of his first six trials on this new bike and it was not long before he was offered a ‘Works Team’ contract with the Cotton concern.

Due to a back injury whilst racing in 1963 which, more or less coincided with marriage, Colin decided to call it a day as far as scrambling was concerned and concentrate on trials.

For Pat Onions and the Cotton concern Colin rode all the important National Trials and British Championship Rounds. Covering these events meant an awful lot of travelling from deepest Cornwall so in 1964 Colin secured a job with Westbury Motorcycles in Bristol positioning him a little more centrally and thereby easing the travelling.

Colin Dommett on his BSA samples some Sedbergh sections in the Northwest Westmorland MCC – Nostalgia Trial

After only a couple of weeks with Westbury, during a trip to collect spares form the Cotton factory, Colin was offered a job there, how could he possibly turn it down, they were already supplying him with a bike and spares, geographically he would be perfectly placed and he had two of the best riders of that era, Malcolm and Tony Davis as travelling companions at weekends.

Colin spent the next two and a half years working for Cotton before deciding to move back to Cornwall. Factory wages were low but it was an invaluable and thoroughly enjoyable experience for Colin, he even got involved in things like testing the ‘works’ road race machines with people like Derek Minter.

Back in Cornwall and back to his old job Colin rode W.H. Collins sponsored Spanish bikes until 1970 when he acquired a 175cc Greeves Pathfinder.

He was then offered a 250cc Bultaco and sponsorship from David Paul. Dommett and the Bultaco saw a great many wins during the following season.

In 1968 Colin was selected to ride for the British Vase Squad in the International Six Days Trial (The Olympics of Motorcycling), for the event in Italy he rode a Husqvarna,

in 1969 as a British Trophy Team member in Germany he competed on a 504cc Triumph and again in 1970 at El Escorial near Madrid, Spain on a 504cc Cheney Triumph, all three events ended in misery, with mechanical failures for Colin, and the dream of a Gold Medal gone.

Colin aboard the ill-fated 504 Cheney Triumph in 1970 – Photo: Brian Catt

At the ISDT in 1970, his front fork sliders parted company from the forks, minutes before Colin had been reaching speeds of close to 100 mph, a lucky escape!

Colin Dommett on the 504 Cheney Triumph at the 1970 ISDT held at El Escorial, Madrid. Photo: Brian Catt

1971 saw Colin miss the ISDT selection tests due to a shoulder injury. The determination to succeed remained and the name C.F.Dommett appeared in the programme as a private entry, the Trial that year was held on the Isle of Man where Colin, riding a Bultaco, finally achieved his ambition by winning a coveted and well deserved gold medal.

Solo trials continued for Colin as did the successes, Colin has won the Cornwall Centre (Solo) Trials Championship, ten times.

In 1975, looking for a new challenge Colin teamed up with Eric Chamberlain for a crack at side-car trials. Their first outing on their home-built RL250 Suzuki was in mid May in the Pendennis ‘Open-to-Centre’ side-car trial; they did not figure in the results but felt they had a pretty good ride.

At the end of May the pair decided to play with the “big boys” and entered the Lyn National Trial. Despite competing against a good many of the country’s best side-car crews Colin and Eric finished in the top half of the results. The Lyn Club had also organised a ‘Closed-to-Club’ event the following day for which many of the previous day’s competitors stopped over to partake. This event saw the first of many victories for the Dommett / Chamberlain pairing.

Sharp-eyed Alec Wright had spotted the couple’s progress and offered them a new Kawasaki KT250 outfit, after a test ride the couple agreed without hesitation, which set them up ready to start the season in the winter of 1975.

Within the next six months Colin and Eric had accrued a multitude of wins including the British Experts, the Southern Experts and the Cornish Centre side-car championship.

Colin Dommett and Eric Chamberlain (Suzuki) – Photo: Mike Rapley

The 1976 season saw the Cornish Champions start the season on the Kawasaki before changing to a Mick Whitlock framed, Suzuki RL powered Whitehawk outfit, a very smart bike and a machine that they skilfully piloted to win the British Championship in 1976, ’77 & ‘78 plus, to top it all, “the holy grail” was reached, Colin and Eric were crowned European Side-car Trials Champions in 1977.

Eric decided to call it a day at the end of ’78 which meant that Colin started the 1979 season on a new bike, a Comerfords Bultaco, with full factory backing, and a new passenger, Rob Clift.

British Sidecar Trials Champions, Colin Dommett & Eric Chamberlain on their Beamish Suzuki outfit – Photo copyright: Mike Rapley

Their season went well finishing the British Championship in fourth place. For the 1980 season Eric made a comeback for the important events which saw the pairing once again win the British Championship title that year.

Colin now decided to call it a day as far as Side-car Trials Championships were concerned, although he did continue to ride solo trials and had the odd outing within the Cornish Centre, with an outfit and with Rob Clift in the chair.

1990 saw Colin’s return to scrambling, choosing to ride Pre’65 events on a Triumph engined Metisse on which he had many successful outings, proving he’d lost none of his old magic.

In the year 2000 at the age of 60, Colin decided to once again, retire from scrambling and concentrate on his solo trials career.

Colin lives in the Tiverton area of Devon these days and the last fifteen years have seen him continuing to ride to a very high standard, taking many trials honours whilst campaigning a 250cc Cotton, a 270cc BSA C15 plus more recently, turning to a 185cc BSA Bantam – a lovely machine which is very much in demand in trials circles these days.

Colin’s current riding career is centred mainly around the West Country, although he still makes the odd trip to compete in events like the Isle of Man Two Day Trial.

At the time of writing, (August 2015), Colin sits comfortably in second position in the South Western Centre Pre 65 Trials Championship, trailing the current leader, Neil Hammersley, by just one point.

Two years ago Colin rode the last of his Scottish Pre 65 events, a trial he has always loved and performed well in, this being the most famous and prestigious Pre 65 Trial in the world, an event that Colin is proud to say that has previously been won by his son Scott.

Always an active member of his clubs, repaying a sport that he has for so long enjoyed, mucking in with all that it takes to organise and laying on motorcycle sporting events,

Colin has been made an Honorary Member of the Cornwall Centre, is the Chairman of the South Western Centre, Chairman of the South West Classic Trials Association, a committee member of the Tiverton Motor Club and is in much demand wherever a motorcycle sporting function is held.

Colin’s knowledge of the sport, its history and its participants is second to none; in most cases “he’s been there, done that and got the ‘T’ shirt”.

For their immense help, friendship and enthusiasm Colin and wife Greta were thanked during a presentation made by Chris Dawson, on behalf of the Club, which took place during a break in the second day’s racing. We feel sure that we speak for all when we wish Colin many more years of success and enjoyment within the sport, and, along with his wonderful and ever supportive wife, Greta, good luck and a peaceful life in their new home. – David Cole

Colin Dommett and Eric Chamberlain during their Suzuki days and of course British Sidecar Trials Champions – Photo copyright: Mike Rapley

Trials Guru on Colin Dommett:

I first came across Colin Dommett when I was spectating at the Scottish in 1975 on Ben Nevis sections. My late father and I were standing watching the action when Colin lost control of his 250 Ossa (234CFD) when he lost his footing on a rock. Colin and the Ossa hit the deck, my quick acting father then proceeded to pick the machine up, only problem was – he was at the front of the bike and of course unwittingly opened the throttle – fully when he thought he was shutting it closed! The Ossa simply took off like a rocket and promptly wound my father round the nearest tree!

Colin scrambled to his feet to attempt a rescue of his wayward machine. The look on Colin’s face said it all – he was not impressed in the slightest!

When Colin had composed himself and rode off, my father turned round, looked me straight in the eye and said… “Never pick a bike up facing it” Those within earshot burst out laughing.

Colin and I jointly ‘fronted’ the Pre’65 Scottish awards presentation at Kinlochleven for many years and we had great fun doing our double-act at the highland classic event.

Colin F. Dommett was a dyed in the wool motorcyclist, a champion, a true enthusiast and I am proud to have been his friend. – John Moffat

Sadly, Colin passed away at Manchester Royal Infirmary on Thursday, 9th February 2023.

Colin Dommett’s funeral service will take place at 11:30am on Tuesday 14th March 2023 at Taunton Crematorium.

© – Article: Colin Dommett – Text copyright: David Cole – 2015

© – Images: Brian Catt, Edgware; Mike Rapley & Colin Dommett Family Collection

© – Layout and Publishing: Trials Guru/Moffat Racing/John Moffat 2023

Ralph Venables MBE – Remembered 1914-2003

This article by John Moffat, first appeared in Issue 32, the Spring 2020 edition of Classic Trial Magazine by CJ Publishing Ltd. Due to copyright restrictions the images used may differ between the two published articles.

Image copyright: Classic Trial Magazine

‘Remembering Ralph’

Trials Guru writer, John Moffat looks back at the life and times of the doyen of motorcycle sport journalism, Ralph G. Venables MBE.

The title is a play on words, deliberately so, as Trials & Motocross News under the editorship of Bill Lawless ran a weekly column written by Ralph Venables which was entitled ‘Ralph Remembers’.

Ralph, pronounced ‘Rafe’ and he didn’t let anyone forget it, lived for much of his life in the small village and civil parish of Swallowcliffe, Salisbury in Wiltshire and was often referred to in articles as the ‘Squire of Swallowcliffe’ and the ‘doyen’ of trials journalist and writers.

Ralph was very much of the old school of journalism, he took up the task after he realised that he would never be a top-flight trials rider, even although he was brought up in the company of the famous Heath brothers, Len and Joe, who were re-known trials and scrambles competitors immediately post war.

Born in the year that the First World War broke out, 1914 in Oxford, it was recorded that his first motorcycling event was not until 1920, in company with his elder brother to spectate at the Southern Scott Scramble near Camberley, Surrey.

His parents moved to Farnham in Surrey where he met the brothers Heath and that became a life-long friendship and Len Heath featured many times when Ralph recounted his life in the sport, so significant was his influence.

It was further recorded that Ralph suffered injuries in a road traffic accident whilst competing in a Schoolboy Trial near Croydon, Surrey. Schoolboy trials are not a new phenomenon, some private schools promoted them early last century. The accident was sufficiently serious that Venables spent some time in hospital and resulted in compensation being paid to him for his injuries, so it is assumed the car driver wasn’t devoid of fault.

Other interesting facts about Ralph include being an official of the Sunbeam M.C.C. which is of course the club that presents the annual Pinhard Prize through the ACU to recognise meritorious performance or efforts by a competitor or club member under the age of twenty-one years of age.

In 1957, the year of the writer’s birth, Ralph reduced his motorcycle club activities and branched out into article writing for the then Motor Cycle when it was owned by the Illife family and of course now the title is owned by Mortons Media, Hornchurch.

Venables had a remarkable memory for people, places and events which was second to none. He may not have been a successful competitor in his own right, but he got to know all the top flight trials and scrambles riders of various eras and could spout forth many facts and figures, which earned him the moniker of being a walking, talking encyclopaedia.

I got to know Ralph many years ago, around 1988. Ralph had conversed with my late father on quite a few occasions and that was my effective ‘calling card’ to be able to speak with him.

It has to be said though that many Scottish competitors referred to Ralph as the ‘Poison Pen’ as he could be quite unkind with his description of some of our countryfolk in his columns and this did not endear him to competitors north of Hadrian’s Wall.

I wonder who recalls Ralph’s attempts to persuade the ACU to reduce the dimensions of the standard trials tyre reduced from four inch to three- and half-inch section back in the mid-1970s? Gordon Farley did a back to back test using his factory Montesa Cota using both sizes with the former British Champion failed to get grip on a variety of sections using the smaller section tyre.

I was fortunate, by the time I got to know him, Ralph had mellowed slightly, but he could still pack a punch. I had it on good authority that when I started writing some articles on Scottish competitors, Ralph had been heard to say: “I do hope that you are in no way paying John Moffat for his articles by the word, otherwise you will be severely out of pocket”. Ralph had made the incorrect assumption that I was writing for money. Being paid for journalism is one thing, I was only doing it for enjoyment and recording sporting matters for posterity. Ralph it is safe to say, wrote for money and I certainly never had a problem with that.

I did challenge Ralph on the point and he admitted freely that is what he had said, but gave me some advice at the same time. He told me:” Please be economical with words John, why write five when one will do?”. I took his advice on board and discovered that sometimes, less is indeed more!

Venables or ‘RGV’ as he was sometimes known in the motorcycle sporting circles was a trusted, unpaid scout for the British motorcycle factories, especially keeping company with their Competitions managers of the magnitude of Brian Martin (BSA); Hugh Viney and latterly Bob Manns of AMC, Jack Stalker of Royal Enfield and many more.

It was Ralph that effectively ‘discovered’ a sixteen year old from Derbyshire called Michael J. Andrews. Venables would have a quiet word in the ever listening ear of Hugh Viney and a factory AJS 16C was soon trundling its way to Matlock strapped to the inside wall of the guard’s van by railway from Plumstead in East London. Andrews would soon make his name on the factory machine, going on to ride for Rickmans, then Ossa and of course Yamaha. Mick only had a short and abruptly short apprenticeship with the Kenning Motor Group, but, made a living out of riding trials machines, a facet that was in its’ infancy in 1963.

Andrews was not alone in this special attention from Venables, many were tipped by him to these industry insiders and factory mounts were dispatched for these young men to try out the machine and eventually sign ‘works’ contracts.

Venables was the ‘eyes and ears’ of motorcycle trials and indeed scrambles in the 1950s and 1960s. He reported for the Motor Cycle and latterly Motor Cycle News when owned by EMAP (East Midland Allied Press) which had kicked off production the same year as Venables commencing writing for the rival paper Motor Cycle.

Ralph was a master wordsmith; few could beat or even equal him. He had a command of the English language and he used it sparingly but very effectively. It was indeed a matter of the pen is mightier than the sword when it came to his weekly columns.

Was he controversial? Of course he was, all good journalists can stir things up and get people thinking, it is part of their job, it sells papers, it gets people talking and R.G. Venables was in the master class at it.

Venables of course had great respect for Sammy Miller, eleven times British Champion and the most famous of all trials riders. However Ralph was not a fan of Sammy’s riding style. Ralph was quoted as saying that Sam was “far too crouched over the front of his machine for my liking”. Ralph wasn’t afraid to say what he thought or comment on what he liked or disliked. With Venables you either took it or left it, that was his terms.

When I got to know Ralph a little I told him that if I was being totally honest, the first page I used to turn to in Trials & Motocross News was the one in which his column appeared. Some months later Ralph actually commented how pleased he was when people told him that very fact.

In early 1994 I asked Ralph a few times if he could perhaps feature a few Scottish competitors in his column, to me that may make up for all the negative things he had written perhaps thirty years previously about my fellow countrymen. To my astonishment and delight in the April 29th edition of the paper he did indeed feature “Highland heroes on home ground” as his full-page column, ‘Ralph Remembers’. In fact, his opening short paragraph read “…John Moffat has been nagging me mercilessly in connection with my column. He wants me to devote a whole page to Scots pictured competing in the Scottish Six Days Trial”. Not only did he feature them once he did it a second time when suitable photographs landed on his desk at Swallowcliffe. Ralph first spectated at the SSDT in 1937 an event he attended as spectator, reporter and an official observer. He particularly enjoyed staying at Gordon Blakeways’ hotel at Strontian, Kilcamb Lodge, which he described as the ‘friendliest hotel in the Highlands’ on more than one occasion.

Sadly, Ralph passed away in February 2003, having suffered from Motor-Neuron disease, but my connection with him became very memorable indeed, as he died on exactly the same day as my late Mother, Betty Moffat.

Obviously I had my hands full in early February that year, so much so that it was only a fortnight later when I was able to catch up on affairs that I notice when Ralph has passed away and of course to my surprise that it was on the exact same day as my Mother. I wrote to Pam, his widow expressing my sincere condolences to her and mentioned that fact. Pam sent me a very nice letter, by return, thanking me and also offering her condolences to me on the loss of my maternal parent.

Sammy Miller once told me: “John, don’t tell me stories, bring me facts, I like facts”. Venables was similar and here is a fact, not a story.

I spoke to Ralph at an early Pre’65 Scottish, it was before I took up riding that event twenty-three times. He was up the ‘Loch Eild Path’, watching the trial as he had done for some years, it was a hot day and he had stripped off his shirt and was bare chested. I thought he looked very fit for an octogenarian. Later the same day I spotted him, still bare chested coming down at a fair old pace from the Pipeline back into the village of Kinlochleven. I shouted: “Hey Rafe, you must be fit, I saw you up Loch Eild Path not that long ago”. He replied: “Yes John, you certainly did and it’s not just a case of one being physically fit, but also knowing where all the short-cuts are, good day to you”.

As well as loving motorcycle sport in the form of trials and scrambles, that is of course scrambles and not motocross, Ralph had a love of fast, sports cars and he owned an Allard, MG, Aston Martin and Daimler before ending up with a Reliant Scimitar before dropping down to a more modest Ford Fiesta in later life.

A press cutting photograph of Ralph Venables astride his beloved 1964 AJS 16C – registered BFN10B, it was originally owned by Mick Waller. (Photo Credit: Unknown)

He also liked the short-stroke 350 AJS, and he owned BFN10B, an ex-Mick Waller machine which he offered to me for around £3,500 in the mid-1990s, a motorcycle I regret not buying when I had the chance, I should have bought that one. Venables also obtained a rare Honda TL250 via Dixon Racing, a model that wasn’t officially imported into the UK by Honda as it was destined for the USA market primarily.

After writing three hundred columns of his ‘Competition Commentary’ for Motor Cycle News, nine-hundred and fifty-three columns entitled ‘Sporting Scene’ for MCN and a further five hundred ‘Ralph Remembers’ for Trials & Motocross News, Ralph finally retired at the age of eighty years of age. I think that must be some kind of record that will be hard to break, don’t you?

Copyright: This article first appeared in Classic Trial Magazine, Issue 32. Back copies may be purchased from their website:


Gearhead Alert 015

Jon Stoodley of JSE Trials, Muskogee, Oklahoma talks us through….


Let’s talk about Carburetors. They can be fairly simple, like the pictured flat slide Keihin PWK or the Dellorto PHBL, both common on Trials bikes today. Or, they can be fairly complicated, Like the electronically controlled Mikuni on a YZ250 I modified. For this post, I’ll try to keep it simple and helpful for new riders.

Here’s one of my old articles about basic carburetors and jetting that might be helpful to newer riders. Trials engines are probably a little more difficult to properly jet and adjust because they must perform over a wider range of throttle settings, engine loads and ambient conditions than just about other form of motorcycle competition in my experience.

Here’s a couple of tips to get started. There seems to be some controversy surrounding adjusting the air/fuel screw for some reason. I’ve had riders argue with me that the factory setting (number of turns out) is what it should be set at, period. Other riders tell me that they read on the Internet that so many turns out is recommended by an “Expert” and that’s what it is supposed to be.

Here’s how I do it before each ride. The air/fuel screw “fine tunes” the low rpm circuits to handle the low-speed throttle response by compensating for changing ambient weather conditions (temperature, barometric pressure, humidity etc.). I warm up the engine to operating temperature, place it in Neutral and quickly “blip” the throttle (quickly open the throttle and let go of the grip) and adjust the air/fuel screw in or out to get the best engine response. For ever how many turns out I end up with (no matter how many turns out), that is the best setting, for this specific day, and under these specific weather conditions. This is why the screw is adjustable. I add knurled knobs to the air/fuel and idle screws so I can adjust them easily with gloved hands. When you bottom out an air/fuel screw, do it very lightly as they, like suspension adjusters, can be delicate and easily damaged.

Engine idle speed is generally a matter of personal preference, but I would suggest that you set it this way. Put the warmed up engine in gear, with the clutch lever pulled in normally the way you would ride which is usually back to a knuckle and not fully back to the grip. Then adjust the idle speed and in this way, you compensate for any “clutch drag” (GasGas riders take particular note). If you set the idle speed in Neutral, and you have too much clutch drag, when you are in a section stopped, or close to stopping, clutch drag will pull down the rpm below where you set it and you will have a much greater chance of stalling the engine.

A slight amount of clutch drag can be a positive thing as it keeps the engine’s drivetrain “loaded” (mechanical slack taken up) so that clutch modulation is much smoother than if the clutch released totally. This is particularly important under less-than-ideal traction conditions and slow going. Say you were in a tough section almost completely stopped, full-lock turn, off camber, muddy with roots, the clutch modulation (if it totally released) would result in a “jerky” take-up (and loss of traction) as the drivetrain loaded and unloaded.

One of the most frequent questions that riders ask me about is how they can properly set up their jetting. It seems like a lot of riders put up with poor performance from their bikes without realizing that, with a little time, effort and most important, a basic understanding of how that nasty little piece of aluminum and brass that some engineer stuck on their engine works, things could be a lot better. I’ll try to give a crash course (excuse the term) on what the carburetor is required to do and how you can help it do its job better.

Why would we need to change jetting anyway? Jetting doesn’t change by itself unless there is a mechanical problem in the carburetor. Conditions outside of the carburetor change and they have an effect on the engine’s air/fuel requirements.

For example, most bikes are jetted rich from the factory when they are assembled because they are shipped to various countries with a wide variety of conditions and fuel. The engineers can’t possibly anticipate and jet for all the conditions and areas they ship to, so they put in “safe” (ie rich) jetting with the idea that the individual rider or dealer will make the final adjustment to the engine requirements.

Riders who travel to different Trials find that their engines don’t operate as efficiently as they desire unless they adjust the jetting to suit the area. You may have bought a used bike that is jetted incorrectly (jetted for high altitude and brought down to sea level) and want to set it up for the area where you ride. Temperature, humidity and altitude have a direct effect on the amount of oxygen available to the engine. Ask any Ute Cup rider how much of an effect altitude has on engine performance. Fine tuning an engine to maximize performance is so important in racing that years ago when I was campaigning fuel dragsters, we would build special engines just for high altitude competition and we would refer to them as our “Denver motors”.

What is a carburetor and what does it really do? A carburetor is a device that atomizes fuel with air and meters that mixture to the engine over a wide variety of throttle openings. The stoichiometric (or, chemically correct) ratio under perfect conditions of the air and fuel is 14.7 pounds of air to one pound of non-oxygenated gasoline, although AF (air/fuel) ratios in the range of 12/1 to 14/1 seem to produce the best power in motorcycle engines.

Trials engines seem to work better on the lean end of the A/F ratios due to the conditions that they operate under. You can see that if your carb had only one metering orifice (jet) it wouldn’t be able to maintain that ratio from closed to full throttle opening. That’s why they have all those other fuel and air metering gizmos, in order to adjust the amount of fuel to the amount of air allowed into the engine by the slide opening from almost shut, to wide open.

Most modern carbs have six (and sometimes seven, a “power jet”) different air and fuel metering jets that affect the fuel mixture over the range of throttle openings. Those are the air screw (sometimes this a fuel metering needle), throttle slide, air jet, pilot jet, needle jet and main jet. Most riders can just replace the pilot and/or main jet to get the desired performance and fine-tune the engine with the air/fuel screw and needle clip adjustments.

Let’s look at where those little thingies do most of their work. The throttle settings and the air/fuel jets that affect the air/fuel ratio at those openings are:

-Closed to 1/8 throttle opening – air (or fuel) screw, pilot jet

-1/4 to ½ to full throttle opening – throttle slide, jet needle

-1/2 to full throttle – jet needle, needle jet, main jet, air jet

As you can see, most of the air/fuel circuits overlap in their functions so it’s not a black/white decision as to what to change and how far to go rich or lean. A savvy tuner spends a lot of time looking for the signs that the engine exhibits in order to make a well-educated guess, and its not unusual to see such tools as exhaust gas analyzers, air/fuel electronic sensors and relative air density meters used at the professional level of racing.

What do all those numbers and letters stamped on the parts mean? In the pilot and main jets the larger the number, the richer the jet. On the slide, the larger the number, the leaner it is. Needles have various codes, but as a general rule the smaller the number (if it doesn’t have letters), the richer the needle. To richen the needle setting when it is installed in the carburetor, lower the circlip one groove at a time. And to lean the needle, raise the circlip in the grooves (lower clip = raise the needle and vice versa).

Air/fuel screws are a little trickier. Although they may look the same, an air screw is turned clockwise to richen the mixture but a fuel screw is turned counter-clockwise to richen the mixture. To tell if its an air or fuel screw, look at the carb from the side. If the screw is located on the carburetor towards the front of the slide (manifold/reedcage area), it’s probably a fuel screw. If it’s located towards the back on the carburetor (air box side), it’s probably an air screw adjuster. Air screws usually have a blunt end and fuel screws have a sharp needle-shaped end.

The air jet, and sometimes the needle jet, are usually not replaceable on some carbs. For example, the needle jet is replaceable on most Keihin carbs and on most Mikuni carbs.

The numbers on jets, throttle slides and needles will allow you to tell how rich or lean they are from stock settings. The jets are stamped with their numbers but don’t be confused by the radical difference in the numbers between models of carbs as some jets are rated according to flow rate and some are rated according to the metric size of the orifice. For example, a 172 Keihin jet is roughly equivalent to a 350 Mikuni jet in Motocross bikes.

Needles have the number or letters stamped at the top by the clip slots. Those numbers or letters relate to the thickness and taper of the needle which will dictate how much fuel it will allow to flow around it as it is retracted out of the needle jet by the slide as the throttle is opened.

As the needle is tapered, the more it is pulled out of the needle jet by the slide, the more fuel it will allow to pass into the throat of the carb, relatively speaking. A thinner needle will pass more fuel around it than a thicker one, and it therefore a “richer” needle. Some needles have compound degrees of taper that allow individual adjustments to various throttle settings. Slides are usually stamped on the bottom front of the slide. That beveled cut on the front of the slide, near where the needle comes out (called the cutaway), has numbers that usually relate to the height of that bevel from the bottom of the slide. A #4 slide will have the top of that bevel 4mm from the bottom of the slide, a #5 slide will have a bevel 5mm high, etc. The higher the number, the leaner the slide as higher bevels allow more air to be funneled over the needle jet tower (that little protrusion that the needle retracts from in the center-lower part of the carb throat).

Before we set out jetting, we must eliminate the possibility that other problems exist that could have an effect on the jetting requirements of our engine. The engine must be in good shape with no leaking crank seals, broken reeds, air leaks in the intake system or crankcase, weak ignition system, cylinder head coolant leaks or blown-out packing in the muffler. The carburetor float level must be a factory specification, the fuel inlet float level needle must not lead and the vent hoses should be replaced if there is any possibility of clogging. Also, check to make sure that the air cleaner is clean and the engine has fresh pre-mix.

As far as special tools are concerned, you should have a good metric scale short ruler (for float level), a small magnifying glass to read jet/needle stampings accurately (Mikuni jets are notorious for being hard to read because of shallow stampings), a long, narrow screwdriver for pilot jets, a long 6mm socket for hex jets and good sharp screwdrivers, as the screws and brass jets are soft and you’ll have a hard time extracting them after you’ve rounded them off with poor tools.

As far as jets are concerned, I usually buy one size larger and three sizes smaller than stock on the main jet, and one size larger and two sizes smaller than stock on the pilot jet. I’ve usually never needed to go out of this range when jetting bikes from below sea level to about 8500 feet. A good way to store jets is in a film canister between layers of foam so they don’t rattle around.

Now for the actual jetting ritual. First, try to figure what throttle setting is not responding well by riding the bike in a practice section. Atmospheric changes have a dramatic effect on the amount of oxygen available to the engine, as mentioned before.

Higher temperature, altitude and humidity will sometimes require going leaner on the jetting. Lower temperature, altitude and humidity sometimes call for richer settings. Decide what jet to change according to what throttle setting needs adjustment. Only change one jet at a time. If jetting is a new experience for you, always start by going rich at first. This is safer than initially going too lean and it will give you a direct experience of how an engine acts when it’s running too rich.

Diagnosing jetting by listening to the exhaust note takes experience as even practiced ears can sometimes have a problem discerning the difference between a “surging” (lean) and a “bogging” (rich) sound coming from the exhaust pipe. If the engine runs worse with your change, then go two steps leaner, which will actually be one step leaner than where you started. The engine will tell you if you’re on the right track. Test the bike again to see if that solves the problem but keep an eye on spark color (it should resemble a milk chocolate color with most grades of gasoline) with any changes of the needle or main jet.

Let’s look at some common conditions and possible adjustments, starting with what to try first.

-ENGINE RUNS “FLAT” AT MID-THROTTLE – Adjust the needle, change main jet

-ENGINE STUMBLES WHEN THROTTLE IS OPENED FROM IDLE TO 1/8th – Adjust air/fuel screw, change pilot jet

-THROTTLE OPENED QUICK, ENGINE BOGS THEN CATCHES – Adjust air/fuel screw, change pilot jet, change needle clip position

-ON LONG UPHILL, POWER STARTS OUT OK, THEN FALLS OFF – Check for blocked vent tubes


Here are some hints and tips that might prove helpful:

-Gray, thick wall Tygon fuel line is the best I’ve found. Some small engine repair shops can get it for you. Be sure that it’s Tygon type, as that’s the tubing they make for use with fuel. The clear is not as good. For dusty, dry conditions, keep an extra, clean/oiled air cleaner in a sealed plastic bag to use in the Trial in case practice has gunked up the one on your bike. This will keep the engine from running rich. Run the vent lines of the carb relatively short (about 4-inches), as fuel can collect in longer lines and a hard hit, like splattering rock step, can cause the fuel globules to quickly drain out of the lines (creating a partial vacuum), and lower the float bowl pressure, making the engine bog. If you like long lines, run a “T” fitting at the vent hole and run the top line up under the fuel tank. This will allow the fuel to drain out without lowering the float bowl pressure.

-Check the spark plug color often to monitor mid and upper range jetting. Run a fuel filter. I like the small cone-shaped, sintered brass, clear ones. You’d be surprised how much gunk can collect in your fuel can and make its way into the fuel tank and then clog the float needle and possibly the jets. Don’t forget to clean the filter on the sides of the Dellorto carbs once in a while.

-Clean the throttle often and make sure there are no kinks. It’s a good idea to safety-wire the ends to the housings. Drain your floatbowl after wet weather Trials. Most standard bike service manuals have altitude/air temperature jetting correction charts with instructions for use. Ask a buddy who has one if you can copy it and keep it in your toolbox. They can come in handy. Keep a notebook in your toolbox of any jetting changes (along with ambient weather conditions) when you travel to a different Trials area so when you return, you have a good place to start when setting up the bike again. This goes for any other changes like tire pressure and suspension settings, too.

This should give you a good place to start. Take your time. Properly jetting an engine isn’t as esoteric as a lot of riders seem to believe it is.

That’s it for now… or have a look at my other Gearhead Alerts

Jon Stoodley, Muskogee, Oklahoma

Eric Kitchen at 90

The doyen of motorcycle trials sport photography, Eric Kitchen from Cumbria, North West England has reached 90 years of age, today 6th January 2023.

Trials Guru website salutes Eric who has over the years brought images to many people of both International and domestic trials events over a 60 year period. He came to the forefront of trials images when Trials & Motocross News appeared in late May 1977 and has been exciting us ever since with his sharp, focussed and innovative photography.

Eric Kitchen at work during a Pre65 Scottish Trial at Mamore – Photo: Jean Caillou

Not a professional photographer, Eric was for many years in the motor trade with Eric Kitchen Motors and latterly EK Brakes and EK Motor Factors Ltd. His son Anthony runs the family business nowadays, himself a former trials rider.

Trials Guru ran a bespoke article on Eric some years ago, here it is: