Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A day out at the Bemrose National Motorcycle Trial

There's a point in the motorcyclists year when optimism begins to filter into the thought processes. It's usually when the calendar clicks over from February into March, and the effect is an expectation that the temperature will climb inexorably towards double figures, and most days will be dry.

It's hard to escape this thinking, even when the meteorological records are set before us. I remember a couple of years back that the first rounds of the British Superbike series were cancelled because it snowed...at Brands Hatch...in April. But like all the devout, nothing will divert us from the path we have come to believe in and practice. And so it was that I found myself dragging a bike out of the garage on St Patrick's Day Sunday; intent on a ride into the Derbyshire Peak District to watch riders tackle sections at the Bemrose National Trial.

A Question of Balance

It was forecast to be dry and around eight degrees. I can cope with that, but this figure is quoted as the expected peak temperature, and it was a somewhat cooler as I topped up the tank around 9.30am. I'd chosen to ride my 'hack' MZ660 over my 'best' Moto Guzzi, as I knew I'd be navigating some very nadgery roads and tracks. The Guzzi did tempt me; sitting there clad in its heated grips, but I enjoy the MZ. The big single Yamaha XT engine that's fitted in this bike is such a strong motor and a delight when blatting around narrow hilly terrain, and if I was hanging around trials sections, I needed to look the part too.

A good dose of nerve

Trials riding is such a civilised branch of motorcycle sport. It combines all the skill elements of motorcycling, including a good dose of nerve. But doesn't require large injections of cash to get set up and continue participating.

For those who haven't watched a trials event. The idea is simple - traverse a laid out section of land with obstacles, without putting your feet down or stopping. At the end of a competitive event, the rider with least penalty marks wins. Sounds easy, except that, depending on the category of event, trials sections can range from a relatively easy hill with tree roots and logs to manoeuvre across, to a nigh on impossible vertical rock face that needs courage to even contemplate!

From difficult to impossible!


Last year I spectated at a round of the World Championship, held in a quarry near Penrith in Cumbria. Most of the sections ranged from difficult to impossible. Yet, like those huge daunting obstacles you can see at indoor arena trials events; the expert riders managed to 'clean' them – the term used to denote a completion of a section with no loss of points – and it was wet.

The Bemrose sections were scattered over an area of the Peaks south west of Buxton. It would take me around one and half hours to ride there, and after a few miles the finger tips began to lose warmth. But the rest of the body was cosy, so continuous hand exercises were able to keep enough warm blood reaching those extremities. 

Psychologically it didn't help that I knew a climb over the highest road in the Pennines, Holme Moss, was coming up. The temperature dropped a couple of degrees, and there's still a good smattering of snow up there, with deep drifts nestled into the folds and cracks of the hills. Bleak!

Despite the cold....

Not bleak enough though to discourage the half dozen cyclists on the hill. This is a popular torture for those who prefer pedal over engine power, and next July it will be thronged with thousands, lining the road to watch a stage of the Tour de France passing that way.

Despite the cold I was enjoying the ride on the big single. It's great riding country across the south Pennines into the Derbyshire Dales, with bends a plenty, dodgy road surfaces and the occasional strolling sheep to keep concentration alert. While gear shifting and braking helped keep frostbite at bay.

The list of competitors and the route the organisers published on line gave me an idea of where to head for to find the sections. At the junction where I had to turn into the narrow Dales roads that are essentially surfaced tracks serving farms and hamlets; there was a cafe and store. I stepped across the threshold into a small world of warmth, the source of which was a wood burning stove. My hands thawed and throbbed as a coffee and hot chocolate cake were set before me. It's these small moments of relatively simple pleasure that make personal motorcycle memories.

Nice bit of snow to ride over

The Bemrose Trial

The Bemrose Trial is now in its eighty-third year, and is run over a forty mile course with twelve groups of sections for the one hundred plus competitors: a seven hour time limit is allowed to complete the course. Interestingly, and another sign of ageing motorcycle times, the over forties category was the largest in the entry list. Though it has to be said this is an 'ideal' sport for older riders. Modern trials bikes are light, well balanced, low and easy to manage, that is lift to upright if you topple in a section.

There's also the practice (good for a breather), whereby riders stop at the beginning of a section. Inspect the obstacles and choose their line. Have a chat with the observer (marker), wait for their mates, and engage in a bit of banter. Like I said earlier, very civilised. Oh, I almost forgot. Most of the riders call out a thanks to the observer as they leave the section.

Hollinsclough section 


I found the section group I was looking for in the pretty hamlet of Hollinsclough. A steep, wet and rocky trail led to the section start where the observer and photographer from Trials magazine were waiting for the competitors to come through. 

Looks so peaceful!

The temperature had nudged up a few degrees for the ride home. My hands had more feeling and feeling more comfortable encouraged some spirited riding, with the reverberations from the big Yamaha/MZ silencer bouncing off the dry stone walls when the revs were pushed to the five thousand mark.

I stowed the muddy MZ, and gave the boots a preliminary brush. The forecasters tell of more cold, frost, fog and damp before any glimpse of the Rite of Spring, sun on our backs, rides to the coast, touring plans, race meetings, ferry bookings, and as I key these last few words...it's snowing.

John Newman

for Wemoto News

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