The world had been gripped by a pandemic, and day-to-day life was if anything, rather confusing. Lockdowns we're tough, if not somewhat atoned by the good weather as spring transitioned into summer.
For the trials world, like all other sports, it put a halt on every club and rider's plans. From a personal point of view, our Daughter Kayleigh couldn't continue to ride in the girl's British championship, after a promising start with a win at round 1. Equally as disappointing was the postponement and eventual cancellation of our 'West Midlands OSET Cup championship. We all sat tight, hoping for more reasons than one that things would ease.
Slowly, sports got back up and running. Motocross was understandably justified as exercise and recommenced. As did enduro, track days, and so on.
I think one particular newsletter from the ACU summed up things for me quite well. Although the dates escape me. It read along the lines of "motorcycle sports could continue for over 16's only". Youths it seemed we're going to have to wait a couple of months longer. Thankfully, the ACU did backtrack. Another newsletter followed a week or so later. It explained how important it was for those under 16's to get exercise and fresh air, and so they could also start back up riding when over 16's did. I never could work out quite what they we're thinking when they made that announcement, and I'm only glad they saw sense in reversing it.
Last year for us was a bit of a blur in the end. As soon as we could, we traveled the length of England and into Wales riding as many trials competitions as possible. Kayleigh had transitioned onto a Beta 80 big wheel, such is the speed she is growing, and we we're eagerly awaiting the resumption of the British girl’s championships which in the end, never did resume. It was interesting to see the different attitudes each club had taken in terms of 'covid precautions'. Under the watchful and somewhat dominating eyes of the ACU. Parking slightly further apart was one consistent rule. I quite liked this! Not for covid related reasons, but we have all been at an event when someone squeezes in a gap you didn't know was there! The other rule that was consistent across the board was the '2 meter rule'. I think people tend to keep a certain gap from one another by nature, so this really wasn't much of a problem. We attended so many trials from so many different clubs, and all ran so smoothly.
One event in Devon had 75 riders with 12 sections &12 observers, spread over a huge area of land. Other events, such as one we entered near Huddersfield, were set in two separate woodlands, with 6 sections in each. Both groups of riders had to do the 6, change woods, and do the remaining 6! Others we're self-marking, so as to not use observers at all.
A standout trial for me was set in Navenby, Lincs, on the 5th of September. The fabulous and always supportive Scott Witting had put on a youth trial. There were sections to suit every level, the atmosphere was friendly and supportive, and there we're happy kids everywhere. Perfect! Kayleigh & Jack had a poor showing, getting lost 3 & 5 times respectively, thus surmounting a large collection of points! Maybe this didn't reflect their performance that day, but we had two happy, if not slightly exhausted children at the end, what more can you ask for?
The year seemed to breeze by at an alarming pace. Before we knew it, winter was upon us. It's worth mentioning the Midlands AMCA clubs, who managed to put on some very good, well-attended and friendly trials in the second half of 2020. In the West Midlands, it was actually all we had, other than the odd practice day. So it was certainly refreshing and most welcome to do some local competitive riding.
In terms of youth trials and the future. What is to come? I'm in quite a unique position here. I'd consider myself as 'a relative newcomer to the world of trials', in full respect of the guys and girls who have been around the sport for multiple decades. However, I've managed to obtain quite a broad view on youth trials, especially here in the West Midlands. I have customers and children in my shop. I see and meet youth riders locally and nationally. And we keep in touch with suppliers, friends, and customers all over the UK, too. Not to mention Facebook. For those who do not know, I own and run the OSET 'buy/sell/advice' page on there, with nearly 5000 members. Our own 'MK Off Road' page also has around 2500 members. So you can get a good all-round 'vibe' from the youth trials scene.
I think one of the big draws of club trials in the UK for a lot of adults is the laid-back nature of it. A lot of us have ridden motocross, enduro, rode on track, etc. It's expensive, intense, and dangerous at times. In trials, here is a sport where you can rock up with 5 liters of petrol, some soft boots, an open face helmet, and a pack of tabs to see you through the first couple of laps. As a fun, laid back, even challenging sport, it's fantastic. And very hard to beat.
For kids in the Midlands, we're a little behind here in some respects. For practice locations, from my location here as I sit at work we have Shatterford which is 15 miles away and about 40 minutes. We have Button Oak which is 19 miles and around the same travel time. After that, we have an annual membership area named Zona 1, a 70-mile round trip, and another at Earl Shilton which will set you back over 2 hours and 115 miles driving for your day out.
Local trials? Yes, there are some in the midlands. Pre covid, we have a good range of friendly local clubs that can accommodate children on their adult routes. However, it is often more a case of just that, 'accommodating' the kids and letting them ride on the easier adult routes. For Kayleigh and Jack, this is ok. They are good riders, certainly not 'the best' for their age but they have done so many adult trials now that the occasion and terrain aren't normally too much of a problem to cope with. But what about the kids just starting out? What about the 4-year-old, ready to compete on their OSET 12.5 having already ridden for 2 years. What about the 9-year-old who has just got his first bike for his birthday? I think, from chatting to various people within the world of trials, from organizers to parents, there's a part of trials here that might be getting overlooked.
To some of the guys in the world of trials, this is a sport of laidback Sunday afternoon jolly's around the woods. But to some kids? I think it's quite well known that some children love football, for example. I used to play football as a kid 3 or 4 times a day sometimes. It's pretty standard for a kid to have posters on his wall of his favorite players & team. But to other kids, the sport of trials means everything to them.
I can relate to this, too. As a 12-year-old, my Dad purchased a jet ski for recreational use. After letting me ride it and seeing how much faster than he I was (sorry Dad) I started racing in the British championships as soon as I could, at age 14. A month before my 16th birthday, I was a British champion. I can tell you, I spent every waking minute thinking about my racing. And every sleeping minute dreaming of it. My Dad used to film the racing on a camcorder and transferred them to VHS as a hobby (something I have taken on myself these days with the trials!) I used to sit back and watch them until the tape succumbed to the demands I was putting on them. We use to practice every weekend when we could, and the racing was once a month. I lived for that sport. I eventually won 6 British championships, with my racing career almost rudely interrupted by a 5-year stint in the Irish Guards. When I look back, there was even more to this sport than I ever knew possible at the time. Quite simply, it kept me out of trouble. I had a hobby, one I took very seriously and meant the world to me. I would run instead of walk, to get fit. I would use my pushbike instead of the bus. I would watch VHS tapes instead of TV. I wouldn't hang around the town center like some of my friends did at weekends, I was out practicing. I took some of that self-made discipline into my army career, and into future life altogether.
Some of the young boys and girls who ride trials now may be riding purely for a hobby. It might even be something Dad has talked them into. Maybe it's cross-training for motocross or enduro. But there are children out there with dreams and ambitions in this sport. They love it, sometimes a huge amount more than a lot of adults do. They watch youtube, rather than the VHS tapes I would watch, of Tony Bou, Dougie Lampkin, Emma Bristow, and for Kayleigh, Alicia Robinson. As adults, I think this needs to be supported as much as possible, especially in the Midlands. And these kids need suitable competitions they can ride in. It's not easy with two kids! Especially when I fancy a ride myself. Having one child makes you a father, having two makes you a referee!
You worry about where the ACU stand on youth trials. Last year, the boy's national championships were canceled and didn't run. The ladies and girls championship, which has a growing number of children compete in, also didn't run beyond round 1. But the men's championship did. Covid quite understandably put a halt to the beginning of these championships, but to continue with the men's and not the youth's is a tough one for kids and their families to take.
And for 2021, rather than makeup for it, the youth British trials championships have been given just 3 rounds, set over one weekend, and one other date.
Jack raced Motorcross for one winter, on an OSET MX-10. If you finished the meeting, you got a trophy. I'm sure the trophy costs we're factored into the £35 entry fee. And you could argue that giving each kid a trophy is spoiling them. But they were hard-earned. Racing & finished a Motorcross meeting isn't easy, especially in winter. It's daunting for the kids and it's hard work, too. To 99.9% of those kids, the trophy means the world to them. When was the last time you saw a child receive a reward, especially when it's an adult trial on an OSET bike? It's pretty much unheard of.
There's work to be done from all. In the meantime, we're very lucky to have such a wonderful sport the whole family can take part in. I do worry somewhat about the generation gap, and the future of certain clubs and committees. In the meantime, let's keep supporting the kids and in a few years, I'm sure we may even see the Midlands become an area well known for its exciting youth trials riders!