Si was up and away in his van at a breathtaking 5.30am. A whole hour later I eased my way out of the Bentman slumber-pit, sleepily donned the Akito Desert Evo suit, pushed the wee CRF250L out of the garage and at about ten-past-seven finally thumbed the starter and set off west (no van, no trailer here). Si was chasing the curser north-south on his sat nav (to the wrong destination) while I’d printed off a Google Maps version of a road book (written directions!) and taped this to the CRF’s ‘bar-pad with electrician’s tape. It set-out a decidedly direct path from Broadstairs heading westwards, using back roads rather than highways, and was extremely vague about the final destination, but I guessed if I wasn’t totally lost by then I’d probably pick up on the organisers’ arrows, or see other bikes, or – failing that – catch a tow off a few likely vans.
This was my first long distance trial (LDT). A friend of my dad’s – the brilliant but now sadly passed Dave Minskip – had (among many talents) been an LDT hotshot many years ago. I think he rode an XL250, but might have ridden an old Army-issue Bombardier two-stroke too. But mostly when I remember back, I recall how when the likes of MCN and TMX would faithfully print every event’s results Dave’s name would normally sit top or close-to on the LDTs, and typically have a zero (score) after it. I never got near to an LDT then, but Dave inspired me to one day have a go. And this was that day – only some 30 years later (can’t rush a good thing).
An LDT seemed like an ideal event for the CRF too. A road-trail loop of 90 miles and 15 observed sections – how hard can that be? Harder than I first thought as I very nearly took the BMW F800GSA to it before Si explained the sections could get downright tight, slippery and steep. So le Honda avec les Michelin ACdix seemed to be la banane chaude (schoolboy French there to amuse M. Evans). It would be another proper test of this remarkable machine’s versatility. And with a ride in the GS Trophy in Canada looming this would be an opportunity for some serious bike time for me: the Eastbourne club’s venue was nearly two hours’ ride away, then the event was likely to last at least six hours, plus the return journey. With 14 long days in the saddle to come in Canada, this would be a chance for some endurance conditioning.
I still can’t believe this but I followed the navigational instructions faultlessly and happened upon the one arrow to the paddock (at the gate, of course) without having made a single wrong turn. I took that as an omen – today I had my ninja powers. Si had been milling around for two hours. I had just 20 minutes to get signed on, shoot a bunch of paddock atmos’ shots and get going. But no worries.
The paddock was everything I hoped it would be, a real mix of manufacturers and even types and ages. The latest hot-poop is a KTM Freeride as far as I could determine, 350s and 250s (with decent bash plates added I noted). Last year’s hot-poop was the Gas Gas Pampera, which came in a number of variations, from I assume Mark 1s, which looked very trials, to later types which had more enduro about them. Then there was granddad’s hot-poop, the likes of Triumph twins (I’ll hazard a guess that one was either a 3TA or 5TA) – and very nice these were too. Milling among these were the odd misplaced Antoine Meo figure with EXC and bling kit (hey, Si!). I liked these too. There was even a movie star, as I spotted one of the Mondo Sahara XR400s propping up a Transit van (or was it the other way around?). And very agreeably there was even a smattering of CRF-Ls, complete with original indicators (mine might have been the only one still with the original mirrors though).
First section of the day was not even 100 yards from the paddock. You’re not to walk an LDT section before you ride, but you can peer at the rider before you making his way through, from the viewpoint of the section begins cards. And actually it’s quite a buzz as you ride in, not sure exactly what you’ll find and you’re willfully trying to stay feet-up. I had a wobble on the bottom of the climb of that first section but I refused to let my feet do any work and with the CRF in first gear we made easy-ish work of the climb to the exit cards. First section clean – good job.
Then followed a timed test, I wasn’t anticipating that. I actually took it seriously, taking off my camera-rucksack and jacket, and so just riding in T-shirt – like old times – I whizzed around the test. Again you couldn’t walk it, so I overshot a few corners but I guessed everyone did that. Si was beaming when I made the end of the test – I was three-seconds slower than him! And I liked that too. We were clearly on for a day of fiercely-friendly rivalry.
To his credit Si had made no effort to sort himself a road book, so navigation was my job. Although seeing as my road book holder was just an A4 plastic wallet taped to the ‘bar-pad I’d clearly not worked much harder. I caught a typically caustic remark on my navigational skills about ten minutes down the road – pretty fair comment as it went – so I did what any right thinking LDT novice would do, and tagged onto the tail of a couple of boys who knew exactly what was going on. With a sandwich box (converted to road book holder, if you didn’t know) on each of their handlebars they clearly knew the game.
And so the day rumbled by. Sections came typically grouped in threes, then would follow a cool gallop down lanes and trails to the next set. For me the event was starting to take a serious turn too. Seems I wasn’t losing any marks, just the one early on. The Honda had only the one gear for the sections – first, as with road gearing second was too high – but it had a natural way about it. Even when in one section I got seriously wide on a hairpin turn it allowed me to do that trials thing of flicking the front wheel off the outside bank and float it into a tighter line, all feet up, like Dougie. I did, just, notice the 140-kilos the CRF carefully carries at that point, but it was okay. Clean again!
The lunch stop was fantastic. Just a van in a field, but with homemade cake (the food of champions) and with tea made using freshly boiled water and real milk (you can’t get that in some cafes) it really hit the spot. Of course I really needed proper food, proteins and carbs, as the LDT was still burning up energy (I should have sorted that myself, eh?), but no complaints. Two words: lemon drizzle.
The afternoon was a pleasant tour in the company of a few other competitors. One was having a whale of a time on his twinshock XR500 – inspired choice – while in his wake we were taking in lungfuls of oily-smoke (“you might need a new set of rings there!” ventured Melber). Our chief navigator was on an equally ancient twinshock XT250, while rider No.3 was showing just how handy those wee CRF230s are. For a competition it was brilliantly gentlemanly, laid-back even. And of course we were scooting all over the South Downs and winding through the little lanes and trails of West Sussex in spectacular British summertime weather. It couldn’t be more agreeable.
Getting toward the end I was privately shouldering more pressure – with every section cleaned the pressure grew. It got to me in the very last section. Nine times out of ten the last turn before the end cards I could ride clean, I’m sure, but in the moment somehow my right foot took off and stole a quick dab. Damn! I was gently kicking myself, but also elated. Two marks lost for the whole day, I had to be chuffed with that. I was an LDT ninja, if only for a day maybe – I really can’t see me repeating the performance. I’d get a buzz too when a day later the results were emailed through – equal 10th and a second-class award. My first motorcycling award in about 30 years! Of course before that came the ride home. The last half-hour sure was painful, and by the time the Honda was back in the garage it had been 12 hours on the go. Endurance test passed.
What an experience, though. Of course LDTs won’t suit young-uns that harbour that burning desire to fight, to win, to be the ultimate warrior (I remember feeling like that, years ago now!), but as a logical extension to trail riding, LDT is perfect and comes with a massive feel-good. Si might not agree, but I think a few enduro riders might even benefit from giving it a go. I’ve seen a lot of clubman enduro riders getting caught up in technical parts of enduro courses – riding an LDT would make them practice the tricky stuff and appreciate better how to get through, in style.
And how did Si get on? Holy cow, he lost 19 marks! Fancy auto-clutch EXC and all. I’ll not gloat. No. Not one bit…
I’M AN LDT NEWBIE: Michael Richards, riding a 1982 Honda XR200 (lucky man)
“This was my second LDT. I’m a born again trail rider – I used to ride when I was 17-18-19, but that’s a long time ago now. My dream bike back then was an XR200, and so that’s what I’ve got now, the ’82 Prolink model. The first owner was an LDT rider of some repute, Maurice Arden – now in his 80s – and I’ve been in touch and he wrote me a nice letter of encouragement.
“I’ve been doing some green lanes – I joined the TRF – but I’ve only ridden solo missions so far, near to my home in Canterbury. But I’d definitely recommend LDTs. The element of competition adds something to the day even though I’m not competitive myself. I think I like the measured sense of achievement. I think you become a better trail rider too – I was adopted by a group of riders in my first LDT and by watching their lines, what works what doesn’t, it was a real lesson in riding.”
IT’S OUR TRIAL!: Gloria Moss, Eastbourne & DMCC
“This is the third LDT we’ve run, we normally run one-day club trials but one of our older members, Ralph Charman, had ridden a few LDTs organised by other clubs and said we should give it a go. It’s a lot more work, but we enjoy it.
“We start work on the trial a good half-year ahead. The lads will go out and plot the route – the first year Ralph did it himself by bicycle – and once we have that we submit the paperwork to the RAC, to the police and local authorities. Then there are the permits and the entries to collate. There is a lot of paperwork. We used four pieces of land for this, so that’s four more negotiations, but its land that we also use for our club trials and as well the owners understand that this event is a fund-raiser for charity. We needed about 14 observers for this event as we had tes-timing to do too, and they are club members plus family and friends.
“We’ve really enjoyed doing them. This year we’re fundraising for Help for Heroes and Kids with Cancer. If it works out as it did last year, we’ll raise about £1000 for each. But it’s good for everyone, the charities benefit, the riders have a good day out and we’re keeping the byways and highways in use. A lot of work, but a lot of fun!”