The idyllic Yorkshire countryside is often called God’s own county – from rugged, harsh terrain to rolling fields and impressive vistas. This makes it perfect for one of the oldest forms of motorsport, observation trials. The Scott Trial is no exception, having started in 1914 and only postponed thanks to a couple of world wars, it remains one of the most famous timed observation trials attracting riders and spectators from near and far.
So what is a timed observation trial?
A trial is an offroad event run either on motorbikes, or sometimes in specially prepared cars. In this case, the motorbikes are purpose built off road trials machines, with low centres of gravity and stripped to the bare essentials. Competitors ride a circuit, in the case of the Scott this is an 84 mile loop, and encounter various sections. These sections are marked by a start and end gate and with red and blue flags.
Marshalls observe the riders going through these sections which can range from rocky climbs or traversing rivers. They look for the rider putting down their feet or what is more accurately termed a “dab” (yes it’s an older term than you thought!) – this scores 1 point per touch up to a maximum of 3, which at that point as long as they keep moving, they can continue to put their feet down. If the rider stops, or falls, they score a maximum of 5 points. The top riders will aim to either clean a section with no penalty points, or aim for a minimum of 1 or 2.
The timed part is more simple, with the whole run timed and then given as a score against their penalty points. There is also a maximum time allowed based on what is termed the “Standard Time” and after that, riders who have yet to complete the course (within a given percentage of the standard time) have to retire.
The bikes themselves are made by companies such as Bultaco, Gas Gas, Beta and Vertigo, and range from smaller 80cc engines up to a maximum of 300cc for this class of riding. Professional bikes can reach costs of more than £6,000 but a used example can be found for as little as £1,000.
What is so special about the Scott Trial?
As mentioned, this is one of the oldest trials, started in 1914 by Alfred Angas Scott – who was determined to show his bike was better than those of his friends and rivals. The Scott trials bikes became the go to bike over the years until they ceased production in 1978. Over the years the course has expanded up to 84 miles in length around the Richmond area of North Yorkshire. Not only is the course extremely demanding and exhausting but the weather is also a serious obstacle, with notable years such as 1962 and 1998 being heralded as the most difficult when torrential rain reduced the number of competitors completing the course to their lowest levels. This combined with the history, the camaraderie between the riders and the excellent organisation and access for spectators means the trial continues to this day. It must also be said that thanks have to be given to the locals and land owners who allow this to go ahead. It’s also one of the longest trials, which is an added incentive for the riders to just complete the course – gaining a personal badge of honour in the process.
Sections in the spotlight – The Start, Bridge End, Grand Canyon, Surrender and Roys Rocks
Seeing all the sections of the Scott Trial in one day is pretty much impossible. The riders reach some sections quickly while others are hours apart, so planning ahead is advisable to see sections and we picked a route ourselves to see some of the best. Some sections feature twice so can be visited and the beginning and end of the day if you’re quick.
Fans of motorsport yearn for close access (I’m looking at you F1) and these kinds of grass roots events are perfect. The start is simply a field full of vans and riders, tending to their machines and meeting old acquaintances. Myself and my dad wandered up and down the collected ranks, taking in the machinery up close before the inevitable layer of mud was applied. The start is a big celebration, with the first rider usually being hand selected – in this case Gordon Murray – one of the oldest riders in the field.
After an initial blast through some of the early sections and over the top of the local hills, the riders sweep down the hill side and into a small cutout section known as Bridge End. This small stream forms a narrow ‘V’ through the rocks, resulting in a single section not leaving much room for error. After an initial claim over some small boulders, the riders had to negotiate a tight right hand turn, then some final small boulders – almost like a warm up for what was to come.
Spectacular views await the spectator prepared to walk up the hill from the main road – another section entitled Tank Trap is close by so both could be seen together. Looking down the valley, this natural cut through the rock forms a narrow passage where the riders come straight toward the crowd. A quick straight climb is followed by a tricky little jink to the left and right up a medium sized boulder, catching out a few riders. The route then takes them right up to the top of the hill and off over the grouse moors for a long fast section lasting roughly an hour! This gives them a breather (if one can catch a breath riding off road at 40mph) until they reach the looming section of Surrender.
One of the key points on the route, Surrender is a very steep climb starting on the edge of a river and goes up an almost 45 degree incline at speed taking in some large boulders. This is a test of strength and perseverance and marks probably a rough half way point – at this point the riders are beginning to tire and being presented with this climb must be very daunting.
A quick blast along the river bank from Surrender leads to Roys Rocks, probably what I would deem one of the most difficult sections on the course. 3 sections in quick succession lead the riders against the stream of a very strong river. The initial section features some deep sections where the water almost comes up half the wheel, and some quite steep and slippy boulders for the riders to clear. Section 2 features more of the same with even stronger sections of river to deal with and Section 3 finally spits the riders out onto a climb up onto the moors. This is fantastic for spectators with great views on either side of the river.
This was my first visit to a trial – living in Cambridgeshire the area is a bit short on mountains, hills and rivers full of rocks! I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, from the access for spectators, through to getting to know others who were watching and cheering on friends. Even though the weather started to close in on us in the afternoon, we didn’t let that stop us and by far and away my favourite section was Roys Rocks. The combination of the setting and difficulty made for great viewing, although a bit difficult to get to. Plus there’s a large number of local riders of all ages to cheer on, with big names such as Dougie Lampkin, Ian Austermuhle and James Dabill – although commiserations go to Billy Bolt from Newcastle who was on a great charge until a cooling issue cooked his bike just before Grand Canyon.
Female riders were well represented with both Emma Bristow (181) and Chloe Richardson (126) finishing very strongly in 34th and 63rd places respectively.
We’ll be visiting again next year and taking in some of the other sections we missed and we’ll see if Dougie can do it again!
To learn more about trials, visit Trials Central and to learn more about the Scott Trial, visit the Richmond Motor Club. You can check out my bonus content below showing several of the riders taking on the above sections.
Featured image – Russ Rooksby completes the Bridge End section.