Hi guys! If you’re here, you probably got click-baited by an oft-heard statement among riders in Asia. But before you make up your mind about this little-known offroad sport, read on to find out what Moto Trial really is.
It’s Ships here again. I’m like a public holiday, showing up only once a year to write, so I’m really grateful to the guys at Rude Machinery for still inviting me to write about the things I’m passionate about. Thank you bosses!
What is Moto Trial? 🧐
Not to be confused with TRAIL bikes, a Trial bike isn’t just a dirt bike without a seat. They are lightweight motorcycles built with the goal of the rider conquering obstacle-filled sections in a tight circuit without putting his/her leg down.
Balance is the most basic principle when it comes to Trial riding. If you watch Trial videos, you’ll notice that riders are often balancing on the foot pegs to study obstacles before attacking them! With practice, riders can even stay on the pegs for minutes at a time.
After mastering balance, other basic skills include front wheel hops, pivot turns, practical wheelies and endos. Enjoy this video showcase by one of my favourite Trial riders, Nozaki Fumitaka:
How I started out in Trial
I’ve been an avid Moto Trial enthusiast since I started riding Enduro a couple of years ago, and it was because of how YouTubers around the world were always recommending Trial as a way to develop skills that would help with Hard Enduro riding. I’m a big fan of Joey Mac, Graham Jarvis and Pol Tarres, who by no coincidence were Trial riders before they switched to Hard Enduro! I was also in awe of the Japanese riders who were around my age, doing slow wheelies and nose wheelies on their old, heavy, dualsport machines (at that age, you weren’t going to get a KTM 300 without your mummy or daddy’s funding). When asked, they all said that they rode Trial at some point, which helped them build those skillsets. So as you can imagine, I was influenced by that pretty quickly!
Soon enough, I was practicing Trial tricks with my bike at that time, an old, heavy but charming Honda XR400R, and it took me approximately 4 broken rear fenders and 4 changes of clutch plates to realise it wasn’t the ideal bike with which to learn such maneuvers (notice i said learn not do). An Internet penpal of mine, Hodaka-san from Kyoto, recommended that I get a Trial bike if I was serious about learning some sleek techniques with a less steep learning curve, in a shorter time. Three days later, I bought a used Trial bike from Malaysia.
How Trial helped me as a rider
When I first started riding offroad, it was in the company of some extremely talented riders, who were clearing insane hill climbs in their t-shirts, jeans and army boots. Soon enough, they were doing all sorts of cool tricks and smashing through jungles at an incredible pace. On a positive note, it was a good source of inspiration for what could be done on a bike, demonstrating that the offroad magic I was watching online was actually possible in real life! But on the downside, I didn’t have the talent to keep up with my mates, and was always having trouble learning fast enough.
Then i started riding Trial, and my skills improvement accelerated.
I followed YouTube guides, started with balancing basics, and learnt how to stay on the pegs at a standstill. We were static balancing for 30 minutes before every ride and it took a whole lot of discipline because it was actually boring AF, but it did wonders for our technical ability under gnarly situations in tight terrain.
I moved on to other types of basic training such as: tight-turning figure 8s, front wheel pops, and even started building our own Trial section in our riding grounds. Riding Trial helped me correct bad habits such as body positioning, low speed balancing in difficult situations, and understanding how weighting and de-weighting the bike can help when clearing obstacles.
The biggest benefit is the huge confidence boost you get on these little machines as compared to heavier Enduro bikes. As a novice rider, I was often intimidated while trying to master the proper techniques on obstacles that were larger than life. I’m sure some of you can relate to how scary it can be to try new things because of the initial awkwardness.
Trial helped me to break down techniques into very detailed and simple steps which, combined with the repetitive nature of the sport, allowed me to learn the basics faster.
One of the best things about Trial is that you don’t need a big space for it. All that’s required are a few fun, challenging obstacles and a group of riders to help each other out.
I spent some time working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I rode with Acoi, who is one of the more established Trial riders in the region. That was when i realised the importance of having a small community to help each other out.
More often than not, you can try something a hundred times and still not get it right. But when someone else is on hand to correct your mistakes, those hundred times get trimmed down significantly. That’s why community is so important for learning.
When you ride a Trial section, you attempt dry obstacles to perfection, before trying again when it’s slippery and wet. Then you repeat until you get even that right, and move on to a harder section. This process allows much more emphasis on technical skills, as compared to the touch and go over obstacles during Enduro trail rides.
All in all, Moto Trial offers a world of fun and benefits to any offroad enthusiast. I speak from personal experience when I say that Trial riding will definitely lead the way to tremendous skill improvement in many different riding disciplines.
Trial riding in Singapore
In Singapore, Moto Trial has always fallen under the radar. I’ve only known a handful of local riders who owned Trial bikes, and most never kept up the sport for long due to the lack of community, and practicing on their own could be very boring.
Now, that looks set to change! 🤩 Renowned Spanish Trial brand, GASGAS, recently marked their launch in Asia with a Moto Trial clinic right here in Singapore, introducing riders to a taste of the sport over one weekend in July. Along with a fleet of brand new GASGAS Trial bikes ranging from 125cc to 300cc, the event also had seasoned Trial riders from abroad guiding newcomers in the basics.
It was great to see the happy faces of riders after their 40 minute sessions on the beautiful red and black machines. I had an absolute ball of a time trying out the 2022 GASGAS TXT GP 250 on the obstacle course.
I thought that the obstacle course was extremely well-designed, especially when you consider that the event organisers had to shift venue at the last minute due to Covid restrictions. It wasn’t necessarily easy for new riders, which was a great way to introduce the addictive thrills and spills of the sport. At the same time, the obstacles were challenging enough for more seasoned riders to have some fun. Kudos to the team for that.
The event certainly offered a tantalising taste of Trial riding to local dirtbikers, and even to non-offroad riders.
Who knows – if enough interest is sparked, we might even be able to work towards a legal Moto Trial park in Singapore! Call me naïve, but you never know. Success is very much dependent on the collective strength of community, and we’ve seen it happen before at Ulu Choh Dirt Park, where people came together to build something amazing for everyone to enjoy. “For the sport!” was a rallying cry that we often heard in pre-Covid times, when Ulu Choh was our regular weekend hangout.
After all, we are just a bunch of regular folks who prefer to throttle their weekends away instead of hanging out at the mall. What harm could we do other than creating a few broken rear fenders?
There is one major drawback when it comes to riding a Trial bike in Singapore. Logistics can be expensive because of local vehicle regulations. If you don’t already know, all offroad or race vehicles that cannot be road-registered have to be tagged by LTA, and they cannot be used on public roads. At all. Not even to be pushed around a public carpark. So you’ll have to engage a towing service to get the bike to your riding grounds, the wash point and back again to its storage location, which is an expensive, time-consuming hassle, and a major turn-off for some.
Still, that is the only downside amongst all the great things about practicing Moto Trial here in Singapore.
To sum it up
Phew, that was a long one. For those who stayed, thanks for making it this far.
Moto Trial is an interesting, unique discipline that offers a different kind of charm from the rest of the motorsport world. Riding Trial is beneficial to all kinds of riders, from beginners learning the basics, to more advanced riders willing to take on more unforgiving terrain. It is a great learning platform for developing offroad skills, and also forges strong community bonds among likeminded enthusiasts!
If there were more opportunities to give Trial riding a go in Singapore, would you be keen to try?
Ships is a P-Plate writer and a strong advocate for doing stupid things on offroad motorcycles.