To kill time between The Divine Comedy concerts (one in Birmingham, England and the other in Cardiff, Wales) Gail, my favorite traveling companion (sorry, Lance), best friend and wife, and I decided to drive a lap of the United Kingdom. Following in the footsteps of Rick Steves and adding days of our own design, we ended up in the beautiful Scottish town of Fort William.
The trials bike in the hardware-store window on the cobblestone main street caught my attention. You don’t see motorcycles on display like that very often. I thought it was cool. A few days later we were hiking a beautiful trail through a damp, chilly forest. The quite was broken by the sound of small displacement two- and four-stroke engines. It wasn’t an annoying noise like a chainsaw or worse, leaf blower. The engine noise came into earshot and just as quickly faded away. It had to be coming from small displacement motorcycles.
The trail led us out of the forest to a single-lane road (in Scotland, that’s pretty normal for any street that is not a highway) where the first trials rider came into view, gave us a smile, a thumbs up and continued down the road. The rider’s bike had a number plate on it. We had stumbled by chance (I swear, Gail) upon the 2022 Scottish Six Day Trials (SSDT). That wasn’t mentioned in Rick Steves’ book!
We ended up hiking a few miles to spectate at three observed sections in a gnarly, moss-covered rocky, mountain stream that riders attempted to clean. It was pure luck that we stumbled upon the event. It is one of those things that happens while traveling that will be remembered long after the planned stops are forgotten.
Take a seat: Trials bikes don’t really have seats. A rider can sit if they are willing and able to lift themselves to the attack position for the next observed section. Each day covers about 100 miles.
Keeping watch: Marshals are stationed at every observed section. If a rider dabs (puts a foot down) or can’t complete a section, they receive a points penalty. The Edinburgh & District Motor Club has put on the event since 1911.
Starting line: Riders are not scored until they enter an observed section. Unlike other motorcycle racing events, it is not speed but balance, concentration and eye-hand coordination that separates the competitors.
Visualization: Riding the observed section in your mind is a trick used by savvy competitors. The rider age range is all over the map. There were dads competing with and encouraging their kids. Scottish Trials is a family affair.
Smooth sailing: As long as competitors stay between the blue markers, they are on course. Creative riders find lines that make a section easier. Once one does find an alternative line, others follow (if it worked).
Educated spectators: We spoke to one spectator who had ridden the Six Days 18 times. The crowd stays quite and then politely claps if a rider cleans a section. My “Whoo-Woos” were deemed crass by the more sophisticated fans.
Magical mystery trials: The best riders are magicians. You watch them pull off a trick and have no idea how they did it. The good guys make it look easy. It isn’t. And there are six days of this torture.
Scottish B&B: Our accommodations were a bit drafty and the ghosts dragging chains and slamming doors woke us up a number of times. That is how it goes when in Scotland. The living spirits were the best and made us feel welcome our entire stay in the country.