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17th June 2006

Classic Off-Road Trials

BikerBabe bites off more than she can chew in the shape of an 'easy' off-road trial. We feel completely awed that she started it, never mind gritted it through to the bitter end. Round of applause, please!

The Caephilly Spring Surprise long distance trial, held on Sunday 2nd April was, quite frankly, one huge April fool, and on reflection maybe I should have picked up on the 'surprise' bit. My contact, Robin of Wales had invited me down to partake of my very first trial, using words like 'easy' and 'piece of cake' to describe the severity of the course. All credit to the man; he must have believed it as he even loaned me his 1971 Bultaco Alpina. Had he known just how brutal some of the sections were, he might have thought twice.

The weekend started well, with a combination of a car ride, train journey, a flight and then a Land Rover slalom. The Robin family was great and welcomed me into their home - not surprising, as I would expect that from any MZ people knowing what a nice bunch they all are. Saturday dawned bright and sunny and we planned to gad about the local hills so that I could get some practice on a bike I'd never ridden before, and also so that Robin would be able to see just how useless I am at kick-starting these things.

Risk Assessment: 'Nah, that'll be fine like that.'

That day was fantastic. We roamed the hills taking in all sorts of terrain from ever so slightly dimpled cart tracks to gullies full of nasty round rocks and rushing streams. One of the tracks was an old section and I can proudly say I managed to keep a clean sheet on that one, which looked promising for the real thing the next day.

Out on our travels we encountered many people either using an illegal motorcycle, or motorcycling illegally. Apparently it's a huge problem in Wales and one that the police are trying to fight. I was told that if you are caught you receive a warning and the next time, your bike is crushed. After tackling a steep and rocky climb we met a young lad, all of about ten years old, pushing his mini-motorbike back down, saying the cops were at the top and had made him walk all the way home. A bit of sweet-talking from Robin meant that we escaped punishment (never mind that we were abiding by the law), and were told that at least 30 officers were watching us as we were standing there. I'm glad he knew his vehicular rights of way from his illegal paths.

Back at base Robin fettled the bikes - he was borrowing a chap called Yoshi's Yamaha Serow, and loaded them onto the trailer, while I was privileged to have a session of football with his two youngest nippers before retiring to mentally prepare for the next day. A pair of old motocross trousers were pushed my way as I had nothing suitable to wear, and made me look like something out of the Ann Summers catalogue (so I'm told anyway).

Are we having fun yet?
Random Bultaco Stuff on

At some ridiculous time on Sunday morning, round about 6am, the sandwiches and squash that Carolyn of Wales made were stowed in the rucksack, and we set off. The hustle of the car park at the Holly Bush Inn near Glasbury only served to make my nerves worse, especially when I realised that everyone was riding at least 500cc of enduro bike. With the bikes prepared and scrutinised we set off following the directions supplied by the Caerphilly and District Club. After a short burst of tarred highway we turned off at Tregoyd for the first section which, little did we know, included a special test and a small hill.

After queuing for an hour Robin wheeled the Serow to the start of the timed lap and said 'don't worry, just watch where I go and try to follow my lines'. A grand plan but one foiled by a flat battery. This was one of the few times throughout the day that I managed to fire up the Bulto successfully; I suspect it was the adrenaline. The bright red mud was at least knee high to a wee Scottish lassie, but I stuck to first gear and somehow made it round, coming in fourth slowest. I was already exhausted, so by the time I had paddled across the mud pond to the actual section it was more than I could do to keep the bike upright.

I'm not sure whether I stalled it first, or grabbed a handful of front brake causing both of us to plunge down the rock face head over you-know-what. After that display I opted to chicken out of the hill climb. Waiting until everyone had long gone, the marshals towed and pushed the Serow out to the main road where they bump started it. Now well and truly at the back of the pack, things just went downhill for me, if you'll pardon the pun. The road routes between sections were great; twisty and hilly and the Bulto was going well, but turning off on to wild hilltops was another matter altogether.

With the bitter Welsh wind and hailstones biting at my face and causing a bit of sniveling (honest, that's what it was guv) I had had enough already. The light breeze knocked Robin over as he stopped to see just how pathetic I was being (honest, that's really what it was, guv) and the head honcho on the trial whose job it was to make sure no one got left behind did a sterling job of instructing me how to tackle the sheer drop down from Gospel Pass. I think my girlie moment just got too much for him and as much as I appreciated his assistance, there was no way I was going to bump start the bike down that hill!

Moving swiftly on after some blood sugar rejuvenation, we caught up with some of the back-markers and followed them for a while through farmyards with lost lambs and ponies wandering around. The majority of the sections were a hundred times harder than the one we practiced the day before, with steep climbs over loose rubble and boulders, incorporated with lots of mud and tight turns. I 'fived' every one of them and at some point lost my score card so little difference did it make really.

Give the Bulto its due, all I had to do was give it enough throttle and hang on and it went up and over everything. Stick a decent rider on it and I think it would have coped easily. Robin meanwhile, was having fun on the Serow, so long as he didn't stall it or switch it off. With no hope of keeping up or indeed being listed in the results, we rode into a black hole of back lanes and came out the other side at the Crickhowel filling station. A chap there won quote of the day when he quipped 'you've got to have a challenge in life'. This he said as I sank to the ground enfeebled, to consume a huge dose of chocolate while Robin inhaled a ton of tobacco.

Next it was the Pengenffordd to Tretower track and Boulder Lane where I managed to lose one of the fixings on the rear shock, but that was easily sorted with a couple of cable ties and Welsh ingenuity. Some of the sections on the home straight were a mild improvement, and I'm cross that I could have cleared at least one if I'd thought about it. Just after the start marker the route wound behind a huge tree, down over the roots, zig-zagged about a bit before snaking round a few big rocks and the finish point.

So what had been sold to me as 'an easy start' into the world of off roading turned out to be a baptism of fire, mud and tears. Each section was physically and mentally wearing and I'm ashamed to think how unfit I really am. However, the good side of the story is the amazing scenery each and every way you turned, coupled with some genuinely nice people. More often than not when I arrived at a section and paused to sum it up, some kind soul came up to me and chatted, either congratulating me on attending my first trial or just general chit chat about how hard they found the course, which made me feel a whole lot better.

Complete admiration. Spelled L-u-n-a-c-y.

Back at the pub from whence we started I got talking to a chap who has my complete admiration for tackling the course on an AJS while his wife powered round on a similar bike to Robin's except it didn't have a flat battery. Summing up then, this was like no other trial I've seen before. For a start these guys (and girls) were on monstrous enduro type bikes as I mentioned, and most of the sections were taken at a brisk pace. Despite my mishaps, was it good? Yep, it was good for the soul. Will I be doing another? Er, probably not. Although Robin did mention he would pay for a first class flight back down if I ever wanted to try again, so never say never…


Serow on


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