Exploring The World of Trials

| November 11, 2020

We send our resident motocrosser to a SoCal Trials Club event at the Motoventures Motorcycle Rider Training facility in Anza, California, and introduced him to the fascinating world of dabs and bunny hops.

GasGas Factory Pro trials rider Daniel Blanc-Gonnet
GasGas Factory Pro trials rider Daniel Blanc-Gonnet demonstrates some of the fun things you can do on a trials bike.

Story and Photography by Ryan Nitzen

When was the last time you did something for the first time? For me, it was last weekend experiencing all things trials at the Motoventures facility in Anza, California. GasGas Race Team Manager and trials extraordinaire Geoff Aaron invited us out for the SoCal Trials Club event at Gary LaPlante’s property, located directly across the street from Cahuilla Creek MX, a place I usually spend my weekends. Gary is a hardcore trials rider at heart and hosts riding schools for all ability levels on his Anza property.

I’ve always thought of trials as a unique part of our sport but was pleasantly surprised to see how many riders came out for this event—the amount of on-site RVs rivaling a local motocross race. A host of smiles from riders in open-faced helmets was a relief as they welcomed this foreigner into their two-wheel scene.

GasGas TXT 125 and 250
GasGas began life as a trials company but has since expanded to off-road and now motocross (after recently being purchased by KTM). Pictured are some of GasGas’ latest rides, the TXT 125 and 250.

Let me back things up for a moment. I’m a die-hard fan of anything on two wheels, but my trials knowledge is not exactly up to par. I guess I’ve been sheltered a bit, not following much other than the occasional viral video that pops up on my Instagram explore page. Obviously, I have huge respect for these riders, as they easily scale obstacles on the bike that I’d be hard pressed to get on with just my two feet. Like most other kids, I grew up on a bicycle trying to balance on the curb, jump onto electrical boxes, park benches and any other neighborhood terrain. Unknowingly, these were all odes to the real trials riders who are true masters of their craft. When we got the call, I was eager to see how I’d fare on a real trials machine.

In the day’s lineup were three of the GasGas trials machines, TXT 125, 250 and 300. Geoff Aaron’s two youngsters, Murphy and Beckett quickly jumped aboard their 125s, leaving a 250 at first dibs for me. The look of these bikes is obviously a far stretch from my familiar moto bike and the ergos are just the same. If you’ve never thrown a leg over a trials bike, you will quickly see how the handlebars are mounted over the front wheel with a steep head angle, while the smaller-than-usual pegs feel farther back. The rider cockpit is more stretched out and puts more weight over the front of the bike and on the rider’s hands. The shifter is a far reach from the rider’s left foot, but the brake on the other side is conveniently placed under the big toe. These two-stroke engines are equipped with Keihin PWK carburetors while a radiator fan comes standard on all models to keep them cool during the slow speed riding. After a quick kickstart, I headed out to track down the two Aaron groms.

GasGas Trials bike
Trials bikes have ergos all their own and sitting down is not part of the equation, hence the fake seat.

As Murphy and Beckett rode off in their factory GasGas kits, dad Geoff informed me that the 125 was the smallest of the “big bikes” and has been a perfect transition for his growing duo. Trials riding is more of a niche scene in the U.S. but having a variety of displacements allows more riders to get involved, including younger riders like his own.

I found Murph and Beck a few hills over, getting in some practice runs before their event later in the day. Right off the bat these two found lines that left me thinking “really?!” They revved up the TXT 125’s engines and rode atop boulders that would have towered over them off the bike. “You try it,” they exclaimed with a mischievous giggle. In a rookie haste, I fell for their tricks but was forced to abandon ship about halfway up this tricky rock section. I spent some time turning the bike around, putting my ego in my back pocket, and navigated down the hill where we shared a laugh at the bottom. These two continued to ride circles around me for the majority of the morning.

Karl Davis
Karl Davis defies gravity with lots of torque, power and traction—not to mention a little bit of skill!

It took some time for me to familiarize myself with the power of the GasGas TXT 250. The small, yet lively powerband was quite torquey and had strong pull on the bottom. After that bottom-end pop, it would rev up quickly but fall flat towards the top. Obviously, these aren’t designed to be high-speed race bikes; rather they give riders a smooth, controlled feeling in technical sections with enough oomph to climb some of the steepest rock faces around. I idled through some of the novice sections, concentrating on balance and throttle control while doing so. It was easy to notice the increased traction with aired-down Michelin trials tires paired up with the plush, almost bouncy, suspension. The TXT models feature Tech 39mm forks with just over seven inches of travel up front with an Öhlins hydraulic shock providing 6.9 inches in the rear. This combo allowed even a beginner like myself to pogo the bike around and negotiate tougher sections with relative ease.

Karl Davis, Josh Roper and Daniel Blanc-Gonnet
Participants were treated to an actual observed trials competition, which included some of the sports’ best, such as (L-R) Karl Davis, Josh Roper and winner Daniel Blanc-Gonnet.

Up next was the TXT300, the same bike ridden by GasGas pro Daniel Blanc-Gonnet. This 300cc machine looks nearly identical to the 125 and 250 models from the outside, as all three bikes feature the same chassis and bodywork. The power, however, was much different. The low-end grunt on the 300 was much stronger than the 250 and allowed me to easily tackle that technical climb that Murphy and Beckett challenged me to earlier. Unfortunately for me, they weren’t watching this time and are surely saying “pictures or it didn’t happen!” All joking aside, the 300 is a beast of a machine and also a blast to ride. It packs a serious punch in a compact design that’s easy to handle yet able to conquer any obstacle in its way.

After boosting my confidence on what were certainly the most beginner sections, I called it a day and headed over to watch the pros do their thing. This weekend’s event was a double header, hosting rounds two and three of the SoCal Trials Association’s Moto-Trial Championship on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. More than 100 entries spanned the two-day event, with four pros on hand for Saturday’s round. I had never seen a trials event in person and was certainly in for a treat.

Murphy and Beckett Aaron
Youngsters Murphy and Beckett Aaron are already expert trials riders. They learned from a 10-time national trials champion, their dad, Geoff Aaron.

It’s a quiet environment. Riders come up to a section and are allowed to first walk it before taking their “race run.” The walk-through gives them the chance to pick their lines and assess the difficulty of the obstacles. They then fire up their bikes and proceed to dissect each segment. Riders in the queue can watch on and hopefully pick up any tips and tricks along the way. Then they proceed to the next section and do it all over again. After completion the competitors are given an overall score based on how many times they put a foot down, aka “dab,” over the course of the competition. The basic scoring of observed trials is pretty simple. The rider is penalized one point for each dab up to three dabs per section. Technically, you can dab 100 times in a section, but you will only be penalized three points. However, you will be given a five-point penalty for falling (handlebars touching the ground), stalling the engine or riding out of bounds, among other things, but these are the most common reasons. In the end, the rider with the lowest score (fewest dabs) wins. On Saturday’s event riders had to conquer 10 unique sections.

Watching GasGas pro rider Blanc-Gonnet ascend the steep rock faces with surgeon-like precision simply left me in awe. The pro riders make it look too easy; compressing the suspension and bunny-hopping the bike to put it exactly where they want it. And did I mention they do it without ever dabbing a foot? Mind blowing. It was truly something that is hard to appreciate until seeing it in person. The novice and intermediate riders made their way through as well, slicing between marked routes that indicate respective classes. My guys Beckett and Murphy cleaned the section in front of me and eventually claimed wins in the Sportsman and Intermediate classes.

GasGas Wheelies
GasGas makes trials bikes for just about all age, size and skill-level rider.

After the event was over, the pros put on a little show for the cameras. Event winner Blanc-Gonnet joined runner-up Karl Davis (Vertigo) and third place Josh Roper (TRS) at a little rocky spot that wouldn’t even be noticeable to a normal passerby. Being the riders they are, the trio proceeded to splatter this spectacular jump from one rock to another. A true spectacle of skill and confidence.

My first trials experience was definitely one for the books. The friendly atmosphere of the event reminded me that we all just simply love motorcycles. Most of these riders own moto or enduro bikes and would gladly join you at the track or a day on the trails. The trials bikes from GasGas are a blast to ride and are a great way to cross-train for any two-wheel event. For more information on their next events, visit Motoventures.com or Socaltrials.com. https://www.socaltrials.com  CN

Cycle News Exploring The World of Trials

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