The Motorcycling Club’s three annual classic trials are arguably one of the best kept secrets in motorcycle sport, but after competing in one of them – The Lands End Trial – last Easter on a 440 SWM, I now know what we’ve all been missing and can’t believe it took me so long to get involved.
There are countless opportunities to experience adventure on a motorcycle but arguably few, in the UK, that match the feeling of reaching the top of ‘Simms Hill’ in early January to the applause of spectators, or the first sight of ‘Blue Hills’ in Cornwall next to an azure sea on a warm spring day or finally, the beauty of Derbyshire in its full autumn colours. Although I was truly exhausted when the crowds of spectators urged me on up that ‘Blue Hills’ section, the elation I felt at the top was incredible.
The great news is that for 2020 the MCC have created a special new class for large adventure bikes, but be aware, if you enter you are taking part in an incredible piece of British motoring heritage. In the Edwardian England of 1904, roads were still the province of the horse and cart – travel of any distance was by train. Motor vehicles were few and still a novelty believed by many to be no more than a rich person’s toy, so it was a brave decision by the fledgling Motor Cycling Club to inaugurate a competition which involved motor cycles (two words – as at that time there was not even a commonly accepted name for a bicycle with an engine).
The idea was to travel from London to Edinburgh in a limited time and 46 hardy souls set out from the GPO Building in London on the evening of May 20th, following a ceremonial club supper, and headed northwards, while officials boarded the midnight express train to the Scottish capital to meet them on arrival. Despite adventures, most checked in at the 9 route controls and 21 completed the trip within the allotted time schedule to qualify for a gold medal, which incidentally has ever since been the MCC`s award for a faultless performance.
The 1904 trial was a motoring landmark. It was evidence that such an event was not only possible but provided enjoyable competition for the riders and a useful chance for manufacturers of machines and components to prove and improve their products. It so captured the imagination that it was repeated the following year and in 1906 was extended to include London – Edinburgh and back inside 48 hours. The Edinburgh Trial has been run every year since, barring two world wars and an outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease, all the way to the present day probably making it the longest established motor sporting event in the world.
The Motor Cycling Club offers three main long distance trials each year; the Exeter Trial (approximately 230 miles long) takes place in early January, the Lands End Trial at Easter is around 350 miles and The Edinburgh Trial, much like the Paris-Dakar, now starts in Tamworth in early October and finishes after some 180 miles, south of Buxton. Each trial offers up to 15 observed sections on permissive rights of way and 2 timed special tests. The sections are no more difficult than a TRF member might encounter in an everyday trail ride. What is different however is that some might have a stop and re-start and approximately half will be ridden at night. These two elements, plus navigation by route book and the stamina needed to keep going, make these trials unique and magical.
What is also unique about MCC trials is that participants compete against the club not against each other, although there are Class awards. This means that every competitor starts with an equal chance of securing a coveted Gold medal for a faultless performance.
Each of the three Trials also offers an O class alternative with a shorter overall distance and less challenging sections than the main trial.
More information about the special challenge of MCC trials, the choice of machine and preparation required can be found here.
But as mentioned above, for 2020, the Motor Cycling Club will also be introducing an Adventure Bike Class for machines manufactured from 1980 onwards, with more than one cylinder and with an engine capacity greater than 470cc.
So go on, if you’ve got a BMW twin, KTM twin, Triumph triple, a CB500X or an Africa Twin, get to it and secure yourself a place. I did last year, signed up with a couple of mates and it was a brilliant experience, seeing parts of the country I doubt I’d ever have been able to find. The route and section requirement for this new ‘Adventure Bike’ class will be tailored to provide ‘an appropriate challenge’ apparently!
In the early 21st century, the three Motor Cycling Club’s long distance trials provide a genuine opportunity to experience a UK adventure with remarkable camaraderie that runs right through the night. What’s better than a stop for tea and cake in a village hall at 3am and then watching the sun slowly rise over the moors of the South West.
Entries are now open for the 2020 Exeter Trial, which takes place on 3rd/4th January 2020. But hurry, if you don’t enter by 11th November you won’t be in the programme! Further information, including a full set of regulations and how you join the MCC first, can be found at www.themotorcyclingclub.org.uk
If you sign up for the Lands End next Easter I’ll see you there!