Learn how to ride trials and street trials with TrashZen: this will also improve your general MTB riding skills.
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Where to ride trials?

The beauty of trials riding is that pretty much any place, whether in an urban or a natural setting, can become a playground where to spend countless hours experimenting on your bike.

This means you never have to go very far beyond your doorstep. As your skills develop, you can be more creative and try new riding lines that were too difficult to consider when you just started. You will just be looking at things in a different way.

Urban and street

trials bike video

trials bike video

If you live in a big town, you will more likely be riding over man-made obstacles and concrete structures such as walls, steps, kerbs, railings, stacks of pallets, with plenty of flat surfaces, straight lines, and square edges to get your grip on. Urban trials is great to get your marks on specific techniques.

The shapes and adherence of such obstacles are quite predictable, which is good for absolute control and certainly easier to begin with, but then for the same reasons, urban riding tends to be a bit repetitive.

As long as you don't put other people at risk or commit any offences, you'll often find some public to encourage you or express their astonishment. Beware, you would be missing out on the full dimension of bike trials if you were to ignore natural settings altogether.

Natural is unique

trials bike video

trials bike video

Learning all the cool tricks and techniques in a polished urban set is one thing. Much more challenging is to go out and use your riding skills in a natural zone. Not least because the terrain is never straight or flat which makes maintaining balance more difficult and limits run-up distance too.
That's why nailing a pure technique on a square bit of dry concrete is no guarantee of success on uneven boulders or wood logs, especially with hugely variable levels of grip (wood bark coming off, lose gravels, mud, wet roots, slanted rocks, just name it...)

Slippery stuff...

trials bike video

trials bike video

At the beginning you may think, Natural? What's the point of riding in this mess? Riding trials in a natural zone involves much more than the mechanical and repetitive use of known techniques.

It pushes your riding to a new level of accuracy, for distance evaluation, pedal power, weight transfer, wheel positioning and braking control.

Here comes the mental game, the concentration and the strategic thinking. With many paths to choose from, numerous angles from which to look at the obstacles combined with adverse terrain, natural trials reserves you the most exciting and rewarding side of the sport.

You may find it too difficult at the beginning, but if you have the chance to live nearby some interesting natural landscapes you should definitely make the most of it. It may become your favourite place to ride.

Competition grounds

trials bike video

trials bike video

At competitions, you will find supervised zones. These are sections marked by arrows and tape or ribbons, spreading over a series of obstacles or difficult terrain. Riders must follow the markers, ideally without ever setting a foot on the ground while an observer keeps a tab on penalty points.

Most bike trials competitions take place in natural settings, often completed with man-made sections. An artificial (man-made) section is called "indoor" even when it is set up outdoor, because it could be built under a roof (as it is the case for competitions held in stadiums or exhibition halls).

trials bike video

trials bike video

Indoor sections usually feature a good mix of heavy construction materials such as concrete blocks or pipes, with wood logs, industrial pallets, heavy truck tyres, skips, car wrecks, or just anything solid and varied.

UCI rules
Just to summarize the essential, under UCI rules, mods and stocks (including 24" bikes) run in two different categories, further split into age groups.

trials riding
It all starts when your front wheel crosses the line.

Typically, at competitions, you will have between 5 and 10 sections marked with ribbons and coloured arrows corresponding to different age categories (for mod or stock bikes and levels of skills).

Each section is divided in six "gated" sectors comprising various obstacles.

In any given section, riders must follow the colour of the category they belong to, crossing the "gates" indicated by coloured arrows on the obstacles of the course. Participants must ride up to 5 sections in 2 circuit laps, riding a maximum of 10 sections in total.

Each section must be cleared in less than 2 minutes (beyond that time, the rider must leave the unfinished section).

trials riding
A UCI score card, 7 columns for gate points, one row per section.

A new punch card (or score card) is issued for each new lap. Every time that a rider successfully crosses a sector gate, he or she gets 10 points validated on the score card (up to 60 for a full section). But any penalty while riding invalidates winning points for a given gate crossing.

During your run, an observer gives you the countdown on time and also counts any penalty points (starting with a closed fist for zero) up to a maximum of five.

trials bike video
One penalty so far

Each time you put a foot on the ground, if you rest the pedals or the bash plate on an obstacle, or if you happen to lean against an obstacle with your shoulders or your elbows to secure your balance, you'll be penalized with 1 penalty point (brushing is allowed if it's not too pronounced).

Of course, you must remain within the marked sections. Your position is defined by where the wheel axles stand. Cross the wrong colour gate, ride over the tape (even accidentally) and it will be 5 penalty points. Holding the bike other than by the handlebars, placing both feet simultaneously on the ground or on an obstacle also gives you the maximum 5 penalty points.

You will also get the maximum penalty if you fall off the bike, or if you have both feet on the same side of the frame while standing with one foot on the ground (because then you are technically off the bike). Keep your hands on the handlebars, you'll get a five if you touch anything else.

trials riding
Arrows set the course of action.

Upon reaching 5 penalty points, a rider must leave the section and go to the next, while still keeping the points cumulated from any sector gate successfully ridden in the section.

Upon completion of the first lap of sections, riders bring their card back to the UCI trials secretary who will update the ranking. The competitor who rides the maximum number of sector gates in the shortest riding time wins.

Competition adds another layer of strategic thinking, risk taking, and pressure to the ride, but there is often a great atmosphere and it is an excellent opportunity to meet fellow trials riders passionate about the sport.

So find out where the nearest trials club is, and enjoy a day out!

The rules and penalties are different depending on if the competition follows the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) or Biketrial International Union (BIU) or the North American Trials Series (NATS) rules.

The biggest difference between UCI or BIU riding styles is that BIU rules allow bash guard and pedal support, so you can rest a pedal on an obstacle without being penalized. That often means a different riding strategy altogether. Riders are also allowed to receive positioning advice from a minder (this would be heavily sanctioned under UCI rules where riders compete without any assistance).

The age-group categories differ in colours and classification among experienced riders is different too.

Strategic thinking

trials bike video
Benito Ros walks through the zone.

trials bike video
Getting a feel for the gaps

Now, before the run, you are given some time to look around and walk through the sections to discover them and think in advance your strategy.

That's an important part of the mental preparation. If you evaluate the terrain and identify the best possible lines, you are less likely to hesitate and be short of time during the actual run.

If you are not the first to enter the section, it's also a good thing to watch other riders ride the zone. They can come up with different approaches that you hadn't thought off.

Use your penalty points (up to five)

trials bike video
Make the most of your dab

trials bike video
Hannes Herrmann stretches his foot.

If the only way to climb an awkward obstacle is to put a foot down (1 penalty point), that's better than failing completely (5 points for bailing out).

But if you plan to use a penalty point (or even if it wasn't planned), try to make the most of it, and place your foot as high or as far as you can in the direction you want to go. That'll save you other stupid points. Then, once your foot is well placed, move up onto it, pushing or placing your bike as far as your leg will stretch.

When you are ready, give a good impulse to come back onto the bike. Avoid stepping with your foot down (this counts as one penalty per step). Also, at all times, you must have one leg on each side of your bike. Never put your feet on the same side of the top tube, it is counted as a 5 points penalty like if you were bailing out.

Setting up a zone

trials riding tutorials
A pallets section, for all levels of skills.

trials riding tutorials
Some other settings (from Cesar's trials school)

If you fall short of interesting places to ride nearby, setting up a modest indoor zone doesn't require much space in a backyard or even in a warehouse.

A dozen industrial pallets combined with some imagination will give you plenty of obstacles to try from, easily reconfigured to practise your current skills. With more material and space, the sky is the limit.

Check out the UCI section building guide.

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