Motorcycle Trials Rules

John D. Cobb

Motorcycle Trials, also known as Observed Motorcycle Trials, is a competitive sport that challenges trials motorcycle riders to retain their balance while riding over marked sections of difficult terrain.

A trials motorcycle is a lightweight, seatless motorcycle designed to be ridden in a standing position for balance and maneuverability. Observed Motorcycle Trials is a competition of balance and skill, not speed. Although an organised Observed Motorcycle Trials competition does have time constraints, the competition is not a race and riders do not improve their score by finishing faster than other riders.

What Does "Observed" Mean in Motorcycle Trials?

In a competition, each rider is scored by an observer (hence, "Observed") who scores points against them for their mistakes as they move through a section. A competition will have an observer assigned to each section, where each rider will attempt to ride the designated obstacles while the observer watches and then marks the rider's score on a scorecard.

How Does Motorcycle Trials Competition Work?

Motorcycle Trials is a sport where the competitor with the lowest score wins. Each rider begins with a score of zero and accumulates points against them as they make mistakes during competition. At the end of the day, the rider with the lowest number of points is declared the winner. The goal of the rider is to keep his balance while riding his motorcycle through designated sections along a course. In national competition, a course is set up with 12 sections of natural terrain along a trail, called a "loop." The riders must complete the sections in order along the loop and must complete the loop three times to finish the competition. Regional competitions can be somewhat modified to have less sections and more loops, depending on the local organisation's rules. When creating sections, the natural terrain is used to create obstacles and challenges for the riders. Sections are marked with "Start" and "End" points; section boundaries are marked to move each rider through the section and over the obstacles. Within the section, the rider must pass through marked boundaries or "gates" before exiting the section. As the rider moves through the section, the observer determines the rider's score for the section. After completing the section, the observer marks the rider's scorecard, where all of the rider's scores are tallied. After the rider has completed the course three times, all of the section scores are added to determine the rider's overall score for the competition.

How Is Motorcycle Trials Scored?

Points are accumulated for faults or failures. At each attempt to ride a section, the rider begins with a score of zero. A fault occurs when the rider puts a foot on the ground (called a "dab") or touches their body or motorcycle to an object (such as a tree or rock) for leverage or balance. The observer counts the rider's faults as he rides through the section. One fault earns the rider one point, two faults earns the rider two points. Three or more faults earns the rider three points--even if the rider continues to "dab" more than three times while completing the section. If a rider does not have both hands on the handlebar during a fault, the observer can score a "failure" of five points for the section. A rider can earn a five-point failure for a number of reasons. For example, the observer can rule a failure if the motorcycle moves backward while in the section, if the rider displaces boundary markers, if the rider gets off the motorcycle or if the rider (or rider's helper) alters the section in any way. If the rider begins the section without the observer's clearance, does not go through all of the marked gates in the section, receives outside help while in the section, or does not complete the section within 90 seconds a failure is scored. The maximum score a rider who attempts to ride a section can earn is five points, even if the rider was observed with multiple faults and/or failures. A rider who misses or skips a section will earn 10 points for that section. There are various other actions that can earn a rider additional points; these rules vary from one trials club or organisation to another. Each organisation adopts its own rules, which may include points for unsportsmanlike behaviour, speeding or riding in restricted areas. If you are entering a trials competition, it is important that you know the specific rules that pertain to the event you are competing in.

How Is the Overall Score Determined?

A competitor's overall score is determined by adding all of the scores earned for each section throughout the event, plus any additional penalty points. The rider with the lowest score in each class is the event winner for that class. Competitors usually belong to regional chapters or clubs and compete in several events throughout a season. At the end of the season, the rider with the lowest score for each riding class is ranked the champion.

Who Organizes Motorcycle Trials Competitons?

Organised Motorcycle Trials competitions fall under a branch of the American Motorcycle Club (AMA) called North American Trials Council, Inc. (NATC). The NATC establishes the U.S. championship trials series that determines the U.S. Trials Champion and manages the U.S. Trials des Nations team for global competition. There are many local chapters of trials clubs throughout the U.S. that are affiliated with the AMA/NATC. While each local chapter adopts its own rules and conducts its own events, affiliated chapters all follow the AMA/NATC standards for competition.