A trials bike, what an ugly motorcycle!

A story worth reading for anyone interested in learning technical riding on a motorcycle....

When I was very young, one day I was flipping through a German magazine about motorsports, that my dad used to subscribe to, and saw a strange motorcycle. I asked my dad what kind of motorcycle was that and he replied to me: "Son, it's a trials motorcycle". I glanced back at it again and thought "A trials bike, what an ugly motorcycle! It doesn't have a normal seat, it’s shape looks strange and it doesn't even have knobbies!"

Taveri F240

A trials motorcycle was a novelty to me and didn't fit my standard of a great looking offroad bike. My ideal offroad two-wheeler needed to have high-mounted mudguards, aggressive knobby tires and a normal seat. It needed to look cool and sporty! I've also concluded at that time that I wouldn't want to own or even operate such an ugly bike! How wrong was I!!!

Dirt bikes in USSR

Fast forward to today and I find myself amused, happy, inspired, re-energized and longing for more action each time I ride Belka, a 1987 Honda TLR200 Reflex, or Tessa, a 2016 Honda Montesa Cota 4rt 260! How it is possible to have such a big change of heart? What happened to me to discover such a beautiful swan in such an ugly duckling?

Humble Beginning

During my teenage years I used to ride a two stroke moped, a two stroke Voshod motorcycle and my dad's four-stroke Dnepr, which looked very similar to Ural, a more known boxer-engine motorcycle with a sidecar. Most of my riding was spent on grass fields, hills, rural dirt roads, forest muddy trails, some gravel and some tarmac. Sometimes I would intentionally get stuck in order to figure out a way out. In other words, riding a motorcycle offroad was very appealing and natural to me. Although I really wanted to get a dirt bike and follow my dad's footsteps in learning to become a motorcrosser, the destiny had other plans for me.

When I moved to the USA, I had a very long break from motorcycling. Only in 2012 I bought my first motorcycle. Malinka (Raspberry) was a 2012 Honda CBR250R. In a few short summer months and with the help of my motorcycle guru I collected a few thousand miles on her only to learn that the spirit of adventure woke up in me. The world of riding a motorcycle offroad was my dream all these years anyway, and by the middle of fall of the same year Malinka had to share her rider with Poisk (Seeking), a 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC.

Riding a heavy motorcycle such as Tiger 800XC offroad was somewhat natural to me and although I had to learn to deal with its higher center of mass, Poisk opened the "new" world to me. In about a year 24K miles mark was passed. Many things were tried and successfully tested. One day expeditions, multi-day expeditions, solo riding and riding with my girlfriend for short trips and long range missions were all accomplished in that year. It was time to do something more interesting. It was time to progress, to learn new things.

So, I started to take Poisk to more technical trails and sections. But soon I learned that my lack of dirt bike skills combined with Tiger's weight and its cost to repair was a bit of a hindrance and a health risk on my way to achieve new heights in the world of offroad motorcycling. I needed something lighter, something more manageable and forgiving.

I needed to bring a big joy into my next phase, and Zabava ("Joy" in Russian), a Honda CRF250L, found its place in my garage.

Enduro Times

When the first time I rode through a rocky garden on Zabava I was exuberant! Although Zabava was still heavy in terms of the pure-blooded enduro machines, such as Honda CRF250x or Husqvarna TE300, it was feather-like in comparison to the heavy weight champ Poisk. The light dual-sport bike quickly expanded my horizons in the world of learning dirt bike techniques. I started to spend more time on her then on Poisk, watching YouTube videos and learning tricks.

From time to time I would ride Zabava on gravel roads in Loudoun county to relax. In one of those rides I met a fellow dual-sport rider Aytac. We quickly became friends and riding partners, always seeking mud, hill climbs, logs and other adventures to test out bikes and ourselves. In one of our casual riding conversations Aytac suggested that we fly to Europe and attend one of Graham Jarvis riding schools to improve our dirt bike skills. After doing some calculations I made a counter-offer to Aytac and suggested that we bring Graham Jarvis here to the US of A.

meeting Aytac

Although the idea of bringing one of the top hard enduro riders to us seemed like a fairy tale, we had our first enduro riding school with Graham Jarvis in October 2015 at Mt. Motorcycles. That's when I received so much visual guidance and a huge informational boost in how to perform certain enduro techniques. I've recorded most of his exercises and tips on my iPhone and made a simple video tutorials for myself. I've analyzed most of those videos and it became apparent to me that if I want to learn most of these techniques safely and properly I need to get not just a lighter enduro bike, but a trials motorcycle. After all, Graham Jarvis was one of the top trials riders before switching to enduro. That's what made him such a successful extreme enduro rider and a consistent winner of many races around the world.

Immersion into the World of Trials

Right after Graham Jarvis school I swapped Malinka for Belka, a 1987 Honda TLR200 Reflex. Belka was a four-stroke trials bike. Her competitive cousins TRL200 and TLR250 were the only four-stroke trials motorcycles in mid 80s to win trials competitions. Of course, I could have gotten a more modern two-stroke trials bike, but I had my share of playing with 2t engines when I was young and never really liked them. I was always a four-stroke fan. That's why when I saw a TLR200 Reflex and tried her I fell in love with her.

When performing some of the exercises that Graham taught us on Belka I quickly realized that I made the right choice in getting a trials bike! Even though she was still very heavy in today's trials standards, the low seat height, a lower center of mass, and the light front-end made learning such exercises as pivot turns and bunny hops, a piece of cake. I had a strong and stable footing and could do all of them with ease whereas with Zabava it was twice as hard if not harder and some exercises would make us cuddle together by laying down on grass.

TLR200 Reflex also had an amazing engine that wouldn't stall easily, had a very smooth delivery of power and had an amazing quality of starting always from one or two kicks! Thanks to the tameness of her engine I learned to rely more on compressing the suspension then simply throttling it up when doing slow wheelies or log hops. The development of my dirt bike skills was taken to the next level.

I spent hours and hours on Belka learning to balance at a standstill, doing sharp turns on a hill slope, running through creeks and rock gardens, making jumps and going over logs and rocks. And when I rode Zabava or Poisk I noticed that my newly forming skills were seamlessly transferred to these bikes as well. I didn't have to sweat as much as before on these bikes. Confidence and calmness took over anxiety and fear when riding through challenging terrain and obstacles.

Building Our First Trials Section

My immersion into the world of trials took a sudden and a pleasant turn when I met Tim, a fellow rider who also had a passion to ride in technical terrain and to learn the needed skills. Tim introduced me to Katyland, a magical and beautiful place where we practiced. From rock gardens to creeks, from mother logs to steep hill climbs Katyland had everything we needed to become better riders.

Following his own path, Tim came in the possession of a beautiful GasGas TXT PRO 280 which he named Jak, short for Jacklyne. Belka and Jak became good friends in sharing Katyland, a truly magnificant place to ride and to practice. After a while I noticed that Tim and Jak did twice as many exercises as I was doing on my beloved Reflex. Tim would jump 10 times over the log, whereas I got 5 passes. And what impressed me that Tim wouldn't get tired fast. In fact after 2 hrs of log hopping, creek riding and rock climbing he would be ready to do another 2 hrs.

What was his secret? Why he could be so effective in utilizing his time and practice so much longer then I was? The secret was Jak! She was a modern trials bike that saved so much energy for her rider. Since a lot less energy was burned, it led to more playing and learning time. So without too much contemplation Tessa, a Honda Montesa Cota 4rt 260, became my new favorite toy.

And this was the time when Tim and I felt we needed to add more play into our training. So we built our first little trials section and had a blast!

Never before in my life I thought that riding in the section of less then 20 square meters on the "ugly-looking" motorcycle would bring so much excitement, a sense of achievement, and so much inspiration! I realized that we didn't really need much, but a few log hops, sharp off-camber turns, a muddy hill climb and a decent in that section. The trick was to pass through it without a dab or stalling our bikes. Tim and I were competing against each other, but most importantly we were competing with our previous-selves by riding better then before: by making tighter turns, by moving slower and by being more precise and balanced.

And when we got an incredible opportunity to receive the top notch trials coaching from Tim Coleman, a well known Australian trials and enduro rider, we showed him our section. Tim gave us thumbs up on it and emphasized that it had everything we needed to learn the most important fundamentals in trials. He also suggested that as we were getting better riding the section, we could simply make the line tighter, run-ups shorter and log hops tricker to move to the next level.

. . .

So, this is a story of how my concept of "an ugly looking trials bike" proved to be the complete opposite. If I were asked today, what's my favorite form of training on a motorcycle, I would say trials riding without a hesitation. It teaches you all the right skills to operate any motorcycle in a completely different, more professional and more fun way. There is no other type of motorcycling that would form as many technical skills as trials do.

And did I mention fun and inspirational side-effects of riding trials? Not only you will be a better rider, but you are guaranteed to have so much joy learning and riding trials that you would come to the same conclusion as Joey Giordano, one of my friends and an accomplished dirt bike racer, did. When asked about trials he replied to a student in Freeriding with Tim Coleman school: "The only thing I regret that I didn't discover the beauty of trials long time before."

Written by Hawk