I’M BUYING A TRIALS BIKE – WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
There is a wide range to choose from, it’s hard to make a mistake! Trials is mostly about rider skill and not the bike you are on so don’t stress too much about making the right choice.
Classic classes exist for vintage bikes built before 1965. There’s a twin-shock class for trials bikes built before about 1985. The mono shock trials bikes are around 1985 and on – these have become lighter and more capable every year. There are classes for the different bikes at all competitions.
Generally classic and twin-shock bikes will only do Intro sections in a competition, the easiest grade – see this video for examples of the Intro grade. However, experienced riders often ride Clubman sections or even C grade on twin-shock bikes – see one of our club members doing his thing on an old twin shock here.
Any mono-shock trials bike will handle Clubman sections easily in capable hands (examples in this vid). However, if you plan to ride in C grade or higher, then later model trials bikes will generally suit better as they are lighter – see examples of C grade sections here. A modern trials bike can generally be considered as one made since 2000 – these typically weigh around 70kg or less and are very capable bikes.
HYBRID BIKES – TRIALS & ENDURO?
There is a growing market of bikes that cross over between enduro and observed trials riding, such as the KTM Freeride, Ossa Explorer and Sherco X-ride. While these are heavier than a true trials bike, for some they may be perfect to enjoy the social riding in Intro and Clubman levels, with the added benefit of a registered bike that can be taken into state forests and ridden on the road. The Ossa is the only one that is a true trials bike with just lights, seat and an extra fuel tanks slapped on. Sadly it is still not registerable in some countries.
The KTM Freeride and Sherco X-ride sit halfway between a trials bike and an enduro bike so they are considerable heavier than a trials bike and the turning circles aren’t good enough for serious trials so would be a handful in certain points in Clubman sections.
FOUR STROKE OR TWO STROKE?
Some riders prefer four-strokes – the pros and cons are similar when looking at dirt bikes. In a nutshell, the advantages are a tamer engine response, usually quieter if practicing in the back yard, more engine braking, fewer engine rebuilds, no messing around with oil, and better fuel economy. If you also plan on some trail riding then four strokes are generally smoother and quieter on open trials at a consistent speed.
The drawbacks are they are more expensive, slightly heavier and engine overhauls will be more expensive and time-consuming (although it takes ages to wear any trials engine out!). Some of the world’s top riders choose to ride four-strokes so it does come down to personal preference.
ELECTRIC TRIALS BIKES
Electric trials bikes are an interesting new development. Brands like Oset have bikes for kids which have a decent battery life with the added advantage of being able to ride in the back yard without annoying the neighbours. Adults are also finding backyard practice possible now that adult-sized bikes are emerging. Improved battery life, weight and the addition of clutches have the electric bikes fast approaching the abilities of their petrol-driven cousins. See the trials forums for more information on various brands such as Electric Motion, Gas Gas, Oset, Beta and Mecatecno.
WHAT SIZE TRIALS BIKE SHOULD I BUY?
There is a wide range from 50cc trials bikes for kids to over 300cc in two stroke or four stroke. If you can get a ride on various bikes you will quickly get a feel for what suits you best.
Don’t stress over this too much – rider skill counts for much more than the type or size of bike you are on! An A grade rider can successfully compete on a little 125, while sometimes beginner riders start on 250cc bikes or bigger.
For adults, many believe that 200cc is ideal for beginners as the reduced power is less likely to cause issues as you learn your basic skills and can easily take you into the higher grades. However it is common for adults to start a 125cc as they have such a mellow throttle response down low and encourage much-needed clutch skills.
Some riders new to trials (but experienced motorbike riders) buy a 250 to 300cc as their first bike to save upgrading the bike after basic and intermediate skills are acquired. Initially it will be harder to master the basic skills due to a stronger engine response, but there are ways to mellow the response of a bigger engine while you are learning. Most modern bikes have a mapping switch which will have a softer setting to tame the throttle response. You can also buy throttle tubes with a slower twist to take away any snappiness at low revs. Some riders put an extra washer or two on the spark plug to reduce the compression.
For a full discussion on bike size see our Which size bike for new riders? article.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN INSPECTING A TRIALS BIKE?
General marks will give you a fair indication of condition. Look under bash plate. Are the cases marked badly? Scrapes and rubs on frame, forks, swing arm will provide a rough estimate on how much use the bike has had.
Put the bike on a stand, grab the forks with both hands and push/pull to feel any play in head stem bearings. Rotate bars slowly full left/right and feel for any roughness.
Look at fork seals for leaks. Hold the brake on compress forks and feel its smooth operation. Check the rear shock for leaks as well.
If bike is on stand with wheels off ground check both brakes for smooth operation and that they fully release so there is no drag on the disc. If the callipers are not shielded check for brake pad wear. Look at brake discs for significant marking or wear.
Move the rear wheel in an up-down motion and feel for any free play in the rear shock bushes. Move the wheel side to side to feel for any free play in the swing arm bushes.
Spin wheels and ensure the rims are true. Place a thumb on the swing arm for reference and spin the wheel with a small gap from thumb to wheel rim. Spin the wheels and let our finger nails run over the spokes -you will soon hear a loose one or one with significant lower pitch.
Check the sprockets and chain for excessive wear. Ensure the throttle action is smooth. Hopefully they have not warmed the bike up prior to inspection, so you can ensure it cold starts okay.
The motor is a little difficult to check without at least a compression check – a compression guage is only $20 or so and a handy tool to have. You can hear any top end noise (valve clearance) and you can have a bit of clutch basket rumble that quietens a little when clutch in.
Riding is a good way to check the engine and gearbox. Go through all gears and see if gear changes are smooth.
Thanks to Mags from the Trials Central forum for these tips.
WHICH BRAND IS BEST?
If you are looking at a modern trials bike, there is very little difference between the major brands – most have been around for a long time and the bikes are all very refined high quality beasts. The vast majority of us will never get close to testing the limits of what these bikes can do so we would not recommend one brand over another. Look for reviews from experienced test riders when choosing a brand, along with how easily you’ll be able to access parts and servicing in your area. You can join a trials club before you buy a bike – club members will be very happy to give you a rundown on the various brands, and even help you source a bike to buy.
Older bikes all have their quirks and known issues which we won’t go into here. These are covered in details on various trials forums such as Trials Central and Trials Australia. If you can’t find information on your model, you can join these forums and ask owners for details.
I’D LIKE TO TRY DIFFERENT MODELS BEFORE I BUY
Many Australian trials clubs participate in the National Come and Try Day in February every year, a perfect opportunity to try all sorts of bikes. Otherwise, contact trials dealers and see if test rides are possible. There is a list of dealers here.
If you show up at a club event, you will find riders very keen to help with advice if you tell them you are buying a trials bike. You will find many riders will offer a quick test ride on their bike if they feel you are genuinely interested in trials.
However, the etiquette is similar here to any type of motorbike riding – it is NOT good form to ask someone for a ride on their bike, but wait to see if an invitation is extended. Don’t abuse the privilege if an offer is made – it’s extremely easy to drop or flip a trials bike if you’ve never ridden one before! Pay for anything you scratch or break.
WHERE CAN I BUY A TRIALS BIKE?
There is a list of dealers across Australia here.
Many trials bikes are sold within or between members of moto-trials clubs, which works out well as the history of the bike is generally well known. This is usually a great way to buy a bike – join a local club and ask if anyone is thinking of selling. Trials riders are typically very honest about their bikes (after all you will be seeing them regularly at events), and the majority are quite meticulous about maintenance.
In Australia, other places to look are the Trials Australia classifieds, your local Gumtree or Ebay. If you are mechanically inclined it’s quite easy to check over a trials bike as there isn’t much to look at! Make sure you take the bike up and down through all the gears a few times to check the gearbox and clutch thoroughly. Let it warm up thoroughly and give it a good rev. Check the suspension, all linkages, and the bearings. See our Trials bike inspection article which provides good tips for checking out a bike before buying.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND?
In Australia a brand spanking new trials bike will be around the $9000 to $10000 mark, or you can buy “a carton” for spare change and fix it up! The bike you buy should reflect your mechanical ability. There are certainly many members who restore old bikes to their former glory. There are other members who make old bikes much more competitive than they would have been in their time. Other members buy a new bike every year so they don’t have to do much mechanical work on their bikes.
For modern trials bikes (e.g. post 2000) you’ll get a good idea of what to spend by looking at the going prices on Trials Australia classifieds, Gumtree and Ebay. Pricing gets trickier with older bikes as it will depend on how original they are, how well they have been looked after, and the quality of restoration on the very old models. These can be worth a lot in pristine original condition.