bASIC LEVEL training: which size bike for new riders?

This article expands on information from our Buying a trials bike? page which is worth reading too. This information is subject to our disclaimer.

Which size trials bike for new riders? This is the big question when someone is buying their first trials bike. A common recommendation is for adults to buy a 125 instead of a larger bike, even though it may feel underpowered. We asked Rob Wager in our trials club for his thoughts. This guy is the Yoda of trials, the guru of balance and a bottomless source of knowledge concerning seatless bikes.

why size doesn't matter

A modern 125cc will get you through any clubman section with ease and will teach you everything you need to know about clutch and throttle control. As you get better the same little 125 can take you all the way to A-grade. And at the end of a tough two-day event you will still be able to lift a leg to start it easily.

A 300 cc bike will do exactly the same in a much less forgiving way and by the end of that tough two day event you'll probably be bribing your kid or mate to start it for you.

Then there are the 200cc trials bikes, a very good compromise between power and sensibility for riders new to trials (note I said new to trials not new riders).

why a big bike could be a handful

Trials is about balance and control and using your weight to shift the bike and rider, combined center of gravity to maximize traction when needed, and unweight the front, back, or whole unit at other times. These skills are required for any capacity bike.

Riders new to trials are unlikely to be riding higher than C-grade in their first year, and as such aren't going to be attempting big steps or standing full-throttle launches. At most, new riders will have to attempt a hill climb which may tax the 125, but with proper technique (in this case lots of throttle controlled with judicious clutch slip) clubman hill climbs will be achievable.

The corollary is a new rider on a 270cc or bigger bike tackling the same hill climb. The shear tractability of the big-bore trials bike means that the new rider has not learned good clutch control because it is easy to idle through most situations. On the hill climb, the rider asks for a little more, gets wheel spin followed by sudden traction, and the rider is dumped off and the bike becomes a dangerous missile. The worst that happens on the 125 is that you run out of forward momentum and lay the bike on its side.

It is a combination of engine characteristics (off which flywheel is one aspect) and good technique that gets the small capacity bikes through. The 200cc is just a good all round capacity that has enough grunt to idle through snotty sections, but needs some clutch for bigger obstacles and hence helps develop technique. A 250 also works fine for many new riders (and there are certainly more of these for sale), but they can be a handful when you are tired.

what about the old twin shock trials bikes?

I should also mention you don't necessarily need a modern trials bike - the old twin shocks like the Yamaha TY175s and even Honda TL125s have dragged big guys around quite successfully for a long time now. Some of these guys never use the clutch (they tend to be heavy on the old bikes) and rely on big-bore bikes with plenty of flywheel. They achieve good results by using plenty of body English and precise selection of their lines. But these guys have developed their skills over a long period. And there are lots of twin shock riders applying modern techniques and these guys are hard to beat in this class. Just look at what one of our club members can do on an old TY250 in this video.

try before you buy

In the end you may need to have a test ride on all these bikes to see which feels the most comfortable. If you join a trials club they will usually be incredibly helpful at easing you into the sport, and can probably arrange a bit of a test ride on all these types of bikes (under the watchful eyes of their owners!). In the long run, it's more about rider skill than the bike you are on so you'll have a great time no matter what you decide to buy.

Copyright B. Morris & Rob Wager 2014

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Rob Wager, our club's guru of perfect trials
balance (but less so with mental balance)