Trials is an incredible sport. What those competitors manage to do on two-wheels seems to disregard the laws of physics. I have to admit though, while I find the feats of trials riders’ gravity-defying moto acrobatics mind-boggling, I’ve maintained only a passing interest in trials that has rarely strayed further than spending more time than I should watching videos of Toni Bou, HRC’s 26-time world trials champion, on Instagram. That said, when the invite came through the MO inbox from GasGas to attend its inaugural California Trial Invitational in Murrieta, CA, I was more than willing to accept the assignment.
This event, presented by GasGas, came about in large part due to the cancellation of the 2020 AMA/NATC National MotoTrials Championship series, the premier competition for Trials in the U.S. Thanks, Coronavirus. The canceled series was also the first time GasGas would have been competing Stateside since Pierer Mobility AG – owner of KTM and Husqvarna – acquired a 60% stake in the Spanish company in September 2019. With backing from a company the likes of Pierer Mobility AG, not only is GasGas poised for a level of growth not seen before in the brand’s history, but also, particularly in the U.S., it’s likely that the sport of Trials might benefit as well.
The GasGas-sponsored event saw ten nationally-ranked (and some internationally ranked) competitors from across the country representing four manufacturers invited to compete. Participating in the event were: Louise Forsley – Sherco, Maddie Hoover – GasGas, Kylee Sweeten – Scorpa, Alex Niederer – Beta, Karl Davis – Scorpa, Daniel Blanc-Gonnet GasGas, Josh Roper – Sherco, Alex Myers – Scorpa, Sam Fastle – Sherco, and Will Myers – Scorpa.
As the event got underway, it was impossible not to notice the comradery in the pits. You could tell these competitors had likely been facing off against each other for years, which, with the median age somewhere around 20, also meant they had likely grown up together in this atmosphere. While waiting for qualifying to begin, I overheard the mother of one rider asking another rider how her family was doing. Trials is a small niche in off-road racing. Unlike motocross though, it’s perhaps easier to get along with your rivals as you’re not bumping elbows and stuffing each other into corners. In Trials, it’s the rider versus the course.
Speaking of the course, which lay adjacent to the KTM/Husqvarna motocross and enduro testing facility near the brand’s HQ, it was dreamed up by none other than 10-time national trials champion Geoff Aaron. Geoff also happens to be the GasGas race team manager and has been associated with the brand for more than 20 years. For this event though, he would be sidelined after completing the build-out of the course. Laid out over five sections, the trials consisted of boulders, concrete tubes, giant logs, six-foot vertical faces, and, in some cases, all of the above in a single section.
The day’s competition saw riders jockeying for positions in both the women’s and men’s classes. Karl Davis looked strong on his Scorpa machine nearly all day with a slight slip in an otherwise stellar performance late in the day which was just the motivation Josh Roper on the Sherco needed to nearly catch the Florida-based rider. At the end of the day though, Davis was able to hold onto the top spot of the podium, edging out Roper by a mere three points. Third position was wrapped up by Alex Niederer on the Beta.
In the womens’ class, Maddie Hoover put on a solid performance throughout the competition, but suffered a big fall on the six-foot vertical log wall around mid-day. Although Hoover remained uninjured from the fall, her confidence may have taken the brunt of the impact. Louise Forsley’s steadfast focus saw the Californian showing determination from the beginning to the end of the event and ultimately was rewarded with the top step of the podium. Kylee Sweeten put a solid performance down as well, taking the third spot on the podium.
After an impressive display on the course, the riders on the men’s and women’s podiums delivered heart-felt speeches of appreciation to their sponsors and families, but also to GasGas for giving them a platform to compete in an otherwise uneventful year in trials competition.
Lunch followed the podium ceremony and almost the entire field of competitors sat together, laughing, joking, and talking about how great the tacos that GasGas had catered in were. It was obvious that this wasn’t the usual treatment at trials events for the riders.
As appreciative as the invited riders were for the opportunity to compete, I hope the industry too can see the importance of this sport and the potential that the newly backed GasGas brand has to bring it to the mainstream. We’ve seen the popularity of off-road motorcycling of all sorts continue to rise over the past few years. Sports like American Flat Track have shown massive increases in viewership and sponsorship. We hope the same comes around for Trials. What these riders are doing is massively fun to watch and can be relatively easily contained to a small area. If any niche of our sport deserves it, it’s the hard-working men, women, and families who have kept Trials riding alive over the years in the United States.