What makes trials 'postmodern'
The postmodern theory basically says that all interpretations or
meanings of a work (of art) are equally valid.
The sport of bike
trials gives new alternative meanings to everyday objects and
structures both man made and natural. The benches ledges and railings
of a downtown office building take on new meanings as obstacles to be
combined into lines.
A line is an imaginary sequence of moves or transitions from one
obstacle to another. Some lines just have one obstacle in them but
better lines combine many obstacles to be moved over in imaginative ways.
The very best riders are those that can see meanings
that other riders have missed and who can ride them without dabbing.
The result is that they are literally creating a new work of art
using another designer's artifacts.
This is all getting very abstract so here are some videos of some
Low wall to
cement post to railing
of rails (with a dab at the end)
of car to roof to hood to pallet.
onto and along a narrow wall.
along walls and over cement blocks
This should give you an idea of what is involved. To see more videos
try some of these links:
Bike Trials Site"
Trials bikes come in two flavours: stock and modified
A stock bike (picture)
at it's simplest is just a regular mountain bike.
There are some things you can do to make your existing mountain bike
handle better for trials.
The most fundamental things are that the seat should be as low as
possible and that, if you use special clipless pedals, that you switch
to flat pedals.
Lowering the seat, aside from the fact that it can prevent painful
injuries, allows greater range of motion while on the bike. This is
important as some of the moves are accomplished using dramatic weight
Flat pedals make it safer to bail out when
things go wrong. Also, they make it easier to do the
really big moves, by encouraging proper form.
To make the bike even more trials specific you should have as small
a frame as possible, 15 inch or 13 inch would be better, install a
bash guard to protect the front sprocket, short
chain-stays 16 inch or shorter to make it more stable on the back
wheel, wide riser bars, good rear brakes a
good rear hub with as little play as possible etc. The list of
possible modifications is almost endless and I won't go into any
are machines specially built for trials.
They have 20 inch wheels, a huge rear tire for better control and
shock absorption, a bash plate to protect the front sprocket
and a drivetrain with an almost 1:1 gear ratio.
These bikes are only useful for trials and would be very difficult
to pedal any distance because of the gear ratio.
Being built especially for trials they are much easier to balance
on the rear wheel, which is an important move in trials.
The use of shocks might look like a good idea in trials
but it turns out that fully rigid bikes are more accurate to
balance. Rear suspension would make back wheel moves almost
impossible. Front shocks are sometimes used by some stock riders and
are acknowledged as a matter of taste. They can suck up some of your
energy (they are called shock absorbers) and add
weight, arguably making it harder to do the really big moves.
The two most fundamental techniques in trials are: the trackstand
and the pedal kick.
Trackstanding means remaining balanced on the bike while standing
still. The name "trackstand" comes from track racing, where there is
an advantage to standing still on the bike in some situations.
The true trackstand consists of turning the front wheel 45 degrees
and exploiting the fact that the bike tips left and right as one rolls
the bike forwards and backwards. It looks like
This allows the you to set up for some of the bigger moves or to
stand there and consider your next move.
Though it's not a true trackstand you can also remain balanced by
rocking back and forth from one wheel to the other like
This has the advantage that you can change directions or move from
side to side. To stay in one place you can use tiny little
adjustments. To move around you can pivot the bike a larger amount
on each wheel in the direction you want to go.
Pedal kicking is a technique that is incorporated into most of the
dynamic moves of trails.
A pedal kick consists of a quick short rotation of the pedals,
that creates torque on the rear wheel. The effect of a pedal kick is
to both move the bike forward and raise the front wheel.
You have to watch this video closely, but you can clearly see the
rider's right foot pumping the pedal before each lurch.
The lurch is a useful move that makes use of the pedal kick. It
involves coordinating the rear brake, your body position and the pedal
kick so that the bike is thrust forward and lands on the back wheel
with the rear wheel locked.
The lurch is probably the move that is most unique to trials. It
opens up all sorts of possibilities because it allows you
to use the back tire like a foot and 'step' over obstacles that are too
narrow or far apart to roll over on two wheels.
More advanced moves
There are all sorts of more advanced moves, most of which
incorporate a pedal kick, to allow you to handle different
sidehop allows you to get on an obstacle that is parallel to
the bike, the pedal
up, also known as the Jap Slap, allows you to launch the bike onto higher
obstacles and land on the rear wheel ready for a lurch. You can also
use the lurch to drop
off obstacles. Almost arbitrarily high obstacles can be safely
landed with this technique, without the use of suspension.
Here are a few links to trials sites that have instructional sections
showing how to do the moves:
There are trials competitions where riders are observed while
riding through sections. In trials competitions
the act of putting a foot down or otherwise touching
anything other than the bike is called a dab and will earn you one or
more demerit points. The rider with the lowest score is the
Generally several 'sections' are set up and delineated by plastic
tape. Sections can be made of anything but often include logs,
pallets and cars. Natural sections exploit natural features and are
among the toughest because of all the irregular angles and surfaces
The rules get pretty technical to accomodate subtle situations and
to close loopholes. Here is a link to the
North American Rules.
Getting into trials
If you ask most riders how they got into trials they will usually
say that they saw a demo at a bike show and asked the demo riders
One of the nicest things about trials, perhaps because it is such a
small sport, is that most riders, even the
pros, are very approachable and are willing to take total beginners
along on their rides and show them the ropes. The best way might be
to check out some of the trials mailing lists and asking if there is
someone in your area who rides and would be willing to take on a beginner.
Back to the postmodern
Once you get good enough at trials you start to see lines (or
sections) everywhere. This is known as 'section tick'. It can be
very distracting and can make it
very dangerous to drive as you will find yourself looking at all sorts
of things and imagining the lines through them.
Sometimes you will see lines which are so above your current
skill level as to enter the level of fantasy. These will provide much
needed inspiration to keep practicing. You will find yourself
daydreaming about moving over them like a biking demi god.
Sometimes you might actually clear one of these, when your skills have
improved enough, which is an amazing feeling.
You now can dominate your urban environment by giving it a new
meaning and literally rolling over it. Some otherwise depressing areas like
railway depots or demolished buildings make some of the best
trials locations and will have a much more positive meaning for you.
I recently had to take a job in a very bleak industrial section of
town but I found it was one of the best places to ride trials I had
been to. This was for me a way of taking back that part of my
personal geography and turning a negative into a positive.
 The concept of 'line' is not unique to trials of course, and is shared with
other urban sports like BMX and skateboarding
No one seems to know where the term Jap Slap comes from. One
theory is that someone first saw this move being performed by a
Japanese rider. The term is intended to be deferential to the
Japanese riders, who are very good.