BY A COMPETITOR.
The organisation of trials has always been a favourite object of criticism, and latterly the whole principle on which awards are granted has been questioned. There are really two separate issues on which a final solution has yet to be reached. One is the problem of finding the fairest eliminating test with which to pick winners, both of ” premiers ” and of graded awards. The other is the question whether awards should be granted for a set standard of performance, or an order of merit arrived at, and a percentage of awards issued.
In the old days, timekeeping was invariably the method, but now it is almost universally accepted that split-second reading of expensive watches has no place in a motor-cycling trial. This is the natural outcome of the improvement in machines ; 20 m.p.h. timekeeping presents comparatively little difficulty on any ordinary course to-day.
Hills, too, are not the obstacles they were, and consequently all manner of tests have been devised : acceleration, acceleration and brake combined, brake only, stop and restart, slow hill-climbs and descents, sudden stop, and starting tests.
These serve their purpose, and are generally conceded to be necessary for eliminating purposes, but they are all somewhat artificial and therefore unfair. Anything in the nature of acceleration tests make the ” pots ” a gift for factory-backed men, with tuned engines. The amateur may have equal riding ability, but he stands no chance of a “premier.” And if these tests are used to decide ordinary first-class awards, they become definitely unfair. It is not reasonable that a competitor, having climbed all the hills clean, should lose his award because he cannot afford to have his engine tuned.
A very good method of marking, not often employed, is to have long (i.e., 30-40 miles) non-stop sections, including of course some hills and rough stuff, and to deduct marks for stops as well as footing. This tests reliability, which after all, is the avowed object of the “race.” Time checks have their uses too, at each end of a really juicy long colonial section, for it is in blinding over rough stuff that the rabbits will show up.
It is well to remember that a trial should be, first and foremost, a test of riding ability on hills and rough stuff. The over-lavish inclusion of mud and watersplashes tends to encourage a class of circus riders, accustomed by long practice to perform intricate balancing feats. In the same way, the Alms, Beechy Lees, Old Chalky type of hill, smooth, almost straight, and only difficult when wet, is a stupid sort of hill to include in a trial. By contrast, the Devon and Somerset type of hill is generally fair to everyone, wet or fine, and with hairpins and rough stuff is a fine test of riding ability.
There appears to be some dissatisfaction with the usual system, under which awards are allotted according to various pre-determined standards of marking. The one weakness of this system lies in the uncertainty of weather conditions, which may mean 60% in the first class or only 10%.
Accordingly, the modern idea is to award 25% first class awards, whatever the state of the course. This safeguards competitors in the event of bad weather, and the club in the event of fine, and may enhance the value of an award, but it is open to a serious disadvantage. In pitting all classes against each other, some may be, and in fact generally are, penalised by the state of the course. Thus there may be a hill which is fair enough for solos, but well-nigh unclimable for “chairs.” In timekeeping, the latter have the advantage.
The Sunbeam M.C.C. have devised a scheme to obviate the trouble, by allotting 25% first class awards in each class. But still we do not get fairness, because the standard of riding for a first class award will vary in each class : that is to say, it may be easier to win a first in the 250 c.c. class than in the 500 c.c. A mediocre man in company with a lot of rabbits may lift a class premier, while 5 or 6 good men, reaching a higher standard in another class, may have to be content with first class awards. Moreover, when entries for any particular class amount to 4 or 5, as is often the case, the position becomes absurd, and unfair to the competitor.
There is nothing really wrong with the old system of marking ; it is really the inability of the organisers to plan a course that is fair to everyone that has caused dissatisfaction. That it is possible to pick a course that will sort out the sheep from the goats by hill-climbing alone, even in dry weather, is proved by the Sunbeam M.C.C.’s 200 Mile Trial, and Solo Championship Trial.
Such trials are the most enjoyable from the competitors’ point of view, and give the truest results. It is obviously impossible, in a reliability trial of motor cycles, to arrive at an exact order of merit like the result of a race. The utmost that can be done is to say that everyone who reaches a certain standard deserves a certain award. This the 25% system does not attempt to accomplish. The supporters of the system make much of the fact that under it competitors are competing against each other, and not against a fixed standard which depends on the weather. But they gloss over the fact that competitors are not competing on an equal footing. After so much destructive criticism, some constructive criticism is called for. Very well then, having planned a suitable course, let tests be included solely for the purpose of distributing “premiers,” and let riding ability on hills decide the rest. There is no need for the organisers to say definitely in the prospectus that one ” footing ” in 8 observed sections will be allowed. According to the state of each hill, let the marshal in charge use his judgment, and indicate this by “feetup” cards at the bottom. In bad weather much laxity can be allowed, and perhaps the route altered, the ” chairs ” being by-passed. (This was done in last year’s Malvern Trial.) In fine weather every hill will be “feet-up,” and provided the course has been properly chosen, this should be enough of a test. To be on the safe side, however, timed non-stop colonial sections may be included, and presumably the trade-beloved acceleration tests to ensure the ” pots ” going to the fastest engine and not the best rider. Finally, the organisers should guarantee at least 25% first class awards in case of bad weather, as the Wessex Centre did for its Scramble.