WHAT KIND OF HILLS? DUAL COURSES PRESENT THE BEST SOLUTION BETWEEN EXPERTS AND AVERAGE DRIVERS
WITH the beginning of another competition season, trials are settling down to the new order under the R.A.C. ban on competition tyres. Though the ban is a fait accompli, and “comps.” are seen no more, there is still much discussion over the new state of trials, and the form which they are likely to take.
The underlying idea behind the R.A.C. ban was a very sensible one. It was argued that “comp.” tyres enable cars to use paths and tracks where possibly there might be a technical right of way for wheeled vehicles—though nothing is so complicated as the local rules defining various kinds of right of way—but where local inhabitants had become accustomed to take a peaceful walk, or perhaps to ride or exercise the dogs.
The appearance of cars and motorcycles, necessarily creating noise and disturbance on such paths, was causing growing resentment against trials in general. An occasional competition was quite interesting to local residents. `When a few weeks later another set of drivers used the same hill, comment began. Then as the hill became known and weekend after weekend, hitherto solitary lanes were crowded by vehicles, perhaps with drivers making up time against their schedule, bitter feeling began to be provoked. Ultimately, as is well known, protests reached the Ministry of Transport, and the R.A.C. was advised to take action.
The ban on “comps.” is only part of that action, for it has merely a suasive effect on route-finders. Those organising a trial are still not prohibited in as many words from using many of the old terrors, but they know that only a few, if any at all, will have a chance of climbing them with ordinary tyres. Certain hills, however, are being put on the black list, where there is known resentment against their use for trials.
Moreover, under the new R.A.C. rules the organisers have to submit a proposed route to the county or borough authorities, and to the police, at least three weeks before the date of the competition, and until the R.A.C. is notified that this has been done the final permit is not issued. This is good in theory, but does not always eliminate cause for complaint, since neither county nor police authorities can strike out from a route sections over which there is a right of way, and which merely cause annoyance to residents.
Thus there is still freedom of action left to route-finders, who must beware lest that freedom be taken from us. The point is important, for there still exists a considerable section of trials drivers who would prefer routes to be exactly as they have been in past years, and who would circumvent the ban on” comps.” by using more powerful engines, or other features to restore their mastery over gradients. Such a policy may give satisfaction to a few individuals, who can defend themselves by maintaining that there is no law preventing the use of such-and-such a hill, and, that they have as much right there as anybody else, local resident or not. In the long run, however, it is a
short-sighted policy. The system of local government and local rights is a long-standing and cherished British institution.
Protests may be suppressed for a time, and trials drivers may even be aided by the police to defy some irate land-owner not too certain of his rights. Yet in the end the protests trickle through to high quarters, and a notice ” Bridle Path” or “Prohibited for Motors” appears, while even worse than such a notice is the resentment left behind, not only against that particular trial, but against all motoring competitions. There is another point about these little used tracks. As well as leading to a hill, they often lead to a lonely country house, and the entire onus of maintaining the track probably rests upon the owners thereof, who have thus another reason
to view with dismay scores of wheels
churning up the surface. Frequently this aspect is unknown to route-finders. Indeed, without local enquiry it is difficult to ascertain whether upkeep of a road rests with the council or with an individual.
In the past, it must be admitted, few such enquiries have been made, though there are notable exceptions, where the club concerned has agreed to indenmify a local resident against damage to his approach road, even if he has no actual jurisdiction over the use of such a road. Not many clubs can afford such generous action, and, in consequence the courtesy has s often been omitted. It is the view of the R.A.C. that less damage is caused to surfaces by ordinary tyres, than by the huge projecting rubber knobs which embellish “comps.” To appreciate this, one has only to inspect the track left by a big, powerful car using ” knobblies.” When several of these have been over a virgin surface, with the drivers turning up the taps, quite a lot of the top-dressing, be it mud or
stones, will have been deposited in the hedge, and the whole aspect of the surface will have been altered.
The opposite school of thought maintains that ” comps.” cause less damage, because there will be fewer failures. When a car comes to rest with spinning wheels, it soon digs itself in, and a kind of pit, or at any rate a deep rut, is formed. This argument appears to pre-suppose that ” comps.” are necessary to have a fair chance of climbing that particular hill. If all the “comp.” drivers climbed successfully, and all the ” ordinaries” failed, the former might certainly claim to have done less damage. On the other hand, the latter group would have a certain grievance that such a hill had been included at all. If any of the ” comps.” driver did happen to fail— as some almost certainly would—their spinning ” knobblies ” would in a very
short time have wrought as much damage as two or three times the number of “ordinaries.” A mixture of “comps.” and ” ordinaries ” has often been attempted, in the days before the ban, but rarely with success. This does not refer to those events where one or the other type was regarded as normal, and exceptions were dis
regarded. On the M.C.C. events, for instance, there was no obligation to use competition tyres, and an entrant merely put himself at a disadvantage by not using them, though on most of the hills he retained a fair chance of success with “lever driving. In the sterner events, however. a driver with ” ordinaries ” might just as well have saved his entry money.
Sometimes an attempt has been made to cater .for both classes, either by allowing a bonus of marks for using “ordinaries,” or by different starting lines before observed sections, or by laying down that “ordinaries ” need not climb the whole hill, but must reach a certain point, or by different hills altogether.
Only the last method has proved satisfactory, for otherwise the poor” ordinary” people have had to bucket their cars over the fierce surfaces fit only for the ” comps.” and bent wings and broken parts more than offset the satisfaction that they still had a bonus in hand. The truth Of the whole thing is that hills which will test a good car with competition tyres are not suitable for ordinary cars.
The ” diehards ” trials brigade, as mentioned, still wants these hills, even with ordinary tyres, on the score that with greater difficulty the fun will be More intense. They hope that in the end all the old terrors, even of the Cloutsham variety, will be conquered by ” ordinaries,” and, with the increased power of special machines, this may well be so, and one would be back where one was before.
Not to deny the diehards their fun, one might agree that any of the old terrors that they liked might be iv chided in one or two super-sporting events, such as the Experts Trial, in which the ordinary driver would probably not be eligible to enter, and where in any case he would do so with his blood, or his axle-shaft, on his own head. With infrequent use, some Of the local interest might return.
Cloutsham is not included in this argument, as it is private property, and the owner can therefore do what he likes. Local objections, indeed, are rare in Devon and Cornwall, where residential areas are sparse, and in any case there are far fewer events than round London. Fingle Bridge, for instance, although a local beauty spot, has aroused few objections, and it is a hill which is quite suitable for ordinary tyres, at any rate in the summer. Nor has use of the famous Simms ever created local resentment, though it is quite near the village of Ilsington. In the Chilterns, however, there have been many cases of objections, largely through constant use of well known hills. Alms Hill, now almost unknown to the present generation of trials drivers, was
a test for anyone, and it might still have been open if it had not been used weekend after weekend, often quite unofficially by people merely having some practice in hill-climbing. Apart from a few events to cater
• especially for the expert driver —they should be few, or the R.A.C. will be compelled to take further steps to enfiice its policy of kccping the backwoods private—it i8 sincerely tp be hoped thct committees will in fact resist the persuasions of the over-enthusiastic, and will not Stick to last year’s type, of course. Only by a reversion to more normal surfaces, which can be quite difficult for Ordinary cars, as compared with ” specials” driven by experts, can the dwindling ranks of trials drivers be
recruited. New drivers find almost any kind of trials hills so exciting at first that they are utterly intimidated by the terrors to test the expert.
This is actually one of the arguments used by experts, nearly all of whom mourn the passing of the competition tyre. They say that though the climbing powers of their own vehicles are to a certain extent reduced by ” ordinaries,” many standard cars are reduced to complete impotency, and are thus worse off than they were before. But this is only true if the course itself is of a type to favour the expert at the expense of the others. With a more reasoned state of affairs, the average driver with an ordinary car would find difficulties enough, but the complaint of the experts with their special ears would be that it was all too childishly easy. The” comp.” tyre of course was breedng a special brand of car. Some of these are also suitable for ordinary touring, but others are not. In any case there are now quite a number of them, andsome of the more expensive sports-cars not built especially for trials come into the same category. Thus, even with the total abolition of “comps.” one still has two distinct classes of competitors, distinct
enough -Without going into complicated definitions. In most sports it is unusual for the top-notchers to want to take part in all the village green events, but if it is to be so in the case of trials, the best solution is that adopted for the recent Colmore
event. Here there were two separate sets of awards, with different courses for the Trophy and the Goblet competitors, one for those who wanted a sporting course, the other for the milder type of enthusiast.
If the geography of all hills were like that of Kineton, used in the Colmore event, the problem would be easy of solution. At Kineton there are two hills starting from the same point, one much easier than the other, and each just suitable for the two different classes, so that both found difficulties according to their taste.
Such dual hills are not to be found everywhere, but they are not as rare as might be supposed. Waterloo, used on the Brighton-Beer Trial, has a bye-pass of quite considerable difficulty, whereas the hill proper is a real snorter. There is a hill parallel to Simms, though not starting quite from the same point, which would be interesting enough for many average competitors. Doverhay, though not an impossible obstacle even for ordinary cars in these days, might be rather startling to the novice, and there is a bye-pass known as Easy Doverhay. Litton Slack, too, has its Easy Litton, though in that case the bye-pass is usually rather too easy.
With a little extra trouble over the route finding, and some extra organisation in the way of additional marshals, many such bye-passes could be found, adjacent to more difficult hills. If the bye-pass is too easy, timed tests are always interesting and good practice for the inexpert. Thus both classes would be satisfied, and new drivers could enter the field without feeling that they had to pit themselves against cars and drivers who demanded the uttermost difficulties.