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Horsham Riders has Universal Appeal

Horsham Riders

In a scenic and peaceful area of St Leonard’s Wood near Mannings Heath, riders negotiate a number of obstacles along a track that takes bikes through trees, down ditches, up muddy slopes, through boggy marshes and even along the banks of Hammer Pond.

Showing that few sports are as universally appealing as Trials riding, children aged ten years old tackle the course alongside riders in their seventies, as well as some of the South East’s leading trials bike competitors. There are 44 riders gathered for the meeting, organised by Horsham Riders, which in membership terms is the biggest Trials club in the area.

They ride specialist but affordable bikes built by the likes of Beta from Italy and Honda Montesa. Trials bike riding has little emphasis on speed; the tracks are designed to promote bike control with riders often needing to hop a bike around on the spot to get in position for the next obstacle.

There is no stop watch running, with the best rider being the one that puts a foot down the fewest number of times taking the spoils.Riders are instead faced with a sea of flags, coloured red, yellow, blue and white. Each competitor follows a short route (with the red section being for novices, the white for the experts, and the yellow and blue courses for those somewhere in between). The course is made up of a series of short sections and between each the riders are able to take a break and walk each section.

There are no observers counting the penalties for each rider, as the sport is very much built on trust and honesty. As club chairman Ian McCulloch says: “There would be an observer at the big, competitive events, but if you cheat here you are only cheating yourself.”

Horsham Riders is a relatively new club, set up about 16 years ago due to the introduction of safety measures. The Horsham Motorcycle Club, founded long before, was affiliated with the Auto-Cycle Union (ACU) which governs motorcycle sport throughout Britain. But when the ACU made it compulsory for riders to wear helmets, many riders were unhappy.

Dick Husband is now 84 and carries out administration duties for the club, taking entry fees from an old caravan these days. But he was riding at the club until he was 76. Dick well recalls the safety ruling that brought about the start of the Riders.

“Years ago when I was riding, and I started in 1948, nobody ever wore a crash helmet. So some of the older riders didn’t like being told they had to wear one, so formed a new club under the Amateur Motor Cycle Association (AMCA). Originally we were members of Horsham Motorcycle Club which was an ACU Club. That club is still going, but Horsham Riders is the bigger club. We have 44 riders here today and we often have over 50.”

In total, there are about 100 members of Horsham Riders, of which two thirds ride with the others made up of former riders and social members such as Dick. The club meets on the first Sunday of every month at various woodland sites. The regular club courses are at Mannings Heath, Rome Woods near Capel, Northlands Woods near Rusper and Walliswood in Surrey.

There’s a site organiser who puts in the section start and finish points on the course. There are 12 teams (each with four to six riders) and once a year each team will place the flags in and clear the track and so once a year each member does their bit. The Riders hold a club meeting on the first Sunday of each month and on the second Sunday there is what’s known as a group trial. The Riders host their event in May, and this involves the club welcoming riders from other AMCA clubs. In turn some of the Horsham Riders go along and ride group  trials held by other clubs.

Whilst there is a competitive element to Trial riding, with some local riders such as Clint Leggett travelling across the south to compete in major events, there is less emphasis placed on winning and therefore there’s a friendly feeling amongst the riders. This doesn’t only just benefit the older riders who have little desire for trophies and  success – there are younger riders who do not enjoy the more intense competition of other motorcycle sports.

Sam Davidson is 16 and started riding Trials bikes when he was 12. He has progressed quickly to become a white route rider but still prefers the laid back feel to the club. He said: “My brother did Motocross but I prefer Trials as it’s not so competitive or as expensive. At Motocross, it begins the moment you pull up with who’s got the biggest motorhome! It’s all about the winning there, which is fine, but here is a bit more relaxed and friendly.”

This also makes it more appealing to novices such as Rob English who only joined about eight months ago. Rob said: “I’ve been riding road bikes for about 20 years but I thought I would try out off-road bikes. Roads are so dangerous now, I have a young son and another on the way and I thought it was time to take up something a little bit safer. You don’t hurt yourself doing trials, and some of the guys do not even wear helmets, so you can have more of a laugh and it doesn’t matter if you’re a white route expert of a red route novice, there is no snobbery. There’s a nice bit of camaraderie.

“It’s great for kids too. We have had eight year olds here, and it’s an unbeatable way of learning bike control. They can get their kicks from this rather than waiting until they are 16, buying a moped and hitting the road. I used to instruct CBT for 15 years so I know about the roads and how to train people, and this is far safer. You may twist your ankle but you’re not going to get hit by a bus.”

But despite its appeal for people of all ages, the club could still do with more members, especially younger riders. Ian McCulloch said: “When I started you used to go to the group meetings and there would be 200-250 riders and now you’re lucky if you get 70. I think it is mostly down to changing habits – children are not as active and have computers instead. Yet still, we have about ten under-14s, and we do insist that they wear helmets. They have to get used to it first so they will start on the red course and after a year or two they progress on to the yellow and then blue courses and before you know it they’re leaping around on the white route.

“You’ve also got a lot of older guys coming down, and several fathers riding with sons. I used to do the white route but it’s too much for me now so I’m on the blue course. I can drop down to the yellows if I need to in the future. So you go up and come back down again. The other great thing about it is that it doesn’t cost much to get started. Bikes cost £4,000 to £5,500 new but you can get a bike and be competitive for about £1,200 with equipment too. It costs £20 to join the club and the fee for the trials day is £12, so it’s very cheap.”

For more information about the club visit the Horsham Riders website at https://hrc1.org

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