What Exactly Is A Trials Bike? Find Out

What Is a Trials Bike?

When first stumbling across a trials bike, they might strike you as strangely petite and unusual looking. On a second glance, its natural to wonder where the seat is, and even the gas tank in certain models.

There is a very specific purpose for a trials bike, which has the general appearance of a dirt bike, sport touring bike, or racer, but with the small frame and modification of other components. Two of the most notable features are the compact size and the lack of a seat, but you may wonder why they are designed this way.

What Is Trials?

Motorcycle trials, which began in Scotland in 1910, are especially popular in the United Kingdom and Spain, and also go by the name observed trials. They are a unique non-speed competition involving these dedicated sport bikes. These are particularly compact sports motorcycles that at first inspection of the features, are lower in horsepower.

Trials is based on agility and maneuvering the bike into almost gymnastics-like situations, up or down steep terrains and balancing on precarious elements, both natural and constructed. This tests the skill of the rider based more on dexterity and balance rather than speed. These trials can be in the standard length format, or a long distance competition with a pre-planned route.

Brief History of Trials

The first half of the last century, trials was predominately done in the United Kingdom and involved a lot of up and downhill trudging with early models of the bikes. Both the bikes and the sport made massive strides in the 1960s, the difficultly of the courses going hand-in-hand with the improvement of the bikes. Sammy Miller’s Ariel HT5 became a new standard in lightweight design and enhanced steering. Tighter turns meant more challenging obstacles could be conquered. The Spanish-built Bultaco started manufacturer trials bikes in the mid and late ‘60s.

In the 1970s Bultaco continued to pave the way in trials bikes, along with other Spanish makers such as Montesas and Ossas. Honda brought in Japanese competition with their version of a trials bike in 1973, and Kawasaki and Suzuki did so in 1974. Initially the Japanese manufacturers did not handle quite as well as the Spanish competition, but Honda hired Miller, taking him from Bultaco. Together they made a bike with better ground clearance and a lighter design with titanium. It was not cheap, but it furthered the evolution of trials bikes.

In the 1980s, Spanish manufacturers underwent labor strikes as well as walkouts, and Italian manufacturers entered the market of trials bikes. Yamaha then came in as a notable producer for the sport, as well as the Spanish Gas Gas Company. Even today, Gas Gas is a huge name in the world of new and used trials bikes, and they were a major comeback for the Spanish manufacturer competition.

Three Wheel Bikes in Trials

In addition to the solo motorcycle trials event, there is also a sidecar version utilizing a 3 wheel motorcycle. The sidecar trials are predominately British, and the idea is that the passenger in the sidecar is meant to balance the bike. The driver utilizing the side weight of the passenger and sidecar to maneuver in ways that would otherwise require the rider to outstretch their leg and touch down for balance.

In solo events, clearing the course without the rider touching their feet to the ground scores a 0 out of 5, and with each foot touch they add a point up. If they fail to finish the course, they receive a 5, also known as a “fiasco.” In the sidecar event, they have an additional 5 added to their score if any part of the passenger’s body touches any terrain. This skill takes a special amount of talent, depth perception, and balance as performing with an unevenly weighted bike poses new challenges on the obstacle course.

Why a Trials Bike Looks the Way It Does?

Considering what motorcycle trials are, it makes sense that a bike used for such a sport would need to be small, lightweight, and highly maneuverable. Generally, trials bikes are designed and constructed with their weight, suspension, and torque in mind instead of being focused on speed.

The typical trials bike has compact, single-cylinder engine. Most at the professional level range from 250cc to 300cc. These engines are design to maximize the torque, not so much the horsepower—the benefit being that manufactures are not forced to fit a giant engine on a tiny machine.

To keep the bikes lightweight and easy to maneuver, the engines can be incorporated into a U-shape around the frame or a compact cluster in the center. Maintaining that lighter weight is of serious importance, and for motorcycles, these bikes are exceptionally low—we’re talking in the range of 150 pounds, give or take a little depending on the model and components.

Where Is the Seat?

Another significant attribute of trials bikes is the notable lack of a seat. The smooth metal of the frame slopes up and over the rear tire where a seat normally would be, and this can be used in case of an extremely brief, momentary need to rest the legs. Generally, no sitting use is meant for this part of the frame, as trials are an intense sport in the world of biking.

Trials are all about challenging the rider’s athleticism on a bike—up, down, over difficult terrain, and with exceptional balance. Sitting down helps none of those things, which is why trials bikes do not have seats. With some of the obstacles that riders must traverse, having a few extra inches between their bottom and the bike can be beneficial. Not to mention any additional weight that can be shaved off the bike is a bonus. Competitors use their legs instead to cushion impact.

How Much Do Trials Bikes Cost?

Naturally, the cost of a trials bike will fluctuate depending on the model, engine size, and other features that differentiate prices in any sort of vehicle. The interesting thing about these sport bikes in particular is that many of them hold their used motorcycle values, after the intial one, if they have been well taken care of. 

Many current bikes are available in an array from the low $2,000 range up to around $8,000 or more. Engine is a significant factor in the price, as well as brand. Today, Gas Gas, Beta, and Honda are some of the most popular companies for trials bikes.

Ready to Shop? Comparing Bikes

If you are in the market for a trials bike, using a comparison tool can be quite helpful in looking at features and costs side-by-side. You can select the most current models and weigh the pros of a new bike next to the price of a used trials bike along with engine sizes and other stats.

If you’re an avid sports bike connoisseur and enjoy stunts, trials can be a new way to challenge your skills with balance and agility. It is worth taking a look at these compact bikes, and quirky as they seem, to feel the torque and handling of these specialty motorcycles. Beta, Gas Gas, Honda, Ossa, Yamaha, and Suzuki and now some of the most popular makes on the market right now.