Saturday, February 20, 2010

Personal Rides: Ibis Trials Comp

It's been awhile since the last installment, time to fire up a new episode of Personal Rides and examine yet another bike hanging in the garage. This fine specimen is a 1987 Ibis Trials Comp - a freaky little bike made for the freaky little sport of Observed Trials.

"Observed Trials?", what the hell is that you say. In case you don't know, Trials is a sport where you ride through marked sections - very technical terrain - without putting your feet down, or "dabbing" as it's known. The more dabs, the more points you incur, lowest score wins. It's not a race - you ride from section to section, take time to study each section before attempting it yourself, then give it a go. You carry a score card that's marked after each section, that's handed in at the end of the event to calculate who won. Golf fan I'm not, but in a way, a similar set up.

Scoring works something like this (at least it did years ago) - 1 point for each dab, up to 3 dabs. After 3 dabs, you can paddle your way through with section with a total of 3 points. Not completing a section - come to a stop with foot down, or running out of bounds is 5 points. Not attempting a section is 10 points, though if it's that scary - makes more sense to ride in a bit, then score the 5 point penalty. Don't know if that still holds true any more. Been a few decades since my last trials event. No matter what the era, the intent is to "clean" the section - as in no dabs and a score of zero.

Bicycle observed trials is taken from motorcycle observed trials - same concept. The motorcycle crowd has been doing this for decades and in the '70s, during the dirt bike boom, trials started to grow in popularity and was supposed to be "the next big thing" with Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, and Kawasaki putting out trials specific motorcycles. The best trials bikes still came from Spain however, with bikes from Bultaco, Montesta and Ossa. The "big thing" didn't occur as hoped, and the sport faded back into the subculture scene it once was.

Consequently, bicycle observed trials parallels a similar story and started to become a bit popular during the mountain bike boom of the late '80s and early '90s. Trials events were part of the early mountain bike scene, with reports in magazines and trials riders featured - like Hans Rey, Andy Grayson, Ot Pi, Ryan Young, Kevin Norton - as well as others.

Fat Chance and other higher end companies made limited production trials bikes, then a few larger scale production trials bikes joined the fray - from Raleigh, Kuwahara, Mountain Goat, GT, Monty and Ibis. This brought the price down and allowed trials bikes to be purchased from the local bike shop. Similar to the motorcycle scene, mainstream interest died off for trials and its retreated back to full on subculture status. A few Google searches will get you more info on trials, motorcycle and bicycle versions. Monty and a few other companies continue to make trials bicycles to this day.

My interest in trials started during the '70s dirt motorcycle boom. I knew people with trials motorcycles and one of my pals, Richard Jones - and his family, were very into the sport. We'd lay out practice sections in the woods and attempt them - huge fun. I owned a motocross bike at the time, so they'd lend me some trials iron to fool around with. I tagged along to a few trials events to watch them compete as well - including a national event in 1978. At the time, I also wanted a trials motorcycle, but that never happened. As a teenager, keeping a one motocross bike running was enough.

Mixed in with this, we'd practice trials on our bicycles as well - clapped out Sting Ray/BMX copies. We'd lay out sections and even stage play events at times. Later, when mountain bikes arrived, I did the same on my mountain bike - including entering some actual trials events.

During the '80s, most mountain bike races (on the East Coast anyway) featured a trials event in the afternoon. You'd race in the morning, break for lunch, then do the trials event in the afternoon. A full day of fun. Most people entered both events on their stock mountain bike. Others, trials specialists, entered only the trials event on a "real" trials bike. It was a cool time. I wasn't very good at it, but enjoyed it - at least when the sections were "rolling" rideable - as in pedaling. Later, hopping your bike became the preferred method for tricker sections. Not easy to do - an advanced technique for which I'm ill equipped. Today's trials riders, on bicycles and motorcycles, can hop over and onto things that don't seem possible. Amazing stuff.....

With that long winded introduction, let's move on to the actual bike. When Ibis released the Trials Comp in 1987 I really wanted one, even though I never saw one for real - just in magazines. It was the production trials bike for Ibis and thinking I was a bit of a trials rider, thought it would be cool to have. Later, in 1990 or so, I spotted a used one for sale and picked it up. This was the first real trials bicycle I'd ever ridden. With the low seat and super low gearing, totally useless for anything but trials. I played around the yard with it, and cruised over to the local schoolyard and woods occasionally. I discovered I was lot better playing trials rider on my regular mountain bike, rather then specific trials equipment. Hopping from obstacle to obstacle is never going to be in my book of tricks.

Eventually I hung the Trials Comp in the garage, where it sat for many years. I dusted it off to feature on the blog and to sell - will try the Craigslist and eBay routine soon. I never ride the thing and could use the dough for another bike project, though after screwing around the yard with it today - gives me second thoughts....

Freshly washed and powdered for photo session. Sunlight highlights the 24" front wheel, while 20" rear wheel shivers in the shade. I always dug the turquoise paint - looks great. The 1" headtube and Specialized stem look incredibly spindly compared against modern bikes. Frame is steel and nothing like the higher end California made Ibis bikes of yore. This is production based stuff out of Japan, though totally fine for the intended purpose and price at that time. Seat post jacked up only to clamp into bike stand, since you never sit during trials - the hard plastic seat wouldn't be very comfy anyway. Modern trials bicycles and motorcycles don't even have seats.

The old Ibis logo still looks cool.

Sugino 165mm trials crank - which is covered in plastic for some reason. Trials specific tiny chainring and trials tires included in view for no extra charge. Old school bear trap pedals ready to inflict shin damage at any moment.

Dia-Comp U brake provides the stopping power. Strong brakes are super important in trials, especially for hopping, since the wheel needs to be locked up.

Here, Ibis holds up large tree - while showing off old school trials stance, complete with mismatched wheels and high rise bars.

Dia-Comp U brake provides front stopping power and face plants as required. No fancy Ibis headtube badge for the Trials Comp, just a sticker please - thank you. Old school threaded Shimano XT headset keeps things spinning.

Short in back and long in front - about a 23" top tube - this ain't no kid's bike.

The legend of Ibis casts a long shadow.

Later versions of the Trials Comp featured dual 20" wheels, more in line with the hopping style of trials riding. They also had a geared Mountain Trials model with 24" and 26" wheels - kind of a hybrid mountain bike/trials bike - man, I really wanted one of those. Scot Nicol, head honcho of the old school Ibis, and currently Mayor McCheese of the new Ibis - has always been a trials fan - from what I've read anyway. Must be true considering the past history.

Even if you never ride observed trials, practicing some of the skills involved will increase your general mountain biking skills - no doubt about that. Sometimes you have to go slow, to learn to go fast. My alleged trials skills have rusted over completely, though at times resurface in a small form when needed during XC riding. Not a bad thing to have buried in the memory banks.

I hope you enjoyed my little trip down observed trials lane. Click on the links buried in the post for more info, pictures and video. Then go out and try to clean some sections of your own.

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