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Back in the mid 80’s Tom Hillard organized the first Rockhopper races that attracted something like 600 people in their heyday. Tom also put on a trials event the first Sunday of every month in Santa Rosa, not too far from where the Rockhopper started. We were regulars at those events. They were fun, social and practicing trials dramatically improved your bike handling skills.
For those of you who might not know, Observed Trials is a scored competition through a set course of obstacles. Time doesn’t matter (those actually sound like words to live by), but putting your foot down does. You ride through a predetermined course and if you make it through without putting your foot down, you get a zero. Zero is good. Each ‘dab’ of your foot costs you a point. Max points per section is 5 points.
Trials was real popular in the mid to late 80’s. Trials is a motorcycle event too, that has amateur events all the way up to the incredibly competitive world championships. It’s scored in much the same way as the bicycle event.
We parked Scot's old '63 Chevy pickup next to the spray booth for a while, and emptied out the gun after paint jobs on the truck. Then we made the truck into a trials section.
We made custom trials bikes in our Sebastopol shop, and we had trials bikes made in both Japan and Taiwan.
The first batches of bikes we made in our shop were simply called trials bikes. Then we started making them in Japan, and called those bikes the Trials Comp. They were available with either 20” wheels on both ends or a 24” front and 20” rear wheel. If you weren’t quite as good as Andy Grayson or Hans Rey or Kevin Norton or Ot Pi (in other words, like that geek on the left), then the 24” wheel was good for helping you over obstacles.
Once the Asian made bikes happened, we called the bikes made in Sebastopol the Trials Pro.
We got Mike Augspurger, co-founder of Merlin and a pattern maker and trials buff, to make some cast magnesium bash guards.
We would like to interrupt our regularly scheduled program and hand over the podium to a good friend of Ibis, none other than the legendary Hans “No Way” Rey.
Hans Rey: When I arrived in California in 1987, which was supposed to be a couple month visit, the mountain bike boom started to get momentum. Along with mountain bike racing came trials riding in the USA, mainly done on mountain bikes and obligatory in most stage races, where each rider had to compete in XC, DH and Trials.
With Trials coming from Europe and being performed exclusively on 20inch bikes, there was a small movement of riders starting to promote this discipline in the USA; these 20inch or 24inch or 26/24inch or 24/20inch riders would compete in their own class called the Mod or Modified Class.
Trials had lots of potential and many people and bike companies thought it could be the next fad or trend. Certain companies like Yeti, Ibis, Cook Bros. and Moots were heavy involved, certain BMX companies, like Kuwahara, Raleigh, Schwinn and Haro also started to make bikes and sponsor riders.
Trials events were very social and the highlight at most events, very spectator friendly - not only at the big events like the Rockhopper South in Big Bear or the Kamakaze in Mammoth - in but in backyards around the country. One such event was put on by Scot Nicol in his apple orchard in Sebastopol California.
My American host and the current National Trials Champ Kevin Norton, along with Laguna Rad Dave Wonderly and his girlfriend Jenny would pile in a van and drive up North. That was my first time to see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. Word had it that Scot, was not only the successful owner of Ibis and the sponsor of Andy Grayson, Americas best and most talented rider; but he apparently was a former Trials Champion himself.
The event was very rootsy, I’m not sure how many riders showed up, my guess is 15? Scot layed out a bunch of sections, including a few in the creek next to his property and one that had us crawling all over an old pickup truck. Everybody camped in his yard and the next morning Scot would cook a big pancake breakfast. Sometime during that weekend, I would earn the nickname "Ray Charles", since I was only known under the name Rey, in those days. But I let Scot explain that one...
Scot: Wait, I thought you were only coming over for two months. What country did you come from, Europe?
We just unearthed a few more shots from the backyard trials event, featuring none other than World Champion Ot Pi. Heres' Ot, showing his incredible form.
The sections were pretty difficult for mere mortals. Ot had no problem clearing them all. Scot's scoring this one, his fist with no fingers raised means Ot's got a perfect zero on this section.
Here's that truck again. Nice tire pressure!
Last year we donated a couple of Mojo SL's to benefit Hans Rey's charity called Wheels For Life.
Wheels 4 Life is a non-profit charity that provides bicycles to people in need of transportation in Developing countries. To date they have sponsored nearly 100 different projects in 20 different countries, distributing more than 2500 bikes.
Our donation last year was part of the Crank Brothers Dream Bikes Auction, and raised enough money to buy 236 bikes for people in third world countries, allowing them to access school, work, and healthcare.
This year we're doing the same. We'll have a Mojo HD and a Mojo SL-R which is our new bike we introduced April 14th 2011.
Here's what Hans has to say. "For us bicycles are usually sports objects or recreational toys - but bikes have a completely different meaning in the Third World. The gift of mobility, in form of a bicycle, can change a life, especially in poor remote areas where there is no public transportation or people cannot afford. No matter whether a student, healthcare worker or local farmer - bikes change lives."
One of the frequent competitors in the ‘first Sunday trials’ was Andy Grayson. He was just a little tyke when he first showed up. Check out that picture of Andy and his dad to the left (Andy’s the one on the right). He’s a young’n!
Andy got real good at trials riding real quick. So we sponsored him. Eventually, he became the National Champion for two years running. He did lots of events and somehow, someone from the Johnny Carson show heard about him and had him on the show.
Lucky for us, someone recorded the show, and we have a videotape of it.
The producers of the show tried to get Andy to wear a plain t-shirt instead of his Ibis jersey. They argued that their paying advertisers would be bummed and pissed that Ibis got such a prominent log placement for free. Quick-thinking Andy pleaded with them, sayin that Ibis was just a tiny small company and nobody knew who they were so what’s the harm? The producers relented, and we got some excellent logo placement in front of millions and millions of Americans.
We just converted it to digital and here it is. Unfortunately the tracking is off, but you definitely get the idea.
A year or two passed, and the David Letterman show had Andy fly out to New York and do more or less the same thing he did with Johnny Carson. Except Letterman is funnier.
The back story here is that Andy was working in a local Santa Rosa bike shop and needed a couple days off. He had taken a lot of time off to do trials events so they were not stoked, and told him he couldn’t have the time off. Despite pointing out to them that being on Letterman was not something that a 19 year old kid from Santa Rosa gets to do very often, they dug in their heels. Andy said, I’m going anyway and they said “you’re fired”. OK then. When Andy appeared on Letterman he told Dave that he’d been fired. Then the local paper picked up on it and ran front page story on the bike shop’s very bad decision.
Here’s the job losing Letterman clip. Also at the end, there’s a second appearance on Letterman. Andy made another trip out to New York to be on the show. All he did for this trip was bring Dave a coke from the 7th floor down to the 6th floor. But he didn’t have a job to lose this time…
Trials bikes were real fun and there are a lot of things you can do on them that you can’t do on a 26” wheel (or bigger) bike. The opposite is true, too. You really don’t want to go on a three or four hour epic on a trials bike.
So we came up with the Mountain Trials, a super fun play bike that you can still ride all day. You can see the brochures and read all about it here.