Although it draws huge crowds and tons of press in Europe, for the most part the sport of Observed Trials is a well-kept secret here in the States. However, Trials is most definitely alive and well on this side of the world, though not as visible as supercross or other off-road series. In recent years, Trials has evolved into a very physical sport, with extremely specialized machinery ridden by little known (and under paid), but truly amazing athletes. This weekend near Norden, California, the AMA/NATC National Trials Series wrapped up its 10-round series with a double-header at one of the most awe-inspiring Trials venues in the world – Donner Ski Ranch – and Dirt Rider was there to take in the action.
After finishing in the bridesmaid position during the last four seasons, Cody Webb finally captured his first national title in 2010. The northern Californian dominated the Pro division, winning eight of the 10 rounds, and he credited switching to a new team and a new bike (GasGas USA) for this season as the catalyst for his recent success. At Donner Ski Ranch, Webb swept both days, beating three-time and defending champ Patrick Smage by an amazing 26 points on Saturday and 38 on Sunday.
Up until this year, Patrick Smage has been THE rider to beat since claiming his first title in 2007. The Sherco USA-backed teenager was a virtual unknown when he burst onto the U.S. Trials scene during the ’07 season and since then the Wisconsin native has raised the level of competition in the series, forcing everyone else to elevate their game. At Donner, Smage struggled with the huge granite walls, and in fact, crashed heavily during Sunday’s round. Smage ended the year with two wins and eight runner-up finishes for second overall in the series standings.
Keith Wineland finished third each day at Donner and third overall for the season. The Colorado rider is one of the most stylish riders on the circuit and he’s spectacular to watch. The Donner Ski Ranch event featured huge granite climbs and gnarly drops, and the GasGas rider treated the fans to an amazing show. When he’s not on the national circuit, Wineland is doing extreme riding shows for Geoff Aaron’s Extreme Riding Entertainment.
Arizona teenager Bryan Roper made his first ride in the Pro division at Donner. At 16 years of age, Roper is the youngest rider in the class, although he showed great promise by finishing fifth in both rounds. Like Cody Webb and his father Kip, Roper enlists his father, Todd, for help in the sections. A rider is allowed to have a minder, which is sort of a mechanic, spotter and guide during the event. At Donner, Bryan’s dad made some incredible “saves”, catching his bike in some pretty nasty situations.
Dirt Rider’s Chris Denison and test rider Kris Keefer gave the Donner event a go and came away with a new appreciation for the sport. Before the event their bet was 20 pushups for each dab, but that got amended after the first section. By the second day I think the bet got changed to the loser had to listen to Johnny Cash all the way home (they rode KTM Adventure bikes from SoCal to Donner, a 13-hour ride). I swore I wouldn’t report their scores, but you can go to www.natctrials.org and check it out yourself.
Off-roader Patrick Garrahan also competed in his first national trials at Donner, finishing third in the Sportsman class on Saturday. Garrahan says he’s been riding trials at home over the last two summers and feels it helps his off-road skills. “For one thing, I don’t get as much arm-pump since I’ve been riding trials,” Garrahan said. “And in off-road, you get in the habit of going around gnarly stuff, but in trials you learn to just go over it.”
Cody Webb became the first “native” Californian to win the national title since Bernie Schreiber did so in 1987. Geoff Aaron won some of his 10 titles while living in Cali, but he is originally from Connecticut.