Riding a trials bike vastly improves your off-road riding skills. Just look at Geoff Aaron, Taddy Blazusiak, Colton Haaker, Cody Webb, and Graham Jarvis. All of these extreme enduro and EnduroCross riders have a come from the world of trials. Trials riding teaches incredible throttle, clutch, and brake control, balance, wheel placement, timing, body English, etc. But what about the motocross track?

Do any of the skills developed on a bike with no seat that weighs about 160 pounds teach you anything you can use on a moto bike? To find out, we grabbed four motocross test riders—current pros Zach Bell and Tyler Enticknap and former pro Nick Evennou and Intermediate rider Matt Bynum, none of whom have any trials riding experience—to see if going slow helped with going fast.

The moto guys were surprisingly good listeners. Or Geoff is just that good of a teacher.Jeff Allen

The Plan

Our primary steed for the day was the Contact 250, which is GasGas’ casual trials rider bike and has a $5,999 MSRP. But since there were four dudes, Geoff Aaron, 10-time National Trials Champion and GasGas Media Liaison, brought one of his competition trials bikes for us to try as well. Having the entry-level bike and the factory-level machine to ride back to back made it easy for the motocross testers to understand what makes the Contact better for the new/casual trials rider. In fact, two of the testers preferred the Contact over the higher-end model because they felt the motor was easier to control and the bike easier to ride. Plus, for the moto or off-road rider, the Contact comes with a removable seat and bigger gas tank that makes riding the 250 two-stroke on the trails a little more comfortable.

Tyler Enticknap
Tyler Enticknap makes his usual bike, a CRF450R, look small, let alone a trials bike.Jeff Allen

Basically, we wanted to throw these guys to the wolves, so we came up with a sort of reverse instruction day. Instead of Geoff explaining what to do then having the guys attempt an obstacle, we did the opposite. Starting with some knee-high, single rocks and moving all the way to 7- to 8-foot-tall rock faces by the end of the day, we had our testers try each of the obstacles laid out by Geoff completely green, then gave them instruction on how to do it properly. This was to a) see how the riders’ moto skills prepared them for trials riding, and b) maximize our chances of getting these really fast riders looking and feeling like complete newbs.

first obstacle
The first obstacle was a few medium-size rocks made more difficult by a 180 turn.Jeff Allen

The Beginning

When the four testers showed up at MotoVentures Motorcycle Training Facility in Anza, California, their spirits and confidence were high, seeming a little higher than what was probably genuine. But after they rode the bikes from the trucks to our first obstacle, whatever bravado they had, real or projected, faded immediately.

“It feels like a mountain bike with a motor. It doesn’t feel anything remotely close to a normal dirt bike,” Nick said after trying our first section of the day. Matt was a little more direct: “Man, this is going to suck.” Zach didn’t really say anything but had a stoic look of determination behind his goggle lens. And Tyler was asking a lot of questions before Geoff could even start to explain how to ride the section.

These guys are used to being good riders. They left their “awkward motorcycle learning phase” far behind in their childhood somewhere. Ever since, they’ve been trying to get incrementally faster on a moto track, not having to learn an entirely new skill set. So, for them to be a little bummed out by not killing it is understandable.

Contrary to what the riders thought, trials is more throttle control than just popping the clutch.Jeff Allen

The Lesson

Without instruction, all four moto guys were trying to get over the rounded, knee-high rocks like they would on a dirt bike—with speed, momentum, and muscle. But Geoff made the section truer to a real trials competition section by having the riders complete a 180-degree turn right before the first rock. This took away any hope of using brute force to get through. Without further instruc­tion Nick and Zach made it through sort of cleanly, having to dab and getting the frames hung up while Tyler and Matt had a few get-offs and restarts. All the riders were extremely jerky and twitchy as they cruelly abused the clutches and skid plates.

Showing mercy (to the riders and bikes), Geoff got to his instruction, explaining that they needed to calm down with the clutch. Trials bikes idle and putt along at extremely low rpm, and the MXers had to train their brain not to panic and pull in the clutch at those low speeds. Geoff also explained that there is a ton of torque and flywheel momentum with trials bikes, and once the rpm is there, you just sort of let the bike roll and do the work without grabbing a bunch of throttle.

Moving on to the next section, the riders’ spirits started to slide a little higher on the arc of emotions for the day. One good thing about moto guys is that they are not scared of trying things, no matter how big they are, whereas a casual off-road rider might be presented with a large rock to climb and say, “No thanks.”

This second section was comprised of a shoulder-high rock ledge that wasn’t totally vertical then a 180-degree turn to get up two rock ledges and a quick 90-degree right-hander to avoid smacking into a rock face. With the confidence of the first section fresh in their minds and muscle memory, after Geoff rode the section to demonstrate, they all rode the section with some difficulty. Funny enough, the big rock in the beginning appeared easy since none of our guys had any issues with that—it was the 180-degree turn before the ledges that was tripping them up. It was slightly off camber, and they had to set up for it as they went up the first rock face—and if the maneuver wasn’t done with the perfect arc, they wouldn’t make it up the ledges.

Geoff’s mellow personality matches his lesson of “Don’t be a spaz.”Jeff Allen

The literal and figurative “turnaround” was when Geoff explained the proper way to turn a trials bike. In moto we are all taught to grip the bike with knees and ankles. But with a trials bike, you do the opposite by sticking your knees out wide and turning the bike underneath you. As Nick said after this section, “Take everything you learned riding motocross and throw it out the window.” You could see each of the riders instinctively try to grip the bike with their knees only to find nothing to grip on to. Geoff had to constantly remind them to have a bowlegged riding stance by repeatedly yelling, “Cowboy!”

It was interesting to watch the riders start a new section with a mountain of doubt and trepidation, then learn how to properly tackle it and have their confidence soar only to be cut down again by the next new section. These riders don’t think twice about hucking a triple on a supercross track, but a section where they are going less than 5 mph can strike such fear and foreboding.

Tyler Enticknap
Once he realized the capabilities of the trials bikes, Enticknap had no fear.Jeff Allen

To be fair, the final challenge for the day would strike fear in pretty much any rider who wasn’t a National Trials champ. It was a single boulder about 7 to 8 feet high. Toward the top it was nice and rounded, but Geoff didn’t need to make it any harder by putting a turn or anything else in front. The guys who wanted to try it could attack at any speed or distance they chose. Zach got up it on the first try and so did Nick. Tyler, on the other hand, had the only real spill of the day. He had just not quite enough momentum at the top, and he started to roll backward. He bailed backward while holding on to the bar, and when the back wheel of the bike hit the ground, the bounce of the tire and force of the revving motor shot the bike into Tyler, knocking him end over end. He was fine but the tumble put a cap on all the riders’ escalating confidence and reminded them that they only had one day of trials riding under their belts.

Hitting a triple or blasting up a vertical rock... They both take commitment.Jeff Allen

The Verdict

Yes, riding a trials bike has benefits on the motocross track. Yes, also, the other way around—motocross experience does help with trials skills. How, you ask? Moto guys tend to be pretty heavy-handed with brakes and throttle application, but trials riding tightens that up and hones precise control input. But one answer that was surprising was wheel placement. Tyler said that wheel placement and being aware of where your wheels are hadn’t crossed his mind on the motocross track, but with trials riding it is a big part of it. He made a point that coming into rough, choppy braking bumps or super-rutted, chunked-up straightaways he’ll be thinking about where his wheels are and making an effort to put his bike where he wants rather than just muscling through the same line even if it gets super rough.

Another technique that is similar in trials as it is in motocross racing is the front-wheel tap. Just like you need the front wheel to hit every whoop, the proper way to get over any obstacle is to hit it about three-quarters up with the front wheel. This way, the bike’s front wheel is being kicked up as the back wheel hits the obstacle therein keeping the bike level. If you were to wheelie the front wheel all the way over, when the back wheel hit, the front of the bike would be kicked down violently, upsetting the chassis and making it much more difficult to set up for the next obstacle.

Lastly, all the testers were surprised at how much they learned in one day, how much fun they had, and how little space was needed to ride trials bikes. We asked each if they would ever think about buying a trials bike and the consensus was, “Absolutely!” In fact, Zach had such a good time, and he was surprisingly apt on a trials bike, that as we packed up for the day he was already making his own arrangements with Geoff to meet up and ride some more. Will we be reporting on Zach Bell, the trials rider, soon?

A few of our testers preferred the Contact because of its mellow hit and controllability.Jeff Allen
GasGas Contact 250
MSRP: $5999
Seat Height: 25.3 in. (31.0 in. w/ seat)
Ground Clearance: 12.3 in.
Fuel Capacity: 0.9 gal.
Weight (tank full): 166 lb. (168 lb. w/ seat)