18 March 2011

The Best-Kept Secret in Motorcycling

There’s no advance notice of the Talmag Trophy Trial in any motorcycling magazine. It’s almost like an underground “Cannonball Run,” whispered about, in case the authorities try and stop it from happening.

Look back through old UK motorcycle magazines from any March or April, and there is usually a report on the Talmag Trophy Trial – the premier 4-stroke trial of the year in the UK. However, try looking in earlier issues for the “What’s on” section and there is no trace of it at all. In fact, unless you know where to go, you won’t see a “trials” arrow pointing the way until you are almost at the entrance to the Ministry of Defence (MOD) land, known as Hungry Hill, on the outskirts of Aldershot, Hampshire.

Even those “in the know” still check with others that it will be at its now-traditional home on the usual last Sunday in January. It’s almost an underground “Cannonball Run,” whispered about, in case the authorities try and stop it happening.

Despite the lack of publicity and few signs, the Talmag attracts a large crowd of spectators. One look at the range of registration plates on the parked cars and vans, though, and it’s clear that word reaches the continent.

Trials take root

After World War I, motorcycle trials moved almost entirely off the road and machines became much more specialised. Some manufacturers even began offering stripped down trials machines. At first, many of these were big 500cc four-stoke motorcycles, but eventually following World War II, more nimble, smaller two-strokes became the mounts of choice.

The Talmag can trace its origins back to the early 1950s when the Territorial Army (London) Motorcycling Club was formed. It started running trials and the name became abbreviated to TALMAG.

With its military connections, many of the club’s events were run on military training grounds surrounding London. When some of the committee became disenchanted with the proliferation of two-stroke trials machines, the club decided to make one of their events four-stroke only. The resulting event was called the Talmag Trophy Trial and was aimed at getting riders to rescue the many AJS, Matchless, Norton, BSA and Royal Enfield singles from garden sheds.

The idea was to remove the tight sections that prevented even the best-sorted thumper from cleaning a section and re-introduce the wide-open sections with long climbs, to enable the big singles to have their head.

After trying military ground at Weavers Down, the Talmag came to rest at Hungry Hill, a place ideally suited to big bangers. The wide-open steep hill soon became a favourite with spectators and riders. It provided a daunting climb in any of its configurations, and is included every year, despite other sections being rotated.

However, even the Talmag club could not halt the march of progress, and as riders came back to big singles, they brought modern technology for weight paring and modifications never even dreamed of by the factories. So too came an ultra-competitive spirit, which started to show in the severity of the sections.

Now most bikes began throbbing into life with a kick anywhere on the four-stroke cycle thanks to modern electronics taking care of ignition. Riders who hadn’t been born when there was a British bike industry, appeared in bright leathers, with new-found lightweights and extensive ground clearance.

Some of the bikes had names from the past and their engines looked familiar, but the frames were nothing like those from the factory. Tyres became wider and “fiddle” bikes became more common, thus forcing out riders on heavier original machines lacking ground clearance.

Fun or challenge?

The club once boasted that the Talmag was suitable for the once-a-year rider, but the sections became harder, as the club tried to stop top-flight riders scoring clean sheets. As a result, many club riders stopped riding, moved to an easier route or entered the “Clubman class” so they could ride without pressure.

Thankfully, those days of ultra-hard sections are gone and the event has settled down to provide a challenge for those who want it and a ride for those just interested in a good day’s sport. One legacy that remains from the old days is the Under 300cc category for the smaller BSA C15’s and Triumph Tiger Cubs.

Other classes are for “hardtails,” those with rear springs and the popular Clubman class, which makes up the bulk of the 200-bike entry. Then there is the 1920s and ’30s girder forks class, as well as the sidecars, which always put on a terrific display.

There has been a big increase in European riders, and while some come to ride their Ariels and Nortons, others bring very interesting bikes, including some not usually associated with mud-plugging, like a Ducati Daytona, BMW R26, Horex Regina and NSU OSL. In the past, a Sarolea T6 came all the way from Austria and this year saw an MV Agusta in the entry list.

A classic British winter’s day

The 2011 running of the Talmag took place on a crisp British winter day with clear blue skies. Bikes disgorged from vans and trailers fell into the usual two categories – immaculately prepared or dragged out of the shed. These could then be sub-divided into those that retained their original specifications or had been modified.

After scrutineering, bikes were announced from a raised dais before the riders took a lap or two. They then tackled several easy sections to warm up before ending up on the ridge that affords the classic climbs for which the Talmag is famous. This steep bank is where most of the spectators can be found, but those who prefer the slightly slower and more skilful work will hang about the tighter sections.

At the end of the first lap, there’s the test used to decide any tie-breakers: riders had to cover the course as fast as possible. However, the tie-breaker was only needed once, to separate the “over 300cc springers” class, since several riders finished with only a single foot dab. Close results showed that the sections were sensible, but not too tough or dangerous.

The second lap was covered at a faster pace to beat the sinking sun. By the end of the day most of the classes were settled, though for many, winning is secondary.

Sound like fun? Next year, make a note to head for Aldershot on the last Sunday in January to see – or perhaps take part in – the best-kept secret in motorcycling.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Bunny :Lees-Smith North Wiltshire March 28, 2011 at 04:22
    Really great to hear that the 'Talmag' carries on. I lived in Coulsdon in Surrey during the 50-70s. I rode in the trial on many occasions, with a 4 stroke of . course.. A 1952 500 AJS MCS. Normandy, Weavers Down, Hungryy Hil all featured. Now I am 79 I look back with found memories. l

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