Trials & Off-roading

Off Road Trials

by Dave Richmond

At the time of founding of the Club in 1928, it could rightly be said to have been the Golden Age of Douglas participation and success in Trials. By this time, events had progressed from being tests of reliability of machines to more the assessment of the abilities of the rider over varying degrees of going. The Douglas trials team mainly used the 350cc side valve models such as the EW and its derivatives. Some top class riders were engaged including the King Brothers, the Mcleans and Vic Austice. The Douglas daughters were also accomplished competitors. Many events resulted in outright wins, plenty of team prizes and other awards.

By the mid1930s Douglas machines no longer featured in off road trials; possibly due to the dire financial problems of the factory but changes in the style of sporting trials were taking place. Events were beginning to take on a more specialised look with tougher observed sections. Several of the major manufacturers marketed dedicated “Trials Models” aimed at the clubman who wanted a machine that would be competitive in this type of event. Incidentally “Trade” supported trials were usually held on Saturdays whilst amateur and clubman’s events were mostly organised on Sundays.

At the 1948 Earls Court Show, Douglas displayed a rigid framed Competition Model. This used a frame which had been intended for an un-sprung version of the T35 Model. The modifications resulted in quite good ground clearance and the specification included a lower compression ratio and a wide ratio gearbox. Deliveries did not take place until later in 1949 and some top class riders were engaged to ride works entered machines including Ted Breffitt, David Tye and Norman Vanhouse. Initially some good results were achieved, however these successes only lasted for a couple of seasons and with the migration of the top riders to other marques, Douglas no longer featured in the results. Three special machines were prepared for the 1950 ISDT, held in Wales. These were based on the torsion bar spring frame. At least one of these has survived. For the 1951 season Douglas offered the option of aluminium cylinder heads and barrels thus saving quite a few pound of the total weight. One example of this version is still in existence. The Competition Model was dropped from the range for the 1952 season.

While the advent in the early 1970s of the pre-65 trials movement and the introduction of the 25 year rolling date for eligibility by The VMCC, several Club members revived their Competition Models and took part in this type of event. At its peak some 9 Comps were being campaigned. It would be fair to record that with one or two exceptions, Club members whilst having a lot of fun and creating some good publicity for the marque and the Club did not bring home much in the way of Trophies or awards.

Such was the interest that the Club went on to organise several open pre 65 events for the Ada Williams Trophy, these being well supported by VMCC members at locations in Kent. Eventually many pre 65 trials changed to a more severe pattern with observed sections bearing little resemblance to those for which the trials bikes of the 1940s and 50s were designed. Even with a highly skilled rider the Comp Model was at a disadvantage mainly due to its limited steering lock.

Club participation has now waned to just one highly competent rider who regularly rides in the Talmag Trial. His machine has also made appearances in the Classic Pre 65 Scottish which uses some of the more traditional observed sections.

Road Trials

by Dave Richmond

With off road events morphing into purely sporting trials and the development of specialised machines to deal with the challenge of this type of competition, many clubs started to organise “Road” or “Navigation” trials run entirely on metalled roads. The heyday of these events was in the 1950s and 60s. The LDMCC was in a combine of six clubs in the South Eastern Centre A.C.U. who in turn ran an event during the summer months. These took the form of the requirement to maintain a prescribed average speed whilst following a printed route card, marks being lost for early or late arrival at time check points, the location of which was not revealed beforehand.

Some regular competitors in these events became so proficient that some clubs introduced more complicated route sheets with such variations as reverse, coded or cryptic instructions. A few road trials were run at night, two of the most notable being the Dorking club’s “Firecracker” and the Met Police M.C.C. “Blue Lamp”.

In the 1960s, considerable public complaints arose over these events. Rural communities were increasingly annoyed at the disturbance caused (Mainly by the car clubs who ran mainly night events). This led to the passing of the Rallies Act which introduced significant restrictions on the organisation of such events with limitations on speeds, timing and entry numbers together with considerable “Red Tape” and additional expense.

Exceptions were made to allow the M.C.C. Classic long distance events together with the Sunbeam Club Pioneer and VMCC Banbury runs to continue, also events with up to 12 riders were exempted from control.

Clubs and riders generally moved away from “Open” Road Trials in the aftermath of the Rallies Act. The London Douglas Club has carried on with “Closed to Club” trials which with their small number of entries can operate with no difficulties. These are organised by both the London and Bristol Sections.