Motorcycle ballet

Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 12:30 AM
Peter Slothower maneuvers over rocks along McPhee Reservoir in the vintage motorcyle competition at last year’s race.

To say vintage motorcycle trial racing is a passion for Dolores resident Tony Down would be an understatement. His love of competition and beauty of a powered ascent over obstacles most people would not walk over is beyond the pale.

“It’s really a pure sport; my wife calls it motorcycle ballet,” Down said in an interview at his Dolores business, Cozy Comfort RV Park. “It is true balance of machine and body.”

Down has teamed up with local landowner Casey McClellan to create two challenging trials courses on the outskirts of Dolores. A “full-blown competition” designed to be spectator friendly will be held over Escalante Days on the weekend of Aug. 10 and 11.

The Dolores Escalante Day Trials is part of the Mountain West Vintage Trials race series, operating under the umbrella of the International Twinshock Association (ITSA).

The second annual event was so wildly popular during its premiere last year, it caused a rush of entries and inspired new devotees to the sport.

“Casey bought a trials bike and earned the best beginner during last year’s race,” said Down, a professional rider who had a successful racing career in Europe.

Down still races with enthusiastic vigor and usually wins his expert class. But now he competes more for the pure fun and camaraderie of it, and to promote the thrill of the unique sport.

“Bear in mind these are old men on old bikes,” he chuckles. “We’re still brilliant riders, but we’re not in our twenties, even though we may think we are. We’re carrying on with various injuries.”

For purists, the more historic vintage trial bikes (up to 1979) are sacrosanct, but various classes allow for some modern upgrades. However, ITSA has specific guidelines designed to limit technology for its competitions. Bikes must stay within the confines of air-cooled, drum brakes, and twin shocks.

ISTA’s website explains it this way: “Limiting the technology we can use will somewhat restrict the motorcycle’s capabilities. In doing this, the severity of the terrain the bikes can safely negotiate becomes more reasonable. This, in turn, opens the door for more riders to safely compete, making for a more interesting championship.”

On Saturday, after participating in the Escalante Days parade, competitors will run a trial course beginning at the Fourth Street Bridge. There will be several convenient spectator sections, including from the bridge.

Sunday is a longer race, with riders utilizing a steep, switchback road accessing the mesa top south of town and negotiating cliff areas. Sections down Lost Canyon creek will be particularly challenging. Each day’s race utilizes three loops, with 12 sections on each loop.

“The objective of the rider is to maintain forward movement without incurring penalties,” Down explains. “A normal course will have rocks, tree roots, fallen trees, steep grades, you name it. It is all about brake and throttle control, staying in balance.”

A foot down is one penalty point; “centipeding” through an obstacle, three points; going the wrong way or out of bounds, five points. The rider charged with the least penalties is the winner. Classes and course lines are subdivided into beginners, novices, intermediates, pre-historic experts, and experts.

The old abandoned house in Lost Canyon will become an obstacle in an optional, and sure to be hilarious, denouement of the Sunday race event. Riders will be challenged to negotiate narrow hallways, ride around bedrooms with old mattresses, and then through the kitchen and out the back door, or some variation.

One such preposterous event is called “Honey, I’m home!” where riders don summer dresses and carry purses while powering their machines through a race course in the house.

While competition can get fierce for the veterans, motorcycle trials are more of a “gentleman’s sport,” Down said.

“There is not animosity, we applaud each other’s brilliance, and laugh at our mistakes when we lay in a heap with the bike on top of us.”

Last year, 25 racers participated. Organizers are expecting up to 50 this year. For more information on the race and how to sign up, contact Downs at (970) 882-2483.