The Sunday Social with trials instructor Stuart Day
For this week's Sunday Social we spoke with Stuart Day, former British Enduro champion and owner of the Trials Day school.
What’s for breakfast on your Sunday ride?
“I live in Staffordshire, so it’s got to be a trip to The Oatcake Shop. So it’ll be a Staffordshire oatcake with cheese and bacon.”
What’s an oatcake?
“It’s almost like fried porridge, and it looks like a pancake. You’ll have to come up to the trials school and I’ll make you some! They’re beyond delicious. They’re unique to north Staffordshire, so they’re only in a 15 mile radius of here. Food of champions!”
What’s your mission if you’re out for a ride?
“I’ve got to be super honest, I don’t do a huge amount of road riding. If I do have a rare Sunday, it’d be a case of me and the missus going out for fun and relaxation. We’ll normally head up to Matlock or Bakewell.”
What are the essentials in your backpack?
“Money and phone, that’s all you need. You can get everything else if you’ve got that.”
How did you start on two wheels?
“I started as a kid being absolutely fanatical about BMX – I was part of the ‘80s BMX generation – and that progressed to having off-road bikes. I grew up on a farm, I’m a farm kid and we had loads of land but we never had a ton of money so it was whatever I could pick up as cheap as possible - old C90s, and I remember having a Yamaha DT50. We just thrashed them around. I remember one of the C90s had the pizza box on the back, which we managed to take off but the rack was still on there. We managed to get three of us on it, and we tried to wheelie with three of us on it. We looped it! That was quite a learning curve at 12 years old.
"We had a caravan site right next to us as well which would close in the winter, so that was our Donington Park and we’d race around it on our C90s and C70s. I remember having my first ever crash there, it was a highside. The back end stepped out, probably on frost, and then it gripped and spat me straight off. I must be in a real minority group that have highsided a C90, but it was just fun! It went onto serious stuff then when I got into trials as a teenager and started taking it really seriously, but it started off just mucking about as kids do.”
What was it that interested you about trials? I guess a lot of kids just want to go fast.
“My two older brothers Robert and Martin were already mad into trials, so there were always trials bikes about. The local trials club, Staffordshire Moorlands Trials Club ran trials on our farm as well and I just started to go up and pay a bit more attention to it. I thought it looked amazing! That was that and my first competitive trials bike was a Fantic. It completely and totally absorbed me. There was a fury inside me to just learn and improve. I was really engrossed in it for 10 years.
"I think that’s why I can teach now, because there were no trials schools back then, you just had to get on and do. I think I can teach so well because I had to break everything down into little bits from watching videos of the world’s best at the time like Jordi Tarrés and Amos Bilbao. I would just watch what they were doing with their body – the arms and legs – and then go out and try it. The land round here is perfect for it and it’s the bike sport around here. The terrain isn’t any good for motocross so I could go out every single weekend and compete. It just fell into place really.”
Did the competition side always appeal to you?
“Yeah, I was stupidly competitive when I was younger. I’d be out practicing several times a week then I’d compete at the weekend. Sometimes I’d compete twice in a weekend – a Saturday night trial and then Sunday morning at a different event. I made such great friends doing it as well.”
And that competitive edge ultimately led to you being crowned British Enduro Champion.
“Yeah, I did trials for 10 years and the hare and hounds endures started to become a big thing. I was riding for Gas Gas UK at the time and I just gave it a go. I took to it like a duck to water and loved it. For six years I didn’t do any trials whatsoever I just switched to endure and within two or three years I was British Clubman Champion and fifth in British Experts. But then kids came along and that put a stop to it all.”
A lot of trials riders move to enduro, like Dougie Lampkin and David Knight.
“Graham Jarvis was world number four and he’s amazing now. All the best extreme enduro riders come from trials.”
What is it about trials that helps so much?
“You’ve got to be thinking about five or six things at the same time. Clutch control, throttle control, braking points, what the suspension’s doing, what the tyres are doing. It gives you such an edge when you become a good trials rider you can switch to motocross, endure or even road racing. James Toseland was a brilliant trials rider first. The sheer multitasking that trials entails makes the transition easier, but it doesn’t work the other way. We’ve had some fantastic road racers here at the school, BSB guys, and they’re crap. You just have to have so much concentration and control on a trials bike.”
Do you find that people who already ride bikes sometimes find it harder to ride a trials bike than people who don’t ride at all?
“We get lots of guys that come here who think they’re brilliant, and they come here and try and get their knee down at 2mph. Inevitably they fall off, but their way of riding is just so ingrained that they find it such a shock to ride differently. You can see them having a war in their head to begin with. They get it – they’ve got to. We start off really steady at the school and all the pennies fall into place and it clicks for them.
"Motocross riders that come to the school always want to ride through everything too fast so I’m forever trying to slow those guys down and tell them less is more. I’ve started telling people to forget everything they already know about riding bikes. At the end of the day they all love it though. A lot of people seem to think trials is slow and boring but it really isn’t. There are times when you’ve got to go quick and hit stuff with speed which gives an incredible adrenaline spike. It’s a different buzz to going 160mph of hitting a motocross jump but it’s still a huge buzz.”
As somebody that’s never ridden trials and rides on the road, what benefit would I get from it?
“Certainly more controllability. You’ll understand a lot more about traction and what your tyres are telling you. You’ll understand more about clutch control and your braking points. You’ll also understand just how important you are to the overall package and how the body shapes you make effect the bike. Trials doesn’t get the credit it’s due from the two-wheel fraternity. It’s not just a bunch of lads faffing about in lycra. Once you get on a trials bike and become good at the, everything else is a doddle. Some people will probably throw that in my face but bring it on!”
Would you recommend every ride give trials a go?
“100%. Leon and Ron Haslam have trials bikes and they come riding here. They understand how important it is. It’s incredibly physical, so if you’re a road racer you’re building up all the right muscles and every part of your body is working. It’s much better than going to a boring gym!”
That’s one thing I notice in trials, it’s just how much they move their body.
“Not if, when, we get you here to the school you’ll understand everything I’m raving about. But I will warn you it’s addictive! You’ll learn bucket loads just about bike control. I’ve done all sorts – motocross and track days – but the more trials I do the more I’ve got to learn.”
I’ve been wanting to have a go at trials since I was a kid.
“Funnily enough I know a guy who’s got a really good trials school! Get yourself here and we’ll look after you.”
You mentioned motocross, how did you get on with that?
“I did it when I was getting my head round enduro to work on my speed. I entered a local meeting and I won my first ever moto, it was brilliant! In the second moto I was sitting third and a lad just T-boned me, never even attempted to go round the corner, he just didn’t want me winning again! The motocross paddock is not a friendly place. In trials everybody is mates and it’s really laid back, enduro is a nice paddock as well. Nobody speaks to anybody in motocross, so I did a few meetings, was pretty quick, but it’s not a friendly paddock.”
Is that what stopped you going?
“Yeah, I’m a talker me, as you can tell. The motocross paddock was just a case of who had the biggest motorhome and the newest bikes. Everybody was out to kill you on the track. I was still chuffed I won my first ever moto, though!”
You hear about motocross dads, but I didn’t realise it extended to everybody.
“Yeah, like I say, the guy never even attempted to turn and he just put his front wheel straight between my frame and front wheel. He fell off as well so I don’t know what the point was.”
You don’t have to worry about that in trials!
“No! you don’t get a lot of that in enduro, either. I love watching motocross – it’s incredible what they can do.”
Talking about a different aspect of trials riding, Julien Dupont.
“Yeah, urban stunting, that looks fun! I don’t think we could get away with that in Britain, we’d get banged up big time. I’d love to have a go. That boy’s got skills, though!”
What do you think to it? It’s almost freestyle motocross on a trials bike.
“Some of the stuff he’s doing is incredible! I applaud him, he’s breaking the rules a bit but he’s not hurting anyone or anything is he? It’s fascinating to watch, he’s got some mad skills! There was a lad got a bit inspired up north and he rode over a bridge and videoed it, then the local trials club banned him from competing. Whereas I think in France Julien is seen as a bit of a hero.”
Do you think trials needs somebody like Julien?
“I think trials does need more pazazz, and more characters. The skill level today is incredible, but trials needs to be seen to be a bit cooler. I’m saying that as a trials rider, but it needs to be made more mainstream and more fun for people to watch. The indoor series is great because you get the races, but they’ve got to try and get more of that into the outdoor scene.”
Maybe it needs an X Games touch to it.
“That’d be brilliant! We just need a promotor to do it. The biggest problem – I don’t mind been quoted on this – is the ACU is run by a bunch of old farts with no imagination. The people who are running it need to be more in touch, they’re too busy reminiscing about the sixties. I’m available! Look at Danny Macaskill, he’s made mountain biking cool! Don’t get me wrong, Toni Bou is incredible – he must be a robot. Steve Colley’s show is good, but in competition it just needs to be made cooler.“
I always used to enjoy the races at the end of the indoor trials events.
“It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Really fun to watch and proper adrenaline stuff. I don’t know if you’ve got any television contacts, but I want to pitch Celebrity Kickstart.”
That would be great.
“That would be primetime viewing. Take the old Kickstart series, a bunch of celebrities and train them up. Perfect. I think that’d give trials a real boost, and it would genuinely work. I just need to pitch it to the right people. I’ll leave that one with you.”
What’s your opinion on the electric bikes coming through now like the OSET?
“In my eyes it’s a good thing in a lot of ways. Zero noise is good and it’s getting kids into it. It’s going to be interesting to see if it transfers through to make them good trials riders. The reason I say that is because they’re just twist and go. I see a lot of kids that transfer to petrol who aren’t smooth on the throttle, because that’s how they have to ride electric bikes. They need to start putting gears and clutches on them so it is a proper bike and not a toy. That might be controversial but it’s what I honestly believe.”
I don’t think it’s controversial, it makes sense to me.
“Yeah, then the crossover to petrol bikes will be easy. You could hold trials in city centres, then if they get that sorted. Maybe we might end up having urban trials competitions, but the bikes need to evolve with clutches and gears.”
Have you ridden one?
“I have, and I was just looking for the clutch and gears, I need the clutch and gears.”
It’s the complete opposite of my opinion on electric bikes for the road. On the road a clutch and gears on an electric bike make no sense to me.
“Each to their own. Sometimes in trials you are at a standstill before something huge. On a petrol bike you’d build the revs and dump the clutch and you can’t do that with an electric bike. I guess you need that roll on power on the road, though. Maybe I’m just a control freak!”
You briefly mentioned track days. How do you find that?
“I’m crap at it, to be honest. I can’t leave the back brake alone, so maybe I should just take the brake lever off! I got very scared last year – my mate through me in at the deep end at Cadwell. He put me on a supertwin that was making about 95bhp, had tiny tyres and carbon brakes and it was really wet and greasy.”
Carbon brakes on a supertwin?
“Oh my God it was just mad! I was terrified – it cost him £80,000 to build! I hated every single second of it and I was so tense and nervous. I’ve been to the Ron Haslam school since and enjoyed it, but it’s something I’ve got to get better at.”
Where do you use the rear brake?
“Just far too much going into corners. I just need to trust the front. Down through Craner I wasn’t confident, but I was super confident at the Melbourne Loop!”
You recently did the Matat2Pont as well?
“That was a hell of an adventure, it was brilliant. There’s some great footage on Youtube. On day two it rained and everybody was panicking apart from me! That took my enduro skills to a whole different environment completely, I learnt so much.”
You had to follow a GPS, is that right?
“Yeah, which was good, it gave me a bit of a fire in my belly to go and do the Romaniacs or Sea to Sky It was incredibly but scary at times.”
What was scary about it?
“On day two we were coming over some mountains, it was freezing cold and really foggy. We were just following the GPs and it was just on these tiny mountain ledges with a four story drop onto rocks at the side. The trail was two foot wide! That was a bit sketchy.”
Rather you than me!
“It brought the adrenaline rush! Day one and three were smooth riding and it was just the coolest thing in the world sitting in top gear, flying across the savannah, with the helicopter following you. You feel like a proper rock star! The sheer vastness of the landscape was jaw dropping! We were doing 120km a day over all sorts of terrain and there was never a fence in sight.”
Speaking about vast landscapes and multi-day events, was the Dakar ever on your radar?
“Oh yeah, but you’ve got to have loads of money to do that. It’s £50,000 entry fee before you do anything. I wanted to do it desperately as a kid, but it just wasn’t doable. There’s many things I would have loved to have done but time and money never allowed.”
Do you think you’ll enter any Extreme Enduro events?
“Definitely. I’d like to do the Sea to Sky, that looks incredible. Erzberg is on my bucket list as well. Romaniacs was a bit too hard this year. Extreme Enduro has got to be careful that it doesn’t get too extreme to the point where people are dying or people are being put off. They need to find the line. Have you noticed all the top riders are trials riders? Johnny Walker, Graham Jarvis, all really good trials riders. The proof’s in the pudding to learn trials.”
I think that's a perfect place to finish, thanks for your time tonight.
"My pleasure, hopefully see you soon!"