Exclusive interview with seven-time Trials World Champion Emma Bristow

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Emma Bristow was awarded the 2020 Royal Automobile Club Torrens Trophy on Monday after clinching her seven consecutive FIM Women’s Trial World Championship title two years ago.

Bristow, like 2019 winner Peter Hickman, had to wait to celebrate their success due to Covid-19, which caused the cancellation of both the 2020 and 2021 presentation evenings at the Pall Mall Clubhouse in London.

Bristow is the first female winner of the historic award, whilst it’s also the first time that Trials Riding has been recognised. MCN were in attendance on Monday evening (March 14), and sat down with Emma to find out a little bit more about her career.

Congratulations on receiving this award. How does it feel?

It’s crazy really. There’s a lot of history in this building and plenty of enthusiastic people in this club, so to be noticed is incredible. I was really honoured when they phoned me and told me that I’d won. When you see the names that have been on this trophy before, it’s a great achievement for me and I’m just so pleased.

Trials can be considered a niche sport, so how good is it to see it being recognised?

It’s great! Obviously, plenty of people don’t know what trials is, but it’s a fun sport and one that anybody can do really. Anybody can go and buy a bike; it doesn’t need to be a top of the range model. There are clubs all over the country as well, I think in my county alone there are five or six clubs you can ride at most weekends.

It’s accessible for everybody and it’s a fun sport even at the lower levels. It would be really cool if there were more riders in this country, so hopefully this can help. There’s racing and then there’s trials, which isn’t racing, so understanding what it is can sometimes be a challenge.

Emma Bristow with the Torrens Trophy

It’s also fantastic to see a female rider being celebrated as well. How do you see the current landscape?

Since I’ve been riding there’s been a lot more women riders. At the end of the day, we’re all the same really aren’t we, so there’s no reason why girls can’t ride motorbikes. Perhaps it used to be a lads and dads thing, football was the same but now girls are seen to be playing football and also getting better deals so maybe that can help us.

It’s not just participation for girls either, it’s about really pushing yourself and getting good results with the boys. For me, I like to see girls riding, but I like to see them pushing themselves as well. I think I’d be quite a hard teacher!! Growing up, I rode with my brothers and my cousins and there was one other girl in there with us, so it’s maybe not a strange thing for me and to see that it’s not strange is perhaps the most important thing.

Winning seven titles in a row is astonishing. How difficult is it to stay on top and does the level increase each year?

In any sport it’s hard to stay at the top, and to stay physically and mentally in shape. I never thought I’d win one, so to win seven is incredible. One more would be nice though! The thing is, we always say that you never enjoy the successes because you’re always preparing for the next one. So maybe if I gave myself some advice it would be to enjoy the successes more and it might feel better.

I’m always wanting more. I’m always pushing and I’m always critical. My level now compared to when I won my first title is 10 times better than what it was. I always want to learn and improve. I still love doing it and I’m still motivated. I don’t think I’m ready to finish just yet.

Emma Bristow Pall Mall Clubhouse

Every champion has a rival. Tell me about your rivalry with Laia Sanz…

She came back last year, and she beat me, which hurt! I’ve come back from quite a dark place after losing that, but I am back and I’m going to give it my all this year. It’s good to have rivals, it pushes you both on. She’ll be thinking ‘oh Emma is put practicing; I need to go out’ and vice versa. It’s like Lewis [Hamilton] and Max [Verstappen]; it’s great to have two people that are so good, competing against each other, and it makes it interesting for those watching as well. It’s better for the sport when there isn’t one person running away with it.

In a way you’re now even more fired up…

Exactly. The worst has happened; I didn’t win last year so I’ve got nothing to lose this year and I’m going to give it my all. I’ll be physically stronger, and in a better place mentally.

What make a good trials rider?

On video it looks easy, but it really isn’t! You need to have balance, throttle control and clutch control. It’s knowing that you will improve if you keep going out and practicing. It’s one of them things that when things click, you’ve ticked something off. It’s a life skill I suppose.

It’s easier to learn when you’re younger, but there’s no reason why someone older shouldn’t try it. It’s fun and you can do it with your friends too, go out and compare what you’re doing and have a giggle. There’s nothing ever really dangerous in a club event so it’s cool for everybody to have a go.

How do you train?

You need plenty of time on the bike. The way we see it is that if you’re a 100m runner for example, you know what’s coming, you know what you’re going to get, whereas in our sport you never know what’s coming. You could get rocks, you could get rivers, you could get slippery banks, so you have to be an all-round rider.

It’s difficult because you’ve got to train for everything in all situations. Currently, I’m doing plenty of strength training in the gym because I want to be stronger in order to boss the bike around a bit more. I walk on a zip-line to help with my balance, but you can’t beat being on your bike.

Emma Bristow pulls a wheelie

Do the courses change every year?

Yeah, it’s different. The course plotters decide what you’re riding. There’s not a certain track or anything like that. They have to get it right and make it harder for us! It’s easy for them to be worried about injuries and stuff like that, but they need to make it tougher because that makes for better watching for the spectaculars as well.

Is there a particular obstacle you enjoy conquering?

I like to ride rocks – the bigger the better! I’m not a big fan of slippery banks! I should be because I’m from England, but I enjoy going to Spain and riding in the sun. It’s great to watch as well but you’ll always find that it doesn’t look as big on social media as it does in real life. That’s what makes trials a difficult sport to watch from a computer because it looks so small. It’s only when you get there that you think gosh, that’s big.

You’re a two-time World SuperEnduro Champion too. What led you in that direction?

It was nice to do something different because it took place over the winter. The Enduro bikes are a lot bigger, but I loved it. It was a new challenge. The first round they ever did was in Liverpool, so that’s why I did it. I think I finished second, and then continued the year and won it.

It was cool, but the fitness for that was completely different to what I was used to, so by the time I got back on the Trials bike to train for that season, I was super fit, and super strong. It was nice to have another focus in the winter. I loved it. They don’t run it anymore for the girls, which is a shame, but there just wasn’t enough of us at a certain level.

Find out more about the Royal Automobile Club’s Torrens Trophy presentation evening.

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Josh Close

By Josh Close

Sports Reporter and fan of all things motorsport.