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Tough going: the Scottish Six Days Trial
Belstaff has a long-standing relationship with one of the most challenging events in the biking world, the Scottish Six Days Trial
Any kind of competitive motorcycling needs extreme skill, but nothing requires quite such a set of abilities as the discipline of motorcycle trials. Riders on lightweight bikes scale natural obstacles such as rock-filled ravines and mountain streams. It is not about speed, it is about cleanly leaping from ledge to ledge without tumbling seat-over-handlebars. It is basically like parkour on a motorbike, and it takes incredible nerve and agility to clamber up an impossibly treacherous gorge without putting your tyre a single inch out of place.
Anyone of a certain age will likely remember when a version of motorcycle trials enjoyed a spell in the prime-time spotlight with the BBC television show Kick Start. In the 1980s, millions of people tuned in to watch riders compete over a specially prepared course of planks, logs and oil drums. With an eye for entertaining the viewers, they always threw in the occasional interesting obstacle like an old VW Beetle.
But this was trials riding reimagined for television. The true, hardcore sport has been around as long as motorbikes have existed, and no single event is harder of core than the Scottish Six Days Trial. It began in 1909 and – barring the world wars and one foot-and-mouth outbreak – has taken place every year since.
It began as a test of motorcycle capability and reliability and was key in the development of bikes from British companies like Triumph and Matchless. It provided the double benefit of being a technical challenge to improve their machines, followed by a boost in sales from doing well in the trials.
In the modern Scottish Six Days Trial, riders complete up to 100 miles on each of the six consecutive days. Every day they ride over moorland, rocky tracks and public roads across the Highlands and must negotiate up to 30 observed sections – tricky climbs and descents where riders lose points if they fail to complete the section correctly, or touch a foot down to help them balance.
The event takes place in May, and while this is not the wettest month, this is still the Scottish Highlands, so rain is not exactly unknown. Even if it does not rain, water is unavoidable, as many of the sections are more suitable for white-water rafts than motorbikes. This is where Belstaff comes in. The company has a relationship with the Scottish Six Days Trial going back to 1948, when its revolutionary waxed cotton jacket, the Trialmaster, was created specifically to endure six relentless days of everything that the Highlands weather could throw at it.
The jacket would go on to become famous as the bike wear of choice for the likes of Steve McQueen, George Clooney and David Beckham. While those men helped make the jacket a style icon, for a trials legend like Sammy Miller – who won the event five times in the 1960s – the Belstaff Trialmaster Professional served as an essential piece of work clothing. The Northern Irishman, now in his 80s, praised the impermeability of the Trialmaster in a recent interview, saying: 'On one Scottish Six Days event it rained five days of the six. I was the only dry guy out in the field.'
For one of the greatest exponents of possibly the toughest biking event out there, that is quite some praise.