Trials Torque Articles
Relax to the Max!
It all began when a group of New Zealand riders were invited to the Idemitsu Ihatove Trial, and this grew into an exchange of riders between NZ and Japan. Now there is talk of a "NZ-version Ihatove Trial". As part of this initiative, Shuji Fujita accompanied members of the Ihatove organizing team to New Zealand and experienced Kiwi-style trials and riding areas. New Zealand is a fantastic location that surpasses even the original home of the Ihatove trial.
Lately there has been a lot of talk about "getting away from competition". I have long been focused on riding trials events, but soon I think I'd like to get away from competition too. It's true that I haven't ridden at championship level for many, many years. Once upon a time I was totally intent on competition, but I rode until I hit my own limits and then injury prompted me to take a break. However I still get enormous pleasure from trials, because I can enjoy riding around in the great outdoors.
My recent trip to New Zealand gave me a renewed sense of just how much fun that can be. I feel like it has broadened my horizons. Would you like a taste of that enjoyment? Would you like to take a wider perspective on the world of fun instead of getting hung up on competition? Here's a suggestion for really getting away from competition.
In recent times there has been a lot of very gloomy news, but sometimes when I look overseas I see that there are people enjoying trials riding in different environments and the thought of how this sport has spread around the world cheers me up. In Japan we are very limited for places to ride, but the world is full of fantastic locations we have never ridden in and never even seen. What's more, I believe that international exchange with overseas trials enthusiasts can help reinvigorate the Japanese trials scene.
Since Japan is an island, heading abroad is not always a simple matter, but the Ihatove trial and New Zealand provide an example of a steady exchange of riders.
Two years ago the Oliver family of NZ was invited to the 30th Idemitsu Ihatove Trial held in Iwate Prefecture. Amazingly, three generations of the Oliver family enjoy trials riding. What's more, all three generations boast national champions. So the family provided a great role model for the Ihatove Trial as it looked ahead to its 40th and 50th anniversaries in the future. As it happened, the 30-year-old Ihatove Trial also provided a good model for the Oliver family. Key family member Stephen (48) felt it would be great to hold a fun event like the Ihatove in NZ, and I was surprised to find that he is planning to hold a "NZ-version Ihatove" in three years' time. Perhaps we could call this a case of Japanese trials culture being exported.
The NZ trials scene is largely based around competition. There doesn't seem to have been anything quite like the Ihatove, which places priority on enjoying the scenery and the ride between sections. NZ does have the Kaikoura 3-day trial, which boasts a 62-year history, but apparently this has a slightly different atmosphere from the Ihatove.
As well as being a New Zealand champion, Stephen has ridden in the Scottish 6-day trial (SSDT). His sons Nicholas (19) and Peter (16) were planning to ride the SSDT this year, but after talking to Stephen they decided to enter the Ihatove instead. According to Stephen, they all felt this would be better for the boys' futures and better for both NZ and Japan. So Nick and Peter will be coming back to the Ihatove this year. They will ride in the 2-day Classic class, where they will enjoy competing against Takumi Narita, Kenichi Kuroyama and Fumitaka Nozaki.
Meanwhile, Ihatove Trial chairman Yasuo Manzawa and other members of the Ihatove staff have already been visiting NZ. On April 11-15 this year Ihatove chief Yasunori Iemura and organizing team member Mitsuo Nakamura were dispatched to NZ to share with Stephen and his team their know-how on hosting the Ihatove. I was lucky enough to have the chance of accompanying them to shoot video footage for TV Iwate (this footage will be included in a documentary about this year's event, which will be screened after it has been held on August 30-31).
The photographs on these pages just don't do justice to the wonders of NZ that we savored on this trip (but I hope you will take a good leisurely look at the pictures anyway).
NZ is a long island nation stretching from North to South, so its geography feels somehow familiar to Japanese, but since it is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to Japan. We went in spring, so in NZ it was autumn. We were in NZ for three days and we arrived in the South Island city of Nelson, where Stephen lives, after lunch on the first day. We went straight to 88 Valley, where Stephen has set up a trials park on a farm he has access to, and we rode around the hills until the sun went down.
On the morning of the second day we were shown around scenic harbour spots and the Nelson town centre. In the afternoon we were taken to an even bigger farm in a place called Havelock, where we rode to our hearts' content. The owner of the farm is a former trials rider who used to ride a Bultaco.
On the morning of the third day we went to see a museum housing a personal collection of cars and motorcycles put together by a man called Ray Win (85). After talking some more with Stephen and his team about the "NZ-version Ihatove", we headed homeward on an afternoon flight.
Stephen and the NonStop team really looked after us. The way they enjoyed their riding made me see things in a whole new light. Over the entire two days of riding, we never once rode anything like a trials section (in other words, riding in the same place several times and scoring points). We just said, "Let's go to the top of that hill!" and drank in the view from the top. Then we headed off up another hill. All this riding was done in a fun atmosphere, with people pulling big wheelies and so on. Of course it wasn't a question of competing to do the longest wheelie, we just did it for sheer fun. They really showed us how to take delight in riding around the great outdoors.
Stephen has tried all kinds of sports, including rugby, soccer, motocross and enduro, but he believes that trials is the best of them all. Stephen was a top motocross rider but comments that "when the competition gets too fierce there is a possibility of major injury. Trials doesn't have that kind of risk, and if we could arrange events that have a broader appeal, more people would get to enjoy the sport." That idea got him thinking about the "NZ-version Ihatove".
Stephen's friend David, who is fluent in Japanese, translated as Stephen explained his thoughts in more detail: "You ride very slowly in trials sections, but I think a lot of people aren't satisfied with only doing that kind of riding, and I feel the same way myself. Sometimes you want to go faster. People say, 'isn't it a bit boring just riding sections?' That's why we have the trials park at 88 Valley. People won't stick with trials for long if it's all just rigorous training - they'll lose interest. When I'm with my son Peter at 88 Valley, about 10% of our time is spent on focused training, and 90% is spent riding faster and having fun. If you don't do that young people get fed up. Regular trials clubs in NZ don't do much of that kind of thing. There's not much chance to go for a blast and have some fun, so teenagers drift away to motocross because it's more exciting. When I was competing in trials championships, I was doing motocross and enduro at the same time. So I had a good balance and that experience taught me what young people want. Many trials riders in NZ have only ever done trials. Trials has the image of a safe and secure sport that anyone can do. The downside of that is that young people think it doesn't sound very exciting. However, trials skills are useful for learning to ride at speed, and you can use them if you cross over to motocross or enduro. Our friend Josh Coppins, currently competing in the world motocross champs, is a good example of this. When he comes back to NZ each year, he comes to 88 Valley and does trials training."
Regardless of whether or not Stephen has "got away from competition" himself, he is excited by this new challenge of communicating the joys of a broader kind of trials riding to his sons' generation. I felt hugely energized by this trip to NZ to interview him.
If you are tired of your life at home, why not take the plunge and try a trials spree in New Zealand? I bet you will come home refreshed after experiencing a whole new world. The entire menu of activities we enjoyed on this trip can be experienced on "NonStop Adventure" tours run by Stephen and his team. These include everything from rental bikes and riding gear to trials training and transport to and from the airport and your accommodation (which can be arranged in a B&B run by a Japanese family). If you want to know more, check out the NonStop Adventure website.
The other day a friend came to ask my advice: "I want to ride the Ihatove, but the Hiemca class is already full up. The Classic and Budoli classes are too hard for me, and the Neli class is too easy. What should I do?" "Why not go to New Zealand?" I suggested. "How about aiming to take part in the 1st 'NZ-version Ihatove'?"
Let me finish with a joyful comment made by Ihatove Chief Yasunori Iemura: "If the 'NZ-version Ihatove' comes about, when everything closes down in Iwate because of the snow, we'll be able to enjoy an Ihatove-style ride in New Zealand!!"
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