The sport of Observed motorcycle trials is best described as a test of riding skill over observed sections. Unlike other motorcycle disciplines, Trials is not about speed. It is about balance and concentration. When competitors ride the observed sections their feet must remain on the footrests of the motorcycle and the must remain between the laid out flags or markers. They must negotiate steep gullies, slippery rock steps, rocky streams or boulder-strewn gorges. Sections vary in length and severity, and riders are penalised if they put their feet down to help them ride the section, and more so if they fail to negotiate the section in its entirety.
The Scottish Six Days Trial is a Motorcycle Trial with a difference! It has the additional test of reliability over long distances with riders completing up to 100 miles each day over six consecutive days. Each day they will take on a combination of rough moorland, rocky tracks and public roads in the best - and worst - weather the Highlands of Scotland can throw at them! Each daily route is designed by the Clerk of the Course to challenge the ability, experience, strength and stamina of each rider. To ride 100 miles and negotiate 30 sections each day for six consecutive days requires strength, expertise and exceptional reliability from both rider and machine.
The Scottish Six Days Trial (SSDT) is mainly focused on the Lochaber area of Scotland, UK and is centred in the small highland town of Fort William. Each day of the trial starts and finishes at the West End Car Park on the waterfront, providing a major attraction and economic boost for the town.
For safety reasons, the Scottish Six Days Trial is limited by the number of daylight hours availability to around 270 competitors, but entries are regularly in excess of 400, such is the popularity of the event.
The majority of riders look forward to the only trial that allows them to compete on equal terms with professional and world class riders. The trial has a reputation for being the toughest in the world, and it is the most prestigious event that a trials rider can win. Competing in the Scottish Six Days Trial is the dream of every young trials rider and long may that continue.
The Scottish Six Days Trial itself always runs from Monday to Saturday, starting on the first Monday in May, which is always the May Day Bank Holiday in the UK. However there's loads more to dee and do before that. The Trials action kicks off in Lochaber on the Friday before the SSDT with the two-day Pre '65 trial taking place, based in the small town of Kinlochleven near to Fort William. Then there is the buzz of the SSDT paddock on Sunday with the annual "weigh-in" of the competitor's bikes before the traditional parade of riders down Fort William High Street in the afternoon. If you want to get away from Trials for a while or you have family with other interests, there are all sorts of other things to do and see in the area!
The Scottish Six Days Trial covers a vast area of ground across all sorts of different regions, but the main base for the event is the small town of Fort William in the Lochaber region of the picturesque Scottish Highlands. The Trial starts and finishes each day on the waterfront in Fort William so that’s where most people base themselves.
There are a wide selection of Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts in the area and, for travel, the closests airports are Edinbugh in Glasgow, both roughly two to three hours drive away.
The short answer is that the SSDT is managed by the Edinburgh & District Motor Club, a small group of enthusiasts who have run the trial since 1911.
However, there is some interesting history behind that statement, because there has always been some ambiguity around the origins of the Scottish Six Days Trial. Some say it began in 1909, some say 1910 and others say 1911 - and everyone would be right!
Back in the early 1900s there was a little Motorcycle Club in the Edinburgh area known as Dunedin MC. In 1908 the club renamed itself Edinburgh MC and began to lay plans for a massive five-day trial covering much of the Scottish Highlands.
In July 1909 those plans came to fruition and the club ran a trial that crossed the length and breadth of the country over a five-day period - that trial was referred to as the most severe motorcycle trial ever held, which is a phrase that is synonymous with our Scottish Six Days Trial even today. This five-day trial formed the beginnings of the SSDT as we know it, and that is why many feel that the first SSDT was in 1909.
In June 1910 the Edinburgh MC ran the trial again, but this time they extended it to six full days. As this was the first six-day trial, many believe that 1910 was the first SSDT.
However, whilst the 1910 trial was being run, plans were afoot in Edinburgh to amalgamate a range of local clubs into one large club. By 1911 the Edinburgh MC had merged with the Edinburgh Waverley MC and the Leith MC (along with others) to form the Edinburgh & District Motor Club. On 24th July 1911 the newly–formed Edinburgh & District Motor Club ran their first six-day trial around Scotland, and the Scottish Six Days Trial was born.
In association with the Scottish Six Days Trial, Edinburgh & District Motor Club also run a Pre-’65 two-day Trial for motorcycles manufactured before 1965. This takes place on the Friday and Saturday immediately before the SSDT every year, starting and finishing in the small town of Kinlochleven, some 36 miles from Fort William.
The Pre-’65 trial celebrated it’s Silver Jubilee in 2009 and has proved to be the most important Pre-’65 trial in the UK with entries for the trial massively over-subscribed each year.
The early history of the Scottish six Days Trial runs alongside the history of the motorcycle in general. In the early 1900s early bikes such as Triumph, Matchless, Ariel and Douglas were primitive, and the original SSDT was mainly a test of reliability. Ever since those early days, the SSDT has attracted factory involvement from the major manufacturers as the sales benefits of winning the SSDT were, and still are, a major selling point for their machines.
In the early years the trial started and finished in Edinburgh, but rather than being a series of daily routes returning to the starting point each day, the trial took in the whole of Scotland. It was a six-day journey from Edinburgh to John O’Groats and back, with designated stopping points for overnight stays throughout the week. In 1914 the rules changed somewhat, introducing time penalties and deductions for machine faults and in the 1920s light cars were permitted to take part in the event for a short while.
1932 saw the introduction of individual award winners, and the first individual winner of the SSDT was Scotsman Bob MacGregor. In 1938 Fort William was chosen as a new central point for the trial, although the start and finish of the week were still in Edinburgh. This didn’t take effect immediately as the trial was halted during the Second World War, but in 1947 the event resumed and grew from strength to strength.
By the 1970s the popularity of the SSDT had exceeded all expectations and entries had to be limited by ballot as it became impossible for all entrants to complete the daily route within daylight hours. The next change came in 1977 when the link with Edinburgh was finally broken and the event started and finished in Fort William rather than having the traditional runs from and to Edinburgh at the open and close of the week.
In the 1980s the international flavour of the event came to the fore, with the first overseas rider winning the event, a theme that was to continue for nine consecutive years. The early 1990s tested the SSDT when the focus shifted to world trials - entries diminished and many predicted the demise of the event, but that didn’t last for long and by the time the mid-90s arrived the event was more popular than ever before.
The trial has grown steadily in stature and popularity ever since, and continues to grow today.
Milestones from the past one hundred years
1909 Edinburgh MC runs the first five-day trial around Scotland
1910 Edinburgh MC expands their trial to cover six days rather than five
1911 Edinburgh & District MC is formed and the first official Scottish Six Days Trial takes place
1926 Brake tests and checks on machine condition are introduced
1931 Observed hills are introduced
1932 The awards system is changed to recognise individual winners
1947 The trial is based in Fort William due to the post-war fuel shortages
1950 The trial is moved back to Edinburgh when the fuel shortages ease
1961 Gordon Jackson wins the trial dropping just a single mark
1969 A Greeves, ridden by Bill Wilkinson, is the last British bike to win the SSDT
1973 The trial entry is decided by ballot for the first time
1977 The trial base is moved from Edinburgh to Fort William, where it remains today
1980 Yrjo Vesterinen is the first foreign rider to win the SSDT
2001 The SSDT is cancelled due to foot and mouth disease, the only cancellation outwith wartime
2011 Edinburgh & District Motor Club celebrate their Centenary Scottish Six Days Trial!