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Photo: TOM WEB.


For those about to check, we salute you!

The job of the Section Observer or "Checker" must be considered the most important element in the sport of Observed Trials. For evidence of this, simply turn to the name. After all, it’s not called "Section Trials", "Rider Trials" or even properly, "Motorcycle Trials". So why then do we see countless hours of rider practice and millions of dollars of machine development, but next to nothing in Observer recognition? The fact is, without these unsung heroes the sport could hardly exist. Similar to the umpires of baseball, the Section Observers call the shots on every play. The outcome of the competition rests confidently in their hands.

Appropriately, section observing should not be attempted with a half-hearted attitude. Based on the fact you are reading these guidelines indicates that you wish to strive beyond mediocrity. Contained herein we have set into print some important guidelines to assist you in doing the best possible job. They have been written in a simple format for quick reading and understanding. In certain areas, the "Observer’s Rule of Thumb" has been provided to give extra insight into a particular rule. All in all, we hope that you will utilize "The Observer’s Guide to Scoring" to broaden your scoring knowledge and help you become a more effective Section Observer.

For a YouTube video prepared by the NATC regarding checking, please check this out.

The Observer’s Equipment

Being armed with all the right equipment can make all the difference in a doing a good job. Many clubs provide observer packets that typically include an official bib, scoring punch, protest forms and pencils, extra section ribbon and a rule book. In addition, you should be prepared with comfortable shoes (waffle-soled hiking boots work well), suitable clothing for the range of weather expected, hat, sun screen, lip balm, food and drink.

The Observer’s Mind-Set

From the moment you arrive at the designated section you need to acquire the mind-set that this is your turf. This means you are in control and responsible not only to know all aspects of your section, but to assume the duties of crowd control as well. Don’t be shy to advise riders or spectators to clear the section if they may interfere with your scoring duties.

Helpful Tips

Walk the section just as the competitor would, becoming familiar with the intended lines for each class and insuring all markers are in place.

Anticipate problem areas and adjust the section markings if necessary. It frustrates riders to receive a five for dislodging an ill-placed section marker.

Observer’s Rule of Thumb

In general, it is not an acceptable practice to alter the section as laid out by the set-up crew. However, in areas where rider safety is in question, it is advisable to consult the Course Marshall.

Carefully select the best vantage point to observe the riders as they pass through your section.

Make sure the section is clear for the on-coming rider. Direct other riders as necessary who may be blocking the rider’s line or your clear view of the section.

Make eye contact with each rider as you signal him into the section. This is typically done by holding your closed fist above your head and either shouting, "Rider" or blowing a whistle.

Stay focused on the rider you are scoring and do not become distracted.

Be decisive with your calls and do not be influenced by the popularity of the rider or difficulty of the section. It is important to be consistent with your scoring.

Always indicate the number of points the rider has by displaying the appropriate number of fingers from your outstretched arm.

Give the rider the benefit of the doubt. Allow him to question your call, but do not permit him to "badger" you into a more favorable score. It is the observer who makes the final decision on his turf. (Refer to section 4. "Disorderly Conduct").

Scoring Fundamentals - The Basics

Competitors may inspect the section by foot at any time during the trial competition. In doing so, they should not hinder the progress of another competitor or obstruct the observer’s view to score another rider.

The section observer begins scoring the rider from the moment the front axle of the motorcycle passes through the section "Start" gates and concludes when the front axle passes through the section "End" gates.

The most common penalty points are when the rider touches a foot to the ground, hence the term "footing". However, penalty points must be accessed when the rider uses other parts of his body to aid his balance such as a knee, elbow or shoulder. Parts of the motorcycle, such as the handlebar may also be used to aid balance and should be counted as footing. The only parts of the machine which may touch the terrain without penalty are: Tires; Footrests; Engine casings and their protection (skid plate).

Observer’s Rule of Thumb

If a rider brushes against a tree, rock or other terrain object with an elbow, handlebar, etc. and the contact does not noticeably aid the progress of the machine, or assist with balance, it should not be considered as footing.


No Points (Clean) - 0 - The rider completes the section without footing or failing.

One Point - 1 - The rider foots once while in the section.

Two Points - 2 - The rider foots twice while in the section.

Three Points - 3 - The rider foots more than twice while in the section.

Failures - 5 points

A five is the worst possible score a rider can achieve at any given section. A five can be awarded in several ways. For the purposes of these guidelines, we have classified them in two categories: those "Within the section boundaries" and those "Involving the section boundaries."

Within The Section Boundaries All of the following acts should be scored five points:

Rider Dismounts or Falls

The rider dismounts the machine with both feet on the ground on the same side of the motorcycle or behind it.

The handlebar of the motorcycle touches the ground.

Rider Crosses Tracks-The rider crosses his own tire tracks by doing a complete loop or figure eight.

Outside Assistance - A third party touches the rider or the machine.

Observer’s Rule of Thumb

For safety reasons, a rider may designate a person to "spot" him at the top of a challenging climb should he not make it up. Sometimes, in his excitement, this person will touch the bike or rider. It is up to the observer to discern whether the rider received assistance from the contact.

Section Modification - A third party intentionally moves a natural obstacle or displaces a section ribbon / marker.

Timing Out - Failing to complete the section within the 90 second time limit (National and International events only).

Rider Request - Sometimes a rider may not feel comfortable to attempt a section and has the option to request a five, provided he presents himself to the observer at the subject section.

Stalling the Engine - A loss of forward motion due to an engine stall.

Involving The Section Boundaries

All of the following acts should be scored five points:

Riding On The Ribbon - The machine’s tire completely crosses over a ribbon boundary with the wheel on the ground.

Missing a Marker - The rider completely misses or otherwise goes on the wrong side of a marker .

Riding Over a Marker - The machine runs over, breaks and / or permanently dislodges a section marker, requiring the marker to be reset.

Jumping Over The Boundaries - The rider jumps the machine over the section marker / ribbon with one or both wheels.

Miscellaneous Mishaps

Despite your best efforts to keep the section clear, there may be the occasion when another rider or spectator obstructs the path of a competing rider. In this instance, it is customary to offer the subject rider a "re-ride" and take another attempt at the section. If so, the resulting score from this second attempt will be the final score, even if it is worse than the original ride.

Disorderly Conduct

From time to time riders get "caught-up" in the pressure of the competition and behave in an un-sportsmanlike manner. This poor behavior should not be tolerated, and if not immediately controlled, can be addresses with additional penalty points.

Observer’s Rule of Thumb

A rider should not unduly detain you from your scoring duties by pleading his dissatisfaction with your call. Should a rider become belligerent, try to remain calm and advise him that he has the option to file a formal protest. If he continues to argue, advise him that you are prepared to access additional penalty points for his behavior and will take the matter up with the Course Marshall.

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