Some say I’m a whinging old devil and maybe they are right, but there is one thing that REALLY annoys me about trials is the inconsistency of section marking.
I don’t mean the severity of the sections, I mean the physical design of the flags and their placement. I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the country, but up here in the north it’s a right hotch potch and it needs sorting.
First of all, the flags themselves. Clubs in the Northern Centre where I ride more frequently than other areas have taken to using wire flags with a thin, tatty piece of plastic attached to them. As far as I can gather, they get them from a company that supplies the road construction industry. When they are brand new they are just about acceptable, but the wire bends as soon as a wayward wheel looks at it and anything above a breeze blows them over. Once they are bent, no matter what way they are stuck in the ground they twist and fall over and it’s a real lottery whether you manage to ride inside the point of the flags contact with the ground.
Then there are plenty of other flags. Some clubs use bamboo cane, which are generally fine; some clubs use inch by inch softwood stakes which again are fine, but what I personally consider to be the best is uPVC plastic D strip, 25mm wide which window fitters use to fill gaps between replacement windows and damaged plaster.
Of course, using the wire flags some clubs have recently come up with makes course/section marking easy because you can carry enough for a whole trial in one bag. Equally, canes, inch stakes and plastic uPVC D strip take up more space and are heavier, but they are so much better and certainly last a lot longer.
Then there is the matter of the colour of the flags to denote which side you ride. Again, the best that I’ve found is to have red on the right and blue on the left, with a pair of yellow flags acting as a gate for the hard course route variations. However, oop north some clubs use white/green and yellow/blue, others use red/white and yellow/green – and sometimes you get to a section and the only way to know which way to go is to look at the most frequently used piece of ground. And don’t forget the colour blind course plotter who doesn’t know his left from his right and puts the red on the left and blue on the right!!!!
Does it all matter? Well, personally, I think it does, for it’s more often than not the placement of the flags that are the subject of any discussion/dispute. I don’t mean real arguments, just a case of asking “where are we meant to ride?” One observer will say one thing whilst another observer on another section will come up with a different answer.
As I’ve said, the plastic D strip seems to be the best answer. A 5 metre length usually costs around £1.60-£1.80 and from that it is possible to cut 10 lengths. Cut a point onto each, spray the top from an aerosol can and hey presto you have a section flag that will outlast just about any other solution. Pressure washer them or dunk in a bucket when you get home and they are ready for the next trial.
Begins and ends cards can be made from so many materials, but at least do ONE thing for me. Make sure there is a Begins and an End on every section and number them correctly from one through to how many sections you have. Obvious? You would think so, but only last week we started at section 23, went through nine, eleven, four etc. etc. etc in that order. And over in Yorkshire, not yet have I seen a section ends card with one club and frequently you have to ask “is the end here”?
OK, whinge over