To Punch Or not

Here’s a subject that I don’t think we have covered in this column previously; what do you prefer – punch cards or observers cards – and I rather think that replies need to indicate whether you are a rider or an organiser/observer.

Let me put some of the pros and cons as I see them. As a rider, with punch cards you know at any point during the trial how many marks you have lost. If you are battling with your mate it can encourage you to ride better/encourage your mate to ride better, and at the end of the trial you can compare accurate scores with other riders to see how well you have ridden.

One of the disadvantages is that the use of punch cards extends the length of a trial, and if there is a tight time limit they can inadvertently cause you to fall foul of the time allowed. They also cause queues in my experience as some observers are not as quick in progressing the trial through their section as are others, but they also allow you to speak with the observer face to face and briefly pass the time of day. In my opinion they also tend to be less contentious as observers perhaps err on the generous side when faced with a questionable decision.

From an observers point of view they bring the official into the trial more as they can greet and meet every rider, equally they may feel reluctant to punch a score that the rider might consider unfavourable, thereby avoiding any potential confrontation.

And from an organisers’ point of view, it is possible to announce a result virtually as soon as the last man finishes, but then it becomes an arduous task to produce a full result sheet at the end, with most opting for a set of results that shows each punch card’s total.

Now what about observers’ cards? From the riders point of view you never know your accurate score until the results are published, perhaps several days after the trial. This means that riders rarely have an opportunity to question what may be a perfectly innocent error. However, using observers cards generally enables a trial to progress faster than when using punch cards, with fewer queues but there are also fewer opportunities to have a friendly word with the observer, especially if one is flying around a second (or third or fourth) lap.

From an observers point of view, using observers cards enables the official to allocate his decision without the rider knowing, and frequently a rider will consider that he will have lost a three when the actual score he will have been given is five. It’s also common for an observer to have forgotten the rider’s number and can then perhaps put the score down against the wrong number. It’s also bad luck if the rider’s number is 1, 2, 3 or 5, as frequently the observer will sub-consciously think, “number 5, five marks”. It happens, believe me, it happens.

However, for organisers written cards are much better for producing a comprehensive results sheet.

I’ve put these few words together wearing both hats. Obviously I’m a regular rider, but I also observe perhaps half a dozen times a year when I use both observing cards and punch cards. As an observer, I like punch cards best as I get the chance to briefly speak with every rider and also explain why I have made a decision that the rider may feel is wrong. They also mean I don’t have to remember the rider’s number as I so often forget them when I am writing on a card, especially if I am also chatting to somebody whilst a rider is passing through my section.

And as a rider? I honestly haven’t decided – I do like to know the definitive score at the end of every trial; I also like to have a brief word with the observers, many of whom I know well, but of course with observers cards, the trial seems to run more smoothly.

I’ll reserve judgement, despite decades of using both

I hope this column generates responses, but do please note from which camp you are in – rider, observer or organiser.