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Sport / Motorbike trials first for West Burrafirth

Gary McMillan negotiating a rock. Photo: Brian Gray.

THE FIRST national motorbike trials event in Shetland is set to take place at West Burrafirth at the end of June.

Aberdeen based Bon Accord Motorcycle Club is hosting the Simmer Dim Two Day National Trial on 29 and 30 June with the assistance of local riders and enthusiasts.

Not all local residents, however, were supportive of the prospect of 100 motor bikes racing up the Brindister hills, with artist Janette Kerr, in particular, voicing her opposition.

According to local organiser Brian Gray, the event – which is run according to Scottish Auto Cycle Union (SACU) rules – will prove a boost to the Westside economy as well as local charities Michaelswood, Mind Your Head and the MRI scanner appeal.

Gray said: “With riders, observers, organisers, vendors and their families travelling up for the weekend, there will be approximately 200 extra people on the West Side of Shetland for a few days bringing a welcome boost to the local economy.

“Additionally, three local charities were selected to be beneficiaries of fund-raising that will be running during the event.

“The trial organisers are grateful to have received sponsorship, both financial and practical, from local companies and individuals. The kind words of support and cooperation from West Burrafirth and Brindister residents is also greatly encouraging.”

For some years local riders Gary McMillan and Keith Leslie have been travelling to the Scottish mainland to compete in motorcycle trials.

Unlike scrambling, where participants start en-masse to speed against one another round a course, the trials involve riders setting out singly against the clock with assessments made of how they handle technically challenging parts of the course.

These sections contain obstacles which must be navigated without stopping, rolling backwards or placing a foot down on the ground.
Scoring at each section is carried out by a trained observer who returns the scores at the end of each day to the event organisers, who then collate the results to determine which rider has scored the fewest points and who has won.

The bikes used are lightweight, nimble machines designed to make the slow speed balancing required as easy as possible.

Trials on the mainland have been run in places as varied as forests, mountains and quarries and include the flagship event of the trials calendar: the Scottish Six Days Trial held in the Fort William and Lochaber area covering 100 miles a day over the hills and moors around and on Ben Nevis.

According to the duo, a frequent question encountered during their travels flying the flag for Shetland has been “when is Shetland going to host a trial? with the idea for the event being bandied about for six years.

Gray added: “Organising a trial is a massive undertaking requiring a lot of management, assistance and good old-fashioned hard elbow grease.

“Without enough people on the island to form a club, membership of the nearest trials club (the Bon Accord Motorcycle Club) provided the necessary accreditations, insurances and organisational structures and experience.

“Locally though, with the assistance of a growing group of trials riders, the first possibility of hosting a trial came to life with the support of West Burrafirth resident Gibby Fraser who was kindly able to provide a venue.

“Scouting and planning suggested there were ample rocky obstacles to be able to set out a route in the region of 10 miles long with 15 assessed sections.

“Guidance from the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and Amenity Trust bird recorder Paul Harvey have helped to ensure that the route would be placed so as to avoid disrupting important bird species.”

Gray was finalising the trials routes on Tuesday after a site visit from Harvey to help avoid any nesting birds.

Shetland trials riders at last year’s Mid-Summer carnival in Lerwick. Photo: Brian Gray.

News of the Shetland trial was so well received that it was decided that it should be held at national level trial – open to riders from throughout the UK.

“The Mid-Summer date was chosen to offer a different element to any other trial – no need to start and finish early each day due to dark nights. People who had long been interested in visiting Shetland now had that last reason to take the leap. Enquiries and entries quickly followed,” Gray said.

In order to help promote and grow the sport, Scottish champion Andy Anderson will be attending to offer tuition sessions.

Part-time resident Kerr said that the event would disturb wildlife including breeding birds. She had seen scrambler bikes racing on ground near where the event is to be held.

Kerr added: “There are nesting birds nearby, the oyster catchers were going mad, and a golden plover running around anxiously. There was also a brood of geese making for the sea as fast as they could.”

She said that the trials would impact nesting birds including greater skuas, black backed gull, golden plovers, and geese.

She added: “The land is pretty soft and boggy up there and will be completely churned up and wrecked…we don’t want this to take place.”

Walls and Sandness Community Council chairman Ian Walterson said that the community council had no position as it had never been discussed.

Personally, he welcomed the event, and said that the local organisers had gone to a great deal of effort to plan it in order to minimise disruption to birds and wildlife.

Shetland Islands Council said that the event could go ahead without a public entertainment licence as it was a private event.