Mind Your Fingers

Author: Mitch Ladyman

Author: Mitch Ladyman


2018 XTrial Australia champion Kyle Middleton photo: Chris Love
I'd like you to try something for me; kids, make sure you have a parent to supervise. I want you to take the front cover off your pedestal fan, turn it on and then stick your fingers in the blades. Now count the tips of your fingers and tell me how many you have left.

Have a close look at the photo above. Don't be distracted by the crazy man launching himself across an abyss between two obstacles that is as wide as it is high. That is just Kyle Middleton, doing his thing on any Sunday. No, look to the above left and lower centre at the two guys, poised, waiting with anxious expression on their face. These are Minders. If Kyle fails, one will catch his bike and the other will cushion his fall.

Minders are the eyes and the safety net of the competitive trials bike rider. They are all that stands between success, failure and serious injury. Let’s look at what a Minder does and how they do it. In the first instance, they must understand the intricacies of the Rider's chosen path through a section. During the section they talk the Rider over obstacles where the they are blind to exactly what lies on the other side. Sound easy? It's not!

The Sevens are one of the obstacles in XTrials Australia. Note the vertical wall, with Jay (14) positioned for perspective. Getting around a motocross or road racing circuit is like playing monopoly; you take the shortest, fastest path so you can pass go as quickly as possible to collect your $200 (or small plastic trophy in this instance).

Getting through a trials section means choosing the path of least resistance and this will be different for every rider based on their most evolved ability, be that breaking, balance or launching over obstacles. The permutations are incalculable. Trials then is like chess. You are planning five moves in advance to make sure you end up where you need to be, one obstacle after the next.

The Rider knows where the bike needs to be, and it is up to the Minder to help the Rider get there. So, your Minder must have as intimate knowledge of the track as you do and be able to communicate guidance with you in as few words as time permits whilst you balance motionless, poised to attack the next obstacle.

But minding is much much more than talking your Rider through a section. Think Keven Costner and Whitney Houston in the Bodyguard. Kev is a Minder, and although the average Minder would not take a bullet for the Rider, they certainly put themselves in harm’s way with a very real possibility they will lose part of a finger during an event. The Minders principal role is to catch the bike and stop it falling on the Rider. The bikes only weigh 67 kg, which is why the Minders can hold onto them if the Riders miss their mark and must abandon ship.

There are two ways a Minder should grab a bike, and to me each seems as fraught with danger as the other. The first and most common way to stop a bike falling back on a Rider is to grab a fork leg. Can you imagine lunging toward the front end of a motorbike as the front wheel is spinning. If you miss the fork leg, it’s the 'cheese grater' for your digits. The other method is to clap your hands over the front wheel. Tell me there is no way your fingers are going to wrap around the rim and I will tell you that you are an optimist and delusional.

Three-time Australian champion Neil Price tells me that "when a finger goes between a spoke and a tube lock there it is little chance it is coming out looking like it did when it went in".

In researching this article, I came across this little pearl on the Motorcycling Australia website, where they were calling for Minders to attend the 2018 Trial des Nations.

It said "Minders will be responsible for their own expenses for the duration of the trip. This is a great opportunity for the successful applicants to experience International events and to be part of an Australian Team. So, what are you waiting for?" I wonder if they mean Minders will be responsible for their own 'medical expenses'? If so, where do I sign up?

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