It’s the “trial” bit you need to worry about, not the “reliability” bit, says Dr Hutch. But just what are they? And should you be riding one?


It is reliability trial season. If you’re unclear on what a reliability trial is, you are not alone. I’ve done at least a dozen over the years, and I’m still hazy on the matter.

I know they’re supposed to be a chance to demonstrate your reliability. There is meant to be some stuff about checkpoints and target average speeds. But most of the ones I’ve ever done were just a burn-up — an unlicensed race with no marshals, no commissaires and, practically speaking, no rules.

They’re not all like that. Some are worse. Some are there to simply make you unhappy through whatever means necessary. It’s the “trial” bit you need to worry about, not the “reliability” bit.

My friend Bernard was once permitted to organise a reliability trial. I don’t know why we allowed this — I think the irony of him being the world’s least reliable man appealed to us. It started well — two riders crashed after 200 yards. But only one of them broke a collarbone and had to abandon the ride. He was the lucky one.

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After a few miles, we arrived at a closed road. Bernard looked not at all surprised — perhaps because it was on his regular commute. “Oh my goodness,” he said. “What shall we do now?”

He looked about in mock bafflement. Then he said, “Down there – a shortcut.” He pointed at a muddy bridle path, steeply downhill. One or two of us reluctantly started to tiptoe down it on foot, slipping and sliding.

“Are you cyclists or pedestrians?” cried Bernard, setting off down the path on his bike.

“Pedestrians, please, let us be pedestrians,” I muttered.

One of Bernard’s talents is riding road bikes over the most unsuitable terrain. It’s a combination of his perpetually half-inflated tyres and a centre of gravity that would embarrass a Weeble. He slithered off down the path, skidding into ruts, never quite in control, but never falling over either.

But the rest of us fell over. All of us. The lucky landed in soft mud. The unlucky on rocks. Several abandoned the ride to limp home. One of us landed on a nice soft dog turd then, attempting to wash it off in the stream at the bottom of the hill, managed to fall in complete with bike. He rang his wife and demanded rescue. As many as could fit in a car waited with him, but I wasn’t quick enough.

Bernard had lured us into his web of mud. His pace was relentless. “Come on,” he shouted, in exactly the manner he hates when others shout it at him.

As the path dropped along a gully, we met a convoy of 4x4s coming the other way, driven by men in no mood to share. We had to scramble out of the way, up the banks and into the nettles.

Finally, we emerged onto a road. Those that were left looked like the survivors of a natural disaster, all except Bernard. “Tramps!” shouted a middle-aged woman in the next village, while her teenage daughter threw lumps of mud at us, as if mud held any more fears.

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“Good morning to you too, madam,” Bernard replied.

When I got home, mud fell off my kit as I got undressed, splattering over most of the bathroom. The remaining mud clogged the washing machine, which flooded the kitchen, lifting all the floor tiles I’d stuck down with the wrong adhesive, and ruining the new hall carpet.

Mrs.Doc arrived in the midst of the clear up operation.

“Bernard’s reliability trial went a bit feral,” I said.

“You went on a ride organised by Bernard? Are you sick in the head, or something?” said Mrs Doc.

“I suppose I wanted to show how reliable I was,” I said.

Mrs Doc assessed the devastation. “Mission accomplished,”she said.