Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review: Observed Trials School

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Trials School Review

Regular folks don’t often get a chance to rub elbows and get tips from a legend in their sport, but that’s just what I got to do by attending 1979 Trial World Champion Bernie Schreiber’s first U.S. observed trials school—the Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience.

Hosted by MotoVentures in Anza, California, and held at the nearby Old Chaney Ranch in Warner Springs on a hot August day, the all-day feet-on-the-pegs workshop was both a social and learning experience led by America’s only Trial World Champion. Although an icon in the American trials world, the friendly champion is known primarily by his first name.

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review
Sermon on the Rock

The Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience started bright and early at 8 a.m. under an ancient California live oak. Twenty-two participants and I sat on folding chairs, taking in Bernie’s philosophy on the fundamentals of observed trials riding. Starting with the most basic aspect—your stance on the bike—Bernie explained and demonstrated why this is the cornerstone of your riding.

The hour-long session delved into practice strategies (practice your weaknesses to improve), performance focus (a rider is only truly ‘performing’ for 10-12 minutes in a six-hour trial competition), and consistency (in preparation, in effort, in mindset), amongst other nuggets. Bernie pulled out a golf club to illustrate similarities between golf and observed trials—both sports originating in Scotland—and the importance of body position and leverage.

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review - classroom
Bernie’s classroom lecture

Peppered throughout the outdoor classroom portion of the school were anecdotes from Bernie’s renowned career, illustrating particular challenges and how he overcame them. Hearing him speak about the studied pursuit of his goals was a peek inside the mindset of a champion. It is inspiring even for one without lofty ambitions who just wants to improve.

When the lecture concluded, we were all chomping at the bit to start up our motorcycles and check our riding stances. Figure eights around cones were the warm-up exercise—certainly a practice we’re all familiar with. However, Bernie made it a bit tougher—at least for those on two-strokes—when he suggested we do this without using our clutches. Hmmm, yes that takes more skill and patience on my Beta Evo 200. Moving my feet half off the pegs to get more leverage weighting the outside peg shed light on lazy muscles.

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review - Kelly Callan
The author

Bernie then had us lift a foot off the pegs while doing the maneuver, which in turn requires more pressure on the same side handlebar to compensate. The opening exercises were designed to get us focused on flowing through the turns with the proper body position before adding obstacles and uneven terrain to the mix.

The rest of the morning was spent working on two competition-style trial sections. On initial viewing, the first section looked deceptively simple—perhaps that was by design. Bernie spent a fair amount of time reminding us how important it was to walk each section before riding it, to study it, to watch other riders go through it, to break it down into mini-sections and plan how we would deal with the obstacles.

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review - Bernie Floater
Bernie executes a floating turn in sand over a log

Riders split into two groups to have a go at the section. Following that, Bernie had everyone pause while he gave some quick reminder tips, including his practice exercise of keeping your fingers off the clutch and committing to flowing through the section. I had been struggling to clean a particular turn, so I gave it another try without the clutch. Success!

Since there were 23 riders on one section, we didn’t have the opportunity to ride the sections over and over. Of course, this fits in with Bernie’s mantra to focus and make your 30-second performance count. Because we only get three attempts at each section during a trials event, this certainly makes sense. I realized that when practicing, I have tended to ride tricky sections over and over trying to clean them, instead of analyzing what the toughest parts will be and how to best set up for them. Watching riders of various skill levels approach the challenges was instructive, and there was strong camaraderie as words of encouragement and line suggestions were shared.

Lunch was a welcome break, and it was a treat to sit with Bernie and hear stories about his European exploits while we recharged with homemade pulled pork and fresh-baked cookies (courtesy of Old Chaney Ranch proprietress Michelle Picozzi).

There were three more sections to work on during the afternoon, starting with a group-designed section around various sized logs on flat ground. Bernie shared that it is important to learn how to design a section so that you can test yourself in practice, studying where you most need to focus on improving your results. It’s not hard to come up with challenging lines for various classes by simply reducing the run-up or angle at which you approach an obstacle. After a bit of trial and error—no pun intended—the pink boundary tape was tied to stakes and we all had a go at it.

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review - Brad Hannon
Local expert Brad Hannon

Just when it seemed like most of the class was getting a handle on the section, Bernie would call a halt and have us reverse the line. Suddenly it was a whole new section—maybe harder, maybe easier.

In addition to Bernie watching our moves and giving pointers, we had the keen eyes of three-time US Trials Champion Lane Leavitt, as well as visiting trials coach Valerio Pastorino (named this year to the FIM Trials Commission) watching us. When Valerio saw a rider struggling with a particular portion of a section, he would use a long stick to tap on the proper line. Put your wheel here!

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review - Lane Leavitt
Three-time US Champion Lane Leavitt

Lane spent time adjusting my squatty stance—something I’ve struggled with for years—explaining and demonstrating the importance of a more upright position. All this wisdom and experience coming at us while tackling just a handful of sections was both valuable and inspirational.

While I might have gone into the day expecting more drills and specific instruction, it’s important to remember that any riding school is a group event, not a personal coaching session. Although you will undoubtedly get individual pointers as Bernie evaluates your riding, much of the benefit comes from hearing his trials doctrine and then testing yourself in a section along with your classmates.

Even if you’ve read his book, there’s nothing like hearing it from the man himself, shared with well-earned conviction and enthusiasm. There is no magic pill for improving. The a-ha moment comes from understanding the thinking of a champion—identify where you struggle, practice specific techniques efficiently, focus on progress.

Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience Review - Schreiber and Callan
Bernie (left) with the author

All participants in the Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience received a completion certificate, a signed Bernie Schreiber poster, a ZeroBS baseball cap, and a 19-page resource guide—a revised version of Bernie’s 1983 acclaimed Observed Trials book, co-written by Len Weed. It happens to be a book I’ve owned for over 30 years.

Several days after the Bernie Schreiber ZeroBS Experience, I was trying to rationalize not going to a yoga class after work. The teacher for my regular class was still on vacation, and the sub had been putting us through different movements and poses that were unfamiliar, leaving me feeling clumsy and like a beginner. And then I thought about my ZeroBS experience and Bernie’s admonition, “Don’t practice what you like,” and headed off to class. Words to live by.

Photography by Don Williams