The 2023 New Zealand Trials Championships

The annual New Zealand Trial Championships in the Bay of Plenty over the long Labour Weekend again proved a tough challenge for the sport’s elite ‘bandits of balance’.

However, although the various courses featured sharp rocks, slippery tree roots, treacherous creek beds and steep hills … none of these obstacles got in the way of these talented bike riders.

With this branch of motorcycling sport, the emphasis is not on speed, but on fine balance, bravery and delicate throttle control.

The prime aim is to conquer the extreme terrain without touching feet on the ground or falling off. Points are lost for these “faults” and a rider with the lowest score wins.

This is the ultimate level of the sport of motorcycle trials riding in New Zealand and it was those who possessed the greatest skills who rose to the occasion over the three days – Saturday, Sunday and Labour Weekend Monday

Hosted by the Tauranga Motorcycle Club, day one was held on farmland near Te Puke and days two and three were staged at Wharepapa South.

The competition this year was truly international with a visiting French rider, Mats Petit, dominating all three days.

Fellow Frenchman Jules Huguenin battled with Taranaki’s Matt Foster for the remaining two podium positions in the elite Expert grade.

The 25-year-old Huguenin, who has been resident in New Zealand for eight years now, living in Christchurch and working as a software engineer, said he was thrilled to finish runner-up to a rider as talented as Petit and also to be able to finish one place higher than he had achieved at the nationals last season.

It was a straight swap in overall positions this year between Huguenin and Foster after the North Islander had finished runner-up in 2022 and Huguenin had been forced to settle for third.

“We used to ride together in France, so I knew that Mats (Petit) would be tough to beat and that the battle for me really would be against Matt Foster,” said Huguenin.

“It was very wet and slippery on day two, with heavy rain on our last lap, making things extremely risky. But the weather was great again on day three and, weirdly, that actually made it tougher for me too because I knew that any slip-up in the easier conditions would possibly hand it to Matt. So, the pressure was really on.

Seven-time former Expert Grade champion Warren Laugesen, from Hawke’s Bay, competes these days in the A Grade and he proved too slick for his rivals there, finishing the weekend top of the A Grade and fourth overall, ahead of Waikato’s Bert Williamson (second in grade and fifth overall) and Tauranga’s Phillip Shilton (third in grade and sixth overall).

Other class winners at the weekend were Christchurch’s Paul Mountstevens (Intermediate); Taranaki’s Mike Owen and Wellington Zack Furniss (Clubmans); Napier’s Aksel McArdle (mini 1); Christchurch’s Liam Ross (mini 2); Tauranga’s Olivia Shilton (mini 3).

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,