Trial riding, the fine art of hopping impossible obstacles on a motorcycle without ever touching a boot down, welcomed an electric class in 2017. After a timid start under world championship banners, the Trial-E Cup has been proposed for the additional sports shortlist of the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
The International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) has been trying to introduce electric racing classes for quite some time and it hasn't always been easy. After two failed attempts in 2008 and 2013 with the e-Power and eRoadRacing world cups respectively, 2019 will see a new bid for a viable and enjoyable series within the illustrious confines of MotoGP racing.
This time the FIM Enel MotoE World Cup is a seemingly well founded prospect, yet it's not solid enough to support anything other than a single-brand class. Most electric motorcycle manufacturers are too small to afford world-class racing, while the big factories still run on fossil fuel.
As the European Union launches a legislative offensive against the internal combustion engine, the FIM seems keen on taking advantage of this momentum and, in this sense, the Energica-powered MotoE series arrives at the right time. Nevertheless, all other popular world-class motorcycle series – motocross, enduro, superbikes – have no electric class in their ranks.
Even the initially successful experiment of the Isle of Man TT Zero now seems to be dwindling since Polaris pulled the plug on Victory and sold off Brammo to Cummins Inc., leaving Mugen to dominate a grid filled with university prototypes and privateers.
One notable exception is Trial, debuting the Trial-E Cup in 2017 with one race in France, following up with the 2018 cup that included two races in France and Belgium. Running the electric series during world championship events offered access to ample publicity, attracting Gas Gas – eventual cup winner – and Yamaha to the mix, along with smaller manufacturers like Electric Motion from France and some prototype machines.
Trial seems like a very convenient sport for electric bikes, as it doesn't rely on horsepower and range is not an issue. Torque is much more important and electric bikes produce it in spades; from then on, it's more about rider skill.
For 2019, Trial-E will return with the same two-race format, this time visiting Belgium and the Netherlands in June. But the FIM has bolder plans in mind.
In late January a FIM delegation met with the Organizing Committee of the 2024 Olympic Games to be held in Paris, France, suggesting that Trial-E be included as an additional sport.
Japan had already proposed five new sports for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Games – baseball/softball, sports climbing, karate, surfing and skateboard – and now it was Paris' turn to make its recommendations for the 2024 event it will host.
There's no guarantee that any of these will become permanent Olympic disciplines, the only certainty is that they'll be included in the specific Games. Understandably there must have been a long list of sports federations lined up to meet with the French Olympic Committee and the FIM was among them.
Paris finally turned in its suggestions on February 21 and these included three returning sports – sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing – as well as a new one, breaking, as in breakdancing. These are yet to be approved by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but the news we're focusing on here is the absence of Trial-E.
It shouldn't be any surprise to anyone and indeed it wasn't for the FIM either, as its press release acknowledges how hard this endeavor was in the first place, especially since it represented a motorized sport, quite the novelty for Olympic standards. In fact, Trial-E would constitute the first ever motorized Olympic sport if it were not for three motorboat races in the 1908 Games in England.
The FIM indeed considers Trial-E to be a viable candidate for the future, suggesting that it satisfies the IOC's criteria. Once again, motorcycling has momentum on its side, as the IOC is working on expanding the Games according to the guidelines of its Agenda 2020, i.e. making the Olympic program "gender-balanced, more youth-focused and more urban."
In this sense Trial-E could fit in the frame, as the politics of advancing sustainability and environmental awareness can play conveniently to the tune of promoting electric mobility through major events. Trial races can be setup anywhere, even in city centers, require little space, no permanent infrastructure and make for an exciting spectacle.
After shooting for the stars, and well before Paris' recommendations went public, the FIM also targeted more feasible feats, such as the 2021 World Games and the 2023 European Games. Its chances are considerably better for these events and can both be considered as closely related to the Olympic Games.
They're both regulated by the IOC and, most importantly, the World Games have served as a stepping stone for the Olympic Games to several sports, such as badminton, beach volleyball, trampolining, taekwondo and triathlon among them.
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