Trial Magazine

‘Dibsta’ – James Dabill

- Words: James Dabill with John Hulme Pictures: Trials Media, Nigel Pearson, Mario Candellone, Agnese Andrione and

Crowned as the FIM Junior Cup World Champion in 2005, riding with the Top Trial Team from Italy on the Beta, it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s been so long since Great Britain’s James Dabill arrived in world trials. Here, we take a look back at some ‘Magic Moments’ from his remarkable career. Trial Magazine UK started in 2007 and has very much been a part of this adventure. I have been very privileged to have spent many happy times travelling around the globe with James in his constant quest for victory; trust me, that’s a book!

With the 2005 title tucked successful­ly under his belt, he moved up to ride with the ‘Big Boys’ at the end of the season in the FIM Trial World Championsh­ip rounds in Germany and Belgium. He scored points in both rounds to finish 17th overall. In 2006, he would move full time – and totally committed – into the FIM Trial World Championsh­ip, still with the Top Trial Team. He scored in every round to move up to ninth in the world, and it was game on.

Having just issued a press release to announce his retirement as a profession­al trials rider, he had never once dropped out of the top ten in the world since that day in 2006. He leaves the profession­al level of trials with his head held high. The CV tells its own story as, after a very successful schoolboy career, he has won eight British titles, 53 British Championsh­ip rounds, three Scottish Six Days Trials and three Scott Trials.


James: Yes, that’s little old me on the far right, standing in awe at the other riders in Italy. On the top step of the podium is Isaac Pons and on the left and right are two riders who would go on to achieve success in their own right. Toni Bou (left), was riding a Beta; you knew straight away he was something special. Like me, his parents supported him and made it very much about the family enjoying the sport. On the right is the same — Tom Sagar who went on to have a successful Enduro career. Like so many young riders, Tom found his feet in the off-road world on a trials machine.

I was 16 years old all I wanted to do was ride a trials motorcycle! The late great Neil Crosswaite had started to import Scorpa motorcycle­s from France, and I was very grateful to receive support from him and his family as I moved into the adult world.


It’s 100% concentrat­ion as I line up the Yamaha engined Scorpa in France. With support from Scorpa UK, I was able to contest the five-round European Championsh­ip. It was a new and exciting experience and a really enjoyable time with the trips to Europe with the family. I finished the year in 19th, scoring four points in the final round in Italy. The championsh­ip winner was a certain Toni Bou (Beta-ESP).

Toni and I would soon become friends and rivals for many years. Both born in 1986 — me in April and Toni in October — was certainly a vintage year for the trial’s world; maybe we should do a 1986 wine! 2003 was my first attempt at the Scottish Six Days Trial — talk about an eyeopener, but I finished with both the rider and machine in one piece in 30th position. The love affair with the event had begun. 2004


It was great fun riding for the Crosswaite­s. Both Neil and Martin were absolutely superb supporting me in every way they could. When I was offered the opportunit­y to move to the Top Trial Team based in Italy, we sat down and talked. They both pushed me towards the deal, much to my relief; yes, they fully supported the move. They shook my hand and wished me the best of luck, saying it was an opportunit­y that they could not match and one I should not miss. I moved to live in Italy. The Bosi family and Beta were both very welcoming. They really took me in as one of the family. It helped to make my life on the way up so much easier. Without them, it probably would not have been possible to compete in Europe. The Bosi family will always have a special place in my heart as we went on and achieved so many great things together.


With superb Top Trial Team Beta, I was on a mission. I wanted to win the Junior World Championsh­ip so much, it hurt! Ricardo prepared the machine, Daniela did the cooking, and Michele was my minder. I was an adopted Italian and loved it.

Fellow Brit, Michael Brown, was also in the team, but I did have to remind him who was number one [James laughs]. In truth, we got on incredibly well, and the relationsh­ip with ‘Pune’ remains to the present day. After a second place in Portugal, I dominated the championsh­ip taking the title on home soil at Hawkstone Park. I was so proud, not just for myself, but also for mum, dad and brother Joe. They supported me all the way — and still do.

With three rounds remaining in the Junior World Championsh­ip, we, as a team, decided to move up to the FIM World Championsh­ip for Germany and Belgium. It was a huge step in the level of riding and a true test of strength of character. I put every last muscle and emotion into these three rounds, and I was rewarded with a tenth place in Belgium and three points-scoring rides from three starts with the ‘Big Boys’, to finish 17th overall. I was also contesting the Italian Trials Championsh­ip — I still have a smile on my face with the nickname they gave me: ‘Giacomo Dabillio’. I loved life in Italy.


Moving into the premier league of the trials world was – and still is – a mighty step in terms of levels of commitment, both in riding and the finances needed to support it. At this time, I was in the best place in my career and remained with the Top Trial Team – why change?

The aim of the season was to finish in the points at every round. Just remember, at the close of the season, 29 riders had scored points. Believe me, it was tough. At some rounds, it was hard to just get through some hazards for a three-mark loss. Sometimes you did not even get through the hazards. One after another, it was so difficult to stay motivated. It was down to each individual to stop moaning, ‘man-up’, and remain focussed. Nobody gives you the right to take any points; holding the handlebars, it’s down to you — the rider.

Michele Bosi, my minder, always encouraged me to attempt the more difficult hazards which, at times, resulted in some fair crashes but it was a case of ‘dust yourself off and get on with it’ — and we did.

I enjoyed the Scottish Six Days Trial in May but spoilt a good week on the final day. I miscalcula­ted the time element and was heavily punished with marks lost on time. As I dropped down the order to finish sixth, it was a lesson learnt.

With my first full season at the top level of the sport completed, the Top Trial Team also had me as the Italian Trials Champion. We were all very happy.


It was a whole year of change for me, as I moved to a fourstroke machine with the Montesa Cota 4RT supported by the Italian-based Future Trial Team. The team were huge and profession­al coming complete with a transporte­r and tractor unit to take it everywhere and full-time staff to support it. I was, in my eyes, ‘Full Factory’.

I had upgraded parts fitted to the Montesa. The transition from two-strokes to the four-stroke was easier than I had expected. I had a new minder, with Jack Lee from John Lee Motorcycle­s fame joining me. Jack was a big strong lad and full of enthusiasm. We also got on as good friends away from the day-time job.

The dream of winning the Scottish Six Days Trial was a childhood one. My sporting heroes, the father-and-son winners, Martin and Dougie Lampkin, had their names on the famous North British Rubber Company Trophy and I wanted my name on it too. The week worked well. Riding close to Jack, we had some great fun. The Montesa was a dream on the open tracks and roads. I took the win — still one of the proudest moments in my life. I didn’t realise straight away at the time, but I had become the first fourstroke winner since my good friend Alan Lampkin had won on the BSA in 1966. We still have a laugh about me taking the glory from him.


This picture sits firmly in my mind and reminds me of the support I have always had from my mother and father. It was taken at the end of the famous Scott Trial. It was to be my last ride on the Future Trial Team Montesa. I eventually finished second behind Graham Jarvis by just two marks. Overall, 2008 was a disappoint­ing year.

Since the previous year, I had moved up to eighth in the world, but remained in the same position. I was unhappy with my world of trials. I was desperate to start challengin­g for the top five in the world. I believed I was ready, young, fit and full of enthusiasm so ‘why not?’ was always my question.

Things had not worked out for both parties at the Future Trials team, and I wanted out. On reflection, I would say now it was one of the lowest points of my career if I am honest.

Unbeknown to the rest of the trials world, I had been talking with

Gas Gas and the UK importers headed by John R Shirt. With the world championsh­ip season over I had secretly tested one of the Spanish machines. Both Jack Lee and I agreed the way forward was a move back to a two-stroke. ‘Shirty’ needed a British Champion after the glory years of Steve Colley were long over, and I believed with his support, and the enthusiasm from Gas Gas, that I could deliver.


After a year that had promised so much, 2008 left me with nothing, but soon I won my first of eight ACU British Championsh­ip titles. This picture tells its own story; Jack and I worked well, with ‘Shirty’ providing that third-man team support in the World Trials Championsh­ip. I had what I considered was possibly the best two-stroke machine at the time, ‘fettled’ by the factory mechanics and ‘Factory Kev’ in the UK. It was a very happy year. My world championsh­ip career was definitely back on track. I moved up to seventh position and dipped my toes into the top five positions on day one in Great Britain. I was much more confident in my riding, and the whole team atmosphere suited me down to the ground. No one challenged my results — even on a bad day! We all knew everyone was trying their best. In what was otherwise a good year, my biggest disappoint­ment was placing fourth at the Scottish and, once again, second at the Scott behind that man Graham Jarvis.


For those that received support from John R Shirt when he was the official Gas Gas UK importer, you will all know that he expects 100% at all times. In return, you will get the same back — and more.

Once again, we were ACU British Trials Champions as I had won all eight rounds. I had moved closer to my goal of the top five in the WTC by finishing sixth overall. The only downside to the year was a disappoint­ing sixth at the SSDT. I knew Shirty was disappoint­ed too. However, at the Scott Trial, as the results were read out, I was the winner. Shirty’s huge smile said it all. It was the first-ever event win for the Spanish manufactur­er Gas Gas; we all had a few beers that night!


As with the many sponsors I have ridden for, I have huge respect for what they have done for me, not just as a rider, but also for the support in my career. It’s never all about the money, though this does help. When the official Beta UK importer, John Lampkin, contacted me about the number-one rider position in the Italian manufactur­er’s team, I knew I wanted my name on it.

The call to ‘Shirty’ was a difficult one but, once again, he was very encouragin­g, pointing out that these positions did not always come along. We parted on very good terms with a hand-shake and a sincere wish of all the best for the future. What was nice was that he made a point of saying that if I ever wanted to ride a Gas Gas again to call him.

2011 was a fantastic year. I won the 100th running of the Scottish Six Days Trial and carried on my winning ways in the BTC.


It had taken me a while to settle in as the number-one rider at Beta. It did take some getting used to. Your machine becomes more ‘tailored’ to suit your riding and changes you ask for are made. The Beta I had was literally hand-built around me and my riding style, in both the engine performanc­e and suspension.

The Italian way of life and working is in line with mine. Maybe it’s influenced by the early years at Top Trial Team, but the relaxed environmen­t suits me. As you can guess from this picture, life was pretty good in my world of trials. I also got married to Emma on the 17th August. Happy days!


This picture sums up just how happy I was in life in 2013. It’s raining heavily, so yes, we know that it’s Scotland. The most important people in my life are with me. My mum, Cherry, is on the left. She is a really strong person when the going gets tough and, as many will agree, she has made a really good job of bringing me up [he laughs]. Emma is the ‘rock’ at home. She is always at the end of the phone; someone to share both the good and difficult times in my career. We always tell one another, we are a good team. Then there’s my father, Mal. A very proud man, he is the one I look up to and speak with if I have any difficult decisions to make. He is a father I am immensely proud of, and I know that the feeling is mutual.


A well-used picture, but what a joy it brings to my family and me. I have just added the win at the 100th running of the Scott Trial to the 100th win at the Scottish Six Days Trial, both on the Beta. Sharing the moment with my family is the latest edition, baby Archie. Just imagine that, as a young boy, one day you dreamed that you would win the history-making 100th wins at both of these two legendary events. It makes all the sacrifices I have made worth it, but Archie was the winner on this occasion!


So, when one of your childhood heroes calls you to see if you are interested in joining him with a brand-new manufactur­er in the trials world, the answer would always be ‘Yes!’. Dougie Lampkin had started to talk with me in late 2014 about the new Vertigo project. I was riding the tried and tested Beta but when he explained about the new machine and the people involved with it I was very excited. I knew at this time in my career that it would be the correct decision.

This picture is from Japan, where he showed the trials world Vertigo meant business. With its new trellis frame and fuel-injected engine, it was the business. It was very good from the word go as Dougie had just won the SSDT on it – sometimes you have to let the boss win [more laughter]. I gave Vertigo the ACU British Championsh­ip title. Everyone was very happy, me included, as our second child, Noah, arrived in November.


2016 was a year full of emotion in many different areas of my life, and this picture captures it all. I had two wonderful children with Emma, but my world was hit really hard in the April with the news of the death of a lifelong friend, Martin Lampkin, after a brave fight against cancer. He had always been there, especially in the early days of my internatio­nal travel, always encouragin­g and strong when times were a little tough. Even now the passing of ‘El Martinio’ is sometimes hard to believe as he was such a strong character.

One week after his passing, I put the new Vertigo on the podium for the very first time on day two in Spain with a third-place finish; talk about emotional!

On home soil, and in front of a local Leeds crowd, I made the podium again on day one, but this time I was second. Here I enjoy the moment of emotion with my Spanish minder ‘Suca’.


Talk about proud. Me and my two boys, on the podium, in second place, between the best two trials riders in the world. With Noah and Archie safely in my arms, I was literally on top of the world — one of the highlights of my career to date. I had finished on the podium earlier in the year in Germany with third on day two but in front of a home crowd, including my friends and family — wow. I finished the year seventh overall, but once again the year got better as I won the Scott Trial, a win dedicated to Martin Lampkin — RIP.


Once again a decision was made to move machines as the number-one spot became available at Gas Gas in Spain. It was a full factory contract with no real ties to the UK — and a chance to ride in the Spanish Championsh­ip. It was also a new team, #team22 when I took on my minder, Jiri Svoboda. It turned into a fantastic friendship that will last forever. I am forever grateful for his commitment, hard work and determinat­ion to achieve the goals we set. We win, and we lose together.

In the qualifying in Japan, it had rained, and I had set the fastest time, a surprise to everyone apart from myself. For once, with a decent starting position, I was ready to fight for the win. After an enjoyable day, I was once again on the podium in second, seen here post-podium with Albert Casanovas the Gas Gas Team Manager and Jiri.


With uncertaint­y over the future of Gas Gas, the offer to move back to Beta on a twoyear contract made good sense. I would still take in a full year of the FIM Trial World Championsh­ip as well as the ACU British Trials Championsh­ip. I scored my 50th BTC win at round three but little did I know it at the time, but 2018 would be my last British title.


After losing the SSDT in the last group of hazards on Ben Nevis in 2018, I made no mistake in 2019. It’s what you call a trials riding holiday, and one I always enjoy with the family in attendance. 2019 was a year of motorcycle trials I really enjoyed, finished off by winning the Scott Trial win in October — it’s what’s called a ‘Double Top’.


Ironically, my last FIM Trial World Championsh­ip round would be in Italy. In my heart, I just knew 100%, and what with the COVID-19 situation, that it was a good time to close the book. From such a young age, I have been able to live my dream of becoming a profession­al trials rider and that was all thanks to my amazing parents for sacrificin­g everything to help me on this crazy journey.

When I look back on almost two decades of riding in the World Championsh­ip, it fills me with pride to have achieved what I have, and to have met and worked with some of the most amazing people in our sport. There are too many names to mention, but I am sure you all know who you are. I want you to know that I will be forever grateful and in your debt. I am sure I will see everyone in the paddock again soon but, for now, it’s a fond farewell. Thank you to everyone, and I wish you all the best.

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