I was fortunate to be able to tag along with Spaniard, Andreu Codina whilst he was setting the sections for a round of the World Trial Championship in Andorra, 1992. There are many factors involved in setting sections, Andreu said one thing to me that stuck with me- "Rick, place the arrows to make them ride the rocks, not the arrows". Using this philosophy, the arrows mounted in their wire holder's rarely get compromised by the tires or other parts of the bike.
It is a given that the sections design is based on the style of obstacles you have to work with, in some areas like narrow gullies it can be impossible to create lines for all grades of rider. Most of the time it can be possible to create a section that is good for riders on mini bikes all the way through to the experts. Basically you want to send the experts over some cruel combination of obstacles to really get them thinking as well as providing obstacles that will gradually challenge all other levels without being dangerous for that grade.
Section setting teams- when I was ten years old, I watched a group of approx a dozen adults trying to set a section. While they all had good intentions, they struggled to make decisions and even started to argue, making the job harder. It is much better to have more smaller groups of workers, the job gets done in a fraction of the time and the different styles of setting make it "interesting".
"Shaped" sections- OK, i have arrived at many sections shaped like a big rectangle with a start at one end and the finish at the other end and a sea of confusing arrows in between. It can be hard to interpret your line sometimes and then you see someone in your grade riding the section in quite a different way, which could be frustrating. By "shaped sections" i mean that the left and right boundary tapes are not too far apart. You can create a "S" shaped or my favourite, the "U" shaped section. With the "U" shaped section, the riders enter the section, and go up, down, whatever, bringing them back to near the start, making it easy for the scorer/observer to see all the action from that one vantage point. If you can place the observer and the start finish under shade cover, even better for the comfort of all.
Not too many arrows- the best sections with options of line usually have the fewest arrows and rely on natural obstacles to dictate the flow of the section. It is good to have the boundary tape on one side of a planned line and the coloured arrow on the other side, forming the "gate". Sometimes you can choose to send the blue line riders through the 3 x hardest white gates and the 3 x easiest yellow gates for example, or choose to set the white line using the easy blue lines where suited as well as the dedicated white line bits. Numbering the gates from 1 to however many can also reduce confusion.
Internal Tape- The rules allow internal tape in the section, this can stop riders "crossing thier own line", when strategically placed.
The goal is to provide 1/3 easy, 1/3 medium, 1/3 tricky for each respective grade. If you are relatively new to the sport, I encourage you to have a crack at setting sections at your next local event. If you are unsure of whether to send the red line riders over a particular obstacle or not, best ask one if they are available. If they are too slack to attend working bees, they deserve what they get.
One way to gauge how well the sections have been set after the Trial is done is simple. The winner of any grade should be on an average of roughly 1 x point per section. If it is a 3 x lap of 10 sections type of day, the winner should be on about 30 points.
Happy section setting!