Words by Dave Arthur
Enduro, it’s the buzzword in mountain biking right now (and you thought it was all about 29ers). It seems everyone is talking about them, yet I haven’t done one before. So I went along to the second round of the X-Fusion Enduro1 last weekend to see exactly what they’re all about.
The X-fusion Enduro1 (previously SuperEnduro) consists of three races dotted around the south of the UK, from the Forest of Dean to Salisbury Plain and Hampshire, each one having its own unique flavour. They’re pitched at all-mountain and trail riders, so in a way the event isn’t too dissimilar to the style of riding many people across the country are already doing at the weekends. Which sounds good to me.
Having read reports from the first round over at the Forest of Dean recently, I was keen to stick a toe in this new format. So, clearing the diary, I stuck an entry in and last weekend found myself on the start line of the second round of the series, held near Tidoworth on Salisbury Plain.
Preparing for the race was a little tricky. The website only gave brief descriptions of what each stage would consist of, and with ‘only’ 25km of riding and not a huge amount of vertical gain to worry about, it didn’t seem the event would be of the gravity style of enduro.
It seems we’re seeing a slight split in the enduro format already, with the downhill/gravity events like the Fetish series and the Enduro1 here pitching itself at the cross-country/trail end of the riding spectrum. Not a bad thing certainly and shows that the format is adaptable to the terrain and type of rider.
And nowhere was this split clearer than a look around the car park on Sunday morning. We spotted everything from an old school GT Zaskar (1997 vintage with v-brakes) to modern 140-160mm trail bikes, most with dropper posts and adjustable forks. There was a smattering of long forked hardtails too and even quite a few 29ers. But really the dominant choice was the typical trail centre fare, 120-140mm 26-27lb all-round trail bikes.
What did we go with? A Lapierre Zesty, which with its 140mm travel seemed the right choice then. It was modified for a spot of uplift action at the UK Bike Park the day before though, which saw a pair of 2.4in tyres (far from ideal as it would turn out, but not the end of the world), dropper post and 50mm stem/750mm bars going on in place of the stock items. And it proved just about perfect.
The enduro format is the perfect test for the new breed of light and long travel full suspension bikes that, after a good ten years of evolution, have reached a point where they are so capable and versatile they’ll go up, over, down and across any sort of terrain. And no where is this better tested than in an enduro event.
The course, well that was a mix of everything. The first and last stages were the longest, and included quite a lot of the lush green grass that is in plentiful supply on Salisbury Plain. This meant the linking stages from stage one to two and between seven and eight were the longest. There was no rush though; the time given to get to the start of the next section was generous enough that you needn’t race.
Two skill sections were included. The first required riding a tightly taped rooty trail in a figure of eight layout, without dabbing. Not as easy as it sounded, and I was forced into dabbing once on the last tricky left-hander. Some cleaned it, and some made a mess of it. It was a well judged bit of planning, in that it wasn’t impossible but sufficiently testing enough to challenge everybody.
The second was a hill climb. Ride as far up the hill as you could with the 50 board the successful completion of the challenge. A dab before that point saw the end of your attempt and the points from the board closest to your stop the points you’d gain. It wasn’t too hard, and could have easily been extended. I carried on riding to the top, where a bonus 50 point card could have easily been placed.
The fun came with stages five, six and seven. Tightly packed into the area resided over by the Tidworth Freeride crew, these three trails would prove to be the highlight of the race and the main talking point all day. A set of downhill tracks carved into the hillside crisscrossing with some massive berms, tight rooty corners and a shed load of drops, jumps and doubles proved a serious test for everyone.
Here the course was well taped, yet racing the track essentially blind proved tough. Trying to keep the speed up while scanning quickly ahead to see where the red tape directed the course, and making assessments on the many jumps and drops with barely any time to make a considered choice. This is the test of a good enduro racer it seems, being able to ride quickly on new trails and making nanosecond decisions on line choice.
This led to the topic of racing trails blind with no prior opportunity to ‘learn’ the track, by walking them, being the main talking point back at the event arena when everyone had crossed the finish line. It’s understandable: most other forms of racing – downhill, cross-country – allow you to check out the course so you know what to expect when you come to race it. Enduro doesn’t give you that opportunity and it led to many complaints.
But that is part of the unique challenge of the enduro format – it’s impossible to recce every section of the event in a 25km route, so riding them blind is necessary. When we chatted with Jerome Clementz recently, he touched on this very subject. “In France you don’t know the trail when you race,” he told us, continuing, “so a really important thing is to know your limits and find a good pace when you start, to not be too slow but no too fast, and to have a nice flowing run. That means you own your bike, you know where you’re going and you don’t make any mistakes.”
Well, we certainly made plenty of mistakes! Enduro really pushes you to scan the trail ahead, to make split second decisions based on very little information other than what is rushing towards you.
We felt that the organisers had done a good job with the available terrain and choice of trails, with a good variety that tested your all-round bike skills. Some of the stages could have been modified every so slightly to the better though, and some of the linking stages would have made fantastic timed sections, either as separate sections or extensions of the planned sections.
It was a fun day out, and we’ve ticked the box beside enduro that up until last weekend had been stubbornly empty. Perhaps the most appealing aspect is the social side of the event. It’s the mix of intense race efforts against the clock on the timed stages interspersed with the social and relaxed effort chat-with-your-mates linking stages that really makes the enduro format so much fun.
You get to race against your mates, you get variety of challenges to test yourself against through the day and you get a bloody good workout. If you’ve bored of regular mountain bike events like cross-country races, marathons or multi-lap timed events like 24-hour races, then give an enduro a whirl. You might just enjoy it.