Having a go at Enduro
Enduro is a European format, this is the unruly wild child of the mountain bike events. Recently dropped by British Cycling it's booming in the UK with several national series, and a range of local events and series. Similar to rally driving (but without the motor) Enduro is a stage event often run on a single loop of trail up to 35km long (or longer in some cases), where the (mostly) downhill stages are timed to give an overall time which gives your result in the race. Usually these races have categories for pros and in age bands.
If you're thinking of taking part in an Enduro, then please have a read of the Enduro section of the RWR Racing page for some background information. If you're still interested then what follows complements what you've already read, and will hopefully give you some pointers. The Race Reports section will also give you the lowdown on current events from the perspective of a lower to mid-table fun enduro rider
Pick Your Event
So we've already covered the different types of event, so you'll be aware that for the first time enduroist, then probably a dibbed multi-day event is best. However, for really dipping your toe in carefully, the 1 day 'blind' enduro is probably the one for you. Although you won't be aware of what's in front of you the whole time (which is just like trail riding - and we don't complain about that do we?), then neither will those around you other than the locals, this means that on the one hand you are at a disadvantage vis a vis knowing what's round the corner, but on the otheryou're not, as the person in front of you is as likely to come a cropper. This really then becomes about so much more than speed, the fine art of reading the trail comes into play.
In reading the trail, you have as good a chance as everyone else, and of course, like everyone else, rather than riding at 110% with your hair on fire, you're going to be riding at 80% to give yourself some space to pull an emergency manual out of the bag. At 80% the strain is seriously reduced, and on a blind event most of the field will be riding at 80%.
So next, on a dibbed event, you'll normally be able to ride with your friends and then race them on the timed sections - not that different from a normal group ride perhaps. If you can convince them to come, then this again makes this a great way to dip your toe. But if they won't come, then don't let this hold you back - there will be lots of solo riders, and Enduro events are really friendly, there will be plenty of people to chat to on the day, and plenty of people about to pick you up should you take a spill.
The fitter you are the more you will enjoy your ride - goes for all riding really doesn't it? It's really a great excuse to get out and ride, but do prepare for the following:
- Long climbs on your bike - so get out and do some big climbs
- Big days - so get out and do some big days (1000m of climbing and 35km)
- Sprints - for some of the stages, so if you commute - sprint from light to light
Engage Emergency Manual, NOW!
In terms of prepping technique, then do seek out the places that you find most stretching and ride them. If you're not much of a fan of roots, then go find some roots, if you don't like dropping small drops at speed, then go find some - this is a great process of developing your personal riding, but also will prepare you better for an event.
Out riding and prospecting a couple of months ago I bumped into a local at a trail who said to me "there are three levels here, but don't bother with the top one; its way too muddy and root, just ride from 2/3 up" - I thanked him heartily for his advice, waited until he was out of sight, and then promptly went straight to the top - and found the new home of steep muddy root trails! I had an awesome afternoon slipping and sliding about, lofting front wheels, and face-planting in the mud, and finished the day much more confident on wet roots.
prepare your bike
Anyone who knows me will snigger at my saying this (and anyone who's read the 'home mechanic' section will mutter to themselves), but your bike needs to be in the best condition you can get it. It's going to get some abuse. Make sure your chain is in good nick, your brake pads are fairly new, your headset is smooth (and bottom bracket) and don't put off adjusting your gears any more - get them sorted.
In addition, you might want to think about a bit of additional heli-tape on the frame to protect it, a mud guard of some sort, and perhaps (although this is not me giving you permission to go online and spend a fortune) a dropper post. These will allow you drop your saddle out of the way in the rough and downhill stuff, but pop it back up again mid-stage when you hit a sneaky fire-road section. It is a big investment though, and really only something to purchase once you've definitely decided to do more.
Finally you need to think about tyre choice. Wider tyres can be run at slightly lower pressures increasing grip, and aggressive tyres cope better with the rough trails and muddy conditions you might encounter, and are less likely to puncture. Counter this however with super tacky (40a compound) low pressure, wide, knobbly tyres will drag significantly, so you have to pick tyres carefully. Advice? - higher pressure 60a compound tyres at the back, then 40a on the front at a lower pressure, and If pushed I would recommend the Schwalbe Hans Dampf (and maybe ContinentalBaron on front), but don't quote me; that's a good way to start a heated discussion.
Scottish Enduro Series 2014, rd1 Feb the full face was actually to keep me warm!
final words of caution
So you've not read anything that makes you uncomfortable yet? - ok, so then the last thing to be aware of is that many of the bigger national series can set you back about £65 for the two days, or a single day event locally around the £45 mark, so this is a fair investment. Especially for the Nationals (which really are open to everyone); unless you're an old downhiller, then be aware that many of us wouldn't choose to ride some of the routes as 'normal' trail riders. Often bits of trails are akin to Downhill tracks off of the 90's, and increasingly organisers are requiring body armour and full-face helmets to be worn. Do read the fine print before you commit yourself.
other financial considerations
We've raised the spectre above of the full face, although most events for a first time won't require one, so don't rush for the websites. They can be had for £50 and as with anything bike, you pay more, you get less. There are also some enduro specific full face helmets which will be allowed at most races.
This really brings me on to the other stuff you'll be needing, and if you don't have them, considering begging, borrowing, or buying.
I've already touched on this beforehand. But here's my experience: I entered my first race on a full-suss with single pivot and 140mm travel either end. This was the bike I rode everything on, and so I took it to events. It was brilliant, but as I pushed myself more, I found myself pushing it more, and discovered that it was a little short for me (I'd gone for a medium frame with long stem). I also felt that I was wincing a little too much on some of the rougher sections. I now ride a large frame full suss with a very short stem. This is more stable at speed, and with now 160mm travel is very forgiving on most terrain, which is useful for me as I'm easily out of my depth. The old bike would still be great for most of the enduros that I've entered, but increasingly the National Series especially have more and more old-school downhill sections making the 160mm more and more suitable for those events, I am also able to lock out the front and back on the newer bike, which helps on the longer transitions. Full suss, whatever it's travel is much more forgiving when you make mistakes, and also smoother and easier on your body than a hard tail, but there are plenty of hard tail riders out there doing really well (and some of the series have a HT category now).
In essence, if your bike is capable of getting down the trail, be it full suss, Hard Tail mid or long travel, then give it a go. I would only advise not taking XC machines with steeper forks on these events as the possibility of going over the bars is much increased. I've ridden my 160mm machine at events with friends with 100mm 29er hardtails, I won't kid you and say the most used word to quote wasn't "under-biked", but this was a first time, and now they know what they are playing with, and they still had a great time, and came back for more on the same bike.
kit yourself out
Having read the terms and conditions of your chosen event, you'll have been pointed at a kit list. You'll know whether the organisers require you to wear a full face on the timed sections or not. If they do, please be aware that many of these events (The Enduro World Series even) will allow you to ride the connecting sections with a trail helmet, and then swap for a full-face for the timed sections. Most of the fun-end of the wedge events will accept either - so for a starter event you'll usually be able to use your normal lid.
If you don't already use pads, then now's the time to think about it. Again, some events will insist on knee pads, but you do have to face up to the fact that we only get one pair of knees in this life, and we should look after them. Beyond this, leaving behind the concern of a slide you are more able to push yourself a little with less fear of injury. Elbow pads are generally an option, and this is definitely a personal choice, but worth considering when you're riding stuff you might ordinarily not choose to.
Beyond the personal protection kit, you then have a lot of choices. You will see all sorts on an event, from the day-glo pro with spares in his/her pockets, to the all day rider with all the kit. If you're watching other folks with minimal kit, remember two things:
1 - they may not ride anywhere near as good as they 'look'
2 - for some, a podium place is the only thing they are racing for.
The second of these being important as these folks will knowingly ride under-equipped because if they suffer a mechanical, they will withdraw anyway, so repair kits, emergency kit etc might not be on their kit-list. Take what you think you want, and don't be swayed by others.
Goggles - Much Hilarity has been pointed at the Google wearer, but you will see more than the average number of pairs of googgs at an enduro, and in my mind they are worth considering. They are usually in my bag for faster sections where the wind-speed causes my eyes to water. Without goggs, my eye's would be watering so much I wouldn't be able to see properly (not really what you want at speed).
Clip-ins or Flats - the right pedal to go for is simply the one you prefer. I personally ride clipped in for efficiency, and I prefer to know where the pedals are when I come down after a drop, but others don't. Even though my preference is clipped, however, in wetter races I often have flats in the car. At several wet races I've picked up so much mud that my cleats won't engage and the pedals are gummed up - in this instance flats are the way forward.
Enduro ready machine? - right kit? Have you Read the small print?
I carry at least two pairs of gloves, especially on wet and muddy race days. If you have an off (when?) you'll soon cover your gloves in mud, and then grip on the bars can be tricky, so a fresh pair will come in handy. They don't have to be particularly flash, but I will own up to having a pair of Fox Unabomber gloves which have a plastic knuckle guard on the last two knuckles - just the thing for accidentally punching a tree on the way past - worthy of consideration.
In the reviews section I have posted reviews of some of the kit I use both riding and racing, and really I just see enduro racing as an extension of normal riding, so come kitted much the same. I won't be stopping much, so often don't carry so much clothing, and there won't be a packed lunch box in the bag, but the bag will be the same, because it's a good fit with good balance - again what's good on the trails is good on the event. I've used the term horses for courses a little too much, but your kit decisions need to be made with the same head on as you would have in planning a good day out. I've certainly worn a full face helmet and carried a complete change of clothes on a winter event to try to stay warm and dry (and used them), and inadvertently flashed the eventual ladies winner too. (obviously didn't put her off - maybe spurred her on?).
Final Bits and bobs in no particular order (again, see the reviews section) : a multi-tool to hand for quick adjustments, a CO2 dispenser for quick tube changes, with about 3 canisters; a chain repair kit; spare derailleur hanger; pump, two tubes (even if you run tubeless); handful of zips-ties 'cos you never know when they will come in handy; and bags of haribo to fuel the last climb and section of the day.
At the course
So, if you've picked a funduro, or a grassroots event, then you'll probably need to go to the race briefing, just to find out what's where and so-on. It's not a bad idea to go fully kitted up, as sometimes the starts are pretty soon afterward, and it will save rushing. You may also be asked to pick a start time so the organisers can send everyone up the first hill in waves to try to stop blockages. In my experience, going for the earliest slot you can gives you two advantages:
- You have longer to ride / less pressure as these events usually have a simple cut-off time at the end of the day
- No, matter how hard they try I have never been to an event (other than the Dudes of Hazzard Enduro - which has 3 start points) that didn't have a queue at the start of stage 1.
If you don't get in the same slot as your friends, just do the first 100m, then stop and wait for them in the next wave, it won't make much of a difference.
Most events will give you a number board. There will often be cable ties available too - take 3. TIP: do them up fairly loose so that the board can move about if you crash without ripping.I take a pair of scissors or cable cutters with me to shorten the ties after fitting.
on the course
So you're off - smile for the organiser's camera, might make a nice picture for the wall at home, and off you go. Stick to your own race and your own pace, especially on the climbs; this is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. Don't let yourself get too hot. A couple of minutes adjusting clothing earlier on can save half an hour later on of slogging under the influence of dehydration, and the possible crashes from having your mental capacity dropped by lack of fluids. Take it easy.
When you get to your first start gate, stop and adjust something; anything. Give yourself a chance to see how others are starting off, and by all means have a sneaky peek over the start line and see what's coming up. You may peer over and see a mile of downhill bog and decide to lower the pressure in your front tyres; who knows.
About to start, I always go through the following checklist, and bearing in mind this is slightly bike specific; it's worth having a similar routine (and even sneakily writing it down somewhere?)
- Saddle Down - usually for me all the way (but I do have a dropper remember) but despite the issues with uphill fire-road sections mid stage - this will give you lots of room to move about on the bike should you hit unseen obstacles. On the Dunked Enduro in 2014 stage 1 started with some muddy loam turns which then spat riders on to a long straight grassy downhill. Many unsuspecting riders hit this at full speed finding a little too late that the small undulations on the way weren't small tussocks, but old tree stumps - more than one 'contender' came a cropper there - low seats give you a better chance of recovery.
- Forks Unlocked - no brainer, but so easy to forget!
- Rear Shock Unlocked - again, but even easier to forget as it's between your legs.
- In middle ring / middle gear - embarrassing when you go to power off the start line and find you're still in your granny ring and peddling like a loon getting no where.
- Pedals clear - if you're clipping in, make sure the cleats are clear at the start of the stage at least - even seen Tracey Moseley doing this so I know I'm right - yes it's not just nutters that clip in btw.
- Goggles on - My favourite game; just as the person in front is about to sidle up to the start line ask them "are you wanting to wear those?" and point at their forehead - so easy to forget (sorry Stuart, didn't mean to freak you out)
- Gloves on - not usually an issue if you've adopted my patent 'old but of elastic' method of glove retention (see reviews)
I then traditionally check with the person behind how I want them to signal they want to come past, drop a few words of banter, and focus on the first section ahead and wait for the the "GO!"
David's Three Rules of Enduro
As an indicator of how we race, these three rules stolen from David demonstrate a healthy attitude to Enduro racing, and pretty much always lead to a positive result from every race he enters. To be fair we've both broken a few of these, but mostly not at the same time.
- Don't Die
- Don't end up in Hospital
- Don't come last
Tapes can help and hinder but anything between them goes
And you're off.
After this first section you will have something in common with every other rider around you, and so conversation comes easy for the solo rider from now on, but you've got to get through the first section first.
Hit it at no more than 80%, give yourself some breathing space, and try to use any riders in front to help identify where the track goes next and where the tricky bits are. The event will be taped, but the tape may well be wide - there are often choices to be made over your route, and the obvious line may not be the best, so look around you
Smoothness will pay off, so try to spot the useful berms and mini-berms, as well as opportunities to lift over roots and rocks, pump as much as you can for free speed, and try to remember to brake strategically rather than running brakes on all the time. Tell yourself to relax as much as possible, and fight the impulse to stay off the back all the time so you can get some traction for the front wheel.
Don't get focussed on anyone in front of you. By all means watch them to see where the drops and sudden turns come, but don't get up behind folks and get mesmerised into just following them - remember you caught them for a reason: you're quicker, so you should be in front. Give folks a nice clear indication that you're coming up behind "Rider!!" from a little way back helps folks spot a passing place of their choosing, or if you're there, then a direction you want to come past them on "Rider Left!!" and then be patient. There are often 'sportsmanship' penalties for poor behaviour, and pushing someone out of the way could get you penalised, and don't forget I've coached this sport as an extension of your trail riding experience; hopefully you wouldn't push folks out of the way on the trail.
If you want to go for the podium then be careful about your slot (often you can ask for a greater gap between you and the person in front if you think they will be slow), but for the other 297 people at the event, this is not an issue, just part of the event so chill out and help them help you by not stressing them out by screaming abuse at them from 2 feet behind. I did get a bit specific there; I actually witnessed this kind of behaviour at an event during practice and if we'd got the guy's number we would have reported it - crucially (apart from being practice day) the 'screamer' wasn't really all that fast anyway - it was clearly more of a personal issue he had which he shouldn't have brought to the track. Aaaaanyway...
Having started an event, generally it will whiz by until you get half way up the climb to the last timed stage, and that's where you'll start to feel the amount of riding you've done. Keep it going and have a good rest before the finale. Not infrequently the last stage is where the best has been saved for, but don't forget there are lots of different definitions of 'best'.
Hopefully you've had a great day, enjoyed some good craic with your mates and/or fellow riders, discovered a new place to ride, and on reflection, ridden some stuff that you wouldn't have done before and surprised yourself.
On an Enduro trail, but not racing
You may well have 'ridden' a few bits like you had no co-ordination, but then looking around you realised that many of the others around you did the same. You got round, and managed to save something for the last finale and burst through the final gate with style and panache, and you're grinning from ear to ear. If you deliberately went out of your way in preparing for the event, and rode what you find most difficult, then the difficult bits weren't so hard, and if you got out and rode a few hills beforehand, then the hills weren't so bad, and hopefully this whole experience boosted your confidence in your riding and your ability to read the trail ahead, and even if you decide that's not for me, you had a day to be looked back on with a wry smile and a fair bit of pride.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: The Scottish Enduro Series have introduced the 'Enduro Light' category - one we've not sampled as yet, but it'saimed at the novice, with less technical riding and less commitment to the race. It's cheaper too, and designed for the first timer, as well as the 'fun' 'racer'.
If you're interest in giving Enduro a go, then you may find other useful information on some of the other pages on the site:
- The Reviews section has entries for tried and tested kit useful for race and trail
- The Facebook Page is where I add anything else I come across
- The links page is where you'll find links to most of the people running suitable starter Enduros
- The Race Reports section will give you something to snigger at as you follow the hapless author of this article through fun enduro-ing through the year.
- You can use the contact us page to ask any questions you have and I'll get back to you as soon as I can (Might even start a FAQ section!)
- And of course you can explore Enduro specific training by RWR Coaching