Welcome to the 2021 Pinkbike State of the Sport Survey. This anonymous survey is designed to help shed light on key issues affecting the professional field and elite competition. We surveyed the best riders in the world to hear their thoughts, ideas, concerns, and criticisms on mountain biking in 2021. We invited any rider who had finished in the Top 40 overall of their chosen discipline in either of the previous two seasons in either XC, enduro, downhill, or slopestyle & freeride, as well as notable non-competition riders and highly ranked juniors. We then published them in full and publicly. To read the introduction to the survey click here, and to see all the other currently published SOTS articles click here.
We're taking a look at the data from each of the major disciplines surveyed and talking about some noteworthy or eye catching pieces of information. Now it’s enduro’s turn.
Enduro is still a comparatively young discipline, in that its professional ranks only formed with the inaugural Enduro World Series in 2013. The sport, in these eight years, has changed and I would imagine it will continue to evolve over the next eight. Some notable events include the partnership with the UCI in 2018, the addition of qualifying and EWS100 or EWS80 events, plus the implementation of the Trophy of Nations team racing and the E-EWS. As we roll into a decade of the EWS, it’s still evolving and growing.
Enduro Cohort Details
Number of Riders: 68
Downhill Riders Who Race EWS: 7
Elite Race Winners: 7
Elite Top 5 Finishers: 21
Africa - 0
Asia - 1
Europe - 41
North America - 16
Oceania - 10
South America - 0
Median Wage: 10,000 - 20,000 USD
The definition of enduro has steadily changed after a few seasons to both those inside the sport and on the sidelines. Gone are the days of the open face helmet strapped to a backpack, gone is the idea that these riders were any less talented or more risk-averse than their downhill counterparts, and gone is the notion that the EWS was gentle green pastures where downhill riders could come to ‘retire’. The sport has undergone a wave of rampant professionalism in merely a handful of years. So what’s the current state of enduro?
Of the enduro riders surveyed, everyone was from either Europe, Oceania, or North America, with one exception. Of those surveyed, 59% identified as male.
The results of these riders are very impressive. Of the elite field, nearly 11% had won an EWS, a further 35% have scored a career-high top five and an accumulative total of 68% have achieved a top 10.
There are some interesting differences between Enduro and Downhill rider pay.
The breakdown of how much the riders are paid is available to read in full
. In today’s survey snapshot, we’re talking solely about enduro racing. We have the confidence of the riders to protect their anonymity and won’t do anything that could undermine that trust. For that reason, we’re not publishing a full breakdown of in-discipline earnings but I will pull out these statistics - of the riders who nominated enduro as their primary discipline, 24% earnt between 0 - 5,000 USD annually. If we exclude juniors, that falls to 18% in the $0 - 5,000 bracket, 9% in the $5,000 - 10,000 and 16% in the $10,000 - 20,000 bracket. What’s interesting is that, compared to downhill, the average wage is higher. Nearly 50% of the elite EWS field surveyed make between $20,000 and $100,000 per year. Compare that with around 23% in the downhill.
So you can forget green pastures of which to be put out to stud, for your mid-pack rider who is used to gravity-fed and technically demanding racing the EWS may well be more of the proverbial (comparative) cash cow. However, that’s not to say there isn’t real money to be made in the downhill, where 9% of elite riders surveyed earn over $100,000 per year. This compares to 5% in Enduro.
Riders Believe Races Shouldn’t Be Blind but Local Knowledge Carries an Advantage
There was a time when enduro was almost synonymous with wing-it-wonders and hitting trails flat out having never so much as seen them before. There is still that style of racing out there, and racers can seek it if they wish, but the EWS has settled on a pattern of sighting the track before race day with allocated practice sessions. This is apparently very popular with riders. 75% of riders either disagree or strongly disagree that racing should be blind.
Enduro racing should be totally blind
Strongly Agree: 3 (4.3%)
Agree: 5 (7.1%)
Neutral: 9 (12.9%)
Disagree: 26 (37.1%)
Strongly Disagree: 27 (38.6%)
At the other end of the spectrum, compared to blind racing, is the rider who lives near the race venue. Often, they have a level of knowledge that is hard to come near to over a whole weekend of racing, let alone one practice run. More track time will almost always correlate with faster times. The problem of riders knowing the trails is something that the organisation does take seriously but if people have ridden all the trails in the area it puts the organizers in a difficult spot.
The vast majority of riders don’t wish for the racing to be blind, but there is a concern that hometown riders do have an advantage.
Many riding regions have their own distinctive traits and quirks. The shakedown day was introduced two years ago to help riders get a taste of the trails, without riding the race track, but to say there’s not a disparity between pre-event experience would be unfair and untrue.
I think, and it’s only my own conjecture, but the issue isn’t that the EWS likes to go to Whistler or Finale, it’s probably more that, as a racer, it might never even come to your continent, or within a day's drive of your hometown, where you can reap the rewards of your own local knowledge. Over 70% of riders surveyed agree or strongly agree that riders living near a race venue get an advantage.
I am concerned that riders who live nearer to a race venue get an advantage
Strongly Agree: 10 (14.3%)
Agree: 40 (57.1%)
Neutral: 11 (15.7%)
Disagree: 7 (10%)
Strongly Disagree: 2 (2.9%)
Going to new venues across the world not only has certain requirements in terms of infrastructure but it could be argued that racing in Europe is cheaper and more accessible for the majority of riders. Its seems to be about striking a fine balance between serving the traditional core of riders the venues that they can get to easily, as well as searching out the next big thing. In the open comments section, some riders voiced their approval for the EWS’ pattern of alternating Oceanian and South American rounds. Conversely, others argued that it's not right for so much of the racing of a World Series to happen on one continent.
Many Riders Feel that Penalties aren't Consistently Applied
Over 46% of rides either disagree or strongly disagree that penalties are consistently applied. It does open up the question of policing a sport that's celebrated for riders able to out for a full day's racing and often left to their own devices. I would imagine that a lot of these instances of perceived unfairness aren't as salacious as one might imagine, but that's not to say they're not important.
Penalties are fair and consistently applied
Strongly Agree: 2 (2.9%)
Agree: 20 (29%)
Neutral: 15 (21.7%)
Disagree: 24 (34.8%)
Strongly Disagree: 8 (11.6%)
It's relatively rare to hear of rider penalties, at least in the coverage of the event. This may well suggest that the lack of consistency applies to instances that we don't hear about, as much as the ones that we do.
Whether it's course cutting, doping, or something such as illegal shutting, riders need to be able to have faith in the integrity of the application of the sport's rules. In our open comment section, people referenced instances where riders went unpunished for illegal shuttling, as well as instances of riders potentially cutting the course.
Riders are Cautious after High-Profile Doping Cases
Enduro has seen controversial cases in recent years. Doping regulation was stepped up with the partnership announcement of the UCI and EWS and since then some riders have been sanctioned for infringements. But, even though there is now a far greater structure to catch doping offenders, there seems to be a lack of trust from the riders. This might not necessarily mean that there are riders who are doping and not getting caught, but it could mean that the way the sanctions are applied isn’t felt to always be appropriate.
Pre-UCI involvement, a fan of the sport could often hear vague rumors of doping infringement or a rider successfully avoiding being caught. Those rumors, or the concern they created, can’t simply be removed in a year or two. It will take years to build up that trust. Currently, nearly 50% of riders are in some form of agreement that performance enhancing drugs are a problem in enduro racing.
Performance enhancing drugs are a problem in enduro racing
Strongly Agree: 2 (2.9%)
Agree: 32 (46.4%)
Neutral: 17 (24.6%)
Disagree: 16 (23.2%)
Strongly Disagree: 2 (2.9%)
Despite Doping Fears, Riders Overwhelmingly Think Racing is Fair
Despite some of the concerns from the riders, 80% are in some form of agreement that racing is fair and honest. It's comparable with other disciplines, and sits just behind downhill, which has 87.9% and ahead of XC, which has a 75%. Enduro riders, compared to XC athletes, are more suspicious of competitors using performance enhancing drugs, even if they trust the integrity of their race series more.
The racing is, in general, fair and honest
Strongly Agree: 6 (8.6%)
Agree: 50 (71.4%)
Neutral: 12 (17.1%)
Disagree: 2 (2.9%)
Strongly Disagree: 0
A Selection of Comments from the Riders