Downhill racing is awesome. We love nothing more than watching the top guys smash it down World Cup tracks at speeds that would scare the living piss out of most of us. If we’re honest, top-level XC is pretty gnarly too, what those guys put their bodies through is nothing less than hardcore. The thing is, most of us are, well, average. That’s the point of elite athletes, for a living they do things that most of us can’t or won’t do, if they didn’t they’d be average too. At that level the bikes are pretty specialist, you can’t pedal a DH race bike up a mountain and you wouldn’t want to ride a World Cup downhill track on an XC race bike.
As mountain biking has progressed through the years those disciplines have become more and more extreme, yet what about those of us in the middle? What if you just want to ride some great trails, are happy to pedal to the top if you need to and mainly want to have fun on your bike, but still fancy doing a bit of racing? What if you can only afford one bike in the garage and can’t justify having a specialist race bike? That’s where enduro fits.
Originating from France in 2003, the format is based on motorbike enduro and anyone who has followed car rallying should find it instantly familiar. The most basic definition is timed downhills and untimed uphills. Racing is over a series of special stages and whoever has the fastest combined time after those stages wins. Riders need to get between the stages, often for a set start time. Originally the Tribe enduro races in France were over ten timed stages, the Italian Superenduro PRO races are over four or five, the Gravity Enduro races in the UK are also over five, but three stages seems to be more common among smaller, slightly easier races.
Accessibility is an important aspect too – expect to be racing on the same tracks at the same time as the top guys, there’s no separate elite category or insane pro-lines on the tracks, it’s all about a race that everyone in the field can enjoy riding. While everyone should be able to have fun on the stages, don’t think that doesn’t mean the top guys aren’t absolutely smashing it though – it was while riding enduro that Fabien Barel had his horrific 70km/h crash a few years back...
The word downhill is an important one: if the timed stages aren’t mostly downhill, it ain’t enduro. The UCI are looking into becoming involved with the format and it is their gravity section who are looking at it, that’s the same people who look after downhill. With the original Tribe enduro races in France they aimed for no more than 10-15% uphill in a stage. That is just a rough figure, you won’t catch them out on the hill with a trundlewheel checking the precise ratio of downhill millimetres of versus uphill millimetres of trail – it was all about how the trail felt when you rode it. If a race has skills' sections or climbing stages in, sure they might be fun races, but they aren’t enduro and shouldn’t be called enduro. Same goes for the long-distance XC races that called themselves enduro, if they don’t have the timed stages and untimed liaisons format, it isn’t enduro.
Why is this detail important? If you show up to a race with a 160mm, 30lb+ enduro race bike, kitted out with big, dual-ply tyres and someone tells you that the race you’ve paid to enter is a 100km slog around a flat field, you’re going to feel burnt, right? The same goes the other way, if you show up to a real enduro race on a 20lb carbon XC race bike, there’s a good chance that something is going to get broken, whether it’s you or the bike. More importantly, it’s not going to be fun for you. As enduro is a relatively new format in many countries there is still some confusion as the format settles down into something stable, but race organisers need to describe their races in a way that riders understand to avoid that kind of confusion. Hopefully the long history of motorbike enduro will help make this easier.
And as for Super D? As far as we're concerned that's more of an XC race, the low-fat, vegan-friendly version of enduro. Lycra has no place in a real enduro race, nor does racing up the climbs. Generally you should expect to bring at least a good set of kneepads and, here in Europe, your full-face helmet. In the UK full-face helmets aren't compulsory (yet), but in Italy and France they are very necessary for the terrain.
Getting to the top is the one area where there isn’t a set rule – it depends on where you are and who’s the running the race. When they ran the first Tribe enduros in France, they used the ski lifts to get to the top of the hill and the physical element came in the ten descents. As the format spread to areas outside the high Alps where enduro began, people began pedalling to the top. You might also find some races with a combination of the two. There isn’t a right or wrong version, the only thing that matters is that it’s supposed to be enjoyable, while you can cover long distances and have hard days, it shouldn’t be lung-burning climbing for hours on end.
So, that’s a very brief guide to enduro. If that sounds like something you’d like to have a go at, here’s a few series you could think about doing:
Tribe Events (France): www.tribe-events.com
Superenduro (Italy): www.superenduromtb.com
Gravity Enduro (UK): www.ukgravityenduro.com
Gravity Enduro (Ireland): www.gravityenduro.ie
Enduro (Germany): www.enduroseries.net
Oregon Enduro (USA): www.oregonenduro.com
In the next article in this series, we’ll have a look at setting your bike up to go enduro racing.