A freelance journalist and sponsored rider, polymath cyclist Juliet Elliott loves exploring every corner of the cycling world. Throwing herself into every challenge she finds upon her journey, Juliet’s never happier than when on two wheels. In this feature from Totally Active, Juliet Elliott experiences the thrills and spills of Enduro mountain bike racing. This article was first published on 3rd October September 2016 and is a feature piece from Totally Active.
With multiple timed stages reached under your own steam, Enduro races have invigorated grassroots mountain biking over the last few years, introducing the thrill of racing down technical terrain to a new generation of riders. Unlike a Downhill race where riders use single discipline bikes, Enduro or ‘trail bikes’ are equally at home in the bike park as they are out on the moors, something that more closely reflects people’s diverse interests.
The Mash-Up format allows competitors to try as many times as they like to set their fastest time on the downhill stages in any order they chose. I was drawn to the event as it resembles an ideal day out on the bike, riding all day with friends, pedalling up to the top to ‘earn’ your fun on the way down and finally, a competitive element, who doesn’t like to see how they stack up against their buddies?
Maybe it’s because I don’t suffer from nerves when I’ve no idea what I’m letting myself in for, maybe it’s just my curious nature but I absolutely love trying things for the first time. I like having no expectations of myself, no pressure and simply a goal of having fun, so that’s why I’ve signed up to experience a brand new racing format at the Welsh Gravity Enduro Mash-Up.
Picking up my race number at rider HQ in Afan, I wonder out loud how best to tackle the day’s riding. There are three timed stages in total which can be ridden in any order as many times as I desire, so which one should I go for first? After a cursory glance at the map, I plump for Stage 3, it looks long and relatively far away so I figure I should tick it off whilst my legs are fairly fresh.
Pedalling up to the top, I gaze down to my right past trees frantically thrashing about in a strong wind. The scalped hills on the other side of the valley remind me of a freshly shorn sheep, substantial logging in the region has sketched furrows throughout the landscape.
At the start of Stage 3, I stand nervously beneath a dark canopy of swaying timber, not anxious about the race but about a tree crashing down on my head. I’ve decided to use my first run to recce the track before returning to the top to attempt a fast ‘race fun.’ The track is long, around 4 minutes in duration and not overly technical.
Practice done, when it’s time for my race run, I catch up with the rider in front of me halfway down the track and can’t get round. I’m thankful that the Mash-Up format allows me to have another go. Back at the top, I give the track another bash and through some furiously hard pedalling manage to set the fastest time on the stage.
Over a spot of lunch, my husband and I discuss tactics and a friend joins us for a chat. I tell her that I’ve spent the morning racing Track 3 as it’s the longest, saving the other shorter stages for the afternoon. She shakes her head and informs me that Stage 3 is not the longest. I immediately regret having spent so much time on it, I haven’t tried either of the other two tracks. Quickly finishing my sandwich, I rejig my plans, I’ll recce Stages 1 and 2 so I know what to expect then I’ll do my race runs on each of them.
Runs through the bike park and is a winning combination of fast flowing corners, smooth berms and humps . It’s fairly short and I try to remember its turns for when I return to ride my race run. I hope I’ve enough speed and stamina left in the tank, perhaps four hours riding track at the Newport Velodrome the day before hadn’t been such a good idea after all.
Also known as Zig-Zags, is the longest track of the day and my legs feel noticeably heavy on my practice run. It’s fast, requiring super sharp reaction times, an ability to keep your flow through the best line and as much pedalling as I can muster from tired legs.
Practice done, back at event HQ my husband and I check out the results so far, your combined time from all three tracks is what counts in the rankings. I’m sitting in third position and decide to do my race run on Track 2 before returning to the shorter bike park track. I figure it’s more important to set a good time on this longer stage as there’s more chance of knocking off a substantial number of seconds.
I blast through the start gate pedalling with all my might, trying far, far too hard. In my eagerness to do well I lose control and have an almighty crash, slamming my face into the floor (thank heavens for full face helmets!) and smashing my hand quite badly, it later turns out to be broken.
Quite shaken up, as well as annoyed and disheartened, I decide it’s time to go home, I can no longer ride and it seems pointless to stick around any longer. Luckily for my husband, who has to endure a three hour car journey back home with me, my grumpiness is assuaged when I discover I’ve come third even though I hadn’t managed to ride my ‘race runs’ on Tracks 1 and 2. Standing on the podium, I feel pleased that my curiosity has led me to Wales and to this fun Enduro format of mountain bike racing. I savour the moment, with three broken bones in my hand, it will be several months before I have the chance to enjoy it again.
Bike, Kit and Clothing
Marin Bikes Attack Trail 9 is a purpose built Enduro machine with plenty of suspension to eat up bumps in the trail and a tough but lightweight carbon frame.
No one will miss you in this cheerful women’s specific kit. Fox’s Demo DH shirt and shorts are lightweight and breathable with plenty of room to accommodate body armour.
Met Helmet’s Parachute has been designed specifically for racing Enduro, where riders are required to ride up to the top of each stage whilst wearing their helmet. The Parachute is incredibly light and cool whilst still offering maximum protection.
Knee protection is a must if you’re racing Enduro and Bluegrass’ Crossbill pads are slim, lightweight and comfortable to wear all day long.
Goggles help keep mud from your eyes and prevent watering as you tear it down the hill. Fox’s Main goggles’ anti-fog lenses are top notch.
Tips from the top
“Marin-Stans No Tubes” team rider Nikki Whiles is a smooth and stylish ripper. Hailing from Wales, when he isn’t racing Enduro, Nikki and his crew build some of the finest trails in the country through their company Trailcraft MTB.
Definitely work some sprints into your training. Racing Enduro requires a high degree of fitness and being able to sprint for long periods of time will give you an advantage.
Ride within your ability so that you don’t crash, although with the Mash-Up format you do get to have another go if you make a mistake.
Make sure you’re always well fuelled. I see racing as an opportunity to eat a lot.
Bring the right kit and be prepared
It can be terrible weather sometimes, snowing even, but with the right kit and a few spares you’ll make your day a lot more bearable.
Keep your flow
Line choice is important. Keeping good flow by pumping and cornering smoothly and avoid grabbing the breaks.
Try it for yourself
Welsh Gravity Enduro Mash-Up
Dates throughout 2016
With races throughout Wales and a fun, friendly format, this is the ideal introduction to racing mountain bikes.
Enduro World Series
Dates throughout 2016
The gold standard of Enduro racing, the EWS is where you’ll see professionals pushing their limits in pursuit of glory. Multiple international locations such as Chile and Patagonia make this a fantastic series of races.
Cannondale British Enduro Series
Dates throughout 2016
With races throughout England, Wales and Scotland, this series welcomes Elite racers and newcomers alike. Expect a high degree of technical difficulty.
Tweed Love International
2017 date TBC
The Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders is home to the Tweed Love festival every year. The International Enduro sees 600 UK and International riders compete for glory.
Dates throughout 2016
With practice in the morning and racing in the afternoon with no time penalties for arriving late to the stage, the Mini Enduro is the perfect way to experience racing in a relaxed environment. Specifically aimed at riders new to the sport.
This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.