Posted by: Stu | February 21, 2011

Racing for fun – Innerleithen Winter Enduro


At Innerleithen Enduro, originally uploaded by StoooPotter.

A couple of weeks ago, I entered the Innerleithen MTB Racing winter Enduro, sponsored by iCycles. This was less than a month after my slightly disheartened attempt at this years Strathpuffer and my first attempt at Enduro racing.

What is Enduro racing, is it like endurance racing?.. sort of…

The format is fairly simple; There’s a relatively fixed course, consisting of a number of timed stages. Each stage averages mostly downhill, though there may be wee climbing or pedally sections in them. Your race time is taken as a total of your times for all the stages and you have to get to the start of each stage under your own steam, within a time limit.

The Innerleithen Winter Enduro was a pretty relaxed affair, with a fixed time of 4 hours to complete the whole course, which included 3 timed ‘Special’ stages. These stages all started in pretty much the same place at the top of Plora Craig, where the Innerleithen DH tracks start, and headed off down 3 different routes that had been expertly cut, dug and taped out by Steve Deas of iCycles bike shop in Innerleithen. Anyone who knows Steve will know his love of techy, natural trails, some might put ‘suffering’ on his likes list too and there was plenty of all of the above to go around.

I’ve gotten pretty used to my local hill after living in Innerleithen for almost a year now and so I knew pretty much what to expect, but I reckon a few folk who aren’t so familiar may have been caught out by the steepness and rooty tech that we were throwing ourselves down at race pace. I could go on all day about how good the riding is here, but the best thing to do is get up the hill and ride it… and I’m always happy to be a riding buddy to anyone that wants showing around. If you’re interested in the results, there’s also a pretty nice write up and some pics (by Ian Linton) on the Descent World website.

I’d mainly like to talk about what I thought of the race as a concept. In short, I loved it. This is racing for the modern mountain biker, racing for all mountain bikers, racing for fun.

What’s the best kind of bike to race? Basically, anything that you can get up the hill without wearing yourself out too much, will pedal pretty quick through a flat section or short climb and allow you to hammer downhill as fast as your skills allow. There’s an argument that a 5-6″ trail bike, with grippy but fast tyres, wide bars and dropper seatpost is the way to go… that’s what I rode. In fact, it’s what most of us ride, most of the time. But there were folk there on skinny XC looking rides and some people on pretty burly looking machines too. Special mention must go out to John Young who took second place on a Santa Cruz V10 downhill bike. He’d lightened it up with XC wheels and it must have been hell on the flat and uphill bits but it’s the bike he’s most comfortable on and it sure looked at home on the steep DH section of the course.

There were some pretty varied characters on the start line too, with a fairly varied list of biking back grounds. Downhillers, endurance racers, XC whippets, weekend warriors that live for trail centres… all sorts. The great thing was how social an event this was, no one cared what kind of rider you were, where you normally ride, what bike you rode. Sure people asked, but mostly to be curious… not to judge. The thing I heard most often on the hill was “what d’you think of the race… brilliant isn’t it!”. Everyone chatted to each other on the climbs back up between stages and there was gentlemanly nods of “no, after you” at the start lines before you ‘dibbed in’ and put the power down for a timed stage. More amazingly was how well mannered people were on the way down. Everyone sees a bit of red mist on a timed run, but hearing the shout of “Rider!” meant there was someone faster coming up behind you and you’d happily let them past. I was caught on pretty much every run by speedy youngster, George Gannicott, and it didn’t bother me at all… But finally, on stage 3, I saw another rider I was gaining on. I’d no idea who he was but I knew I could have him. It took a fair bit of pedalling and some iffy corners before I felt able to pass. “RIDER!” I screamed and he tucked himself off to the side of the trail to let me though. It felt great… what made it feel better was him shouting back to “Give it some!” as I went past.

Imagine you’re best days out playing on your bike with your mates… pootling up the hills looking forward to a good descent or two, finding some really nice techy natural trails you didn’t know were there, nailing them flat out and wishing someone had a clock on you… then to find out that someone did time you and you were faster than, well, anyone … someone… it didn’t matter, it just makes it more exciting. I came pretty low down the leader board, but I didn’t care. I was beaten by a couple of mates, I beat a couple of others…. we all had a ball.

I get enjoyment from lots of different aspects of bike riding and sometimes I just want to go out and batter up a few miles. Sometimes I want to test my self on nasty climbs, sometimes I want a day or two out in the mountains to really get away from it all and there’s rarely a day when I don’t love a good techy descent. There are certainly some deeper reasons why I ride bikes, that’s for another blog post, and others have their take on it too. Overall though, I’d recommend giving Enduro a shot. If you like riding mountain bikes, consider yourself to be relatively competent at it, I reckon you’d enjoy this kind of event. The UK Gravity Enduro series sees it’s debut this year and I’ll be signing up for some of those. Should be a blast.


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