What to Expect at Your First Enduro
Here is a quick Steezy guide on what to expect at your first enduro. This is generalised but we’ll be touching on the PMBA enduro series which will be hosting 3 rounds with Hope WMN specifically for women and non-binary riders to have a crack at enduro! Kitty has written this guide from her experience racing enduros, which is not extensive but enough to know what your first race is like. If you have any insights to share please drop a comment at the bottom of the page.
A small disclaimer: You know yourself and your riding, there is no hard and fast rule for what level of ability means you can do an enduro! Know yourself and check the descriptions from the race organisers here. We would strongly suggest you ask someone who has competed or raced before if you are unsure whether enduro is right for you! Most likely, it is!!
My First Enduro
In 2017, after riding gravel bikes for a while, a friend of mine invited me mountain biking on her mum’s 26-inch wheeled Santa Cruz. I knew nothing about suspension or tyres or what to wear but I knew I was desperate to give “shredding” a go. Gisburn was the destination and the full 8 was the reward, a mighty initiation and I was hooked. Fast forward to the next pay-day, I ordered an Orange Clockwork 120, a beginner’s hardtail with 120mm forks and 27.5 in wheels. It was magical.
As my mate and I returned to the trails of Gisburn forest we met a trail builder at the top of the Hope line who asked us if we’d be to the Women’s Enduro. Women’s Enduro? What is this magic? A whole new world of mountain biking just opened its doors to us, wow. We get to ride Gisburn, as fast as we can, off-piste trails, A-lines, B-lines and loads of other rad riders? I’m in.
2018, October, a slight drizzle in the air but warm enough to not need layers. Hardtail at the ready. Nervous. I was so nervous that I couldn’t bring myself to do the practice laps, definitely a mistake but riding at Gisburn quite frequently and checking the course map I’d ridden everything before. I did the race and learnt a lot, what a transition was, how to time things right and conserve energy and where to pedal. I didn’t manage to put all of this into practice next year or even in future enduros, but I pushed myself a little harder every time and learnt a bit more.
This isn’t about my first enduro though, this is just a scene setting. A look at how most people find themselves mountain biking and then racing, riding with a more experienced friend and hearing about the enduro on the trails. Inherently though, this requires you to have that friend who is willing to ride a little slower and tell you not to brake on the rock garden, that you need to pedal hard to get over that bit or pull up on that. Without this, it can be difficult to know when to jump in!
What is an Enduro?
I’m sure there’ll be a much more succinct definition but that defeats the purpose! An Enduro is a mountain bike race that includes timed stages, which are usually downhill with technical features, and transitions which are, usually, uphill bits between the stages. Basically, the fun bits are the race (unless riding uphill is your bag).
In amateur racing, the whole race isn’t under a time constraint so you can take your time on the transitions. However, it is often best to start earlier (if possible) if you think you may need a bit of extra time to get around.
The race result is based on your cumulative time for all of the stages together, however, there is kudos available if you win a stage.
The stages themselves aren’t vastly long, often only about 5-15 minutes depending on your riding and will really be more about ability than out-and-out fitness. Of course, being able to add in a bit of extra pedalling will help, but there isn’t a prerequisite for being the fittest rider in your bunch! The transitions will generally either be a similar distance but uphill or even a little shorter if they’re connecting different trails unless you’re moving from one area of the trails to another.
Practice laps are often available where you can ride any or all of the stages before the race. Make sure you note where the features are and if there is anything to be avoided, for example, there may be a drop that you’re not quite ready to hit. When the adrenaline is pumping in race mode you might not catch it! The great part about the practice laps is that it’s an opportunity to ride it with your friends, especially if they’re used to the terrain or more experienced. Friend of Steezy, Calvin, has helped with reading the trails and practice laps a few times at the Southern Enduro!
The Hope WMN PMBA Enduro Series
Races can come in different formats so make sure you know what they mean! The Hope WMN Enduro series will have three rounds this year in a MASHUP format. PMBA has set the races so that all runs of a stage, including your first lap, are timed and your best time is taken. This takes off some of the pressure if you’re a little less experienced, you do full runs and collect times. If you have an off, or you just don’t quite ride as you wanted, it means there’s another chance to make your mark.
Another addition to the Hope WMN PMBA Enduro series is they will build on each other, progression built into the racing series! Round 1, at Gisburn Forest, will take up the 3 trail centre trails which are open to ride all year round. Round 2 will be at AE Forest, using the Red loop (Scottish Reds are a little spicier than English). Then Round 3 at Kirroughtree will include an off-piste route. More info can be found on Pink Bike’s roundup of the series.
How to Know If You Can Enduro?
As in my small disclaimer, it really is up to you. But I would say, if you’ve been riding regularly, you’re confident riding at trail centres without having to dismount often and you know how to ride different features then you’re good to go.
Enduros will often contain technical corners, roots, exposed rock and loose terrain. The features will include small jumps, rollable table-top jumps, small drops, very small doubles (one jump then another which can be gapped with experience), tight berms, steep-sided trails, chutes and rock gardens. If the feature is large, has to be conquered with a bit of air or is highly technical it will often have a B-line, this is why it is wise to go a little more cautiously on lap 1 or the practice lap as you will have time to spot these features and the B-line.
With all of this in mind, if you know you’re happy with the above but you’re still asking is it for me? The answer is probably yes! But again, it is case to case.
What to Bring to an Enduro
Some race organisers (an example of PMBA’s are here) will stipulate the MINIMUM required protection. This is definitely a personal choice, taking into account what your comfort levels are and how you ride. Personally, I started using knee pads, elbow pads and a half-lid helmet. However, after pushing my riding a little harder and taking a couple more risks at races I now wear a full face and a back protector as well, if the need calls. If you’re not ready to invest in a single full-face helmet or you don’t want the faff of both, some companies do a removable chin bar. Mine is great as it can be taken off for really long transitions.
Protection is a big financial barrier to racing, but definitely worth considering. If you aren’t ready to invest there are a few options, buy and sell groups, post in a local MTB club chat, asking around. Often people step up their protection as they ride and there’s a pair of perfectly solid, albeit a little bulky, elbow and knee pads that are great for your first enduro.
Lastly, goggles or glasses are great. If you don’t want to commit to a nice pair of flashy MTB glasses then hardware store glasses are fine. Debris in your eyes can be seriously detrimental when pointing a bike down a feisty trail!
This is a difficult topic to balance. I ride my fully capable Hope HB130, a 130mm shock and 145mm forks. It is carbon, trail geometry and perfect for UK-based enduro riding! However, as I mentioned before, when I started racing it was on my Orange Clockwork which at the time was £750 brand new and I rode it out of the box.
Ride what you have, but make sure that it is capable of taking the features and trails in its stride. If you don’t have a bike that you think can take the trail, try looking in the same places as above. It is difficult to commit to a new bike, but second-hand bikes are aplenty and often just need a good service and cleaning!
Shocks (the suspension at the back) and forks (the front suspension) make a big difference to a bike. Just be a bit careful and make sure you know what to look for. Many hybrid-type commuter bikes look like mountain bikes with the suspension fork, but these are flimsy springs without the air compression and wouldn’t be up to a trail centre enduro! I would say if in doubt, search up the bike and look at what it was originally sold as. If it has the words ‘trail’ or ‘enduro’ you should be ok. Bikes do have ratings based on what terrain they are made for with some brands supplying these (like Canyon) but you might need to dig a little more.
Again, wear what you have! I would suggest a long sleeve, a slightly baggy jersey and hard-wearing shorts or trousers. If you have a crash you don’t want the lycra tight on your skin as it won’t be able to take the brunt of the abrasion. If you need to buy them there’s plenty online in sales and also in buy and sell groups. I would also avoid wearing anything in your pocket unless you have no other choice, a Steezer had a GoPro-shaped bruise on her leg for months a few years ago!
Some riders wear rucksacks, some bum bags, and some have hidden storage. This is up to you. I personally take water in the frame, now I’m using a Fidlock which is compact for those smaller spaces. I also have tools depending on the distance from the race base. If you’re travelling a good distance from the start/finish it may be sensible to take a spare link, multi-tool, tyre levers and a tube as well as tubeless plugs. However, if I’m really close (easy walking distance) to my base, car, bag drop etc, then I only take water and a quick link as it’s just as easy to fix and jump back to the course as it is to carry the items on my person.
This section is something I really wish I had when I first started racing. I was so worried about being slow and mucking up the riders behind that I would get a little flustered at the start of a stage. But, at most amateur races, simply turn around and ask the person behind and the marshal for a little extra room. If you’ve got friends, you can ride with the most confident person at the back asking for more room, your friends will know your riding and know how much room to give you without having to ask. Asking for more room is beneficial to you, but even more beneficial to the rider behind, they want a good time and overtaking can make any section much more testing!
Talk to the other riders there, if you want to that is. Having open and positive conversations is never unappreciated and you never know, you could make a friend. At my first enduro, I met an amazing woman who took me on the rest of the trails and gave me some great riding advice.
Another tip, chat with the volunteers and organisers (when appropriate!). Most of them are keen riders or friends and family of keen riders. Thank them for their time and make sure the experience is s as enjoyable for them as it is for you, without them, there would be no race.
And that’s it! Get ready to shreddy!