FOOD FOR THOUGHT: MOUNTAIN BIKING ENDURO

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: MOUNTAIN BIKING ENDURO

 

 

The term Enduro originates from a certain race format for off-road motorcycles which started in the 90s. In essence, it consists of many different obstacles and challenges. The main type of enduro event, and the format in which the World Enduro Championship is run, is a time-card enduro, whereby a number of stages are raced in a time trial. The understanding of the term Enduro extended to mountain biking when the sport got more popular. Mountain bike enduro racing is simply a long-distance race for bicycles, typically over rough terrain, designed to test (surprise) endurance. Is this the definitive race format that will take over as the mainstay of race events for mountain biking in the near future? Or do you think any further evolution is nigh on the horizon? Our editor goes all imaginative and introspective on things that could be.

 

 

LONG WAY COMING

In the present day, enduro races are classified mainly into 2 categories: Downhill Enduro and Gravity Enduro. Examples of Downhill Enduro are Megavalanche and Mountain of Hell, where riders start en masse down big mountains, sometimes, even in snowy terrain. Its long descents with a few small climbs, and a whole lot of downhill chaos and action. On the other hand, Gravity Enduro was derived when other mountain biking pockets refused to be deprived of this race format. Examples of Gravity Enduro are Trans-Provence and the Canadian Open Enduro at Crankworx Whistler. 

In 2012, the Enduro Mountain Bike Association (EMBA) set out to develop the discipline of enduro mountain biking around the world. By joining seven existing large events across four countries and two sides of the Atlantic Ocean, EMBA created the flagship Enduro World Series in 2013. It all seemed that the enduro race format, which was touted as the next big thing for mountain biking since the turn of this decade was really going the direction that was envisioned. Some years back, the term "all-mountain" was all the rage, but in recent years, the term has dwindled with many regarding the term old fashioned. In actual fact, both terms are related, with some earlier enduro events being titled as All-Mountain Race.

While we see small adjustments and developments, what is obviously common is that bikers around the world agree that the best way to enjoy the trail that the region has to offer is to use as much of its terrain as possible, and the best race format to achieve this is through Enduro races.

While some lucky folks have the opportunity to race in regional Enduro races, the majority of local riders are more exposed to the usual cross country (XC) and downhill races. The most commonly heard reason for a lack of this race format locally is the perceived lack of suitable terrain. And with that, Enduro is more a trend term rather than a real experience to many in this small South East Asian community.

And herein lies a discrepancy. While there is a flood of "Enduro-specific" products – from bikes to armor to helmets to what nots, the riders in this parts of Asia have little chance to know just how effective they are as compared to their trusty gears and bikes. Shopping for such products end up being more a fashion statement, in anticipation of the future, than it is for real functionality. Kind of a trail head joke for a while …

 

 

FIRST HAND: SINGAPORE OPEN ENDURO 2016

What started out as an innocent idea between a few riding friends and a dream eventually materialized into an approved ride event with an efficient electronic timing system and other forms of support from the local biking industry. With the help of volunteers and a supportive crowd, the Singapore Open Enduro lifted off spectacularly, and left a solid impression in Singapore's mountain biking history. Singaporean mountain bikers finally experienced a taste of how such an event feels like in our own trails. 

Enduro events are fun due to a few factors:

  • It is really open for EVERYONE. The race can be enjoyed by any rider who is physically fit enough, regardless of whichever end of the mountain bike riding discipline spectrum he/she is from. The fun factor is more dominant in an Enduro race as compared to downhill or cross country races – with the longer rides and the liaison stages.
  • It is a race that requires ALL the skills and prowess acquired over all the trail riding years – from stamina to technical skills.
  • Due to the fact that Enduro races only take timings for Special Stages, any bike or equipment technical faults can be rectified as long as the rider is WELL EQUIPPED and PREPARED. Which means that, a rider can still do well even if he blunders at an early Special Stage but manages to pick up his momentum during the later Special stages.

 

 

THE HAPPY FACES OF SOE 2016

What did the recent Singapore Open Enduro reveal to us? Many things.

To those who think Singapore does not have suitable terrain for Euduro races or events, they are missing the whole point about Enduro. Enduro is a celebration of the trails we ride. It makes use of what we have and squeezes out the best of what the trails have to offer. By linking an event route from Kent Ridge to the Green Corridor, to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and ending at Central Catchment Area, we have one of the best round up of trails that Singapore has to offer. And what's there to jeer at? This is Singapore's natural terrain, which is made up of fast switches between climbs and descends. Not as easy as it sounds for many. 

The turn out spoke for itself. The cream of the local mountain biking scene were present at the event. No elitist talk here, just plain and simple facts about how attractive the event was as a whole.

And the event did not disappoint. Lots of happy faces and real, grueling rides that required the full skill set that was acquired over the years of riding local trails. But the competitive sections were sweetened by the friendly mood that filled the liaison stages. There were lots of friendly shoutouts throughout the rides. 

Some riders told Bikezilla that although they rode these trails so often, when a timing and competition element was added in, there were suddenly a palpable anxiety in the air, which was a starkly different feel from a typical Strava ride day. This added anxiety gave our familiar trails a whole new face and feel.

The Singapore Open Enduro also proved a few other things:

  • Regardless of whether there are big mountains, an Enduro event is still as much fun when we make use of all the best bits of our trails.
  • Singapore's mountain biking community has a sizeable appetite for long technical races or events.
  • The locals have potentials, they just need more opportunities to cultivate their skills and prowess.
  • The cycling industry and community should come together more often and such occasions can give rise to mutually beneficial outcomes

 

 

ENDURO-SPECIFIC PRODUCTS NOW?

With the successful execution of Singapore Open Enduro, comes a set of revelations! Hey, the local riders who have never participated in an epic distance enduro race where stamina is need to cover the distance, speed & skills for the descents and timed sections will now scream murder for not preparing themselves with something lighter, airier, tougher or more all-in-one! Welcome to the world of enduro-specific products. What was previously the best for cross-country or downhill races suddenly seem inadequate. Of course, one can still get by with those bikes, components, protections and stuff, but … "it could have been better". And with that, a whole new world of products suddenly seem legit for consumption. Big demand and big money here. 

And why are we bringing this topic up? It suddenly made more sense to buy products that had are endorsed or had proven its worth in an Enduro race. The very nature of Enduro just made product requirements became more stringent. And such stringent requirements suddenly became very logical because the ride/race is as such. These chosen products should be light enough for long rides, offer adequate protection and basically considered "all-rounders" in their respective categories. Again, another evidence that Enduro is taking over as a mainstay of mountain biking races …

 

 

SOME RIDERS INTROSPECTION

You think you know your local trails well? Maybe you do. But when the sections are cut into smaller sprint sections, it suddenly felt different doesn't it? That, in itself, is the joy of Enduro Races. The trail is studied, and the juiciest most competition-worthy parts are picked as Special Stages and the riders can fight over dominance of those sections. We spoke to some of the riders after the first Singapore Open Enduro. And this is what we gathered:

  • Do your trail familiarization or recce prior to event. When was the last time you rode that trail? Trails are always changing, so do your homework.
  • Study the race route with respect to the timed Special Stages and choose your weapon accordingly. With a clear understanding of the trail and the Special Stage, you will be be able to make a better decision on which of your bikes would give better timing. 
  • Get enough sleep and rest well before the race. Having a clear and alert mind is one of the biggest asset. There is also no point to ride the full Enduro course the day before. All this homework should have been done days ago. Take the eve of event day as cooling off day.
  • Do not try to "save time" during the Liaison Stage. There is a time window given for your ride between Special Stages. Make the best out of them and try not to exhaust or stress your muscles too much enroute. You want to go through each Special Stage in your best condition.
  • Keep yourself hydrated. Have a mix of water and isotonic drinks so as you are properly hydrated and not depleted from body salt. This will help prevent heat disorder, and keep your muscles in prime condition, especially in our tropical climate.
  • Chocolate bars are not good for long rides, use proper energy bars. Unless you like melted gooey chocolate fudge which leaves a strange after taste in those already dried up mouths and throats of yours. And not breathing. Because that's clearly what happens next. 
  • Keep track of the time. Timing is everything during an Enduro event – be it your timed sections and the liaison stages. As stated earlier, you want to know how much time you have to move from one stage to the next and yet have enough time to recover. So plan your time wisely.
  • Use the Liaison Stage as an interlude for some rest or recovery. It all depends on how you train and race. So make the best use of the time window to recover your body from each Special Stage's toil. It will make you more ready for the next timed stage.
  • Get serious when it's time to. That is, as much as you are starting to enjoy the Enduro event's process, do not forget to go flatout when it comes to the timed stages. It's the timing at these stages that matters afterall. 
  • Use light yet strong armor. Unlike a typical downhill race, you will be hauling these armor with you throughout the event. We are sure you won't be too keen to haul some big thick cumbersome movement-restricting body armor through epic distances. Do your shopping wisely. (Oh no! Here we go again! Enduro-specific armor)
  • Goggles! How many of us were guilty of saying Enduro rider looked really moronic wearing huge goggles over their trail or all-mountain helmets? Live and learn guys. Goggle really does help when things get fast and aggressive on muddy trails and slippery descents. As attested by our SOE participants!
  • Fanny Packs! For those riders who like a bit of aggressive descents and air time, a fanny pack could work better than a back pack as it hugs the body better.
  • Compression shorts! And for long rides, the likes of a full Enduro event, wear a good cycling compression shorts underneath your trail shorts. This would help to minimize the risk of muscle cramps.
  • Know your bike well. We are aware that not all riders know how to tune their suspension accurately. Some even confessed that they are butt-numb to suspension feel when they ride. Knowing some basic tuning would help a great deal for the timed stages. Fox came out with the CTD so that Enduro racers can flick to the correct mode and shred those trails with their personal best effort not going to waste due to "inappropriate equipment". And it is during events like these that such features get really appreciated.

 

 

FUTURE OF ENDURO

Is Enduro some kind of a Grand Unification of Race Formats? We can imagine there are times when the terrain and logistic calls for a loop race, or the craving for pure adrenaline and instant gratification is strong when a straight up downhill race offers that perfect fix, but I guess there is a certain notion that Enduro has a substantial place in the mountain biking world.

In a short 40-year history, mountain biking had evolved from basic klunking to a study of performance and a culture-rich sport with a full spectrum of riding disciplines. Where bike technology is concerned, the improvements are getting into precision territories – with marginal improvements made to frame geometry and pivot positions. The search for the All-in-One mountain bike has been somewhat a marketing buzzword and an elusive myth for many years. With the continual product development and riders feedback from the Enduro events, we may be seeing the "perfect all rounder" sooner than we think.

Mountain biking Enduro brought about yet another paradigm shift to the world of mountain biking. A rider could be good at downhill, but does he have the stamina and endurance for a longer distance race? A cross country rider may last the long distance, but how fast is he on the double black diamond descents? What we need are (that word again!) all-rounders that has strength, agility and the endurance to go the whole nine yards. (Hey, did we just described our usual big country riders?)

Every few years, the marketers would be pressurized to come up with something that would hype the market all over again. From products-led events or vice versa. We think such hypes are good as it rekindles lost interest, keep everyone from yawning and attract new entrants – both consumers and sellers into the industry. This means growth. A good thing.

If the above is true, then it goes to show that Enduro would evolve.

How about Dual Speed & Style Enduro? Where riders will liaison to different stages which are dotted with style sections where they can impress the judge with good tricks which would deduct off some seconds off their total timing.

Or maybe Slalom or 4X Enduro? Where racers would move from timed sections liaising to 4X courses, have a good fight, with the winner shaving off some seconds again, and grabbing that section trophy … and so on.

Or is there a possibility of a Team Relay Enduro? This one should be a somewhat strategic team competition where the the team can place their riders strategically for best terrain match or race strategy.

Whether such evolution of this particular race format does happen or not is not important. What is important to us is that we are sure Enduro would be around for a long while. And with the opening of Chestnut North Trail in the Central Catchment Area later this year, we can look forward to another opportunity to tap the goodness of our local trails when SOE 2017 comes. Till then, ride hard and train enduro!

 

 

 

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