Clive Forth – Man on the Mountain powered by Mavic goes in search of the spirit.
Clive Forth – Man on the Mountain powered by Mavic goes in search of the spirit.
Racing, Riding, Products, People. What is Enduro?
If your into the sport and follow the news then you have a fairly good idea what this enduro thing is all about, however if your not plugged into the mountain bike circuit then it can be a little confusing. I have read on the trinterweb that its a kind of ‘social’ race format which aims to bring people together in a place where they can get to know one another and share the experience of riding in nature while testing their metal in the process.
The top riders and event crews have often quoted “the spirit of enduro”, and I’ve often wondered, what is this so called spirit, what does this really mean to the riders and where can I find it?
For me racing has always been about racing, As my riding career got serious so did my attitude towards doing my best. I didn’t compete to make friends and I’m not very social when the number board is on and the countdown begins. This is not to say I’d go out of my way to be rude in anyway, just that good sportsmanship doesn’t imply that you have to be buddy buddy with everyone. I find it hard to justify entering a mountain bike competition for fun, but I’ve come to learn that I’m not wired up like many of you and I accept that.
Meeting people and discovering was the thin layer of icing on a sizable chunk of competition cake. As it happens I’ve made many good friends from all over the world through my racing career but the thing that took me on my travels was driven by competition and that equalled beating people, not making friends with them. I was told in my youth, if you want to come second then take up boxing!
My plan for this season is to go in search for this “spirit”, to attend events across Europe, ride in the mountains enduro style and see what the people have to say about ‘the peoples’ race format. I ask you to join me on my journey as I seek out the spirit of enduro. Let’s see how in four words or fewer people summarize their experience.
My journey started a couple of weekends ago with a quick smash and grab trip to nearby Ae forest to check out a round of the Scottish Enduro series. Ae has been used as a venue for mountain bike comps for many years now, those of you who regularly tune in to DW will have read countless race reports of both Scottish and British National downhill competitions taking place there since the late 90’s.
The forest is well established in enduro racing too, the Avalanche Enduro events held there in 2000 were some of the first timed stage race events of this nature held on British soil and the venue has become a regular round on the UK Gravity Enduro circuit.
Enduro racing in the UK is still relatively new when compared to the history of the sport overseas, however it has certainly attracted a lot of attention from both the press and the riding public. The discipline has seen seasoned downhill riders cross over and countless recreational riders take to the taped trails in search of victory, be it personal or between mates.
I rocked up at Ae and got strait down to business, the friendly event staff equipped me with a map of the stages and we worked out where the lead riders would be. A stiff breeze was in the air so not wanting to get cold I headed out on-course to search out some familiar faces and get some chat off the riders.
A crowd was gathered at the bottom of stage one, the opening stage ran from the trig point where the downhill tracks start taking a fairly direct line down the hillside to blend into the final part of the Red XC trail. Some full on gradient and slippery conditions were a rude awakening for many. The riders seemed pumped and friendly so with notebook in hand I got down to business.
First up I spoke with Calum Smith, he was sporting an orange Orange 5 kitted out with Fox 34 forks and a mix of Shimano SLX and Saint gear with a single thick-thin ring, the obligatory riser bar and short stem were accompanied by a Reverb dropper post and 26’ hoops to finish the bike off. He was racing for fun over podiums with the aim of beating his riding buddies Nick and Brad, they had a thing or two to say about that! When asked to sum up the spirit of enduro in four word or fewer he came at me with “Fun, Friendly, Exciting”.
Nestled in a crowd of riders I could see a guy crouched down pumping up a tyre with a mini pump, his bright yellow Commencal peppered with the tacky Ae soil was also sporting Shimano parts with Fox forks and a Reverb dropper post. As I snapped a few shots of the action his buddies were keen to point out the ‘bodge’ repair to the lower pivot. Owner Carl kindly gave a few words re the ‘repair’ and informed me (while reminding pals Rob and Neil) that he was racing in the Masters category for fun but with the aim of beating the aforementioned duo. His summary of ‘Hard, Tech, Fast’ were just how he would need to ride these challenging gravity orientated stages today if he were to achieve his goal.
Local lad Adam Copeland gave a few words between gasps for breath as he’d just completed stage one with a flat front tyre. When asked his four word summary of enduro’s spirit he simply replied “Don’t get silly”. Wise words but maybe more a note to self rather than a summary of the elusive spirit.
Onward and a chance to ride some of the Red XC route as the link stage took the racers to Granny Green Love. This stage would prove a physical challenge for many with a flat opening section winding along the heavily armored bike park trail. A small rise led them into the now heavily eroded descent. The trail now rolls much slower than when first created and you have to give it hell to clear the jumps in the upper section, the battered surface exposes square edge rocks and puncture are common here.
Lining up in the cue I saw a Scottish race regular and Innerleithen legend Mr Steve Deas of icycles fame. Like the builders house Steve’s Mondraker was well equipped but perhaps not as well turned out as his fellow competitors. The lengthly uncut brake hoses did however match the uncut zip ties. Steve was running shiny new Formula brakes with the safety stickers still attached, these were nicely balanced out by the aged retro Ritchey saddle.
In contrast Clive Hurley was riding his box fresh matt black Ibis HD, having only ridden a couple of enduro events in the past his enduro spirit delivered the slightly haunting message of “Out of my depth”. Practice he informed me had been an eye opener, the course here proving more challenging than previous events.
As the sun broke through the cloud the remaining riders rolled on through stage two, a couple of nervous ladies in the ‘enduro light’ category spoke to me before hitting this stage and said that even though some of the more DH orientated stages were a real challenge they felt the three words ‘pretty dam awesome’ summed up the spirit of the event. Both Kirsty and Ciara were riding their usual trail bikes with just a wheel and tyre upgrade for Ciara on her Juliana.
As I sped my way along through the next link stage I caught up with self confessed Glentress Mincer Andrew Cunningham. Andrew was making light work of the newly built switch-back climb onboard a Ragley, he was joined by a good few other riders in the brave mans category (hard-tail). Andrew had made the trip down from Edinburgh and having competed in a good few events previous was keen to get to as many rounds of the POC Scottish Enduro as he could. He was loving the stages at Ae and we discussed the progression and adaptation of the discipline as we rode up to the headstone. He cut to the chase with his spirit summary and dosed me with a snappy two word summary “Involving everyone”.
Stage three followed the Red trail through some high speed sections interspersed with those classic ‘false flat’ sections before joining a trail that would drop the riders back down onto the main forest road at the bottom of the valley. From here everyone had a chance to re fuel at the Ae cafe and camp site before heading up the ‘uplift’ forest road to the summit cairn for stage 4.
I cruised along the forest road chatting to Dan Gibson and Stuart Carr, Dan was rolling on 650b’s on his stock built Bronson and Stuart was riding his stock Orange Alpine 160. They seemed to be having a good time and described their version of enduro spirit as “Hard, Tiring yet Awesome” and “Challenging, Fun, Fast”. The rude awakening of stage 1 was their least favorite and they both really enjoyed the previous stage 3.
Up at the cairn I caught up with another familiar face of the Scottish scene, the one and only Stephen Stanway. Always on form with the banter I had the crack with Stevie as he readied himself for the stage to see if he was on form with the riding. His tired looking Santa Cruz Nomad was still serving him well and its a bike he’s grown with and knows inside out. No wagon wheels yet for this old schooler who described the spirit as being “All about the riders”.
The banter on the hill was good but the wind chill somewhat less satisfying. I hung around for a while chatting and watching folk. First time enduro start marshall Keith was doing well to stave off the cold and keep on smiling for the racers while Nicola Fell was eager to get on with the job of chasing down lead woman and eventual winner Katy Winton. Nicola was riding her petite Lapierre 714 with Shimano finishing kit and Fox shocks, the single chainring set up was accompanied by a chain guide and like many riders she’d opted for flat pedals over clips.
In the Hardtail category the flying Dutchman Eello Doctor rocked the coolest name of the day. Having lived in the UK for 15 years now he’s finally got used to hills but only just discovered the nasty habit of bar-ends grabbing trees! Fortunately he was in one piece and looking forward to dropping the hill one more time as he lined up for stage 5.
The final stage started on The Shredder, the wide fast rolling start gave riders a false sense of security as they soon turned off the main line and into the old 97’ DH course. Here an off camber traverse was proving difficult for many. Lower down in the trees the steep muddy root covered trail caught out lots of riders. The shouting of expletives (mostly by the female riders) humored myself and one of the volunteer marshals, I was virtually crying with laughter at the foul language.
The steep final section of stage 5 was equally as challenging as Next level Bikes owner Mark Wilcox found out as he blew a tyre off the rim right in-front of me, just typical that I’d packed the camera away to miss the Aaron Gwin style finish as he rode it home on the rim.
With all riders down the hill it was time for me to snack out before taking a few snaps of the podium. On the steps were some of the usual culprits but my experience was all about the rest of the field and the hunt for the spirit, So a huge congratulations to Ross Latimer for quote of the day. Ross dropped his chain at the start of stage 4, suffered 2 punctures, went over the bars before loosing a shoe in the mud as he tried to get re-going and finally crashing out as he ‘dibbed’ himself in at the stage finish timing post. All of this and he quotes “it was my best stage”.. Ross concluded that the spirit was all about “Riding awesome trails.
For those of you interested who won what take a look here for full results.
The next round of the series will be held at Glenlivet Bike Park on the 13th and 14th of June, there is sure to be some fine spirit here as Glenlivet estate is home to the well known distillery established in the early 1800‘s.
You can get details on this race and the other rounds in the series over at..
I’ll be off to the high Alpine as my search for the spirit continues. Until next time..