I have always referred to myself as a cyclist as I love and ride all types of bikes. Although I do spend the majority of my pedal time in nobly tires and covered in mud, I don’t seem to conform to what is becoming the advertised “standard” gravity assisted, loam roosting, kicker boosting, image of a mountain biker is these days. I do have a 160mm travel 650b bike with cool anodized green flat pedals and I do enjoy pushing my limits on descents. But I am much more at home on my steep angled light 100mm travel 29er. I just enjoy the parts in between the “Gnarr Shredding” that everybody else around me seems to complain about and suffer through too much. Maybe I’m a bit mad but really enjoy the satisfaction of beating a leg punishing lung busting climb too much to be on trend these days.
I am also not very fast and certainly no racer! My failed attempt at Megavalanche in 2016 that culminated in a broken wrist on day 2 of riding illustrated that quite nicely. I have taken part in a few local XC races and one 6 hour endurance race in my life but these were more personal challenges to see if I could get to the end and cover the distance while pushing myself to my limit, rather than aiming for top spot in the rankings.
This is not to say that I am not competitive, far from it. There is nothing I like more than setting myself a physical goal and beating it. Taking these things into consideration this summer I took the opportunity to take part in my first ever Enduro. The most “on trend” form of racing in the sport. After recruiting my friend Ben to come and give it a go, I taped an inner tube to my frame and checked I could fit my goggles on with my half shell helmet, loaded the van and headed off.
Pedalhounds Enduro series is a 7 event series held at various locations around the south of England. Myself and my friend Ben would be taking part in there 4th round held on private grounds of an area called the Land Of Nod somewhere in Hampshire. The race consisted of 3 laps of the grounds containing 4 timed stages so we would be being timed over 12 stages in total. There was a fairly large turnout of a good few hundred people but the event start area still felt small and friendly.
We went to sign in and collect our timing chips. After some childish giggling while being explained that in order to upload our stage times we would have to stick our dongles in the hole of the box we grabbed a cuppa and set out for a track walk to get an idea of what lay ahead of us. Conditions were pretty good I was a clear summer day with no expectation of rain and the ground for the most part was nice and firm so we could expect loads of grip, this was good as it would reduce the chances of death to some extent.
Once we got to the start of stage 1 something strange happened. I noticed groups of people standing on every corner and obstacle discussing the fastest line through around or over. This did not fill me with confidence as this gives an assumption that these people had some degree of control over the directions they were expecting to go where as my long term plan with fast descents has mostly been point down the hill, try to stay of the brakes and whatever happens happens. None the less we joined in with this ritual and I almost managed to convince myself that I could actually pull of some of these time optimizing maneuvers. In all seriousness the track walk was still quite a fun and light hearted affair with a lot of joking and banter made that all of the grand plans and line optimizing would go straight out the window as soon as the red mist of actual racing set in and rider talent ran out.
Overall the course was not as steep as I had been expecting which was good as I it meant I could make up for my lack of descending skill with some lung busting pedaling. The technical sections seemed pretty manageable also however towards the final stages a bit of extra caution may be needed as the weight of hundreds of riders locking brakes and sliding wheels all over them may turn them into sloppy messes, as I had learned a couple of weeks previous at my first XC endurance race.
We returned to the vans to get kitted up and get some practice at track stands, wheelies and endos like all the cool kids were doing waiting for the start.
Everybody congregated in the start area for the rider briefing banter was pretty good and nerves were slowly building. We were dispatched of in smaller groups to the start of each stage. Each lap can be completed in any order so long as all 4 stages have been completed before repeating any stage. Ben and I were dispatched off the start at stage 4 right next to the start area. I was the first man up to the gate which did nothing to help calm my nerves. The stage began with a long flat sprint into the woods at which point I would be out of view of the other riders
“Just look like you know what your’ doing and go hard to the tree line. If it all goes wrong from there at least it will not be a public disgrace”
I told myself as the marshal explained something I was not paying any attention to. One quick check that I was in a good gear to start and I was given the all clear to go. My heart rate rocketed as I stamped down hard on the pedals, teeth gritted all was going well I was going great guns by the time I disappeared into the woods. Foot out with a little drift on as I negotiated the flat first 90° left hander.
“This is actually going quite well”
I thought. Things slowed down a bit as I clumsily negotiated the next sequence of turns that were littered with tree stumps just to make things a bit more interesting. Before I knew it the slope steepened and I could see the finish up ahead.
“Just a straight drop to the line, stay off the brakes.”
Or so I thought. Then it happened. Boom! I veered hard to the left and straight into a tree. My front wheel glanced off to the left until my handle bars made full contact bringing the bike to an abrupt halt, unfortunately I did not stop there, my inertia lifted me up off the pedals and forward fully body checking the tree before dropping down back onto my bike and onto the ground. All of the air left my body and the world began to spin. Strangely I was still very aware that the clock was still running and that at any second someone would be flying down the trail and into me, at this point the panic set in and I hurriedly dragged myself to my feet and managed to get out of the way as Ben came shooting passed. I hurriedly untangled my bike and jumped on lurching across the line only to collapse again struggling to breathe.
It took some time before I stopped wheezing like an asthmatic pensioner and had the wherewithal to check my bike over for damage. My bars had twisted but my front wheel was still straight and my forks still seemed ok. I decided to pedal back up the hill with Ben as the next stage and car park were in the same direction. The right side of my chest was in agony and I would occasionally exhale a strange noise similar to a muffled ships horn but my competitive side and some misguided machismo drove me straight past the vans and medication and straight on to the next stage.
In all honestly the rest of the lap disappeared in a bit of a blur. But that was it one lap done and it took us around 50mins. We still had 3hrs before the stages closed and the race was over so elected to head back to the vans and try to make the next 2 laps a bit more bearable.
Doubling down on the pain killers I wheezed my way out of my jersey and compression base layer. The removal of that restriction made quite a difference (either that or the painkillers were super-fast acting!). Closer inspection also found that I had taken a chunk out of the back of my heel above the shoe possibly from my pedal, but that was a minor issue at the moment. A bit of stretching and some time for the drugs to take effect and my impression of the QE2 signaling to leave port wasn’t happening when I breathed anymore so we decided to hit out and try not to hit anymore trees on lap 2. As we queued for the 1 stage we decided that it might be a good idea if I tried following Ben straight away as this seemed to be allowed. It would give me something to focus on ahead of me taking my mind off the pain, and also put him in front of me reduce the risk of him rolling over the top of me slowing him down if I decided to take another improvised break! This plan only worked until the terrain got a bit lumpy and even my plush 160mm of Kashima coated Fox suspension travel did nothing to stop the jarring pain in my side that forced my finger to grip the brake leavers for dear life.
The remainder of the race was agonizing but I struggled to the end in the hope that somebody else had had a worse day out than me and that I would not be dead last. As we handed in our timing chips and got our result print out though my hopes were dashed, slowest man on course, the wooden spoon, bugger!
All of that being said, and as painful as the day was I did really enjoy myself. Pedalhounds events seem to have a really good relaxed atmosphere which is really good for people new to racing. The course was very accessible for entry level riders (maybe not clumsy mechanics though). For all its trendiness I can agree that Enduro racings popularity is well founded. It’s a really good full day of riding with the opportunity to put yourself to the test against your own expectations and have a bit of friendly competition with your friends. And at the end of the day that’s a fun day out on the bike with or without a timing chip on your wrist!
I’ll be back for more in 2018.
P.S. I wasn’t being a wet blanket after the crash, it turned out I had actually fractured my rib. Just so you all know……….