What Enduro racing is all about
13 April 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking where we talk all matters mountain biking from the trails, the events, the races, the top professional riders, right down to your amateur riders. Indeed the people who put the events together and who are responsible for building trails.
One area of mountain biking that is on a growth spurt at the moment is the Enduro space and around the country there are enduro events happening week in and week out. It’s drawing, I suppose, cross country and downhill riders particularly to the event and indeed marathon riders.
It’s a new fad, a new trend and I think it’s probably got legs. A man who is hosting a number of events at his trail centre here at Dirtopia, just outside Stellenbosch on Delvera farm is Meurant Botha, who joins me now. Muerant, thanks for joining me and thanks for chatting about enduro. I suppose firstly, for those, the uninitiated, tell us what enduro is.
What is an endure race all about?
Muerant Botha: It’s basically, we mark out a route, it’s probably 25-30km, but we only time selected downhill single track sections. You might have a three-hour ride, but only a 15-minute race time. Because we wanted to race, sections to be technical and you’re going flat out, you have to still pedal and if you want to be faster, you have to pedal, whether it’s downhill or not.
It’s quite a strenuous effort to do each stage, it’s like five big intervals, if you do five stages. It’s really tiring at the end and we don’t do shuttling, so riders have to ride to the top. What we’ve found is that the enduro is now taking riders higher and lower, whereas your marathon rides might try and contour the trail a bit more. The route a bit more, it’s not too undulating, we don’t mind. We want to go as high and even if that means pushing up the last 100-200m, we’ll go high up and then get as much vertical descent as possible.
How well is it supported in SA?
GDK: There is an enduro world series which is attracting huge numbers, it’s underway again this year and are the numbers in South Africa growing nicely?
MB: I think we’re running at about 130-140 riders now. It’s obviously nowhere near what the other sports are, but we offer a bigger day and the entry fees are a bit higher than a normal fun ride. So 150 odd riders is actually a sweet spot, considering you ride the stages one by one. So obviously you want to keep sometime between riders, I don’t know how they do it overseas with 500 riders, but it must be quite a shambles.
GDK: Who is coming to ride these events?
MB: I would say it’s the riders that can ride. We’re finding a lot of the older guys that come from motocross, they do very well at speed. But the more technically able riders are enjoying it and obviously because the trails, the ones that aren’t using the fun rides and the races because they tend to be a bit more technical.
GDK: 29’ers, 26’s, 27 and a half, what’s being ridden?
MB: Obviously the 27’s are ideal for this concept. Our first enduro in 2012 was won by a 29’er Hardtail and we fixed the problem by changing the courses. Obviously there was too much pedalling, so if you keep a steep, 29’ers can’t keep, it’s too technical for the 29’ers, steep and twisty. So the 27’s seems like the wheel size of choice.
GDK: Word that tells me that you might have changed your wheel size, is that right?
MB: Ja, after many years it’s time for me to upgrade and I’m going to a 27 now and I’m very excited. I think the rolling speed will certainly assist, especially on the more pedally stages.
Is the demand growing?
GDK: Is there a need or a demand for a series and for bigger national series in that type of thing?
MB: No, I think it will always move towards that side. For us, we started enduro because it’s a format of the sport that suits me. So I’m only running the events because I like to race them. It’s the only events that we organise that I participate in.
At this stage, if we build a new stage for an enduro, the budget is blown, so we do it for fun and let’s call it my rubber duck, my hobby. So I’m not going to be too worried about going global with this. If you attend an enduro event, you realise that the riders are out there for a social time.
The format of riding up to starts of stages in a liaison format is a very social one. We had Conrad Stoltz eating a banana at a water station because there was no rush to get to a point. I asked him, this must be the first time you’ve ever stopped at a water station in your race career. He said, he thought about it and he said, you’re right, I’ve never ever stopped at a water station. So, it’s a laid back atmosphere, great bunch of guys. Only one guy with lycra this last weekend out of 140, so really relaxed format and fun racing.
GDK: Not too many Epic finishers in that field I suggest. But sometimes people lose the reason they got involved in this sport, the fun element and get caught up in the racing side and the event side?
MB: South Africans are medal hunters and the Epic is the most valuable medal in mountain biking. You can see it in the people that sign up for Epic, they’re many times not cyclists. They’re there because there’s a challenge and it’s a very high profile challenge.
So ja, enduro has brought the fun back into the game and you can see a lot of the older riders that used to participate in the 90’s are back and they’re participating in events again. In fact last enduro, our fist downhill event had 50 riders in 1998. One of our last enduro’s, 10 of those riders were at our enduro race.
What kind of rider suits enduro?
GDK: All downhill riders are coming back into it. Who prevails in these things? Is it the really skilled downhill riders?
MB: It’s the fit, technically able riders. If you’re talking Epics, guys like Gert Heyns, he’s very capable rider, he can handle a bicycle and he’s very fit. If you’ve got those two combinations, at the end of the day, pedalling is the winner. You’ve got to be able to pedal. When we all are trying to catch our breath on a flat section, these guys are standing up and pedalling and that’s where you make the valuable seconds.
The other crowd are the motocross guys, especially on the more old school tracks. We’re hitting rough, fast roads, they’re used to high speed and that’s where we beat the youngsters. We can go past the youngsters where they can handle bikes, but they’re not used to speed.
GDK: How young can you be to ride an enduro?
MB: We’ve got 13 year olds, 14 year olds that are participating and they’re having a blast. The trails aren’t extreme, they are very rideable. So there’s no surprise jumps and that sort of thing where you’re racing them blind. So there’s no practice, so it’s got to be safe in a certain way. If you can make it technical by increasing speed, that’s normally a good track. A lot of crashing, but most riders arrive with knee pads and elbow pads, so it’s part of the game.
GDK: Any A & B lines or one line?
MB: It’s normally one line.
Going back to our roots
GDK: It’s essentially, we’re going back to our roots I suspect.
MB: In the old days we used to push our bikes up mountains and if there was a track, just to run down them. I think this is much sort of the same concept, but also the social side of it. The fact that you can hook up with five friends and ride up to the start of the stages, that’s really what the guys are enjoying.
They’re enjoying the banter, we’ve got live timing, so the guys are seeing their results. It’s always a laugh and the internal competition, you might know that you’re not nearly fast enough to beat the top guys. But in your age group or amongst your friends, there’s a lot of inter-competition there.
GDK: Did you ride the last event you had here?
MB: I rode and had a massive crash, the second time out of three years, on the same stage. So it shows you, I actually hit a stump that my team didn’t remove. It shows you, I don’t only practice these courses, but ja, it’s fun. I sort of try and race in the top 20%, but you’ve really got to be on your game to ride up there.
GDK: A complete mountain bike novice is not going to come and ride enduro then?
MB: What we found is that a lot of the lesser skilled riders are actually enjoying it as well because they’re not getting shunted out of the way. The fast riders are probably up through the stages already because they’re also fitter up the hills, to get to the stages.
But if a fast rider sees that it’s a slow rider starting in front of him, they give him a bit more time to get down the hill and it’s actually a great opportunity to get to ride some great single track and most of our events are on single tracks that people can ride most of the time. So, it’s not completely crazy and risky, it’s a great opportunity to get onto the single track.
GDK: Winning time for the riders and the slowest time, what are we talking about?
MB: I think probably the fastest guys can get through all the stages just under 14 minutes, here at Delvera the last weekend. The slowest guys, up to 18 minutes, so 19 minutes.
GDK: That doesn’t tell you how long you’re out there.
MB: No, we were out there for three hours. The guys from, I Ride Africa had an enduro in Eselfontein, we were out there for 7.5 hours, it was an incredible experience. We knew what we were signing up for, we knew we were going out for 40km. We knew we were going to have two stages that you had to hike your bike for an hour and a half each.
But really, rough, very technical, only 50 riders allowed to come do it. It really, that was the root of mountain biking stuff. An eye opener to see what we’re actually capable of doing on a bike and maybe it’s also what the marathon racing has brought to the sport is that we are able to ride further and longer. We can spend 3, 4 hours a day on the saddle now, it’s not something we did ten years ago.
GDK: Muerant, thanks for that insight into enduro and enduro events that are proliferating around the country. It’s a whole extra edition to this beautiful world of mountain biking. If you are an enduro rider, enjoy it and if you’re not, well get out there and look for an event in your area. I’m sure you will be back for more. This has been, thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking.