When asked, “what is Enduro”, several notions precede my smile. It’s socializing and gnarly singletrack, it’s podiums and microbrews, it’s technical ability with strong fitness, it’s a full day in the saddle, it’s tight lines and loose minds, and it’s still the biggest buzz in biking. With untimed uphill transfers and timed downhill stages, it’s perfection, right? It can be 3-5 stages a day, and involve multiple days of 3-5 hours on the bike. It’s more technical than XC. It’s more racing and less bike than downhill. It melds speed, strength, friendly atmosphere, endurance, adrenaline thirst, and a little bit of courage. It’s drops and jump sections. It’s essentially downhill racing on trail bikes. At the top levels, I honestly don’t feel that it’s any safer than downhill. If suffering and stamina are what’s fun about XC, then thrill and risk are what’s fun about enduro.
Understanding the Format – Which Races?
Erin Machan | TEAM NINJA :: Kenda Cup 2016, Big Bear – California
Enduro racing has sprouted a menagerie of cyclists, and the venues can be equally diverse. Ok, you most likely won’t see a beach cruiser dropping in, but this format really is for almost everyone. If you do like fun and want to try out enduro racing, once you tone down the perma-grin, you’ll want to consider some things to help you pull through your first race. The inclusivity means there is plenty of competition and serious racers out there, but there are also people on XC bikes giving it a-go and having a blast. Keep in mind as you pick a venue that there usually aren’t separate pro lines, you’ll likely be racing on the same runs as the top athletes. I’d suggest starting local at smaller race venues where you know the terrain, and build up to the big mountain alpine events. Stage formats vary based on what’s available with the local climate. The diversity of venues lets you pick a race geared for your riding style. More technical riders look for events in areas that have DH type trails or bike park features. Crazy pedallers look for events in flatter areas. Most enduro racers want more downhill gain over uphill pain. Promoters typically aim for a less lumpy race profile with no more than 10-20% uphill per stage. How you get to the top of each stage isn’t a set rule. Some races use ski lifts and the main physical elements are the long descents. In other races the steep transfer is by your own power while you chew the handlebar, and some races use a combination of both.
These can be limited. Be sure to research this ahead of time. Stages often are not marked or announced until close to race day. On average, most riders see one practice run per stage. Using a helmet camera can be helpful for this reason. Stop and session the technical bits when you do ride through a stage.
Transitions / Liaisons
Shelly Rolandson | TEAM NINJA, SoCal Enduro
You want to save your energy for the timed descents, so pace yourself on the transfers. Know how far you’re going and the cutoff time to get there. Stop and rest if you have time. This is also where you’re going to hydrate and fuel, so have a plan before the race and pack appropriately. Everything counts on a long day of racing.
Paula Evenson | TEAM NINJA ELITE
Most races separate the field by Cats, and drop a rider into a stage every 30 seconds or so. A timing chip starts the clock and stops it once you reach the bottom of the stage, and all your stage times are accumulated to determine placement. On longer stages, it’s not uncommon to get overtaken by a faster rider, or to have to pass a rider. Call out when you are passing and on what side. Pull over in a safe area to let a faster rider through. Don’t be an arse, and don’t be a road block.
This colossal battle is about weight v. function. No one likes to ragdoll through a rock garden on a hardtail, but bigger bikes are killer on the climbs and that exhaustion can diminish your downhill performance. Regardless, whatever bike you currently own can work to get you started! Full suspension bikes are the norm. Riders typically use a longer travel suspension on the rear and front, ranging from 140mm to 170mm of travel. Beefier bikes are more stable and can mow through rough stuff and handle bigger drops and jumps.
You can typically get by on whatever tires are on your bike, but keep in mind that a sidewall tear can terminate your day right quick. Bigger volume tires add comfort and puncture resistance and are prevalent. It’s common to change tires to suit the conditions.
There is no getting around the importance of seat height. A dropper post isn’t a deal breaker, but it only takes one seated sprint with your knees to your chin to make you wish you had one. And getting caught behind the seat on a sketchy section is no picnic either.
Other weapons include clutch-driven rear derailleurs to keep your chain on through spirited topography, and wider bars with short stems for handling.
Whatever you do, don’t skimp on the skid lid. This armament will undoubtedly be the only thing between your skull and utter demise at some point in your riding career. Some events require full face helmets on the timed sections, so check the regulations. Remember, there is no shame in wanting to go home with all your teeth. Sometimes riders opt to take a second open face helmet on their pack to swap into for the transfer sections to stay cooler. For a more pedally venue you’ll most often use a standard trail lid. Whether you opt to be a hero in a half shell, or have a face full, your helmet choice can depend on the temperature, type of event, most recent concussion, and terrain.
Goggles and Glasses
Goggles work well with a full face helmet and provide more protection from debris. But eyewear is largely personal preference; use whatever keeps your peepers safe, provides the best view of the changing landscape, stay on, and fits well with your helmet.
Kit Choice and Body Armor
Chillán, Chile 2014
Enduro kits are made for protection. You regularly find baggy shorts with a removable chamois layer underneath, jerseys made to go over pads often with ¾ or full length sleeves, full fingered riding gloves that pair well with bike grips to keep you on it, and longer socks. You also need to protect your chest, ribs, spine, and whatever other areas you deem of critical significance. Thankfully, mountain bike armor continues to improve each season.
Chillán, Chile | 2014
For each race, consider your state of affairs and combination of circumstances to choose a mix of elbow/forearm pads, knee/shin pads, chest, back, and neck protection. Don’t forget the footnotes! The right shoe can range from grippy flats to power producing clipless options, often being slightly heavier duty than their XC cousins.
Gear Bag /Hydration Packs
Welcome to self-supported racing. What you carry with you for the day might be all you have, there is no outside assistance. Thus the reason for the using a pack (I really wanted to write Sherpa there). Stashing food and tools into pockets and on the bike are popular now too. Unfortunately, there’s also been a large revival of the fanny pack on the enduro scene. Yes, I know, it’s totally not fair that one format gets to have orthotic shoes AND a purse tied around your waist. This waistpack should be social suicide, but alas, function has beaten form with the freeride fanny and they now come with a hydration system built right in. After the race, throw on some Otomix and Zubaz and head to the squat rack. I digress. A pack affects your center of gravity. The higher you carry that poundage, the less stable you’ll be. Keep your mass low. I like to carry as much weight on the bike itself as possible. Some races have fuel stops in between stages so you can replenish your stores, other races drop you right down into the same area after each stage, keeping you from having to carry so much around all day. Some baggies, bibs, and protection layers offer pockets for storage as well. Regardless of how you choose to heft your gear, be mindful not to put solid doodads where they could pose a risk to you in a fall. Saddle bags and dropper posts don’t get along. Try taping a tube to your bike, an extra chain link to your brake cable, and experiment with using a bottle cage if the geometry of your bike allows.
Unlike a downhill race, with multiple stages it’s possible to have a mechanical mishap and still do ok. Being primed for anything is vital. Even if you’re functioning tubeless, you need at least one inner tube. Also have a few tire levers, a CO2 inflator, and a few cartridges. A regular multitool is essential, add an 8mm hex key if your pedals require it. Other lightweight superheroes that can save the day include a spare chain link, a rear derailleur hanger, tire plugs, a small amount of duct tape, an extra bar end, and a few cable ties.
Paula Evenson | TEAM NINJA ELITE, USAC National Champion
With all its spectacular elements, it’s hard to pick a favorite ingredient with enduro. Just kidding, because, beer. Now skedaddle, go experience the camaraderie for yourself! (And you’re welcome for not saying Enduro Bro anywhere in this article.)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:: Paula Evenson | TEAM NINJA ELITE [ 2015 Enduro National Champ Amateur 30-39, 2015 DH Cat 2 34-39 National Champ, 2014 XC Cat 3 National Champ 30-39, Rookie Pro Enduro Racer ]
Richard La China is a Professional Mountain Bike racer, USAC Certified Cycling Coach and a IMBA Certified Mountain Bike Skills Instructor who coaches beginner to pro cyclist. Currently working with mountain bike XC, Endurance and Enduro racers and other competitive and non-competitive mountain bike riders seeking to become their best.
Everything you need to learn to fully enjoy mountain biking.
Mountain biking is a relatively new sport compared to road biking. So the opportunities to find a good mountain biking...
Mountain biking is a relatively new sport compared to road biking. So the opportunities to find a good mountain biking skill clinic are quite scarce. Richard La China and his team offer such clinic! Richard has the training as a Coach from USA Cycling and the experience as an expert racer to develop in you the skills and therefore the confidence to negotiate the treacherous obstacles on your path as a mountain biker. His clinic has several levels from beginner to expert and is organized incrementally to facilitate the learning of more and more difficult skills. In addition to his and his expert team's demonstrations, I also like his verbal explanations about the why of a specific position or skill to have. Richard and his team have the dedication and patience to teach you anything you need to learn to fully enjoy mountain biking. ~ Anne-Catherine
Probably the best money I’ve spent on mountain biking …
I took the Ninja intermediate / advanced course here in Denver the weekend before last, and it was probably the...
I took the Ninja intermediate / advanced course here in Denver the weekend before last, and it was probably the best money I've spent on mountain biking in quite a while. Aaron tuned the clinic to our skills and needs, putting in extra time and attention where we needed more work and covering a wide range of skills. After mountain biking for almost 20 years, there were still missing pieces (and some bad habits) to my riding that he picked up on, explained, and then showed me how to improve, correct, and practice. Aaron was knowledgeable, patient, and progressed through skills in steps so there wasn't too much to digest at any one time. As the day progressed, he rolled them all together as we moved through different trail features, so I really got a good sense of how to put things into practice. He was also very familiar with the venue, Village Greens Park, so he knew exactly which sections to hit to practice particular skills - it was a great combination of drills and very watchful instruction, then honing those skills on real trail features. And, as we talked about with him during lunch, even experienced riders should consider the "fundamentals" course - I really had no idea that I needed work on some of the basics, like braking. I'm heavy on the rear brake just as a long-established habit - who knew? (Well, apparently Aaron did...) ~Jon Gotow
I would highly recommend it to individuals at a wide range of skill levels.
I attend the 3-day mountain bike skills camp in Mulberry Gap Georgia and it was a great experience. We spent...
I attend the 3-day mountain bike skills camp in Mulberry Gap Georgia and it was a great experience. We spent the first day going over fundamentals and doing drills and the second and third day riding trails. The combination of instruction and practice was very useful. Our instructors, Randy and Erin, are expert riders and wonderful instructors. The explained and demonstrated skills wells and provided helpful feedback. The Mulberry Gap resort was also a wonderful location to hold this event. I would highly recommend it to individuals at a wide range of skill levels. ~Armand A.
Great class! I wish I took this class seven yrs ago when I started mountain biking. Richard & his team...
Great class! I wish I took this class seven yrs ago when I started mountain biking. Richard & his team was awesome. I learned how to approach uphill switchbacks, how to “pre-turn”, & most important, how to descend with confidence. Bottom line: I am more efficient & safer rider. As another review said, “best money spent on mountain biking.” You can have an expensive bike, but if you don’t know how to ride, what’s the point? Highly recommend this class for all ages/skills. I will definitely be taking more classes! ~Rean
Best investment ever. The Ninja mountain bike skill clinics will definitely bring up your riding level a notch or two....
Best investment ever. The Ninja mountain bike skill clinics will definitely bring up your riding level a notch or two. Being able to get instant feedback from the instructor (s) in this case Richard La China and his assistant is invaluable. From getting the correct riding position to improving the skills necessary to have a fast flow through the trails builds confidence and is the key to having more fun when mountain bike riding. Also I've taken one-on-one lessons (with Richard La China) and it really speeds up the learning (in my case it was basic jumping) in any area where you deem to be weak in or just need improvement. ~ Thad G.
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