As part of our Megavalanche preparations we headed up to Kielder Forest in Northumberland a few weeks ago to check out this new style race format, the 661 Gravity Enduro series. Enduro races are basically timed downhill runs, with linking stages (non timed)- all your times are then combined to give you a position. A bit like rally car racing then. I figured this ought to be a good run for the Spicy and make sure nothing is rattling loose before the big trip!

Check out the video courtesy of media sponsors Singletrack to get a feel for the action:

The events take place over 2 days – Saturday is a chance to ride the course and also to do your seeding run. The Sunday is race day. The first thing to say is that this was my first mountain bike race, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. My main aim was basically not to crash and injure myself before the Mega, and not being as young as I like to think, this seemed like a reasonable goal!

So we arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon, and headed down to the pit area after chatting to a few riders about the course and weather.  Seeding runs were at 3.30pm, so there was time to do a quick lap of Stage 3, which turned out to be one of the rockier sections with a few good drops and gave me a feel for what to expect . The Spicy was fine and after a few adjustments to the fork felt nicely balanced and raring to go. After that, I headed back down to the start area, and back up to the start of stage 5, for my seeding run.

The seeding run makes sure that come race day, you are grouped with riders of a similar pace – which is something I found worked really well. It means you can push it to try and catch the rider in front, but equally you won’t have some super fast guy breathing down your neck behind! It also means you always start with the same bunch of riders – which I later found to be good as it makes the whole thing really quite sociable – you basically chat and ride to the next stage, talking tactics, shiny bike bits and sections to watch out for.

So after a wet seeding run I found I was a minute slower than the fastest rider – oh well, no crashes and still enjoyable, despite the rain. After the seeding I decided to head out and do a couple of the first stages – stage 1 was a fresh new trail, straight through the forest, whilst stage 2 turned out the be super pedally. After that I called it a day, got my start time, washed off a very muddy bike and headed out of Kielder to find my bed for the night.

Race day!

I woke to clear blue skies and sunshine – awesome! After the previous days rain this was good news as I headed out to the start.

However I ended up just missing my start time due to misjudging the distance to the start. It turned out not to be a problem though and I was kindly slotted in by the start officials. KEY LEARNING: ensure you have a clock somewhere on the bike! The sophisticated race timing equipment is definitely worth a mention here – this is done via a small tag on your helmet, and seemed very effective, timing each rider heading off for stage 1 with intervals of approx. 20 seconds each. Stage 1 was the forest section, which was fairly dry and loamy.

I then pedalled like a demon to get over to the start of stage 2 and to catch up with my soon to be race buddies. I need’nt have gone so fast and had a good 15 mins to rest before my number was called. Stage 2 I knew was pedally, so I decided I would give it some and just before my lungs burst near the end I managed to catch the rider in front and passed him, and of course was secretly quite pleased with myself. After this it was a long ride up to the other side of the mountain, all in glorious sunshine, with a nice relaxed vibe and everyone just generally enjoying the views, chatting and the prospect of some more serious downhill sections.

Stage 3 flew by in whirl of rocks, drops and bends – I had a couple of pretty sketchy moments but still no crashing. Fingers crossed. Then we climbed back up to the start  of stage 4, which on reflection was definitely my favourite stage, fast, flowy and plenty of big lumps to get over !

After all that fun it was time to head to the final stage, by this time, all in our group were chatting away about where we ride, bikes, and just generally enjoying the atmosphere. Stage 5 I had already ridden in the seeding, but this time around it was dry so a different trail altogether – by this time my energy levels were pretty low but I kept pushing and made it over the finish line with a BIG grin on my face! I later learned my results: #145 out of #172 riders! A full 4 minutes slower than winner Rob Cooksley, nevermind I thought, it was a brilliant event and no injuries – result!

Q&A WITH STEVE PARR

We caught up with event organiser Steve Parr to ask him a few questions about Enduro racing.

Steve, where did the format come from?

This type of racing comes from Europe and the Avalanche enduro’s, we have put a slight slant on things, because of our DH backgrounds.

What is the main difference between enduro races and other MTB racing in the UK?

One of the main differences for this type of racing is you don’t need a specialist bike, pretty much any descent 5-6″ travel trail bike will handle this series, so you won’t have a £5K bike hanging in your garage that comes out only on races.

Why did you decide to bring it to the UK?

We did’nt actually bring this format to the UK, Avalanche did in 2007/8, but for some reason nobody has done much with it, so we decided there had been enough talk, let’s get on a do a series. Then we got approached by 2 possible sponsors, who were really keen, then we landed 661 as title sponsor and we have’nt looked back as they say.

What is the best thing about these races for you?

Not really sure on this answer yet, ask me next year and I’d have a definate answer, but the one thing we have noticed so far is the actual amount of time you get on your bike. You will be riding for about 8-10 hours a weekend, at least 20-30 minutes of that will be against the clock.

Can you see the Enduro scene growing?

Myself and Tally have put a lot of effort into the series already and the main reason the Enduro scene is gonna go massive, is now it’s been proved they can be timed accurately!

It seems to be an older demographic of MTB’er who take part generally – why do you think that is?

This has took Me and Tally totally by suprise, we thought the Masters would be a big class, but in reality, its over a 1/3 of the field, crazy. Were very interested to find out why it has not took off with the Younger rider, maybe because they still all want to be Sam Hill or Steve Peat?

Do I need any special gear to take part?

Yes you do need a helmet (CE marked or equivalent) and gloves, these are the only compulsary items, of course your gonna need a good bike as well, but most of the new generation trail bikes will work at our races.

What are your top tips for this type of racing?

A dropper post is a must (see below), learn how to take corner, learn how to pump (it is all about energy management!) and of course have some fun, this is a social event too!

How do I get involved?

To get entered to a round, all you have to do is go to www.ukgravityenduro.co.uk and follow the instructions to ENTER, there are now 3 left in 2011.

I f you want to come help or marshall please get in touch with Me on email steveparr66@yahoo.co.uk

Cheers Steve, good one and our thanks to everyone else who is making the series happen, see you at Afan!

SPICY CHECK IN

And a final note on the Spicy, we’re now using a Reverb dropper seat post, which as Steve mentioned, is becoming a pretty standard on trail bikes these days. I’ve used a Specialized Command Post for the last year – but always had moments where the remote lever didn’t respond, generally due to mud in the mechanism. The Reverb does away with the cable and is operated hydraulically – which makes for a much smoother operation and as it is sealed, will hopefully make it much more reliable. No problems so far and it has seen a lot of mud! And if the amount of these posts in use at the Kielder event was anything to go by, things are looking promising.

I really like two things about this set up: the way the remote lever sits right up against the brake, in the thumb shifter position which makes it really easy to use, plus the internal cable routing on the top tube of the Spicy tucks all the cable away, so no zip ties needed and no loose cable flapping around – very neat.

Further reports to follow as our final preparations for the Mega begin, 2 weeks away and counting now!