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Enduro, it’s only a name... right?

Enduro, it’s only a name... right?

Jerome Clementz, one of the foremost enduro racers - Photo © Irmo Keizer


Names of Fruits

If an apple had been called an orange and vice versa from The Beginning, there would be no resulting confusion today, and you could extrapolate this notion out into many of life’s names for things.

Admittedly names usually aren’t totally random, and do stem from the composite word element or full word meanings of which they comprise, but to illustrate my point:  why doesn’t Cross-Country mean racing the entire breadth of Belgium or width of Wales… and why isn’t Slopestyle the test of who can ride down a gentle incline and concurrently be a sharp dresser?

Because, in their respective beginnings, these MTB competition genres were clearly defined and thereafter nobody has yet the senselessness to misuse these terms for something else. If only the same could be said for all mountain biking race disciplines.

History and Physics

The Beginning for Enduro mountain bike racing was in the late 1990’s in the Mediterranean Alps of South-Eastern France (incidentally, an area which has produced several mountain biking World Champions). Riders and racers wanted to develop a discipline which tested both technical bike handling ability (unlike Cross-Country of the time) AND the endurance side of fitness  (unlike Downhill of the the time). They wanted to test the all-round mountain biker on big-up-big-down terrain.

The laws of gravity dictate that a strong pedaller who is weak technically will (compared to a strong technical rider who lacks fitness) always lose LESS time on a descent than he will gain on an ascent. Assuming no shuttle, everyone spends more time riding uphill than downhill, regardless of their strength or weakness.

With this as their basis, our French godfathers of the discipline quickly adopted a logic which is still the absolute fundamental “core value” of Enduro today: in order to evenly balance out the weighting of the long grindy uphill aspect with the quickly elapsed flashes of technical descending brilliance that are encouraged (i.e. to make the latter actually count for anything), they drastically reduced the amount of timed climbing to almost nothing.

Contary to some belief, this setup does NOT favour  good descenders who are not necessarily fit; although it may not directly count towards the result there’s a substantial amount of obligatory time-limited ascent in any Enduro course, and the often very long descents are pedally and demand good cardiovascular fitness and muscle condition (hanging on the bike!) to place highly.

There are a fair variety of differently setup races which would today count as Enduro according to the basic notions set out above, but perhaps the most typical 1-day Enduro course would be a cloverleaf or circular loop consisting of perhaps 3-6 big ups and big downs (“big” is relative, and depending on the location of the event will be bigger or smaller). The ups are untimed (but time-limited to keep one on ones toes) “liaison stages”, and the downs are timed “special stages”. The winner is the rider with the lowest cumulated special stage time. It’s here that the term Enduro came about for this style of mountain biking. There was a definite nod towards the feel of motorcycle Enduro.

Almost 15 years on, and Enduro is a very inclusive race format, ever increasing in popularity having now spread to almost every nation on the planet which has a mountain biking scene. Ask any mountain biker from almost any country what Enduro is and they’ll be able to give you a straight, correct answer.  I said *almost* any country.

How to confuse people

In the early noughties as mountain biking started to go decidedly mainstream, a raft of not-too-serious, not-too-competive fairly social mountain biking events sprung up around UK. They were often untimed, often without official ranking, but (in order to make a day of it) were set to either a number of quite long laps or a one-off loop resulting in a total distance of at least 50km, usually more than that if you were doing the full monty.

This was a for-fun or for-personal-achievement version of marathon cross-country racing. A great idea which, in practice, has produced some very popular gatherings, but the organisers had committed one glaring crime: they had called these rides “Enduro”.  Do some digging and you’ll see their claim that at the time they started out, no other event used the term “Enduro”. My news for them is that mountain biking is a sport not limited to UK shores.

Unfortunately they were copied by others, presumably because “Enduro” was deemed to be a cool-sounding term. Hence, even though the overwhelming majority of mountain bikers worldwide when asked what Enduro is would give you the correct answer in a straight manner, the average rider from the UK when asked the same question would give one of three reactions: the right one, the wrong one, or a question back: “which Enduro?”

Why it matters

Should we care? It’s only a name, right?

The reason I, as an advocate of Enduro, care a great deal is because the relatively widespread purporting of non-Enduro events as being Enduro (MTB internet forum chat being an inadvertent but undeniable perpetuator) has resulted in a huge roadblock in understanding; a monumental impediment in the conceptual development of mountain biking competition in the UK. You think I’m going over the top? Why then is it that the ONLY country that has “Enduros” which aren’t actually Enduros, is also the LAST country (of any mountain biking significance) to cotton on, and receive an Enduro series? There is an absolutely direct and undeniable cause-and-effect link going on here.

And, as much as I absolutely commend Steve Parr and his helpers for having had the fortitude to finally bring the first Enduro series to the UK in 2011 and for the frustrations that they must have endured getting the message through to people (for example, the fact that they were essentially forced to put “Gravity” in front of Enduro is nothing short of a joke), they’re not even the ones I feel sorry for. No, I pity the greater mountain biking population who, as a direct result of mistakenly thinking they already had Enduro, did not as a nation receive this fantastic competition format until many many years after they should have done.

With two proper series plus a peppering of trail centre-based one-off events now installed for 2012, it seems that good sense is well and truly starting to prevail in favour of Enduro in the UK.

However, there is still a way to go before the wider MTB public fully appreciate the raison d’être of Enduro and can benefit from it fully. With this in mind, and with the aim of increasing understanding by firstly decreasing confusion, I would be delighted if someone could persuade the organisers of non-Enduro “Enduros” that they might, once and for all, remove “Enduro” from their events’ titles and call them literally anything else.

Do you agree with Ash? Let’s have your thoughts and opinions in the comments box below:

  1. jeremy atkinson

    The term enduro in the UK does not come from mountainbiking, but from long cross country motorcycle events. largely held in Powys and other little populated patches of Britain
    The french nicked the name from offroad motorcycling who’d had it since the 70s when manufactureres started building ‘Enduro’ bikes PEs ITs KDXs etc etc. The term is still misused as an Enduro is basically run the same as a rally with timed and interlinking stages. Although Michel Wilkins is probably responsible fro the misuse he’s actually the boss of John Lloyd and their multi day events do come under the proper heading. in that they have timed stages. The problem in the UK is that it’s hardly possible to run a long test of speed in England and Wales as the law prohibits such events on bridleways; should one do so one’s insurence is invalid.

  2. Ash

    Agreed, as per stated in the article.

    Agreed, as per stated in the article.

    Agreed, as per the main point of my article!

    Do Enduros at trail centres then (which they are starting to do… good news allround :-))

  3. Ash

    “The term enduro in the UK does not come from mountainbiking”
    Agreed, as per stated in the article.

    “The french nicked the name from offroad motorcycling who’d had it since the 70s”
    Agreed, as per stated in the article.

    “The term is still misused as an Enduro is basically run the same as a rally with timed and interlinking stages.”
    Agreed, as per the main point of my article.

    “The problem in the UK is that it’s hardly possible to run a long test of speed in England and Wales as the law prohibits such events on bridleways”
    Do Enduros at trail centres then (which they are starting to do… good news allround )

  4. wobbem

    I’m rather looking forward to a proper Enduro rather than a long cross country race myself.

  5. jeremy atkinson

    Apologies for not reading the article properly but running what you’d call proper Enduros at most trail centres in England and Wales is illegal, as Pat Adams and FC discovered over ten years ago. It makes no difference who the landowner is [with the exception of some MOD land] as Bridleway law takes precedence. Much of the trail centres have bridleways within the courses.
    If you manage to find suitable unbridleway timed sections it may not be legal to shut off trail centres for events. The courses were largely built for general access with public money. Shutting them for a price to run events may break agreemenents. FC may be barely potty trained when it comes to the niceties of ROW law but ignorance isn’t a defence. The proportion of tracks with bridleway rights isn’t very different within or outside of FC land, so in many cases you’d have more luck with a private landowner. Then you run into all sorts of problems with English Nature and CCW. Some land comes under EEC habitat laws in which running events is expressly forbidden, as John Lloyd discovered..

  6. Parr

    As the Guy who had the fortitude to organise the series in 2011, i’ve been truly shocked at the industry take up on the series, in 2012 and beyond Enduro is gonna go BIG in the UK!!
    We do lots of “Reccie rides” to ensure we do not cross onto private land, public footpaths or Bridleways, unless the are non competitive, ie linking stages.
    A lot of time and effort goes into ensuring the events bring the best from the areas chosen and that it does not upset any of the locals, at the end of the day were all there to enjoy our chosen hobbies, be it Walking, Horse riding or MTB.
    My own thoughts on why “Endurance” got dropped from the UK race scene was because Enduro is shorter and easier on the tongue, we live in the age of convenience, its shorter and easier 😀

  7. Parr

    Oh and the Gravity type ENDURO is an awesome format, i love it, stop hanging around in uplift queues and come try riding your bike for hours.

  8. Carlos Perez

    Great article Ash and about time someone spoke out about this. I started to race motorcycle Enduros in 1984 on a Yammy IT250 and progressed up to a KTM 360exc. Those were called Enduro bikes on which to race Enduros. I always thought since I got into MTBing in the early 1990s that the Enduro format especially the ISDE format would make a great MTB race. It was only in 2010 whilst looking up the Mega Avalanche race that had caught my eye I was literally shocked to discover that they had these races all over France and Italy who also happen to be huge motorbike Enduro racing nations.

    Considering the British motorbike Enduro scene was and still is as strong as our European cousins with us regularly producing world champion riders to boot I cant understand why we are so far behind still! To add insult the UK was one of the founding farther’s of the off road motorcycling scene.

    Steve’s right that the so called XC Enduros should be called ‘endurance something’ because, when I was racing motorbike Enduros the race format that it resembles the most was called Hare & Hounds or ‘Hare Scrambles'; multi lap events in a given time frame.

    Trying to come up with a name for a race series is a nightmare and yes you now have to prefix Enduro with some other word to disassociate it from the established XC kind otherwise you risk death from miss association. I had enough trouble as I am sure Steve did with British Cycling just trying to work out which category to put our race series under!

    Hopefully Steve and I will for 2012 make the word Enduro mean what it should.

  9. jeremy atkinson

    The one difference between motorcycles and pedal cycles is that you can apply to close a bridleway for mechanically propelled vehicles but you aren’t allowed to even ask for cycles. Crazy but true.
    Scotland doesn’t have these laws

  10. jeremy atkinson

    The basterdisation of the english word ‘Enduro’ is down to a welshman and a german. Step forward John Lloyd and Michel Wilkins . Many many other organisers don’t refer to their long distance events by that term.

  11. Rob Howard

    Interesting. I run SleepMonsters, which covers adventure racing and outdoor endurance sports of all kinds.

    We are having a similar ‘name’ debate as the traditional meaning of an adventure race as one with multisport stages and navigation for teams has been hijacked by all sorts of events which are none of these things. ( Mainly by mud running events, but I am sure there are mountain bike only events somewhere calling themselves ‘adventure races’.)

    Names and perceptions do matter and I’ll admit to using the Enduro term wrongly on some endurance events we cover on the site.

    We are now redefining events in our calendar as a result of our own name debate. My question is what should I call the endurance MTB races on a lapped course?

    The final words of the article are, “call them literally anything else.” … but what?

    BTW I think there is a similar muddle arising from longer ‘trailquest’ type races (which is another UK naming invention I think) being called MTB Orienteering. Which is a different kind of event being shorter, faster and in a more confined area, with traditional orienteering maps.

  12. Carlos

    I had to call my series in the end ‘All Mountain Enduro Race Series’ Just to show it was a more ‘extreme’ type of MTB Enduro than the XC type which is misleading as we don’t touch a mountain but then again most mountain bikes never see a mountain either. However you will feel like you’ve climbed a mountain by the time you’ve finished!

    Steve’s series is ‘Gravity Enduro’ so you need to try and avoid the use of Gravity in your title in case people think it’s that series.

    When I used to race the old KIMM events they were known as adventure racing and were two day orienteering fell runs carrying all your kit and I believe they were the first to coin that phrase.

  13. Muckmedden

    Good discussion this.

    I’m organising a timed MTB event called Muckmedden for April 22nd. I have purposely called it an “MTB event” as I don’t really see it fits in with any of the usual pigeonholes.

    It is in Pitmedden Forest, Perthshire which is extremely technical to ride (a lot more so than most XC courses) and the course will contain some reasonable-sized jumps, very gnarly drop-offs, loads of roots and tough climbs. There are three timed stages per lap which will count towards a points total at the end, and a lap is 9 miles long (feels like 29!). You can do 1 or 2 laps as a solo or tag-team.

    I feel it would be wrong to label Muckmedden as XC as I feel that conjours up an image of Carbon Hardtails and lycra. I’m more a chain device and dropper post man, and have designed a course I’d like to ride. I just describe it as “Real World Trail Riding against the clock” which is what it is really, but it’s not very catchy.

    Am I a bad man?

    1. Parr

      Please be aware that Enduro 1 has a race on the 21st 22nd April at FOD
      See Carlos above he’s the organiser of these


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