The final round of the Enduro1 series came to Swinley Forest at the weekend. Paul Haysom lined up for some enduro fun and had a blast.
As I turned on the car at 8am last Sunday, I noticed a light that I had never seen before – a snowflake. A quick check of the temperature and it was a single, lonely digit.
I haven’t had the car that long so perhaps this isn’t much to shout about, but it has meant I’ve been able to get to more mountain biking than ever. The event I was heading to was the third round of the Enduro1 Southern UK Race Series.
I had joined Dave on the previous round, which was also my first enduro race. The statistics laid out in the course description this time were similar – 27km, 255m of climbing and a projected finish time of 2.5 hours – so I had some idea of what it was going to be like.
This time round there were fewer timed sections and no skills sections, which I was particularly pleased about but series organiser Carlos Perez says that the hill climb challenge and trials sections have been popular in other rounds.
My weapon of choice? My own Trek Slash 8. This is the 160mm bike that I had used to ride the Megavalanche race 3 months ago, an all-round bike that has given me more confidence than anything I have previously ridden thanks to components like the Reverb dropper post, Schwalbe Hans Dampf 2.35 rubber and Trek’s exemplary DCRV Fox shock.
You’re thinking, “Of course he’d say this, it’s his bike!”- but get out and ride one and you’ll know what I mean. This much travel puts the Slash in All Mountain territory and your 140mm trail bike would really be the ideal machine for this type of course. But without one in my stable I clipped in, drank a glass of cement and hardened the hell up.
The temperature stayed low all day but the bursts of effort in an enduro mean you soon warm up. Twin that with a bike on the ‘bulky’ side I went with a long sleeve top and gilet combo.
From the start to the first of five timed sections was a short distance, and my minimal arm up made it a lung buster. Its name, ‘Not Warmed Up Yet’ was completely apt.
This seemed to be Carlos’ thinking when laying out the course. Swinley Forest is a popular destination for mountain bikers and it was always going to be hard to stick to the Enduro race’s mantra. The description mentioned ‘only small ups and downs’. Well, the downs definitely were small but there was one climb that caught me out, forcing me to jump off and sprint. Afterwards I heard this section had caused problems for a number of us. Course designer 1, racers 0.
As promised, I was now warmed up and my riding partner for the day agreed. This is what I liked about enduro so much the first time around. With enough transition time you can ride to the next section as a group, giving you the chance to talk about how you messed up a root section or how you could ride a berm all day.
‘Flat Out’ was next on the cards, bit more pedally and XC orientated but I wound down the Fox Talas fork to about 130mm which made the bike just right. You could get a good impression of what this section would be like as you walked past the finish in order to get to the start line, crossing the course twice.
This still didn’t tell you what the roots would be like in the woods, but this was definitely a highlight of the day – the sprint down a fire road half way through tested your lungs while negotiating some steeper, tight sections called on your technique.
Making our way to the third section was one of the forest’s newer trail developments, nice and easy on the lungs but was rather entertaining. Meeting some more leisure orientated riders enjoying the forest, we encountered a lady that shouted in a blind panic, “It’s ok we’ll get out of the way – you’re racing!” We explained we weren’t being timed at this point and the look of relief that appeared on her face caused a lot of smiling.
Section 3 was a classic Swinley trail section: fast berms that switched back on themselves, making the most of the space available. A shorter travel hardtail would have been ideal here, as I struggled to get the bike around some of the flatter turns and lost time where I shouldn’t have. At only one kilometre long this was the shortest section of the day; the locals might have had the edge here.
We casually made our way to section 4; an error as we missed our formal start time. Thankfully we were given the benefit of the doubt and not punished as we had missed a marker, but with no resting point I had to dig deep as it was time to get my sprint on.
This stage started out pointing downhill. “Yes,” I thought, “time to make up some…er…time here.” My jubilation was short lived. At the bottom of a great bit of singletrack I turned a swamp like corner to find a wall in front of me. As my eyes adjusted I realised it was actually a climb and smashed my way through four gears trying to find something I could pedal in. Making it up to the summit, a wrong direction caused me to lose more time.
Some great riding from section 4 to 5 followed. It took just 30 minutes as we weren’t planning on missing another start, and we arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Unfortunately some riders decided to skip most of this, which isn’t really in the spirit of enduro racing.
‘Grin Maker’ was the closer to the days racing, a tricky affair but with drops and jumps thrown in. I was a bit more at home there, spending it just having fun.
All in all a good days riding, even though I had the wrong bike. But I knew this before I even put my helmet on.
This was a well organised event, especially when you consider the problems with having to find a last minute venue. If you are more into the cross-country side, rather than out-and-out gravity riding, this series comes with a solid recommendation and I look forward to see what’s cooking in next year’s pot.