August 22, 2013

Quick rant: I’m tired of “enduro” everything

I’m going to show my age here, but I’m getting fed up with the constant use of the word “enduro” for new bikes, clothes (hey, Mavic invented baggies!), races, etc. And honestly I’m fed up with the whole concept as well.

A bit of background: enduro motorcycle racing (which I used to do, very badly) consists of a long ride at which checkpoints (which generally you don’t know about in advance, though there are rules about where they can and can’t be) are randomly scattered. Each segment will have a certain amount of time allotted, and penalties are assessed for coming in either faster or slower than the required time – meaning that you have to try to ride some sections very fast and some sections fairly slowly. The cool thing about moto enduros is that you can do them with your buddies, have a long fun day on the trail, and you can do well even if you’re not the absolute fastest rider if you plan well and the sections are timed in a way that suits you. It’s just like a normal day of trail riding but with some competition added – a great concept that would work well with some tweaks for mountain bikes, right?

Enduro mountain bike racing, on the other hand, is just basically downhill racing, as far as I can tell. Yes, it’s annoying and somewhat tiring to ride a long travel bike to the top of whatever downhill section you’ll be timed on, but the time allowed for transfers is so long that you can walk (or in the case of the Winter Park Enduro World Series race, some of the transferring is just done via chairlift – and hilariously they *canceled a stage* when the lift wasn’t operating correctly!) If you are wearing full armor and a fullface helmet, the race is just a downhill race. Call it that and let people ride the lift, or alternately make the climbs difficult enough to do/timed such that a reasonable amount of effort is required. Or time some really pedally flat sections as well as DH jump runs so that riding a 7″ travel bike won’t be ideal.

The whole idea, as I understand it, of enduro racing is that it’s like a ride you’d do with your buddies, with a competitive element added (much like moto enduros). It’s quickly evolved into something totally different and that sucks – the ideal should be that an XC dude or a DH gal should both be able to have fun and have a chance to win. XC racing favors climbers, DH racing favors descending/bike handling, and the ideal enduro would make both of equal importance. As constituted now, it’s just descending that matters and it’s mostly the same folks that win DH races that win the enduros.

Enduro bikes are going the same way. An enduro bike should be a bike you’d take on a ride with your buddies on any random day after work, not a super-slack long-travel rig that’s really only fun on the descents (though, to be fair, some of us do ride bikes like that on XC rides on occasion). A lot of the “enduro” bikes I see are really just sort of short travel DH bikes (the Trek Slash, for example, runs a 66 degree HTA and 110mm of trail – have fun holding your line on a technical climb…)

Here’s my suggestion: set up enduro races so that the amount of timed riding is about equally split between descending and flat/climbing terrain that also requires good bike handling skills (ie technical flat rock garden sections or climbs, flat sections with lots of sprinting out of turns and cornering, etc) Time transfer stages for each category such that an average rider in that category will have to try fairly hard but not kill themselves to make their start time. Slower climbers will have to try a bit harder, or leave their armor and 35 pound bikes at home.

Nobody should be sitting around for 20+ minutes waiting to start a stage, ever. Ideally you should have just a few minutes to catch your breath and be off again – the race should not take all freaking day unless it covers a LOT of ground.

Set it up so that you can ride with your friends (ie let people swap around their start times as needed) as long as they’re in the same category.

Assign categories *after* the results are in – ie the fastest guy wins, but then the 20th place guy wins the next category down. Still plenty of reason to go try as hard as you can, but a more random way to assign prizes for lower categories and eliminate sandbagging.

Serve beer afterwards.

To sum up: I want some cheese with my whine, and I am really tired of hearing about “enduro” everything, but it could awesome with some tweaks.