Feature Photo from the Grand Enduro – Photo by Lightbulb Media
Mountain bike (MTB) enduro seems to be one of those sports where you are either in or out. It’s kind of like climbing Mount Everest. No one dabbles. You have to be hard core, highly-skilled, willing to fall, and most importantly, all in. The reward? Nothing much but status. MTB enduro is so new it’s not recognized as an official sport by the Olympics, but among its followers, the biggest reward is what it says about what sort of athlete you are: undaunted by technical downhill. Powerful at pedaling uphill. Skilled in the saddle for everything in between. MTB enduro isn’t about the competition so much as fellow riders egging each other on to push the edge of both their personal skill and of organized bike sport.
So what exactly is MTB enduro? Is it a downhill sport? An endurance sport? A showcase for trail skills? All of the above in one gnarly best-of-the-best hybrid. Generally, in enduro races downhills are clocked and uphills aren’t. No shuttles to the top. The liaisons–riding to the next stage–are part of the charm of enduro. Sweaty socializing and goofing off while grunting.
Colorado MTB enduro races happen, on a normal year, all year across the state, but perhaps one of the most challenging and picturesque is the Grand Enduro in Grand Junction, produced by MAD Racing Colorado. Before I go on to describe this rad course to you, when this post was written in early March, we had no idea the 2020 Grand Enduro would be cancelled due to COVID-19. Making the most out of a crisis is hard to do, but the Grand Enduro wants to encourage people to stay home, ride local trails, and have a chance to win prizes through it’s virtual enduro challenge! Check out the rules at the Grand Enduro Facebook page!
Go to Grand Enduro Facebook for more information
The race consists of three stages, each one testing a different skill, each stage breathtaking for its views. One thing every stage has in common is the warm, festival-like atmosphere of the spectators and fellow racers laughing, hugging, teasing, and cheering each other on. Often, the friendships made here last all year to the next race. But what makes the Grand Enduro especially appealing is the seemingly divinely-designed terrain for catching air and zooming to highway speeds, all with relatively short uphill investments. As if the Creator were saying, here you go, My beloved show offs…
Terrain is a big deal, and not every aspiring enduro rider has easy access. “Our challenge is there aren’t a lot of mountain bike trails in Boulder,” says Lester Pardo, retired Olympic speed skating coach and Devo Manager for the Boulder Junior Cycling Club–the largest youth bike club in the United States. The BJC’s enduro segment is one of the fastest growing in the club. “We have to travel to Golden–to the Floyd Hill Trail system with directional trails–or Ft Collins for directional trails. We’re carpooling every Saturday.” Grand Valley endurofiles, obviously God’s favorites, merely have to open the back door.
The “Toilet Bowl” feature on stage 1 of the Grand Enduro
You may be thinking, hmmm, how do I become good enough to race enduro? With so much expertise needed right out of the box, how does an aspiring geek break into the sport? Now is a great time to start with the #VirtualGrandEnduro. Lester Pardoe and Enduro World Series rider Jake Ingram have this advice.
Get the right equipment. Probably the best part of productive procrastination is shopping, and you’re going to need the right bike for Colorado enduro. Front and rear suspension and bold fork stanchions are a must to handle the pounding of the downhill, and you’ll need a sturdy but somewhat light frame for the uphills. Preferences vary from rider to rider, however, so it’s a good idea to ask other MTB endurofiles what they love and hate about their bikes and why.
“Don’t be intimidated by not having the best bike,” says Jake, who when he’s not racing, manages Bike Fix Utah, a bike shop in St. George. “The industry talks a lot about accessories and shows people doing extreme things. It’s more important to be part of the community.”
Gearing up for the Grand Enduro – Photo by Lightbulb Media
Inventory your strengths and weaknesses. Very few MTB enduro riders have mastered or even like every aspect of the sport. So whatever intimidates you, relax. Enduro is your opportunity to revel in what you enjoy about MTB racing as well as push yourself in the areas you need to grow. “You struggle to find the mental balance of pushing yourself without going past the limits–that’s the enduro mindset for each stage,” Jake notes. “You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be the most perfect. The game is to make the least amount of mistakes.”
Join the community (from a safe distance right now of course). One of the biggest aspects of enduro is friendship, but how do you go about finding other enduro riders to befriend? Check out Colorado MTB Enduro Riding on Facebook and ask about local bike groups. Or, follow a pro enduro rider (like Jake!) on social media and reach out to the followers. Chances are, once it is safe, you’ll be invited to a ride where you can not only learn new skills, but share your expertise with others–teaching is an important step in mastery. One thing most enduro riders have in common is their warm welcome of riders of all skill levels and their willingness to mentor each other.
Relaxing after the Grand Enduro – Photo by Lightbulb Media
Understand MTB enduro skills. Most of them can be broken down and mastered step-by-step, and the practice is hella fun, according to Lester. Enduro is one of the BJC’s fastest growing segment. Kids in his program train for enduro racing by mastering elementary skills with games and exercises, graduating to more difficult skills only after they’ve displayed perfect mastery. Gradual progress and unwavering focus are crucial to avoiding injury. “Crashes happen most within the last 15 minutes of training,” Lester cautions. “The brain turns off, and you start thinking about what’s next rather than being present.”
Boulder Junior Cycling coaching a youth rider.
Celebrate your progress. Keep track of your stats as you’re learning. Have you shaved a few seconds off your local line? Have you learned to gear more efficiently or when to pump instead of pedal? Reward yourself, and no matter how you perform at the big race, get a cold one with the gang afterward. MTB enduro is about pushing your edge while you have the time of your life. If it was fun, for better or worse, you’re an enduro geek. “Don’t be scared to sign up for your first race,” says Jake. “Go to get involved. Go to learn where your skill set is and what you need to learn. You’re there to get a baseline. You’ll meet race buddies and grow as a person.”
Finish line at the 3rd stage of the Grand Enduro.
Jake Ingram’s career as a professional enduro rider started in Arkansas when he was 4-years-old racing dirt bikes. From a family of avid bikers, he coaches, works in bike shops, and travels the western United States riding races, including the Enduro World Series. You can follow Jake’s exciting adventures on Instagram @JIngram_41 and Facebook.
Lester Pardoe, a 1998 Olympic Coach in Speed Skating, has been working with BJC athletes since 2008. He was a manager and worked as a sports medicine physiologist for 11 years before joining the Boulder Junior Cycling Club. A retired speed skater, he has coached successful athletes for 30 years. “We coach kids into success in their twenties and then they come back and coach for our club,” Lester says. “We want them to love cycling for the rest of their lives.” You can learn more about the BJC at www.boulderjuniorcycling.org
You can register for the 2021 Grand Enduro at www.grandenduro.com. You can learn more how to get involved with this year’s virtual enduro challenge on Grand Enduro’S Facebook page: @GrandEnduro.