A few years ago, I registered for my first enduro mountain bike race. As I packed up for the weekend, my roommate asked me how I thought it’d go.
“Are you just trying to finish? Do you think you’ll podium?”
On the inside, of course I would have liked to believe that I’d podium. But, I had no idea what to expect. At the time, none of my friends raced, so I didn’t have any personal anecdotes or accounts to go off. So I headed up to Steamboat Springs, Colorado a week ahead of the race to practice and see what I was getting myself into.
When race day came, I went faster than I ever had, crashed, got back on, and ultimately DNF’d because of a mechanical. It was a blast. Since then, I’ve tried to do at least two or three races every summer, and although I’m still far from ever seeing the podium, I think there are a few benefits to strapping a race plate on once or twice a year – enduro or otherwise.
Here’s what you can expect if you’re considering entering an enduro race for the first time.
It’s not as scary as you think
The absolute scariest part of racing an enduro is the ten second countdown before the buzzer goes off. After that, your riding skills take over, and whether that’s a good or bad thing, those butterflies in your stomach fly away real quick when you get on the track.
And, usually, there is only one gnarly track per day. The whole idea of enduro racing is to measure riders’ abilities over a wide variety of terrain, and modern mountain biking includes flow trails, jump trails, and singletrack, just as much as it includes gnarly, double-black-diamond downhill trails.
You’re going to get passed
Yep, you’re going to get passed. It’s almost a definite if it’s your first race and that’s OK. Even at a high level of mountain biking, racing is different than just riding bike park laps all day, or hunting a Strava PR. Every race I go to, I’m blown away by the level of talent around me, especially in the juniors category.
But, 98% of the time, people are really nice about passing. They’ll warn you with a “rider back!”, often say “thanks,” and many of times even apologize for having to pass.
Do your best to find a wide section of trail to hug and they’ll quickly be gone before you know it. It’s never personal, and usually way easier than it sounds.
But, you’ll still have fun
Even if you get passed, it’ll still be a fun day for a few reasons.
First off, you’re going to go faster than ever without getting yelled at. There won’t be any angry hikers on the trail, that is unless they’ve poached it, which means it will be your turn to yell at them.
What may have scared you on a technical trail during practice is a challenge to clean during the race run. Push yourself, stay within your limits, and chances are you’ll surprise yourself when you nail that line.
Parts of the race may seem stressful, but at the end of the day, the fun factor hits you square in the face. Sometimes the best part of racing is recounting frantic seconds during a stage run, over a beer, with friends after the race is over.
You’ll meet people
It’s almost impossible not to meet other mountain bikers at an enduro race. You’ll be on the transfers with them on a section of singletrack, or up a fire road transfer, or just sharing a chairlift.
Conversations usually start with, “Hey, how do you like that bike?”, or “how was the first stage for you?”
Racing enduro is a great way to meet other riders who are friendly, fast, and open to new experiences and challenges. Grab their digits before leaving the venue and add them to your riding buddy rolodex.
You’ll become a better mountain biker
You’ll get better for a few reasons. First off, I don’t know anyone who has signed up for a race and then decided to take time off the bike. Usually, everyone wants to practice, and practice some more. By just spending more time on the bike in anticipation of the race, your skills will sharpen up and your fitness will improve.
At the end of the race, you’ll also realize you’re a more capable mountain biker than you might have previously thought. In my experience, I learned that I could hold a faster speed for more distance than I ever had, my endurance was better than I thought, I gained a bit of humility, and it made me more ambitious to improve my skills. It’s hard to get down on any of that.