Mountain biking may not be the first activity folks pack for while planning vacation travel in Israel. The eastern Mediterranean nation is well known for its historically significant religious sites related to the three prominent Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. A few Israeli mountain bikers, faithful to the International Church of Shred, aim to boost the local dirt scene through an inaugural EWS qualifier event in 2021.
The race will take place in the Misgav forest in northern Israel, roughly equidistant from the Mediterranean sea, the Sea of Galilea, and the border between Israel and Lebanon. Israeli EWS pro, Noga Korem, and her boyfriend Avi Tamir, are working together with Bike.il to throw this trail party on the tracks that they’ve built with the help of volunteers. The 2021 EWS race will consist of four to five stages depending on how much dig time the pandemic allows for, culminating in an EWS difficulty rating of “Advanced Level 2” in terms of technicality and physicality. Check out the Israel Enduro Series YouTube page for a full view of the stages shot from Noga’s helmet cam.
Noga has been racing mountain bikes internationally since 2008, earning 5th place at the 2009 Jr XC World Champs event in Canberra, Australia. Her most recent EWS standings include 4th place overall in 2018, 2nd in 2019, and had some impressive results throughout the messy 2020 season. There are too many noteworthy results between those to list, so let’s just say she’s the right person to run a gravity race in her home country.
In 2019 we published a story on Israeli mountain bike trails and their unique design focus on accessibility and inclusion. Over time those trails have increased ridership in the country, and as per usual, they drove the more thrill-seeking riders to cut trickier tracks and construct janky jumps in the forest. In typical fashion, the forest service took the pirate trails out, leaving gravity riders with few options for training and racing.
While the flow trails were packed with families, and the jank tracks were being removed, Noga and her partner Avi came together and convinced the KKL (land managers) to let them build some proper gravity singletracks in Misgav forest. It took a good amount of bureaucratic thumb-twiddling time to get things rolling, but once the trails were approved, the Noga and Avi, and occasionally a volunteer crew, were able to dig singletrack from start to finish ahead for the inaugural 2019 Israel Enduro Series event. The success of that race inspired Noga and the rest of the crew to throw a more official party, with requisite UCI licenses and EWS qualifying points.
Noga mentioned that it was tough to let sponsors know what to expect since there haven’t been many similar cycling events to compare the race to in Israel. Fortunately, the sponsors committed, and the race went off with a bang. Attendance at the first Israeli Enduro far exceeded expectations, with a sold-out start list of 200 riders, and between 1,000 and 1,500 spectators. The promoters had to turn away some athletes, as they only had permits and organizational staff for a set number of racers. With four events planned in 2021, there should be room for everyone.
Noga says that after the race, “The forest company saw how successful it was, and there was a lot of hype. You can see in all the YouTube videos that these are the best trails in the country. So we had another meeting with forest managers, and they decided to give us the chance to increase the number of more extreme trails. And there are so many places in Israel where you can have good trails. The ones we dug for the race have about 200 meters of descent. Now we’re working on another project where there are about 150 meters of elevation, and there can be a lot of trails and lines.”
Given the steadily-growing number of trails, the Israeli Enduro team hopes to add races every season, each in a new location with fresh tracks. While the EWS qualifier will likely attract athletes from Europe, pandemic permitting, the hope is that riders from neighboring nations will attend all of the coming gravity races. Not all of the countries bordering Israel share open borders. The Lebanese border is closed off and there’s a brutal ongoing war in Syria. Riders from Egypt and Jordan will have no problem making the short trip, and the event is a brief flight for mountain bikers in Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey. Noga also mentioned that she will do whatever she can to help athletes from Palestine be able to cross the border for the race.
The 2019 event brought two of Israel’s main cultural groups together since the trail begins in a Jewish village and ends in an Arab village. There were spectators from both villages cheering together alongside the tracks and racing between the tape. The village at the base of the trails is currently working to create a cycling club, and Noga hopes to collaborate with those athletes on some future trail projects.
In addition to all of this event goodness Noga is training daily for the coming EWS season, both on her XC and enduro bikes and in a home gym that she put together during lockdown. She’s been riding her XC bike on the enduro tracks once a week to make things a bit spicier, her enduro bike gets out a couple of times per week, and the rest is road miles. She will transition to her 150mm GT Force mullet set up as the season nears.
In the past few years she has taken several other elite races on tours around Israel, and hopes to turn this into a side project one day, sharing the sites of her home country alongside the fantastic riding. For visitors in the the Misgav forest, Noga recommends checking out the Sea of Galilee, and the Mediterranean port town of Acra for a warm swim. As for local eats, Balhummus is the place to go for top hummus. If you visit during the winter and need a warmup, Hamat Gader hot springs is the spot, located just southeast of the Sea of Galilee on the Jordanian border. Finally, she says Mitzpe Ramon is a special place, that’s not to be missed on a trip to Israel.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have an official Noga Tour, the young gravity star recommends riding Mishmar HaEmek/Ramot Menashe Forest, Sugar trail (better to have a guide), Timna park, Mirav center/Ofer forest, Manara, and guided desert rides in the south. There’s also an app visitors can download that’s curated by the forest agencies for additional trail info.
If you’re interested in racing or riding in Israel, event and trail info is available in Hebrew and English on Bike.il.