Man and machine versus the unforgiving terrain of an extreme enduro course. It’s a hard game…
The discipline of enduro has recently taken off in the world of mountain biking because it offers a demanding combination of speed, technical difficulty both up and downhill and requires the rider to be fit, strong and skilful. Above all, as the name suggests, it’s about endurance.
In motorbiking, of course, it’s been around for years. It traces its roots back to the days of motorbike scrambling when farmers would allow guys to rag the fields for fun, but also in fierce competition. The Fast Eddy Xtreme Enduro series, baby of the former 4 times World Enduro Champion, Paul ‘Fast Eddy’ Edmondson, is about the most brutal of its kind in the UK.
Happy day indeed when we learned that the opening competition of 2014 was to be held at Parkwood Offroad in Tong, just between Leeds and Bradford. Every so often Parkwood Offroad is open for a practice day when any rider can pit him/herself against the challenge of twisty, rooty singletrack and steep, rocky climbs and descents. However, the course that was designed by Paul for the pro, elite and clubman riders’ competition on Sunday was the toughest imaginable.
As we arrived, the riders were assembling in the start area; numerous KTMs, a few Betas, Hondas and Yamahas. The great David Knight was chatting with fans. He looked relaxed considering what he was about to do for the next 2.5 hours on his factory Sherco 300 4T or ‘trailbike’ as he jokingly called it. Knight’s main rival, Yorkshire rider Graham Jarvis, was mounted on a ferocious-sounding Husqvarna FE 350.
As the race started, it was clear these guys were really on it. The roar of engines and the stink of two-stroke were just so thrilling! We walked to the first of the technical sections – a rocky climb which turned out to be the ‘easy’ option! Easy?? The hard route went up a vast, slabby rock wall where trials skills, brute strength and massive cojones came into their own.
The 80 riders battled around the 2.5 mile course, the fastest laptimes being in the region of 10 minutes but that was only achieved by the exceptionally skilled. Stricken riders were all over the course. Of the numerous technical challenges, the Waterfall (literally a waterfall) had to be the hardest. Also, the massive ditch jump was breathtakingly impressive and drew gasps from the crowd as the top riders landed it without missing a beat.
There were hundreds of crashes: bikes slipping forlornly down greasy gullies; bikes catapulting over riders’ heads as they gave it a big handful to try to clear a step on a steep climb; bogged in deep muddy ruts; sliding into trees on tight bends. The spectators were also very much part of the race. They often helped to haul a bike out of the mud. They had to be careful to get out of the way as riders carved new lines on every lap. One guy left it too late, getting hit in the face by the tyre of a riderless bike. Causing his false teeth to fly out of his mouth! I’m ashamed to say that this caused a certain amount of mirth in the crowd. But the guy was OK – honest!
The race finished as darkness fell, David Knight the victor despite an impressive catch by Graham Jarvis. We rode home on our mountain bikes thinking about what we’d been lucky enough to see that afternoon – true grit.
Next stop for these guys, Hell’s Gate Hard Enduro in Italy