Enduro; it’s just like riding with your mates. This is an expression people have been saying a lot over the last couple of years. And it is…provided your mates like riding the most technical trails in a given location, without much practice or padding. Riders have also shifted from a ‘no right bike’ mentality in the last two years to embracing whole new product lines of Enduro inspired trail bikes, helmets, packs, sticker kits and clothing so bright that road riders have resorted to wearing mostly black.
Being a great follower of the lastest mountain biking trends, this is the type of riding I’ve been enjoying most at the moment. But it’s not for everyone. In fact, the more I seek out these trails and events, the more I’m discovering that I also need to seek out some new riding mates. The discipline is quickly changing as it continues to find its feet.
Saturday’s Giant 2W Enduro in Rotorua, run by Dare 2 Sweat Events, was the final and most technical of the three round series. It was seen as a bit of a dress rehearsal for the Enduro World Series (EWS) round that will be taking place in the same location in a few weeks’ time. This lifted the technical level of much of the course into the steep, loose, rooty category. The ‘pro factor’ of the field also increased, with reigning EWS Champions Tracy Moseley and Jared Graves in the mix. So were about 397 other riders who inspire me to lift my riding to a whole different level.
I entered this race partly for the thrill of riding and sessioning fun trails, and partly to meet a whole lot of other riders who make Rotorua what it is. When local legend, Gaz Sullivan, asked me if I wanted to join his crew on the start line I knew that a brilliant day out was about to get even better.
Gaz is responsible for several other excellent days I’ve spent in the Whakarewarewa Forest, chasing mates in the name of whatever event is trendy at the time. In 2007, this was the Nzo 24 Hour Race, in 2010, the Whaka 50 half marathon and the Singlespeed World Championships.
In addition to their many other talents, Gaz and his partner Glen are the brains behind Nzo. Check out the new Nzo Ride Central shop next time you’re in town. One part shop, one part museum. Saul’s brake bleeding apparatus is also a work of art but that’s one you’ll have to see for yourself.
As bikes, trails and events keep changing, riders grow with them. At the heart of it, I think we all just love seeking out new experiences. I love that mountain bikers embrace this so enthusiastically. The sport refuses to grow old, constantly catapulting us into something challenging and fresh instead.
Saturday’s goal was to complete six different stages in six hours. We chose an order that was far from efficient in how we linked them up (we had six hours to enjoy ourselves after all). Instead, our route used one trail to build to the next, and hit some others when the dust, blown out-ness and visibility would make them the most fun.
At least, that was my logic. The others chose the same order but I never asked them why.
The old school, playful Billy T kicked things off. Then into the roots of Hatu Patu. Kataore, with its Guinness World Record attempt for the largest number of steep, loose, spectator filled corners was third. Next was a secret trail, announced on the start line, a trail that virtually no one had ridden before. It provided a sense of the roots and loam that would have defined some of the others before cleaner, deeper lines evolved.
A ride on the road took us to the super dusty and blown out K2. Then we pedalled up the hill one last time (for some reason we rode past all the free shuttles) before taking in parts of the National Downhill track on the way to Sidewinder.
The rides between stages were casual, friendly and chat-filled, just like riding with your mates. Give people a timing chip though, and they’ll leave a good amount of space between each other on the race stages so everyone gets a clear run. With your heart in your mouth and no one to chat to, in this way Enduro isn’t like riding with your mates at all (at least not in my experience).
Bikes are so silent these days that the only sound you hear on the trails is the vroom-vroom of your tyres as you weave, jump and pump through the track as quick as you can. Then you pop out in the middle of nowhere, share excitement with anyone who’ll listen, and start following a bunch of arrows so you can do it all again.
Six hours turned out to be the ideal amount of time, just, for reaching the finish line beers, pizzas and hotdogs completely rooted. If I’m honest, I was fairly rooted on the start line too. A holiday in Rotorua is, after all, about riding as much as you possibly can.
I spent the next few days enjoying a completely different mix of trails in the forest with a different group of friends. The adrenaline of the Kataore corners was replaced with the joy you get watching people discover some of the other many trails for the very first time.
The Whakarewarewa forest in Rotorua is so special like that. It offers so much for so many different types of riders – on different trails, different bikes, with different aims, seeking a whole range of experiences. In this way it’s more enduro than enduro itself, which makes sense as Rotoruans have been riding this way since mountain biking was a thing. Another reason why Saturday’s race was such a hit.
Thanks Rotorua. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing how the World Series race pans out. But if the serious race faces of Graves and Mosely are anything to go by, I reckon the laid back atmosphere at the 2W would be pretty hard to top. Just (sorta, mostly, fairly, a lot) like riding with your mates.
Photos: Kath Bicknell (most), James Alexander and the kind course marshal (group shot), Gaye Camm (Puarenga).