Enduro is getting increasingly serious. Last weekend in Canberra I saw a guy in full Lycra and compression socks pushing his bike up the hill to save energy for the descent. He then took the smooth tarmac the rest of the way to the top instead of the fun, punchy singletrack that goes to the same place.
In terms of riding goals, I’ve been feeling a little lost lately. The transition period between completing a PhD in the humanities, and finding an ongoing, stable workflow is said to take five years. The constant instability of it all has been more challenging than I expected, and is taking a lot of energy away from other things.
I think this is the big reason behind my attraction to gravity enduro; new experiences, new ways to move and pace yourself on the bike. Technical sections of terrain have become something I sit back and relax on in XC and endurance events, Enduro is motivating me to learn how to ride them much faster.
Incidentally, these experiences have become part of a new research project, one examining skill acquisition and cognition with a talented crew in Cognitive Science at Macquarie University. I’m tentatively calling it ‘Learning to Fly.’
Round three of the Australian Gravity Enduro Series was hosted by the Inside Line downhill club at Fox Creek in Adelaide. I’ve never ridden in South Australia before, so the idea of a couple of days sessioning my favourite type of trail in a new place made it an excellent choice for a weekend away; a breather, a time to meet a whole bunch of likeminded people, an attractive way of discovering a new place while doing an activity I love.
And that’s pretty much how it went. Except it was made even better by staying with local legend, Jaclyn (Jacs) Schapel (Liv/Giant), and joined by talented Sydney duo Gen McKew (Knolly bikes) and Jay Tolson.
I borrowed my partner’s Specialized Camber Evo again for this race. It’s a lot of bike compared to what I’m used to, and I found I was fighting it on the trails instead of trusting it. Half way through day one Jay started schooling me on how to really move on it. Simple techniques I know well, but had forgotten while being out of my comfort zone. ‘Get your arms out like an excited monkey,’ he said, ‘and light up your path on each corner by shining a torch out your belly button.’*
Torches and monkeys. Got it.
Within seconds, my riding reached a whole new level. I could feel moments when I had that familiar sensation of dancing on the bike again. The trail smoothed out, I was braking far less, pushing the bike rather than fighting it, and I grinned as I felt the rear wheel start to drift around corners. Success! (Or a good start at least!) I could have ridden each trail forever.
Race day for me was all about torches and monkeys too. The transitions between timed stages were all about meeting new people and hearing more about the Adelaide riding culture.
Jacs won the elite women’s with total time of 19 minutes and 11 seconds, a six second margin over Gen after four very different stages. Canberra mate, Rosie Barnes (Swell Design Group, Onya Bike Canberra), rounded out the podium in third. I was thrilled to come equal sixth with new riding buddy Anna Puckridge, just over two minutes back.
Staying with Jacs added a whole extra element to the weekend away. Friday night we dropped into a local pub to see the track cyclists and the roadies go head to head at roller racing. Saturday night we met more people at the Banff Film Festival. Saturday morning, she got up early to take the Liv/Giant road ride which encourages more women to get out on bikes. During the practice and race days I watched her as she chatted to almost every single person at the event.
Jacs is one of those people who has a positive, apt and encouraging thing to say to everyone. And by everyone, I mean downhillers, cyclocrossers, BMXers, roadiers, XCers, from recreational to elite. The cheer from the crowd as she stepped onto the podium was so loud. And so it should be. She’s one of those people who are such great role models and ambassadors for the sport. You can follow her adventures via her blog here.
Enduro is still fairly grassrootsy, but that’s part of its appeal. I booked a flight to Adelaide feeling pretty cooked and in need of a short holiday. I jumped on the plane back to Sydney feeling energised, motivated and refreshed. New goals, new friends, new role models and renewed motivation.
Thanks bikes. You’ve weaved your special magic once again.
Photos: Kath Bicknell (except that last one. Thank you nice man!)
*Actually, this is the paraphrased and more politically correct version of Jay’s golden advice.