The UK is now supersaturated with different types of enduro racing, be it one-day, two-day, timed or non-timed transitions, 3 or 6 stages. So many of these races are held on well-established tracks. We headed down to the South West of England to check out an event, unique in so many ways. It had a mates-racing format of 19 blind stages over three days; what we found was incredible!
With the very grass-roots embedded brand of DMR Bikes at the helm, from the start we knew this thing was going to have a laid back vibe about it. Situated in a tiny rural and very English village near Minehead, within throwing distance from the coast this place was like a time warp back to the days when roofs were all made from thatch, villagers shared the local orchard and free-range eggs are sold by the dozen outside of the pristine cottages separated by cobbled paths, fords and century-old bridges. In the local football club’s ground and club-house was where this intimate little venue was based for the 65 riders, as many met up on the Thursday eve.
This was certainly different than any other race format we had yet experienced in the UK, with three separate days of racing from Friday to Sunday, a total of 19 blind stages ridden during the 120 kilometres and 4,100 meters of climbing! There were no start-times, the first climb of the day was uplifted (that was extra to those stats) just dibbers for the timing, minimal tape and a need to use your head and conserve your energy. If you had come to the DMR Ex for trail-centre or bike park you were at the wrong place to, as this was all about natural and wild and the health and safety police certainly hadn’t shown their faces whilst setting up of these stages (known as “special tests”) went on!
With the organizers obviously being fans of our continental cousins, with such races as Trans Provence and Savoie, this type of all-inclusive style race was put on, as riders paid €290 (£250) for the privilege of the three days racing. Beautiful home-cooked breakfast and dinner, local barreled ales, showers and a DJ were all thrown in. Each day had either one or two feed stations, where you could grab goodies from a choice of the usual bananas, flapjacks and drinks to traditional teas and coffees served in old-fashioned English china! A real effort had been put on here to keep things intimate and friendly during the three days and it worked, as our selection of more adventure style riders and some enduro racers turned up to pit themselves against the clock.
Every evening, to keep the competition fresh, the day’s top three results in category were read out, Hardtails, Open Women and Open Men, no elites here thank you! The winners of each day would receive a little prize to keep them buzzing and their near competitors interested in a chance at the top spot.
The riding in Exmoor has extracts of riding you would see from lots of other places, but what is unique is just how varying it can be from trail to trail. The transitions were often long and arduous, a real test up through some of the ancient woodlands and long smooth tarmac narrow lanes. Up over the tops of the open hillside and the going between timed stages varied from open bridle paths, footpaths and green lanes, often offering amazing views of the surrounding sea and with South Wales looming way over in the distance the other side of the sea.
The Special Tests
The variation between the special tests (stages) were massive, some were short and fast, strewn with roots, others would literally be as fast as you could go down a grassy quad track, but others were real gems. The most memorable of the tests was one about 3 minutes long down a loose rock-strewn trail, drainage ditches had to be jumped, ruts had to be tackled and fast corners had to be scarily steered around at a horrific adrenalin-fueled pace, with many a rider confessing it was the fastest stage they had ever done! Many of the special tests consisted of fantastic flowing peaty fast turns down through the thick dry woods over many a whooped-out section bringing massive smiles to the rider’s faces. It was billed as fun and the description couldn’t have been any more exact!
What you can tend to find with the more typical full-on racing of the average enduro race is how riders (including friends) can often tend to get split up, whether it be category separation or just plain fitness differences. But with this blind racing being a long day out, where signage needed a bit more focus to follow, then riders tended to stick together in larger groups, so as not to get lost. This made for much better camaraderie during the day, with lots of support for the less fit riders and huge amounts of fun on the special tests, as riders kind-of found their place in the pecking order of who went down in what order. At the end of each day we would all come back into camp HQ tired and weary, but buzzing from a great welcome from organizers, excited to check our times and ready for the hearty meal.
Blind racing is not like your usual racing, where you would normally know or have an idea what was coming up (including any dangers) it is all new as it is ridden, much like proper old-skool mountain biking always has been, except you have to go as fast as you dare to keep your times up. But be warned, go over that blind crest or into what can look like a flat-out corner at 100% and you can often regret the pace on exit, as obstacles come up quick which you weren’t aware of. So riding has to be done smart, around the 70-80% mark like night riding, only tapping into the full pace when a good amount of trail ahead can be seen out ahead! Everyone was crashing at some point in the tests, but the least crashes with a good pace was definitely key to the best result!
After a very tough three days on the bikes, all riders felt exhausted but so happy about how it had all gone, all vowing to come back for 2017. We had all racked up some serious kilometres and drained all our leg’s energy, but it was so worth the efforts. The organizers had gone to some great efforts to keep their customers happy and interested. The end of day three saw not only the podium placers take home some great goodies plus their awesome homemade trophies, but spot prizes were awarded to lots of riders for various reasons. This was a race for the riders, not for the elite, it was a perfect mix of fun, challenging climbs and descents to make all go home with a satisfied, yet exhausted smile. Shall we be back there next year; does a bear shit in the woods?
For any riders wanting to attend this race next year, we would recommend you get your entries in as soon as they are available, as with this going to always be billed as an intimate affair with a small rise to maybe 85 riders next year, we just know it will sell out fast!
Website: DMR The Ex