Before every race I have a ritual, after a hearty breakfast of porridge I like to go through a mental list checking off all my gear to make sure nothing is left to chance, SPD Shoes – check, helmet – check, gloves – check, batman suit – check!! Walking round the pits at the Fair City Enduro you could be forgiven for thinking you had been transported into a Hunter S. Thompson Novel! Watching a cow and vampire arguing good naturedly about tyre compounds, a flamingo riding in circles and Shrek digging in the back of a van looking for a missing glove, something was definitely up!
Perthshire is an often overlooked riding destination by visitors coming to sample Scotland’s epic trails, with many trail seekers experiencing the region through windscreens as they push on through to highland adventures. However the ‘big tree country’ is riddled with excellent trails and makes an awesome destination for exploring on an enduro bike!. This year’s Highland Perthshire Enduro started the ball rolling and showed the world that the region had quality trails! Today’s Fair City Enduro picked up that same ball and gave it a good healthy chuck in the right direction, bringing fun, quality trails and true spirit of enduro to the traditionally quiet period on the race calendar.
The event was the brainchild of Aaron Gray, inventor of the successful Muckmedden Series, aimed unashamedly at bringing fun and accessibility back to the sport, but with trails that are challenging enough for the fastest in the sport. Despite the event being a well received fancy dress extravaganza, the stages were no less technical and many a steep and technical challenge lay in wait. A credit to the organisers was the broad range of special stages chosen, from short lung busting climbs to bike park tabletops, serving to showcase the many trails of Kinoull hill perfectly.
With the route a closely guarded secret, the stages were to be ridden blind for the first time on race day, adding positively to the fun and non-conformity of the event! With no practice allowed it was down to reactive riding, and in the muddy conditions simply jolly good fun! Stage 1 was an oddity that you don’t normally see in ‘new school’ enduros, and was a cruel Halloween twist from the organisers! A very short stage that was a tough and steep 150m ish climb that encouraged a sprint start before dealing a gradient sucker punch leaving riders doubled over their bars, wheezing and inching noisily up the ‘should really be pushing’ incline. Traditionalists would be up-in-arms about a pure climb stage but in all fairness it was a total laugh, beasting yourself for a short time while being heckled from the sidelines was super fun, and before the pain really kicked in it was time to dib out.. The fastest time of the day went to Joe Barnes who skipped up the climb with energy to spare, and a theme that would run on through the day!
Stage 2 was more what you would expect from a Scottish enduro, starting out with an open heather blast with great views, the track soon plunged into the woods for a good dose of thick mud, cheeky roots and good natured heckling. To do well on this stage you needed to be strong on the pedals as it was not quite steep enough to let gravity take the helm, constant stoking was needed to keep momentum high enough to keep out of trouble in the mud. Spectators that had used the free shuttle bus laid on were rewarded with lots of sideways and upside down action, while riders got to grips with the deep muck! Finishing with an all out sprint down to the car park, the climb to stage 3 began.
Stage 3 took riders from the top of Deuchny woods back to the car park. There was lots of excited banter as the ‘start queue’ worked down, with multiple possible lines, the track was a mystery. After a sprint from the start it soon became obvious they had chosen the hard route as the track linked up with the old downhill run and things took a turn for the steep and loose, grip was good as three hundred odd riders cut a nice line in. After a few steep corners the track linked into the ‘new school’ trail centre style downhill track and with its range of big table tops, it was probably the only enduro race in the world where you could see a Penguin and a bright yellow gimp attempt to throw down some sizable tailwhips… Great stuff!
After a welcome stop for a venison burger and coffee, riders climbed out to the last of the ‘full stages’. With whispers of bad weather no doubt troubling the organisers overnight, racers could not have been luckier and the weather held all day! Climbing through the woods to the final stage you could not avoid revelling in the beauty of the place, as if someone had Instagrammed real life! With autumnal colours so intense, the vivid green of the moss and undergrowth battled for visual impact with golden leaves. The views over the river Tay punctuated gaps between the trees, a perfect location for an enduro! It was also great to see the crowds of spectators scattered around the woods shouting encouraging words and enjoying the spectacle of the event.
Stage 4 was a classic, and certainly the most engaging of the day. A flat out pedal into sublime rooty chutes that just kept on coming, testing both nerves and grip in the muddy conditions. The middle of the stage was interrupted with a sharp climb that went on 50m too long, bringing all but the fittest to an almost standstill before picking up the pace on the fast following sections. This was great enduro stage and worth the drive alone, fast sections, slow sections and more than a few cheeky turns saw every rider skid into the finish zone with a massive smile.
The final stage was something a bit different, a one minute skills loop in the park featuring built features, woodwork, homemade seesaws and little jumps! The stage was overlooked by a large crowd of interested locals and spectators, while organisers worked hard on the tannoys to keep momentum and spirits high. It was a great end to a great day, serving to highlight the potential for enduro to be more than just a race format, to be a connection linking mountain biking to local communities and showcasing an area for more than just its trails. Maybe it had something to do with the smell of venison burgers wafting over the crowds, but the atmosphere was electric and it was certainly one of the most fun races I have attended this year! A big shout should go out to the cheerful marshals and support crew who worked on into the rain to tidy everything up!
Fair City – indeed!
Spirit of Enduro – no doubt!
Results will be posted as soon as they go live on the website!
Words: Trev Worsey Photos: Chris Leakey