Prior to the Hood River Oregon Enduro Series race, US Editor Daniel Dunn had the opportunity to sit down with Specialized rider Curtis Keene and talk enduro racing in America, kids racing, and the new Red Bull web series.

Curtis Keene on race day, catching up on the latest news. Or Instagram feed.
Curtis Keene on race day, catching up on the latest news. Or Instagram feed.

What do you think of the Oregon series, what do you think of the course this weekend?

Oregon series in general, the tracks are really fun, that’s why I keep coming back, the locations are just a damn good time riding your bicycle. This weekend we’re in Hood River, and this is one of my favorites, and that’s definitely why I’m here. I don’t plan on going to all of them, just cause it’s a lot of racing for me, but made sure I came here. I raced here the last two years. These trails have a good mixture of flow, speed, grade, the length of them, they’re a mixture of 3-8 minutes. We’ll race 8 stages over two days. Its just a good balance, not too much climbing, and most of all, it’s just a good time.

I would come here and ride, and I have before. Kinda reminds me of Santa Cruz, you know, dicing through trees really fast. This weekend is super dry so, it’ll be a little sketchy, last year was all muddy so this years a complete opposite, probably worse cause of all the marbles.

You live in Santa Monica? What’s the training like down there?

Well, first of all Santa Monica is lack of dirt, (laughs) lack of trees, lack of traction, but definitely not lack of sunshine and fun. Um, it’s similar in ways, the marbles, the only thing being constant is that it’s inconsistent. I really enjoy that, I’m comfortable with it, I ride it all the time, but, we have a lot of bush and brush, but you’re not diving in and out of forest. It’s getting better, I’ve been there for almost three years this fall, and we’ve done some work to some of the local trails, so it’s definitely something I don’t mind as much, but deep down inside, I really miss Santa Cruz. But hey, it’s good weather all the time, so I get to put in tons of miles, which is good. And I’m really close to Red Bull, I’m only about 6 blocks from them, so really, it’s not a bad place to live. And really, when I get the itch when I’m like, I need to ride UC, it’s just a quick drive up north, and I’ll just stay the weekend with buddies.

I know you’ve raced in Winter Park, but where else in America have you raced enduro?

Winter park, Canyons, Utah, the stops in Oregon, California Demo forest, outside of Santa Cruz.

Do you have a favorite in America?

Well, if it’s North America, it’s Whistler, hands down. Oregon ones are pretty sick though. Locations are awesome, like Hood River, is amazing. And Ashland is really, really good.

Someone once told me that the tracks in OR are really fast and flowy, but not very gnarly. What do you say to that?
Yeah, sure, there aren’t gnarly rock gardens, and continuous steep sections, but there are a few steep sections, but other than that, it’s fast, and there are high consequences, in a way similar to a steep techy bit where maybe you’re going slower speeds, this is the opposite, but the consequences of going SO fast when you hit those rocky bits, the risk of injury is so high, especially to your head, it can be really sketchy. With the marbles here, it’s really really easy to override the track, cause you’re just fighting for traction, and when you try pushing a lot, I found myself almost not making some of the turns, front wheel is drifting, so you kind of need to reel back that little bit and get from point A to point B.
North America gets this rap for just flow, it’s not really mountain biking, it’s bike park, but whatever, I want to see some other people come over here and ride this at these speeds. It’s a different skill set, just like racing in France is a different skill set, they ride a certain way and the riding in Scotland is completely different, and the same could be said for here. It’s all good, as long as we’re riding our bikes in different terrain, it ultimately just makes you a better bike rider.

Keene loosening up and fooling around before Sunday racing in Hood River.
Keene loosening up and fooling around before Sunday racing in Hood River.
Keene waiting to drive media guy's shuttle. On the phone again. This is a common sight among pro riders. Just trying to keep up with society.
Keene waiting to drive media guy’s shuttle. On the phone again. This is a common sight among pro riders. Just trying to keep up with society.

This weekend is sold out, a lot of the Big Mountain Enduros are sold out, what’s the next step for enduro racing in america, along the lines of more races, different locations, better locations?
Maybe just more locations. As long as the demand is there, people are having fun, enjoying it, keep on coming out. Races sell out because they’re really challenging logistically, there’s only so much time in the day, you can only take on so much as a race organizer. I don’t think we should have too many, there’s a balance right, instead of having one sold out at 350, then people aren’t going to this one, and there’s only 200 at this one, and maybe the quality isn’t as good. It’s great that there’s a demand.. but, you also need to keep those people happy. Races are popping up everywhere on the east coast, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, California, Washington has a series, of which I’ve heard nothing but good things. There are definitely options, which is always a good thing. That’s the cool thing about the format, you can do it anywhere, you don’t necessarily have to have a lift, or even a shuttle, you can just pedal up, enduro’s just a format, that’s all it is, as long as we go mountain biking. One weekend we’re in the Alps, next weekend we’re in Hood River and the next we’re in California in Demonstration forest, pedaling everything.

You’re on the EWS Advisory board. What’s your role with that?
It’s myself, Jerome Clementz, and Tracy Moseley. They picked us based on a lot of factors. Chris is always trying to make things better, and he just values our opinions, and at the end of the day, we’re just trying to make it better for everyone. We give our input when Chris is trying to do something, or maybe change a rule, he’ll send us an email, and we’ll give our two cents on what we think should or shouldn’t happen. Two years ago, he had to create this whole EWS effective rulebook, and that was really good, because I saw things a certain way, with my background of downhill and American enduros, and then there’s Jerome, who’s been doing it forever, who’s so smart, and not biased and ultimately he wants it the best it can be, and the Tracy, who’s been racing a bunch of disciplines forever, and she’s also really smart, so with us three, and we’re kinda everywhere, we just gave our feedback and ultimately Chris did what he thought was right, based on what we said, and also people with an interest in the sport. Yeah, he just wanted a group of people that he could bounce ideas on in the end, just make the race series the best it could be. Make sure he just covered all the bases.

Any ideas from you on a different potential stop in America?
Oh wow, I have so many ideas. I think there should be one in someplace like Montana-big mountains, you know. Teton Pass in Wyoming is supposed to be amazing. Those mountains, you can go anywhere, we don’t need a lift or a shuttle. I think we could do an amazing one in California, you could do it the week before Sea Otter, whether it’s Northern or Southern California, it could be a pedal one. You could do one in Laguna Beach, a bunch of two-four minutes descents. You could do 8 stages one day and 8 the next. Just make two mega days. I think people would love it, and have a blast. Everyone that rides down there is so bike crazy, and it could be something different and really unique and fun, and obviously has this appeal of being on the beach in California. Sure, I’d like to see something in California. Also I think Colorado has huge potential. It’s our Alps, it’s the Rocky Mountains. There are rumors of something happening next year, it’s going to change locations, but hey, we won’t find out for a couple more months. But Chris wants to keep it fresh, change it around, keep people excited, and give other countries and venues, places the opportunity. There’s a LOT of interest all the time, people want the EWS where they are. Maybe it’s Australia, maybe it is California, we’ll see.

One of the cool things I saw about Scotland was the community involvement. What’s your impression of that?
Scotland was done so well. So professional, on all levels. the way everything was marked out, to the handbook, to the local newspaper, the pamphlet in the newspaper, “Tweed Love” headline, to all the interactions with the locals, the kid’s ride that had about 200 kids that are part of all these cycling clubs, the communities within. The riders helped out. There was a lot of activation from within the community and opening everyones eyes to what we’re doing and also to what they’re doing, because it’s growing immensely there, the whole cycling movement. Then jeez, on a different level, the BBC was there. I think, to this day, by far it was the best one in terms of it being really professional and taking the nest step. And that’s where Chris Ball is from, so in a way, it was kinda easier because he’s spent a lot of time there and he could really get people involved. And wow, it showed. So, if they can all be like that, that would be rad. Whistler’s really good too, but the problem up there, is it’s part of this huge festival, and there’s just so much going on, so it’s kind of tough to get the same attention to the enduro race when there are so many cool things happening. We’re just part of the show, which is probably the biggest show of the year. In mountain biking.

What about developing enduro in America, as far as kids are concerned. Do we need to start them racing enduro when they’re 12 years old, or do they just need to be on bikes, or what?
Who knows, maybe in a few more years, there will be more enduro races that will give kids the opportunity to race them, but right now, there aren’t a ton of races, and it’s so new, and it’s just tough right now for kids to be totally into them. But it just needs time to grow. And it is growing, that’s the thing, all these races are popping up everywhere, and it’s giving kids the opportunity to race this style of racing. We’ll see, it’s hard to say. As long as they’r e riding their bikes. One of the cool things that’s happening, and kids racing is growing because of the high school leagues, they’re growing like crazy. It’s mostly XC, with some downhill, but it’s all good signs. It just needs time. But it is growing.

Oh, tell me a bit about the Red Bull thing you’re doing, the web series.
Well, Red Bull came to me this off season, and they said, “We’re interested in doing a web series on you, but also covering the EWS, and this is their way of dabbling into coverage of enduro racing and EWS, and kind of figuring out what they should do with that. And maybe how they can help the sport grow, and just how do they fit in. But really, they want to help get the EWS out there to the masses, along with telling my story. But it’s not just about me, and I made that very clear to them, I don’t want it to be just me. Sure, I’m happy to be a part of it, tell my story, I’m down with that. But I want it to be about the EWS and the sport, and the riders. Talk to Jerome, talk to Tracy, and help it grow as a whole. I’m not the EWS, we all are the EWS. You have your personalities like Cedric Gracia, or Steve Peat will race, or Jerome. But it’s Red Bull’s way of getting it out there, getting it more exposed to people, what’s going on, and also what I’m doing. It’s been really good. I get a lot of compliments all the time, people are super pumped on it. It’s a different style of a web edit, it’s not your typical bike porn, or web series that’s full of shenanigans, they wanted to be more documentary style, they wanted to tell the stories of what the riders do behind closed doors, not just results, and some dude throwing a crazy whip or whatever. They wanted to spread their wings and try something different. You’re either gonna love it or hate it, but it’s been really well received. I get messages all the time, people are pumped. Actually, it was really cool when I was in Scotland, and I had just finished practice, and this dude comes up and says, “Hey Curtis, I just wanted to say your web series is frickin awesome! I really enjoy it, keep on doing your thing, Cheers!” and then as he was riding away, he turns, “Oh yeah, I just wanted to say one more thing. Thank You. Because of you and your web series, my buddy started riding his bike again. He hasn’t ridden in years, and because of you, he started riding again! So thanks!” And I was like, “Whoa, that’s pretty cool!” And man, when stuff like that happens, it’s just really awesome. If you can do stuff like that,’s all worth it. Yeah, that kinda gave me a little bit of the chills. Wow, thanks man.

What’s next for Curtis?
Go home and relax for a couple days. See my lady, see my puppy. And then we’re taking a vacation up to BC, go see the Coast gravity park, with the Specialized boys, get on the downhill bike, which I haven’t been on in about a year and half. I’m gonna go and send all the jumps to flat (laughs). Yeah, we’re just going up there to have a good time. Things have been so busy, it will be good to just go home and relax for a bit, then go shred with those boys, they know how to have good time when we’re all together.

Racing on Stage 8 in Hood river. Just after the massive G-out, the fast riders flew up this steep upgrade.
Racing on Stage 8 in Hood river. Just after the massive G-out, the fast riders flew up this steep upgrade.
Hanging out with the media, having fun, telling stories.
Hanging out with the media, having fun, telling stories.
Trying to escape the champagne spray from Ross Schnell at awards.
Trying to escape the champagne spray from Ross Schnell at awards.

Words, Photos: Daniel Dunn

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