After what seemed like a long break in the British Enduro Series racing calendar, this great (and thankfully now) ‘only’ main British series made it’s way to the middle of the UK to Shropshire’s Eastridge Woods. Stooped in a history of old-skool DH racing from days when large mountains weren’t needed for such events, Eastridge is a great natural trailed riding spot with lots of fierce local competition.
Eastridge had long since lost its status as a DH spot as these big travel bikes moved on and started to need the bigger, longer tracks, but with the sport of Enduro getting stronger, so did Eastridge’s status as a top riding spot again, as it hosted this, by far the biggest event held there in years, bringing a fantastic feeling of nostalgia for the older local riders and racers alike. Shropshire has and still does boast some big names in the rankings of British Enduro, with the likes of John Owen, Stu Hughes, Vini Crighton-Poli, Traharn Chidley, Andrew Titley, Rich Webster, Luther Griffiths and Andy Woodvine. But could they use their local knowledge enough to hold off the fast riders from other parts of the UK as they all came together like gladiators to do battle?
This was a return to what seems like the preferred format for UK racing when it comes to a structural race, where both Saturday and Sunday consisted of three timed stages raced in the afternoon and practiced in the morning. Race director Si Paton made some great rule changes for this weekend to entice more entrants to the event, the compulsory full-face helmet rule was thankfully dropped and riders could also enter on either days and do one or two days racing; with all six stages being different tracks. One thing definately noticable from the weekend was how riders really do prefer to race in an open face helmet, with the majority choosing that option. Si had kept to his word and fifty riders were racing for free, whom had originally entered the now bankrupt UK Enduro Series, so numbers were definitely up and this thing really felt a lot more like a proper busy national series.
Eastridge can only be described as natural (no bike park hardpack here!) with trails all running through the woodland, but also having a recent overall after a winter of logging on the hill. The forestation now created open areas where the nasty ‘baby head’ sized loose pointed boulders were everywhere in the track, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting rider, causing a crash or tyre destruction! Back in the wooded sections and trails were dark peat, now turned into dusty powder in many places after such dry weather. This terrain mixed with the loose stones, rocks and many root sections as the stages wound their way through the trees made for some very loose and tricky sections of slow and fast corners, testing the best of rider’s abilities. Some stages were as short as under two minutes, others much longer, winding their way down across and sometimes even up the hill, to test the strongest of legs and lungs. Riders seemed to love the trails all weekend, with the short half hour maximum transitions being very welcomed, leaving energy in the legs for the more important stages and not huge fireroad climbs.
Set-Up For Eastridge
Eastridge is renowned for being a bitch on suspension and tyres. Use a rear trail tyre and you are risking it big time, as the rocks are pretty much going to have you. We noticed a lot of the top riders running a thicker casing rear tyre and either another thick casing tyre or risk a trail tyre up front. With the many rocks and roots urging bikes off-course but also lack of jumps and big drops, forks and shock ran best with big sag (as long as your bike was a good pedaler) minimal low speed compression and lots of bottom out on the tokens or air chamber. There certainly did seem to be a lot more 29ers out on the hill than previously, running smoothly over those roots and rocks, as their geometry becomes more suitable for racing, but let’s not open that can of worms hey!
Feel of the Event
The British Enduro Series certainly has the presence and feel now of a large national series upon entering the start/finish field. The finish line was huge and adorned with the banners and flags of all the series sponsors all battling it out for that favoured spot for the photos and publicity. Surrounding the finish area on both sides was exhibitors set-ups, all busy looking after racers, teams and working on bikes. This thing really does look professional and mixed with the use of miles and miles of tape on all the stages the benchmark has been firmly put in place. Things can only get better as the series goes onto Innerleithen for the final round of 2016 before working again with title sponsors Cannondale for 2017. Originally we had maybe not been quite so behind the British Enduro Series, due to feeling it lacked that grass-roots occasional-racer feel needed to attract riders from all walks of life to fill ups the categories. This event, although still having the pro-factory feel with all the fast riders, definitely seemed to address that issue with the shorter and more relaxed transitions and generally great atmosphere around the whole event.
Movers and Shakers
Unfortunately after going into day two with the overall lead from day one, Marin’s South Wales fast boy Leigh Johnson took a tumble in practice, hurting his shoulder, meaning he had to pull out of the event for day two. Local John Owen took the win on his pre-production Orange Alpine 160, proving that bike’s worth. Another local boy Vini Crighton Poli went into day two in 3rd Elite spot, only to have a big high speed crash and get knocked down to seventh. Three folks with massive leads over their competition were Airshot inventor Charles Jones in Masters, ex-motorcycle Enduro ace Si Pavey in Masters and the one and only Tracey Moseley sporting that beautiful looking new Track Slash 2017 weapon. After twenty years of slogging away at MTB racing your author Jim Buchanan finally made a national event podium, coming in fourth Veteran, only one second off third, he may have had a few drinks that Sunday night!
And the Winners Were (two-day only)
All riders gave their all, beasting themselves against the clock on all stages, where small mistakes cost dearly in the quite short overall total time of the results. Riders needed to keep things at around 80% in the gnarly stuff to avoid easily blowing out turns or collecting punctures. However time was made up a lot by those also powerful on the pedals, as some stages required rider’s fitness and sprint power to be high. Top places went to Maddy Brown – (Open Women) Tom Dunn – (Hardtail Man) Kevan Sherry – (Grand Vets Men) Andrew Titley – (Veteran Men) Simon Wakeley – (Master Men) Charles Jones – (Senior Men) Ian Taylor – (Junior Men) Harvey Rollason – (Youth Boys) Tracy Moseley – (Elite Females) John Owen 1st, Sam Shucksmith 2nd, Nikki Whiles 3rd – (Elite Males)
Results: Roots & Rain
Website: British Enduro Series
Words & Photos: Jim Buchanan