After a long winter of rain, more rain and a lot of drizzle over here in the UK, it was finally here, the first round of the UK Gravity Enduro Series. Held in Scotland’s Ae Forest, just over the border near Dumfries. It was pretty weird for me to be going back to this hill, with my previous visit being around the Year 2000 for a UK National DH round. It seemed like an age ago and I couldn’t remember anything about what the site was like, only one thing stuck in my mind; the winner of the Elite DH race hitting the final drop-in, way quicker than any other racer, getting a ridiculous amount of air and just catching the end of the down-slope, some 10 meters below. What relevance is this to the 1st UKGE round of 2014? Well that rider happened to be Tim Ponting, who was booked into my Veteran category for his first go at an Enduro, oh great, my money was immediately on him for the Vets win.

Sign on
Sign on

The hype was definitely out there about who was going to do what in this massively growing UK race series, things were getting serious. No longer were riders doing this series ‘just a ride around with their mates’, people still wanted the social, but there was an air of extra fitness about the place, people looked skinnier, more pro, with lots of secret talk about flat-out winter training. It seemed to me it was all to play for in each of the categories this time, definitely knocking some noses out of joint for riders who maybe got a tad comfortable posting podium times during 2013. Donny had booked in to all five this year, not wanting to loose a chance of that overall win, Al Stock (now Twelve50 Bikes privateer) had his work cut out to keep the Don from taking back that top overall spot, or could there be others jumping into it to rob some of the glory with some surprise results?

Always top nosh at the Billy Can
Always top nosh at the Billy Can, Aiden Bishop having a sample

We did the usual Friday morning arrival, not wanting to do the full loop the day before the race, the weather was a bit shitty, but the drizzle soon seemed to calm and we got the bikes out and hit the hill. I was out riding with Jon (local mate) and we headed off up the hill to find the nearest of the stages, to get one done and in the bag a.s.a.p. Stage 2 was closest, and to be honest, we couldn’t have chosen a worse stage to start on, giving a totally false impression of what the loop was going to be like! This was the flattest of the stages, it was pure hard-pack single trail, seemingly without even sporting a downhill part, flat corner after flat corner, they seemed to go on forever, broken up by one very small section of rooty natural DH. We just cruised it, knowing it would be a massive lung and leg killer come Sunday. At the bottom we looked at each other in disappointment, surely it wasn’t all going to be like that?

We cracked on, un-hindered by the lack of gnarly we were now off up to stage 3, Jon had been here a month prior and (unlike me) had a real good head for directions, so knew roughly where all the stages were going to be. Titley and the Bad Ass Bikes crew however, were less fortunate on stage knowledge, as we found out when we caught up with them. They had ridden for hours trying to find just one stage, they were all real tired, but hadn’t actually found anything till they tagged on with us, Titley had the look of anger in his eyes, but soon got over it as we rode in the right direction and chatted all things bikes. After a long-assed haul, that being the longest transition at over an hour, we finally reached stage 3’s start, to be greeted by more single line trail center pedally stuff. It was OK, a bit steeper than stage 2, but seemed to drag on until half way down you hit the scary jumps. These weren’t scary because they were massive, but the whole stage was very exposed to the high winds and whoever had made the jumps seemed to have made most of the up-slopes steep enough for riders to attempt pulling back-flips on them, real pingers! Hey-ho I thought, get on with it, same for everyone. After the jumps it got a bit steeper in places and more interesting as real rocks were involved, making it actually start to work the suspension. Same again at the bottom of this stage, a bit of a feeling of ‘oh right, so that’s what its all going to be like’, little did we know how wrong we were in this way of thinking! We cracked on up and up, beautiful rolling hills of Southern Scotland surrounding us, seeing for miles, surrounded by scores of huge wind turbines and their ominous whoosh, whooshing sound, with stupid talk, like whether you would live if you were strapped to the blades!

Fantastic views
Fantastic views

After getting to the top, we were greeted by stages 1, 4 + 5, all within 30 meters of each other, ‘that’s handy’, being my first thought. This time we thought we’d do them in order, so 1 first. From the word go, I knew this was to be nothing like the tame tracks of 2 and 3! Flat out into big wide rocky berms, drops and many a tyre killing rock dotted about the place, straight away I thought this was more like it! At speed you then dropped into one of the old DH tracks through the trees, with certain fast corners having been slowed down with the addition of taped out bus-stops. It then got a bit more natural and flowy as it wound its way across and down onto a fire-road, bit of a pedal, nasty corner then sped up again. At high speed you hit rocky fly-off jumps at break-neck speed, into a nasty compression, trying to keep things smooth, back into some steep mucky stuff to finish. Now I had a mixture of buzzing and fear, with so many sharp rocks around and carrying so much speed. I there and then made the decision to go full-face helmet to avoid a lights out situation.

Full Face, was an essential option for me
Full Face, was an essential option for me

After the long transition past the car park to stage 4, would this be more gnarly, had we been led into a false sense of security by stages 2 + 3? Well the answer to that was definitely YES. Stage 4 was more mental again, a real test of skill. From the off you dropped down into some dodgy peat, off-piste, wheel swallowing corners in the open, down some more and things got real messy and tough. It was quite a slope, but pure muddy, rocky and rooty natural turns through the trees. Ruts were forming more and more throughout the weekend, and with the rain that had come prior and over Saturday night, nothing really dried out. It was so hard to stay clean, especially for clipped in riders, relax was the only word to consider. We had done the first part of the mucky shit and stopped at the fire-road only to be greeted by Tim Ponting, after a chat he continued off down the next section of slop, he really didn’t look like he had lost any of the old style, at that point I knew he had my category in the bag! We cracked on, the aim of the game being to ride the fresh stuff, and not the mud and ruts where possible. Across an awkward bridge then all of a sudden it went from snotty technical to flat-out trail type fast jumps and drops, a real shock to the system, these again, like stage 1, were fast and scary, but had to be hit hard, another nail in the coffin of my half face lid for that race weekend!

Titley, Stage 4, big crash, no front brake, no peak, still won Masters by 18 secs!
Titley, Stage 4, big crash, no front brake, no peak, still won Masters by 18 secs!

we stopped for a quick brew and a bite before the final ascent up the same fire-road to check out stage 5. This was the following day’s seeding stage too, so it counts in a big way when it came to times. Off from the same spot again and this was the one, the stage all riders seemed to prefer, taking in most of that DH track I had ridden all those years ago on 2000, although I remembered no part of it. It was a ‘let the brakes off’ section from the start, big right hand steep, rocky turn at the top and you were in amongst the gnarly stuff, lines were everywhere, big rocks, tricky root sections, fast fly offs, the lot. Into the final bit of wood near the arena and there were some real tricky root strewn corners, very tech indeed. The final part of the stage consisted of fast wide berms, a double then the big drop-in shoot to the finish. At this point the disappointment with the flatness of Stages 2 and 3 was replaced with the relief they were there with me to be honest, it was certainly going to be a gnarly weekend, with what I thought was the perfect mix of every type of riding thrown in. This was going to be a true test of Enduro, someone who can do everything well would win.

Ben Cathro // Gravity Enduro Series round 1 // Ae Forest 2014 – Stage Highlights from SickSkillsMTB on Vimeo.

Check out Ben Cathro’s (the overall winner) practice footage from stages 1-4)


After a chilled night at a local Travel Lodge we were back in the arena with everything being set up properly for the weekend. We just went up and sectioned stage 5 for a few hours to finish up with a ride up to the halfway point of 4, we walked to the top of 4 then rode the bottom half, a great days social, I was feeling a bit crappy on the bike on the Friday, but after a great day of following Titley (who was absolutely loving the gnarly stuff) his buzz rubbed off on me and we just had a great morning’s riding.

There were lots of things going on, I couldn’t believe how much more pro things had become, with stands from, Mavic, SRAM, Continental, Race Face, On One (Sporting their Codeine models and new team) Shimano, Silverfish, Exempt clothing, Cotic, White Bikes, Twelve50 Bikes, Intense, Marin and Enve (sporting their beautiful new rims). Riders also present, loosing their Enduro virginity were 4X stars Dave Richardson and Scott Beaumont. Top nice guy Aiden Bishop was giving it large, as a factory Cannondale rider on his borrowed fully carbon lefty forked 650b weapon. Also a surprise was the absence of Tracey Moseley, as she was away having a go at the world XC round, after dropping lots of weight ready to attack the EWS with even more confidence this season.


Saturday’s weather was a tad cloudy, with the odd bit of damp, but things did dry out a bit, ready for the afternoons seeding runs. We headed up to do our bit, my full face helmet and goggles were on and the back-pack was left behind, I seemed to have shaken any nerves and felt good about my up-coming run. The usual OCD checking of the suspension levers, seat post and gears done several times, the beeps sounded and I was off. This was it, what I had trained so hard for all winter. I felt great from the start, I knew I was riding spot-on. Down the rough straight flat out, big left, tight evil right and things were going well, that is till I noticed the back end not feeling right. In these instances you hope you are wrong, imagining it, as sometimes your mind can play tricks on you, but as I got through the tight rooty section near the top and headed out of the trees, it was obvious, I had punctured the rear, one single word was shouted out of my helmet, the same one that always pops up in these instances “BASTARD”! I had a totally flat tyre, it was rocky and I was running carbon rims, all things sensible tell you to stop, but my race head, want of the series points and the red mist took over and anger drove me on. In these instances in Enduro you have to also think about how every second counts, and to stop and DNF seeding could cost so dearly in the overall season’s position. I cracked on, amazed how much fun it was getting the big back wheel drifts on, knowing it was a massive risk. I even went for the double at the bottom, with a big rear wheel case. I got to the bottom in 11th, 21 seconds down on Tim Ponting, gutted but also pleased I had made it and not smashed my rim up completely. I had taken a big chunk out of the outside edge of the Rockguardz rim, but it survived and went on to run a replaced tubeless tyre the rest of the weekend, testament to what they can take, but also at how warranty plays such a key role in carbon products.


I was done and with my run and a lonesome sulk back at the van behind me it was time to check out the others. Not feeling too talkative I wandered up to watch the final bit of the track, where you could see the amazing 43 Elite riders come through, making the final double look so ridiculously easy. Donny came through, then Al Stock and it was all over. Donny had only managed 6th, a full 9 seconds down on Scottish ex-World Cup DH rider, Ben Cathro. This guy had blitzed it, 7 seconds ahead of 2nd placed Al Stock and Shrewsbury monner John Owen coming in a remarkable 3rd, Donny had had a few troubles up the top and had a face of thunder, he wasn’t used to being outside the top three and knew he had it all to make up the following day

Al Stock, rippin to a 2nd place for Twelve50 Bikes
Al Stock, rippin to a 2nd place for Twelve50 Bikes

Seeding over, bike washed, sorted and prepped and we hit the digs for a sort out, then out into Dumfries to check out the local erm talent, not!! Back at the digs and Titley got the Go-Pro out to check out the stages footage, this is something I have never done before, but what a difference it makes, some parts of stages the following day were remembered purely down to watching that footage, a top idea from Titley, still buzzing from his big seeding win.


Up early in the morning, belly full of coffee and porridge and we were soon back at the venue, being interviewed each separately by Steve Parr as we left the arena, this is a leaf out of the EWS book and a good call, although a louder sound system would have helped. It was quite a tough day in the saddle with STRAVA giving it 38k, 3hrs moving time just over 1000 meters climbed and 2000 odd calories burned for me apparently. I was starting to feel the effects of three days of nailing energy bars, electrolyte and protein drinks, with my belly feeling like something was alive in it! I went for some big tactics on the ride hoping it would help claw back some time after the puncture. Stage 1 full face and goggles, stage 2 half face, no goggles, shock bolt on short travel and climb switch on. Stage 3 full face, goggles, short travel CS off then full beans DH mode for the remainder. I thought I was being quite clever with all my strategies, till I came down at the end of the day after riding too cautiously to a 9th position, oh well, that’s racing, it was still an ace day and great weekend.

I must also mention the big respect that should go to Paul Bolton, this unknown rider is normally found on a motorbike on the World Extreme Enduro circuit, but is also pretty handy on the pedals, taking 3rd in the Masters on a clunker of a bike! Paul is without sponsors so give him a shout if you want to support him!

Chris Keeble-Smith bringing one of the Marin's into a respectable 11th spot in Elite
Chris Keeble-Smith bringing one of the Marin’s into a respectable 11th spot in Elite

Category winners were Claire Bennet (Women), Leigh Johnson (Juniors), Rob Newman (Seniors), Andrew Titley (Masters), Tim Ponting (Veterans), Howard Stuttard (Grand Vets), Helen Gaskell (Elite Women), Ben Cathroo (Elite Males). Neil Donoghue very respectably managed to claw back to 3rd place, 9 seconds down from the remarkable Ben and Al Stock put some blinding runs down to take him to 2nd Elite male.

Elite Podium, some fast boys here
Elite Podium, some fast boys here

For Full results check here

For a fantastic video by Will Sanders check here

Apart from being a tad disappointed with my own result it was an awesome weekend, the tracks had the perfect amount of variation, the whole thing that is UKGE seems so big and substantial now, definitely the UK’s no.1 series, so well run with fantastic timing, marshals and staff. The weather was great, the countryside was fantastic, the whole thing that is UK Enduro racing just seems to be growing stronger and bigger by the week and long may it continue


Big thanks to Steve Parr, Chris Roberts and their staff for the event, Andrew Titley for getting my head out of my arse Saturday morning, Doc for the mint pictures and all the riders for making it such a fun social weekend

Words: Jim Buchanan

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