With the widespread acceptance of enduro racing, we’ve been hearing some complaints that either marketing departments have fabricated the whole movement, or that it’s somehow not “real.” You know the type, they say things like, “why does it need a name? We’ve been riding this way for years.” Despite such astute observations, these modern day bicycle scholars are missing the point — enduro is a racing discipline. Your weekly trail ride doesn’t count for the same reason that riding laps around your block isn’t a criterium. But even if enduro has been created by marketers to sell more bikes (spoiler alert, it wasn’t), we all owe enduro racing a huge debt of gratitude, because without the E-word, there still wouldn’t be race-bred products that are built for actual mountain biking.
Every brand worth its salt is pushing enduro everything at the moment, and it’s a constant topic of trailhead debate. Sure, enduro-specific socks are laughable, but they’re also irrelevant. What actually matters is the Enduro World Series (EWS). You see, when the UCI turned down former technical delegate Chris Ball’s proposal to include enduro in its calendar, he struck out on his own, working with the promoters of many of the best-known enduro events to create a cohesive series. In organizing the EWS, Ball crystalized what has become the modern era’s most important arena for developing mountain bikes.
In the very recent past, significant advancements in off-road equipment have stemmed primarily from Elite XC racing and World Cup Downhill. There’s an obvious reason for this; with high-profile racing comes R&D budgets and access to world-class athletes. This combination results in rigorous product development. Conversely, non-competitive disciplines have to wait for those developments to trickle down. When they eventually do, it’s usually in the form of reheated leftovers, while racers feast on the gourmet fare.
But in the past year, we’ve seen dozens of products that were developed for enduro racing make their way to the consumer. One of the best examples is the RockShox Pike, which is the first production SRAM fork to feature the sealed Charger damper. Historically, the World Cup DH-driven BoXXer has been graced with RockShox’s most sophisticated damping tech. So given that the trail-oriented Pike was chosen to launch the Charger damper signals a massive shift for SRAM.
Consider the arrival of frames like the Santa Cruz Bronson, the Niner WFO, or the new crop of protective open-face helmets like the Troy Lee A1 and the Bell Super. Since these products were developed with elite enduro racing in mind, they closely reflect the needs of a previously underserved bloc of riders. In other words, while we’ve always been able to buy race-bred production equipment, we no longer have to ride around a circular dirt road, or load up a chairlift to fully appreciate the benefits that such equipment provides.
This accelerated development has been a boon to aggressive riders who log their miles on the trails and outside the confines of a racetrack. In the recent past, a daring few commissioned custom frames, while sourcing hand-made after-market suspension dampers. Instead, most of us have risked our wellbeing by pushing production equipment well beyond the scope of its intended use. We’d been either sacrificing traction, and in turn safety, by running lightweight trail tires or by running dual-ply DH rubber — about as efficient as pedaling a tractor. Enduro-oriented tires makes it possible to climb with relative efficiency, without compromising traction with rock-hard rubber compounds or by succumbing to flats due to unsupportive casings. The sum of these advancements is that it’s now possible to buy lightweight, efficient bikes that won’t flinch when you throw them into hairy terrain that was once reserved exclusively for long-travel gravity machines. This overnight spike in development wouldn’t have been possible without an international competitive outlet that pushes real mountain biking to previously unseen levels.
Contrary to the claims of a handful of internet cyclists, the EWS is a critical step away from marketing-driven product that, until recently, failed to keep up with riders’ needs. Just as World Cup Downhill ushered in a new era of modern geometry, and World Cup XC pioneered astounding weight saving measures, the EWS is redefining the way that we can, and should, be riding our mountain bikes. Whether or not you ever enter an enduro race, the latest generation of long-travel trail sleds is far more capable than those that came before, and you have the Enduro World Series to thank for that.
Photos: Re Wikstrom