When Google Maps loads up a 14-hour cross-country road trip from North Texas to Colorado, 205 miles of that trip is a small blip of the journey. When an enduro course map has 205 miles of transfers and tests looped through the Rocky Mountains over two days, you know you’re signed up for something serious. That’s what racers faced as they worked their way to South Fork, Colorado for the 2021 Shady Burro Enduro. Every racer had a different route to gather at the race site, but once on course, their challenges were the same: keep the bike and body together for the grueling mileage so they could stand tall as a finisher of The Shady Burro Enduro.
The idea of not finishing an enduro these days doesn’t seem very commonplace. The evolution of the National Enduro Series within the new “National” format has created a fast-paced, technically-lacking, low-mileage event that doesn’t have the Ironman feel of events past. That’s why I believe we have seen the growth of Hard Enduro events in the States; racers are looking for a challenge of skill, not just a desire to ride as fast as possible through the woods. That desire to be challenged, to not know if I would see the finish line, along with a bit of soul searching, is what brought me in an unfinished moto van to the starting line of a two-day race located 14 hours from the comfort of my home trails.
Beginning the Race
Day One of the event was set at 115 miles with some lengthy transfer sections. The ability to start in town, with the support of the local community, is an important variable in the equation. This may bring slower speeds and a conscious effort of control most racers don’t desire, but it shows a level of support for our sport that is much needed at the moment. It was tough to ride 15 miles an hour while on pavement, but it gave me the time to appreciate the views and surrounding landscape.
Once past the smooth roads and bumpy double track, we entered our first test of the event. In the world of Enduro racing, there are many race formats, some that only your Dad and an ICO Racing computer could explain. The Burro utilizes a Reliability Enduro format, it’s an iteration on the ISDE Qualifier format so they can add some mental spice to the days on the bike. The word reliability, though, should be the key. It’s “designed to measure the reliability of the machine and the skill of the rider involved during the time of the event.”
The birth of an event like the Erzberg Rodeo back in 1995 probably had the same intent from the definition you just read; “Can I get myself and my machine up, over and through this grueling event?” As we’ve seen Erzberg evolve throughout the years, it’s grown with the capabilities of the riders, and that’s where the true evolution of Hard Enduro has happened. More enduro enthusiasts are riding trials bikes for the technical prowess, gaining a skill set that wasn’t needed or prevalent in the earlier days of traditional Enduro riding.
What I loved about dropping into each test section of The Shady Burro Enduro was the balance of skill needed for the terrain. If you’re used to high speed single track, the rocks may throw you off your rhythm. If you’re more of a slow technical rider, you may save energy in the rocks, but you may not be that quick. You need to be aggressive to attack the rocky terrain, but have a bike control skill set that allows you to work with your machine to carry speed and momentum. The second you ride beyond your skill set, the rocks can put you on the ground. If you’re being cautious and lacking momentum, the same can happen, just with a more graceful tip over (we all know the feeling of reaching for the ground and it surprisingly not being there).
I knew I needed to find a delicate balance for the long weekend, leaning a bit more toward the cautious side. I wanted to finish the race, so that meant I needed to keep myself and the bike from hitting the ground. I also wanted to push myself, so that meant focusing on the trail ahead. Being a Louisiana native and current Texas transplant, I don’t have years of riding in rocks to fall back on, nor do I get to practice them on a regular basis. This added to the challenge for me, but it was a welcomed one. I hit the ground way more often than I wanted to, but I kept my spirits high by reminding myself I was here for the fun and that just riding a dirt bike in the Rocky Mountains is a win in and of itself.
When Adversity Strikes
I did have two major mishaps that could have ended my weekend with a long wait for a chance to return back to the campground. The first of the weekend happened in Test 4. We started the test in a boulder field that weaved its way through a mixture of loose, rocky soil and large, porous boulders. Having a full blown “Brian Moment”, I blipped the throttle in the fourth turn of the section, the front tire washed out on the loose soil and I headed straight toward one of the boulders. I hit it pretty much head-on, but with a slight bias to the right side. My trajectory, and great placement of rocky outcroppings, smashed my throttle (due to the lack of bark busters), causing it to stick and to displace my front brake lever. I attempted to loosen the throttle with some brute force, but those attempts bore little movement. It was at that moment I knew I needed to slow down and address the problem. What’s wrong, how bad is it and how do I fix it?
This is where the true nature of a long two-day enduro comes into play. This event isn’t only about going as fast as possible. It’s about maintaining a level of effort that doesn’t compromise the rider or the machine. Though my incident was a minor one, I stopped focusing for a millisecond, and my Sherco was heading straight toward a boulder. These mishaps can injure the rider, or cause a bike issue that needs immediate attention. You, as a rider, need to have the mechanical aptitude to assess a problem when it arises and figure out how to fix the issue so you don’t have to wait all day on the paddy wagon. Though these situations can certainly arise in today’s offroad competitive environment, it feels more commonplace to have quick mechanical access. There are also safety concerns that need to be addressed, which I’m sure the internet will have a lot to say about.
The second mishap I had to face on the trail happened in the last test of the day, which I was riding slower than any other because I was stinking pooped. We had just joined back onto a trail we rode earlier in the day and BANG, the front wheel hit something, the bike started jolting while making the loudest metal on metal noise, over and over again. I stopped to assess the situation and I was dumbfounded to see a brake pad sitting on the ground. Upon further inspection of the brake caliper, I noticed the brake pad pin was hanging outside the caliper and aggressively bent. I’ll admit, at this moment in time, I didn’t have the mental capacity to truly assess this situation. All 175+ miles, at this point, were wearing heavily on any chance I had to quickly evaluate and address the problem.
I took a moment. I put my head in my hands, I had a slight body shiver and then I got the f^ck over it. I picked my head up, told the approaching rider I might need help getting out, and started figuring out how to get my ass out of the woods. Luckily, I had put a socket wrench, and the required allen sockets, in my butt pack. I used this socket wrench as a hammer to bang the pin as straight as I could get it without smashing my fingers too many times. From there, I was able to start the pin in the caliper, though it was still bent. Going just deep enough into the caliper to hold one pad, I leveraged the socket wrench and a screwdriver to bang the pin through the second pad and through the caliper. The end was so smashed, and still bent, that the pin wedged itself into the caliper, giving me some confidence to ride with a front brake. This is Enduro.
I finished the last test. I finished the 2021 Shady Burro Enduro. The miles I rode after that moment were some of the best of the entire trip. Those miles were earned. They felt different because without choosing to address the problem, without choosing to pick my head up, I would have given in to the situation. I would have ridden the bike out to the nearest road, and chosen to take the easy way back. No front brake and no sense of accomplishment. I’m thankful I didn’t do that.
Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Dirt bikes aren’t just a vehicle to get from point A to point B. They’re a means of transportation that can remove us from reality. They have the ability to take us on journeys that challenge the body, stimulate the mind, and move the soul. I learned that I need to challenge myself more. I need to seek out more trails and more races that put me in uncomfortable situations. These circumstances may be tough at the moment, and I may put my head in my hands for a few seconds, but I’ll continuously be a different person every time I lift my head back up and decide to ride forward.
The sport of Enduro will continue to evolve. The National Enduro Series will continue to get brutally fast, and the American Hard Enduro Series will continue to create bottlenecks while challenging racers to find their sense of accomplishment. I think what I am looking for these days lies somewhere in the middle. That delicate balance of long days on the bike, challenging terrain and riding buddies who celebrate the attempts as much as they do the wins.
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Wow, that was a great piece
I agree. I'm pretty new to the hard enduro scene, but yeah, it does seem that most race promoters are in competition with one another to see who can create the slowest course with the least amount of finishers. Yeah, it's a 3-4hr race but not getting out of 2nd and 3rd gear all day and only traveling 17 miles feels more like survival than racing. That's my two cents but I'm new and fresh outta talent.