July 8, 2013
Having never attempted a DH race, and almost no experience of XC racing, I had no preconception of what the Mondraker Gravity Enduro, held on Exmoor this last weekend, would be like. Who rides this hybrid race format?
Saturday had the feel of a DH day with practice runs, how many depended on your legs as you are pedalling up each time, and then timed runs on two courses. Sunday felt more familiar, being a 30k XC route with three timed descent stages, two of which were new over Saturday’s.
Well, it attracted an interesting mix: A corps of regular DH racers, while the bulk were the usual weekend trail riders, of which I’m one. Most pleasing was the range of abilities, cross section of ages and gender, all enjoying the event. Bikes varied from 4X hardtails to 6in AM bikes (perfect for this event in my opinion) and everything in between, but no DH rigs given the amount of pedalling involved. And that’s the weird thing: the regular DHers, when they prised themselves away from the event field to push up the climbs, put down insanely fast runs, before returning to their blow-up sofas to complain about all the pedalling. The have-a-go riders puffed up the hills and descended, half terrified, but smiling and thankful to be in one piece. The fitter trail riders got the best of it, not struggling climbing the hills and discovering the buzz of pushing themselves to race velocity on the descents. And it’s this group for whom Gravity Enduro really works.
So what was the riding like? Climbs were well thought out and relaxed given you were not timed and could spin gently or rest. Descents were fast, rocky, loose, rutted, chaotic and dusty. Having set off a little early, we added a couple of cheeky extra climbs and descents plus stops for cream teas (this is how we roll in the West Country) and made the final timed stage with plenty of time before course closure. Descent times varied from two to six minutes, with short re-ascents or flats where you blow-up pedalling, before diving into a steeper section. Stage 1 was everyone’s favourite: pedal like crazy for 30 seconds until in top gear before barrelling into a chaos of rocks, corners, gullies and roots, trying not to lose speed for the remaining two to three minutes. A trail you’d normally roll thoughtfully became monstrous at race velocity. Spat out the bottom it was just three minutes ride back to the event field to gabble with strangers about line choices and all mistakes you’d made, or unfortunate mechanicals, that cost you seconds.
A big shout-out to everyone organising and managing the event. My £50 went a long way, including access negotiation, track digging, route marking and taping, cheery timing marshals, pickup truck ambulances for the casualties, water bowsers on the hill, beer marquee, a very decent band, food bus, bike and clothing retailers, mechanics, camping field, toilets etc. Especially thanks to The National Trust, one of the main sponsors, who seem to have realised that mountain biking on Exmoor is a good thing.