Getting Started in Enduro
Gary Enman, a 15-year-old hare scrambles racer from Bangor, Pa., admits that he wasn’t sure what to expect when he started enduro racing.
“For the most part, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing when I lined up for my first enduro,” says Gary, who decided to try the national enduros when he was just 13 years old. “My younger brother, Neil, and I were looking for something different. Our dad used to ride traditional time-keeping enduros, so we decided to give enduros a try. It wasn’t that hard to transition into.”
The Enman brothers say their parents are their pit crew, but their dad hopes to ride with them in the future. On occasion, the boys get to ride on the same row, and that adds to the camaraderie-building experience.
“The enduros have a great community vibe,” Neil says. “It’s like being part of a huge family. Someone is always there to help when you need it.”
While racing is the main focus of the weekend, the Enman brothers say they enjoy camping, hanging out with their race friends and checking out the terrain. They also try to experience something local to the race location, whether it’s seeing a national landmark or eating at a local restaurant.
“If you’re someone wondering if you should try enduros, I say just go for it,” Gary says. “It’s nice to go out and race all day, but be able to take breaks and reset your mind. For me, it’s been really fun to ride.”
They date back to the 1920s. Early enduros were road courses. A typical modern enduro is mostly woods. The 75- to 150-mile competitions consist mainly of single-track trail where racers ride from checkpoint to checkpoint, ultimately returning to the start.
Riders leave in small groups of three to five. These groups, also referred to as “rows” or “minutes,” typically start at 10 a.m. and every minute thereafter until everyone has entered the woods. Because of the desire to limit the number of riders in each group and to make sure everyone can finish by a reasonable time, enduros cap the number of groups and riders they can accommodate.
Each rider is individually scored based on when his or her row is scheduled to arrive at each checkpoint. Rows usually include riders competing in different classes, allowing friends to ride together. For example, a single row might include a dad racing the 40B class, his son racing the 200A class, and a friend competing in the Open A class.
Each rider will be assigned a number that reflects the row, or minute, the rider is on. So, riders on row 20 might be given numbers 120, 220, 320 and 420—or perhaps 20A, 20B, 20C and 20D.
There are two broad types of enduros most popular today: traditional time-keeping enduros and start-control/restart enduros.
For decades, traditional time-keeping enduros were the most popular. Many enduro series still operate this way. Traditional enduros often use public roads to route riders to different sections of the course. This requires the rider to have a motorcycle endorsement and a motorcycle registered as a street-legal vehicle.
Riders equip their bikes with a route sheet holder, scorecard holder and odometer. They also need a way to track their time, such as a wristwatch or a enduro computer.
The route sheet lists key turns on the course and the correct time and mileage for arrival. The arrival time is based on a required average pace, typically 24 mph. The scorecard is used as a backup for, or in place of, electronic scoring. It mounts on the front fender. Check workers record each rider’s official arrival time at the checkpoints on the scorecard.
The rider’s goal is to check into and out of each section as close to the assigned minute as possible. Riders who arrive at a checkpoint when they aren’t supposed to are considered “off their minute.” A rider who shows up early is said to have “burned” that check.
The route sheet lists a lot of information. The first row of a route sheet might read: 1R | 1.82 | 10:04:33. This tells the rider that the first turn is right, that the correct mileage at the turn is 1.82, and that the rider should arrive there at 10:04:33. The listed arrival time is calculated from a start time, or “key time,” of 10 a.m. In this case, it means the rider should arrive at the first turn 4 minutes and 33 seconds after starting the enduro.
Regardless of the rider’s row or minute, the wristwatch or computer should be set so that it will tick over to 10 a.m. when the rider starts the enduro. Then, the rider simply compares the time on the watch to the time on the route sheet to know if he or she is early or late. Most clubs also mark the course with arrows and post signs that state when a rider should have arrived at that intersection.
Riders receive penalty points for arriving too early or too late at a checkpoint. One penalty point is assigned for each minute a rider arrives late. Two penalty points are assigned if a rider burns a check by one minute. For each additional minute a rider arrives early, five penalty points are assigned.
Regular checks are scored by the minute. So-called “emergency checks” are scored based on the second, counted from the minute the rider was due to arrive. For example, a rider due on minute 20 who comes in at 21:30 receives a score of 90 seconds for the emergency check, not one point.
Because of penalty for arriving early, traditional enduros aren’t a flat-out race. Although many sections are difficult and only the best riders are at risk of burning them, easy sections and checks in unexpected locations can catch riders who are riding too fast. Many riders prefer traditional enduros becaue they reward experience and mindfulness, as well as speed.
Although traditional time-keeping enduros have a reputation among new enduro riders as tricky or difficult, they are fairly simple. Riders will know whether they are riding in an easy section (where they’re at risk of going faster than the average) or in a difficult section (where they can ride as fast as they can and still not burn the out-check).
Thanks to the enduro format, a new rider likely will be on a row with an experienced enduro rider. Because this rider is most likely in a different class, they’ll almost certainly be willing to help the newcomer.
Start control/restart enduros have grown in popularity. In 2007, the AMA National Enduro Championship Series switched to this format. Simply put, this format doesn’t penalize a rider for arriving early at a check. Riders are checked in and out at points along the course, and all competition takes place in closed-course sections.
Because riders can’t burn a check, they simply ride as fast as they can. Transfer sections route the racers from the end of one timed section to the start of another. If riders arrive early at the start of a section, they just wait to enter until the check workers indicate it’s time for their row to leave, usually with a flip board that displays the current minute.
For most riders, the start-control/restart format is the most accessible, particularly in cases where bikes aren’t required to be street legal. “Even with the computer mounted on my bike, I burn checks because I ride too quickly,” says Zach Klamfoth, a rider who competes in the Appalachian Championship Enduro Series as well as national enduros. “The start-control/restart format takes the thinking out of it.”
The start control format also makes scoring simpler. The nationals use transponders so no manual scoring is required.
“Under the traditional time-keeping format, the series got 200 to 300 riders,” says Alan Randt, who runs the National Enduro Promotions Group, which contracts with the AMA to promote the national series. “Now, we get anywhere from 500 to 600 riders.”
100-Year Success Story
There aren’t many forms of racing in which you can ride alongside your buddies throughout the entire race and chat during breaks. Maybe that’s the draw of enduros. Maybe it’s the challenging tight-woods trail—a reason you should have hand guards mounted on your bike. Maybe it’s the great family atmosphere. Whatever the reason, enduros are alive and well. Well over 100 enduros are held each year throughout America. Find one near you by searching the upcoming events on this website.