Warning – Hard Enduro is exciting!
If there’s a club trial on Sunday then you’ll probably have a good idea of what to expect. Trials offers a reliable, dependable and safe format, albeit adrenaline free. If you prefer to ride in fight or flight mode, then look no further than a hard enduro – the cross over between trials and enduro.
Imagine riding your lap of 10 sections against the clock. Pourquoi? Blame John Lawton. His success at the No Way in Hell (NWIH) event in the North Island prompted a search for similar events on the mainland. The Nutbuster has earned a reputation as a particularly well organised and gnarly enduro event.
Walking the talk were the ever dependable Backstreet Beta Boys – Scotty, Glenn, Rat, JR, the HRH Cripps. Plus guest appearances from 4RT mounted Danny “smoke free” Spencer and event sponsor Clake Delis, perched atop his EC300.
Prior to race day, there was a lot of discussion around which grade we should enter. The higher grades would have more technical deviations that would serve as our main advantage. However, the higher grades would also mean more laps. The biggest unknown was our ability (or inability) to stand on the pegs for 2, 3 or 4 hours. Could it be done? The organisers suggested not. So we opted for the middle ground, 3 laps of expert grade (with pro being the top grade). We weren’t aiming to win but there was the honour of the trials fraternity to uphold.
Trig Road, back of Oxford/Waimak gorge bridge was the venue. The organisers were pleased to have us along and even made provision for a refuelling stop halfway round the 23km loop especially for those silly enough to turn up with a 2.5 litre fuel tank. MNZ Cross Country rules only allow refuelling in designated areas.
Unloading bikes from the van, there were some strange disbelieving looks and quiet chuckles cast upon our unconventional machinery. Assembling for the start we noticed that we were the only people without full face helmets, goggles and body armour. Riders were released in groups of three, fast boys first, rooster tails aplenty. Our turn to go – it’s time to discover what a hard enduro is all about. Follow the orange arrows was all we knew.
The first few kms were predominantly open country. Fast ups, downs and traverses with ruts, rocks and plenty of good old fashioned mud. Blame the bike – trials bike suspension is particularly unsuited to this kind of fast riding. I was going backwards, being passed by numerous riders and chewing on rocky road (aka roost). My strategy was now survival, retaining my eyesight and avoiding being lapped. The first muddy hill climb presented opportunity to claw back a couple of places as some of the seated riders struggled to find traction in the muddy ruts. The advantage of the trials bike here was manoeuvrability – the option to detour on a drier line rather than committing to the more travelled ruts. After more open country, we descended to our first creek section. The creek was well groomed and not too tricky – darnations! The exit however was another matter. I took a wide line over some tree roots to pass three riders stuck in the mud in various states of dismount and frustration. At each technical section I would pick up a place or two, only to relinquish my hard fought field position when the trail opened up again. One Husaberg mounted rider passed me about 4 times on the first lap.
Upon negotiating the first sizeable descent of the day, I noticed a lack of movement at the back brake pedal. I changed down a gear and squeezed the front brake as much as I dare. The front tyre was chocka with mud and starting to lock up. I was gaining speed and the view ahead was not good. I pulled out the slide rule, calculated the likelihood of drinking through a straw and promptly made for the comfort of the next gorse bush. I survived, but not without serious injury to the front mudguard. I removed my camelback and stuffed the orphaned half guard alongside the bladder. Closer inspection of the rear brake revealed that a poorly adjusted rear brake pedal was allowing the pedal plunger to part company with the rear master cylinder. At our halfway refuel stop I caught up with the Pioneer Stunt Team. Luckily the MNZ steward (decent bloke surprisingly enough) happened to drop a 10mm spanner close to my feet. Brake adjusted and I’m back in the hunt. Time to crank it up and visit the hurt box!
Slowly the open sections became shorter and the technical sections longer and harder. I was now passing more people than were passing me. And so it continued. The main creek section took 5-ish minutes to ride through. This was our best passing opportunity. Most riders were kind enough to move over and let us past.
There was a scree slope with a near vertical entry at the top. Once into the scree, gravity was king; the rotation of the wheels made no difference to the rate of decent. This scree slope seemed to go on forever. The whole way I was busily scanning for escape routes and preparing for unscheduled dismount. I reached the bottom intact, relieved and buzzing – it was good to be alive!
At the end of the first lap I caught up with the rest of the boys taking a leisurely pit stop for fuel and food. No such joy for team McBeale, splash and dash. Sometime later Glenn caught me up and we rode together for a while until Glenn also took with chronic grimacing (arm pump). Not long after I experienced my first ever bout of arm pump. I was trying to ride too hard and fast up a long steady climb, tugging on the bars to lift the front wheels over the bumps. My forearms turned to granite and I lost all ability to control my grip on the bars. When I finished screaming, I backed off, stood upright, leaned forward and let my hands go loose on the grips. Scary Maclary! The mission had now changed – survive and avoid arm pump at all costs.
On my final lap, I entered the scree slope as slow as possible. If there was anywhere to throw it away then it would be here. I impressed myself with my controlled descent. About half way down I heard the familiar sound of a two stroke expansion pipe approaching. There was only one line and there wasn’t much I could do. There was no way I was going to speed up. If the guy behind was going too fast then that was his problem, he’d have to ride into me or throw it away. As I prepared for the possibility of being shunted, an EC300 gasser rode up and around me, cool as you like, 110% control. It was amazing to watch. I couldn’t believe it. Turns out that it was eventual 2nd place pro, Mitchell Neild (who had another race the next day in the north island).
Another highlight was being passed by the eventual winner, 45 year old Sean Clarke, just prior to a creek section. I expected to catch him up in the creek, but no, he was gone. It was indeed a pleasure to have ridden alongside such talent. A number of the riders in attendance had ridden this year’s Romaniacs.
The course in general was spectacular, big but rideable – a 23km roller coaster ride. The amount of effort that went into preparing the course would have been immense.
As promised, our nuts were well and truly busted. I had a couple of emergency exits. HRH, Scotty and Rat also had unscheduled parking issues. This event was hard on the body and even harder on the bike. After my first lap I was unsure about the wisdom to complete of another lap, possibly two. On the first lap there were complaints of busted bodies, cooked brakes and boiling coolant. Personally, I don’t mind the physical punishment – endurance is one of my few talents. Asking my machinery to sustain further punishment was another matter. Let’s find out what the Beta is made of….. you’ll hear a lot of people making big claims about their favourite brand of trials weaponry – good luck to them. Five Betas started the day, three of those Evos rode hard out for 3+ hours without issue – do I need to say more?
Well done to everyone that found the courage to turn up. The first lap was definitely the hardest. A few of the boys were satisfied with one lap and made the wise decision to conserve their bodies and machinery – let’s just say that HRH gave his stents a good workout; JR might cut back on the beer and Rat might get his knee looked at.
There was a prize giving dinner (predominantly liquid) at the Pegasus Arms. Finishers’ trophies were to be given out to everyone that completed a lap or more. I volunteered to go along to pick up the hard earned finishers’ nuts. Imagine the surprise when I turned up and saw the results – Beta boys 2nd, 3rd and 4th in expert vets. We were beaten by Mark Newton, who had recently returned from riding in Romanics. All trials riders came in for special praise at prize giving. There was a general sense of disbelief at our achievement. Many of the enduro riders said that it was great to see us out there having a go.
Hard Enduro is the most exciting thing to happen in motorcycle sport for many years. Expect to see more manufacturers making cross over bikes like the Scorpa T-ride, Ossa Explorer and KTM Freeride. None of these bikes have the right formula yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
Event results can be found on the silver bullet website.