MY FIRST EN­DURO

To beat the win­ter monotony and keep the two wheel dream alive, Dan­ger­ous grew a pair and signed up for a three-hour en­duro.

Fast Bikes - - FEATURE -

So there I was, in a field, freez­ing my plums off on the pe­riph­ery of an ice-rid­dled en­duro cir­cuit with lit­tle grasp of which way it went or how on earth I was go­ing to bluff my way around it over the next three hours. It’s funny how a flip­pant re­mark can land you well out of your depth, which had been the trig­ger for me lin­ing up with a mul­ti­tude of hard­core off-road­ers for the fi­nal round of the Lin­colnshire En­duro Club (LEC) cham­pi­onship.

I was clue­less, ner­vous and about as pre­pared for the task in hand as a car­rot is for ham­mer­ing in nails. “Get in a rhythm. Don’t push too hard too soon. And don’t go crash­ing every five min­utes be­cause you’ll be blow­ing out your arse be­fore you know it,” came my younger brother Brod’s words of wis­dom be­fore he too­tled off to the head of our 74-bike strong grid, that’d be brought to life by a Le Mans style start. But while my or­gan­ised, ea­ger and anx­iously an­tic­i­pat­ing sib­ling watched des­per­ately for the drop­ping of a flag that would see this tor­tur­ous episode brought to life, I was still de­lib­er­at­ing what I was go­ing to have for tea that night, and whether or not I could squeeze my fat fin­gers into the kid­die-sized gloves I mis­tak­enly purchased the day be­fore.

As it hap­pened, curry would prove the an­swer to the first of those ques­tions, and yes, my fin­gers could be con­torted suf­fi­ciently into the shape of a five-year-old’s, but not in time for the start of the race, which saw every man and his dog van­ish into the dis­tance while I stum­bled my way over to my bike and thumbed the starter. At least the KTM proved to be on the ball, bark­ing into life with no hes­i­ta­tion and pow­er­ing me into the first cor­ner melee that saw fallen rid­ers and dropped bikes ev­ery­where. What a bloody bonus that was!

Without try­ing I’d picked up a hand­ful of places, and that stroke of luck con­tin­ued as the icy ground oblig­ingly caught rid­ers out time and again, while I too­tled by like Miss Daisy on tick-over.

As bap­tisms go, the in­au­gu­ral few cor­ners proved pretty damn in­tense, made worse by the fact I had to work out which way the track went while pre­tend­ing I knew how to ride a dirt bike. Which I didn’t. Well, not re­ally. Which meant that be­fore I knew it the fallen masses I’d nav­i­gated around at the start of the race were soon right up my chuff, shout­ing de­mands and threat­en­ing to barge past if I didn’t move aside like a good boy. Balls to that! I just dug a lit­tle deeper and gripped the bike’s ’bars that bit tighter, as the 250’s four-stroke mo­tor pow­ered me up hill and down dale on some roller­coaster-like jour­ney of mud, grass and scary mo­ments. The pace was ever chang­ing, and so too was the ter­rain, with the odd jump in­ter­spers­ing sec­tions of frozen mud or over­grown green­ery.

Every sec­tion felt like a roll of the dice, and I made the wrong move time and again, en­cour­ag­ing far too many near high­sides, low­sides and ev­ery­thing else in be­tween. It wasn’t as if I was even go­ing fast, un­like my brother who’d taken the holeshot and was lead­ing the race with grace and style. Me on the other hand, well, I’m just glad my par­ents weren’t there to wit­ness my per­for­mance, and the same goes for my mis­sus, who I’m sure would’ve left me and taken the dog and the finest China in the process.

FEAR IS FUN

I wouldn’t have blamed her. That first lap felt like sheer sur­vival, and de­spite it be­ing a chilly –1ºC, I was sweat­ing like a traf­ficker at border con­trol and gasp­ing for oxy­gen like a fish out of wa­ter. How on earth could any­one do three hours of this malarkey?

It had to be a drug fu­elled thing, surely? Some­thing that gave you su­per­hu­man fit­ness, no sense of pain and a numb­ness to fear. What­ever it was, I wanted some be­cause at just seven min­utes in my brain felt ex­hausted; con­stantly half trans­fixed on where the next orange track mark­ers would guide me, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously try­ing to process what line to take, how much throt­tle to ap­ply and when was the right time to get on the an­chors. Gear changes were cru­cial, and mov­ing my body around meant the dif­fer­ence be­tween find­ing trac­tion and not, as I was learn­ing with every sec­ond in the sad­dle. My arms were pumped solid, my legs burn­ing from the strain, but come mid­way on that sec­ond lap my head be­gan per­versely en­joy­ing this pun­ish­ment. I was on a bike, rac­ing with nut­ters and break­ing the te­dium of win­ter that’d oth­er­wise see me col­lect­ing leaves or per­form­ing some such­like mun­dane chore at home. Yeah, it was bloody hard work, but it was also a lot of fun.

Like a switch, my thoughts be­gan to change; I cared more about who was in front and how I was go­ing to pass them. Be­cause ev­ery­one sud­denly seemed pass­able… or at least that’s what I was telling my­self.

With time, things were get­ting eas­ier, and my con­fi­dence with the KTM was grow­ing. The course was a tech­ni­cal one, made all the more chal­leng­ing by a blind­ingly low sun that meant you had lit­tle idea of what lay be­fore you as the track de­manded you hit a fourth gear up­hill jump with no vis­i­bil­ity of who or what lay ahead. I liked that. It was all down to chance and the edgi­ness of it all was weirdly ap­peal­ing.

Un­like on a road race cir­cuit, the lines on tap were count­less. There were no right or wrong paths, but I nat­u­rally favoured cer­tain routes and even cer­tain ar­eas of the track. The slow and tech­ni­cal stuff was right up my street, and where the track utilised the sup­ple­ment­ing Thoresway mo­tocross course also worked to my favour. It was a track I’d ridden a few times be­fore and I knew how hard I could push at key points. But then there were some dodgy bits, like the climb up one hill that would see you jump off a 6ft ramp onto an­other part of the track.

You’d need to ride it to fully grasp why it had me on ten­ter­hooks, but I bricked it every sin­gle time I tack­led that sec­tion, as when you landed the bike had lost its mo­men­tum and the new part of the route was im­me­di­ately steep up­hill. An­other zone saw a tight left turn onto a grassy and grip-less as­cent that de­manded you kept mo­men­tum, or it’d leave you spin­ning the back wheel and go­ing nowhere. But the worst of all ar­eas were the steep down­hill sec­tions, which were plen­ti­ful and ter­ri­fy­ing. I don’t use a rear brake, and how­ever many times I tried to force my­self to do so, I’d still just plum­met un­con­trol­lably to the bot­tom of a de­scent hop­ing that my en­gine brak­ing and dabs of front brake would slow me suf­fi­ciently for the await­ing ob­sta­cles at the bot­tom of such sec­tions. Ba­si­cally, I was wing­ing it the whole damn thing to the ex­tent that it’s eas­ier to think of the times I was in con­trol as op­posed to the other way round, but I was lov­ing it all the same.

HAM­MER TIME

At the be­gin­ning of each lap you had to ride at walk­ing pace through a gated tim­ing zone, where transpon­ders would pick you up and chalk an­other sur­vived lap in your name. There was also a vis­i­ble clock on show, and it was a huge re­lief to see I’d ridden for an hour and was ac­tu­ally feel­ing the most chilled and strong that I had all race.

I had my Kr­iega Hy­dro-3 Back­pack with me, and reg­u­lar slurps of wa­ter kept me go­ing like a good’un. So much so that I re­luc­tantly pulled in at an hour and a half to re­fuel and re­hy­drate. Sod’s law, Brod rocked up at ex­actly the same time, and as he was the one who was ac­tu­ally lead­ing the race I felt obliged to let him fuel up first while I kicked my feet and watched the rac­ers I’d been pass­ing sneak back past me. I knew I was never go­ing to match the pace of my brother, or loads of the other folk out there, but I’d gone from be­ing some dawdling nob­ber to a rider with a bit of po­ten­tial.

Fu­elled and fired for the sec­ond half of the as­sault, I was out to make a point and felt at home with the bike and the track. I still hadn’t crashed once by this point and that was the way I planned to keep it. There was one mate who I knew from road rac­ing that I was out to beat and by chance I saw him at a dif­fer­ent sec­tion of the track about a minute be­hind me. That then be­came all I cared about, as I ticked off the laps and kept in­creas­ing my ad­van­tage over my pur­suer.

But as the fi­nal hour came into play, I hit a brick wall. Not phys­i­cally, but men­tally. My flow seemed to lessen and it didn’t help that the track was proper mullered by this stage, to the ex­tent that the de­scents fea­tured huge pot­holes and the fast up­hill zones were equally rut­ted and prone to kick­ing your back end out ex­actly when and where you wouldn’t want it to. It was the same for ev­ery­one and I don’t think I was the only one

to be feel­ing it in that last stint. The worst pain of all was in my hands. My skin tight gloves had done a right num­ber on me, blis­ter­ing my palms up like moun­tains. Well, maybe more like mole­hills, but the point was they were sting­ing like a bar-ste­ward and I was still a long way from the che­quered.

Some smarter, more com­mit­ted and gen­er­ally more ca­pa­ble rider would’ve prob­a­bly known how to com­part­men­talise the pain, but I strug­gled to fo­cus on any­thing but it. My back, legs, torso and arms were hold­ing up well, but be­ing in grief every time I pulled the brake, twisted the throt­tle or whipped the clutch in was gru­elling, akin to stab­bing my­self in the hand re­peat­edly. I was self-harm­ing, but there was bug­ger all chance I was quit­ting. That last hour was some­thing g else and the last 15 min­utes had me ques­tion­ing my own san­ity. Pain aside e, I was re­ally en­joy­ing my­self and won­der­ing why I’d not done an en­dur ro sooner dur­ing my 31-years on this planet. No sin­gle lap of the four mile course was bor­ing, and I’d picked up new skills through every inch of the process.

De­spite feel­ing like I’d never be able to open a door han­dle or clap my hands ever again, the race had been im­mense and I was pretty damn re­lieved when I crossed the tim­ing grid for the last time. I was phys­i­cally hang­ing, but men­tally it felt like I’d just pulled off a huge feat, along the same lines as beat­ing Fa­gan in a pie eat­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

It’d been awe­some fun, great for my fit­ness and a cheap and dy­namic way to get some se­ri­ous two-wheeled ac­tion in the bag. Bet­ter still, I’d won my class and Brod hadn’t done too shabby ei­ther, fin­ish­ing sec­ond over­all… some 37 places fur­ther up than me. Af­ter a pre­sen­ta­tion, a pow­er­wash and a pint (of Lu­cozade), it was time to hit the road with the ac­co­lade of be­ing an en­duro racer on my CV. Okay, a very slow en­duro racer, but we’ve all got to start some­where.

THANKS TO…

A huge thanks to the Lin­colnshire En­duro Cham­pi­onship or­gan­is­ers, for al­low­ing me to wob­ble around at the fi­nal round. Take a look at http://lin­colnshireen­duro­club.webs.com for 2018’s calendar and club con­tact de­tails.

Yes, Bruce is scared of heights.

‘It’d be bet­ter if you just put your bike back in the van.’ Ready for the off! The traf­fic was a night­mare! Head­ing to the pre-race brief­ing...

Proof that Dan­ger­ous passed at least one rider...

The course had a bit of ev­ery­thing in its mix.

Brod showed his big brother how it’s done! A bro­ken man... but at least he made it.

‘I sur­ren­der.’

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