Northern Downhill: Hamsterley Forest Enduro

Enduro racing is often dubbed as the purest form of mountain bike racing. Some people class it as going for a regular mountain bike ride, to others it’s a serious form of racing and even a rival to downhill racing.

This weekend was my first go at an enduro ride and what an experience it was.

The venue: Hamsterly forest.

The organisers: Northern Downhill.

So, I took some time out from racing last year to focus on my skills on the bike, fitness and speed. Fast forward about 6 months, and feeling better on the bike, I decided to enter my first enduro race. Something I was excited and nervous about.

Practicing for the race consisted of technical runs in Wharncliffe (Sheffield), fitness based runs out in the Peak District, local rides etc.

Feeling “ready as I’ll ever be” I set off in the van and headed to the event.

The location was Hamsterley forest, a location famous for mountain biking and already having an awesome reputation.

We arrive nice and early and take the queue for registration. The nerves immediately settle in, feeling like I am about to let myself into the unknown. How will I hold up? Will I be embarrassed? Will I ride well?… You name it.

I was riding with two high level down hill racers, who will play a big part of this write up later. Being experienced they were calm and chilled.

So we register, get the bikes set up, kit up and off we go.

Immediately the nerves settle and excitement to ride kicks in. We make it to the top, not a massive climb and easy to be honest. All on fire roads.

At the top its chill out, wait and then when your ready head down for a practice run. A nice steady pace to get dialled in, stay off the pedals so you don’t tire yourself out for the main run and learn the trial.

The first stage, K LINE was an absolute blast, think a bigger, steeper version of the Blue Steel trail at Lady Cannings for those who have seen Kieran’s Ride-up, or ridden in Sheffield. A power stage where I knew I would be strong as long as I kept my flow.

The second, Transmission was an epic, rocky and gravelly with a few jumps and drops. Still with flow. That then crosses over a fire road into a wood, with more narrow single track berms and table tops. Such a fun run.

Stage 3 was up and down with flow and jumps that ended at the bottom of the forest with an epic rock drop into berms.

The three stages here were flowy, fast and so much fun to ride.

Onto stage four, A ride over to Danny Harts downhill park, another road/fire road climb that was a bit loose and wet. Into the hardest stage of the course. A rooty, pedally downhill section with steep roll ins, lots of line choice, roots and berms. This was the slowest section of the course for me and a section where the downhill guys really came into their own. I knew this would be my weakest stage of the race.

So practice over.

We head straight to the start line of K LINE. With No serious nerves as the event was incredibly chilled out. We said we would start at five to one, but this didn’t matter as the queue was huge. Marshals were incredibly chilled out and allowed people to ride together, wait for mates at the start and finish and just ran with a casual but professional attitude.

It didn’t feel like racing, think of it like a queue for a ride. No pressure, no one taking themselves too seriously. Just a great atmosphere.

At this point, before I start talking about myself. I would love to praise the everyone who was a part in running the event. Marshalls, first aid, organisers. The event was run absolutely fantastically; making people feel incredibly welcome, as did other riders.

Lads and dads.

Families.

Mates.

Just people out to ride for a good time on their bikes. Perfect.

So, the bit no one wants to hear!!!

How did I get on? Was taking time out worth it?

Stage one was my strongest stage. Dropping in with confidence, hammering the pedals and flying through the stage, I was on for a rapid time. Then… the chain comes off. I roll to a stop and have to sort out the chain before jumping back on. Stage one ruined we get back on the pedals and head to stage two.

Stage two was good, on the pedals, finding the flow and hitting it at 90% to make sure I don’t have any offs or mistakes that cost me more time. I’m now in full on enduro mode. Focusing on getting the consistency in just in case other riders have issues to make up the places.

We get down stages 2-3 fine, no issues and love the ride.

Onto the last climb to stage four, clean the climb and get to the top. The hardest stage, we go, hit the jump and on the pedals, through the roots, down the steep rooty section and on it, onto the tight switch backs. Take the wrong line and I’m over the bars. More time wasted from pushing it.

Get back on and to my disappointment I crashed two corners before the end of the trial.

Gutted, but not down.

The first thing I said to my mate I waited for at the bottom: “the most fun I have had on a mountain bike in a long time”.

So looking at my stage times, and my overall race time. Finishing in not last, not even 2nd to last with one mechanical costing me time and one crash. I was happy to realise that I was on a top 20 pace if I didn’t have those issues.

Confidence boosting on its own.

Regardless of the result this event for my first ever enduro was absolutely phenomenal. I would hugely recommend an NDH event for anyone wanting to dip their does in this style of racing, for the chilled vibes, the professional layout and running of the event and the thrill of riding trials with mates, other people and complete strangers who love the sport alike.

Hamsterley forest as a venue is an awesome trial centre, NDH ran the even beautifully.

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