The EX Enduro is a special kind of event - incredible stages, stunning views, unusual feed stations and a fun, welcoming atmosphere
What makes an event so good you want to return to it again and again? Well, the EX Enduro seems to have it as regular MBR contributor Mick Kirkman couldn’t resist the pull. Based in the South West of the UK, the EX refers to Exmoor, the national park in which most of the EX Enduro takes place, and the event boasts plenty of what you want from a mountain bike event, and a whole lot more besides.
The Merida EX Enduro is a three-day enduro race held every September in a lovely corner of England on the Devon/Somerset border. More than this though, it’s a group of like-minded mountain bikers (with what looks to me like at least a 50% repeat customer rate) coming together for a weekend of laidback riding, eating and drinking at what I reckon is one of the best mountain bike events in the UK.
25 incredible tracks
How come it’s so bleeding good then? Well, like most other enduros there are timed special stages, but at the EX that means a whopping 25 different tracks raced over the weekend, so there’s not exactly a shortage of amazing trails to go at. These aren’t your regular armoured trail centre fodder or worn out, braking bump littered enduro tracks either; linked by stunning liaison climbs, the stages at the EX are more like being gifted the secret stuff you’d only be privileged to find and ride if personally guided by a local who’d handcut the finest wild trails themselves.
And it feels like that because that’s essentially what the EX offers. The event has involved local trailbuilders from the off, and the team of super-friendly marshals that guide you, time you and point you about the place (and even scream ‘duck!’ repeatedly 100 times over for every rider next to big branches lurking in the dark on the night ride stages) includes many local riders and diggers. So the folk involved in the event either built the trails you race in the first place or freshened up the loamy, rooty, twisty woodland delights for you before the race rolled through town.
Amongst the many ‘wild’ trials (there’s apparently a great dialogue and relationship with the National Trust in this area whose land a lot of the trails lie on) there’s a common theme of cutting and threading down slopes inside beautiful mature woodland. And this very natural feel to the trees, rather than any straight planted mono-culture, plantation-style, woodland adds so much to the event, and means you’re bang in touch with nature and often brushing past oak, beech and ash rather than squeezing through larch in this part of the world.
And, in between snaffling blackberries of hedgerow to top up energy reserves for the big miles and elevations pedalled each day to take in so many cool stages, you’ll struggle to find prettier and more established continuous patches of ancient woodland in many other parts of the UK with this much riding potential.
So, the scenery and terrain are stunning, the tracks fantastic plus there’s tons of elevation to go at too with the highest point racing starts at, Dunkery Beacon, a whopping 519m above sea level. Here there’s also a different natural feel with more rocks and even more rocks compared to the pine needles and leaf litter lower down.
Loving those laid-back vibes
On top of all this, because the EX seems to attract a particular type of competitor, you cruise around by the seaside on stunning (albeit knackering) liaisons through this pastoral England chatting and connecting with other competitors seemingly sharing the same idea of what biking in the countryside is about. Basically, whether it’s because of the way this event pitches itself, or simply the big miles you need to pedal, you don’t get too many rowdy, dh-shredders looking to rag the trails.
This also seeps into the overall atmosphere at the event and is in large part due to the general laidback, fun-maximising vibe the organisers manage to instil through everything from the safety briefings, extra-curricular activities, dining and drinking to make it so good. It’s clear you’re trusted to respect the local area and the people that look after and develop it and this attitude of trust from fellow bikers keeps everyone more wholesome and respectful than any list of rules and regulations as long as your arm ever will.
The dib-in/dib-out SPORTident timing also adds an element to the racing where you get to personally interact with a friendly human marshal at the top and bottom of each stage who might have even built the very track you’re racing for all you know. It’s a big part of the fun seeing how close you can screech to a halt to the finish and dib that dibber into the waiting marshals timing box.
Cream tea, anyone?
It’s the extra-curricular activities mentioned, like the Friday night ride/race element supported by Exposure lights that really take the EX to another level though. Who doesn’t want to race three stages in the dark and then arrive at a stunning farmhouse barn to free craft beers and a BBQ dinner with an accompanying DJ playing roots reggae classics and a massive spread of delicious salads.
To me, it’s a perfect end to the day and more like something that belongs in Tuscany or somewhere abroad on an expensive product launch where a brand is trying to impress journalists, rather than the finish of a UK enduro. And after people’s kids kicking around with daft hats on, logs blazing in the courtyard and beers flowing, it’s bookended with a roll back down singletrack in the dark to the event base and camping.
On top of this BBQ, there’s also a fancy dress dinner with a MTB ‘pub quiz’ thrown in, a special ‘Vominator’ climb (untimed) where the organisers attempt to get competitors to throw up the excess of cream teas they’ve been served at a cutesy cottage on the outskirt of Minehead for lunch. And cups of tea in fine china, clotted cream scones and fancy sandwiches aren’t exactly my typical bog-standard enduro feed station fare.
Some riders ride e-bikes, most riders ride analogue, some take the racing seriously, some ride to survive the distance, but all have fun by just soaking it all up, rolling along, enjoying the massive days of riding and the general good vibes. The EX Enduro essentially takes you right out of your usual world and gets you doing what you love in the company of others of the same mindset, whilst being royally looked after by a crew of organisers on exactly the right wavelength of any sensible, singletrack-seeking mountain biker.
It’s an event that’s actually good value for money for all it offers and incredibly welcoming and inclusive t the extent it would be perfectly fine to rock up on your own or with mates. Thank You EX Enduro for my second instalment; that was another mega weekend and I think I’m now hooked and one of the faithful. If you’ve never done this event or even a multi-day enduro, you seriously need to get involved, it’s awesome.
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