The dust – and there was plenty of that – has settled on another edition of The Ex Enduro: an action packed three days of racing
Renowned for a mix of superb but challenging riding and hospitality that’s second to none, the fifth instalment returned to the small village of Allerford, nestled amongst the rolling Exmoor hills and a superb location for riding and racing – followed by top notch relaxing.
While the racing action was tight, with some of the best enduro mountain bike battles playing across the entire weekend of 23 timed special stages yet coming down to a few seconds between podium spots, rider skill and fitness sometimes played second fiddle to plain luck, but while the racing is important, it always plays second fiddle to the most important job of having a good time.
The EX Enduro results
1. Moss Macriner, Kustom Bikes
2. Ash Mullane, Orange Bikes / Rockin Bikes
3. James Anderson, Orange Bikes / Fenwicks
1. Anna Cipullo, Singletrack/Cannondale/MucOff
2. Jaime Gray
3. Natasha Litherland
1. Tom Marvin, MBUK
2. Mark Hooper ,The OC
3. Dave Wall
1. Joe Finney, Wideopenmag
2. Ben Warrick
3. Michael Kirkman, MBR Magazine
1. Oliver McKenna, Merida Hunt
2. Rob Berger
3. Paul Mackie, Merida Bikes UK
MBR’s race report
Late at night last weekend and not really knowing what to expect from a three-day enduro in Exmoor, I rocked up somewhere in the dark to a load of tents containing a merry band of bikers sleeping.
I’d have nodded off too, but a torchlit tent throw-up and quick race brief scan rattling my head wasn’t exactly the lavender on my pillow I’m used to. Was there really 2,300m of climbing in one day on the Saturday? And twenty-one timed race stages overall? Sounded bloody serious. Kip hampered by bad thoughts of Merida’s shaven-legged heritage; was all this going to be a bit more ‘Marathon’ than my ‘Enduro’ lungs and hairy limbs were used to?
Morning didn’t immediately resolve it, but the all-inclusive element revealed itself and how this wasn’t exactly your bog-standard MTB event. Queuing for delicious breakfast with a load of mug-toting bikers, the EX is less Benidorm package holiday and more backcountry luxury break. Not long after supping free lattes, pastries and the first of about ten excellent feeds, an open-air group yoga session saw half the field stretching lats, quads and glutes through a series of salutations, dogs and cats. I got involved. Not a bad start to the day before getting uplifted on buses to the stages for a head start on the climbing.
It’s exactly these kinds of things that add an extra dimension to the Merida Ex Enduro. All weekend, attention to detail is fantastic; especially considering it costs not much more than three separate days of enduro racing anywhere else. Eat and drink all you want is totally legit too, and once you add up the beers, coffees and meals devoured after rampantly burning calories every day, the EX actually seems good value; especially when we’re talking endless craft beers of various descriptions and quality ingredients and variety on the food side.
One particular highlight was Friday evening seeing the addition (for the first time) of two (pretty wild) Exposure Lights-sponsored night stages. These were on top of six stages already completed and raced against the clock totally blind in the dark, followed by a BBQ at a stunning farmhouse somewhere in the woods. The whole evening felt like an event in its own right and somehow European with scary music and dressed-up characters lurking in the woods to scare you on the liaisons, a DJ playing tunes back at the barn, beers flowing, communal eating on long tables (God, how we’ve missed that!) and the whole field totally high on a full day of awesome riding.
Feed stations each day also share this attention to detail and quirkiness. The event’s signature is ‘afternoon tea stops’ where jam and cream scones and endless cups of tea in fine china cups get served up straight out of the back door of the organiser’s cute cottage. On Saturday night we even had a pub quiz and full table service at a marquee dinner, waited on by bow-tied, fancy dress-ed staff. Brilliant.
The whole EX thing obviously wouldn’t work without the riding, but what’s amazing is just how many fantastic trails lurk in this corner of England. We didn’t race a duff trail all weekend and plenty were a match for any of the best trails you’ll ride anywhere else in the UK, mostly in stunning natural woods and countryside dripping with greenery too.
The riding is more aggro-trail biking than full-on enduro, but that meant fun for everyone, and you could really attack all the trails and give blind racing a proper stab without fear of killing yourself. Gradients kept you off the brakes if you dared and tracks were littered with tons of roots and glorious loam. It was super-fast in places too, but without too many nasty surprises or too-steep chutes or drops. Most riders rocked full ‘enduro’ bikes, but I was perfectly happy (minus a couple of sketchy moments on rougher tracks) on a 120mm Evil Following with longer travel fork. Especially happy in fact when dragging that lighter bike uphill all day, every day; even though Saturday’s advertised 2,300m climbing thankfully topped out at just under 2,000m in reality!
With eighty riders in total and really friendly marshals and organisers, the whole weekend felt like a family get-together. Huge days of top riding unfold for you on autopilot and I reckon it’s something you wouldn’t manage alone without the framework in place to follow the route and take the cream of the area’s riding. Rock up with your mates and it’d be great, but on your own there’s a continuous stream of nice folk to chat to and ride around with and Shimano on hand to feed your bike the spanners while you feed yourself; basically all you have to do is sleep, pedal and race.
It’s so laidback, it was actually easy to forget the EX is a race at times and while I took that part seriously, ultimately when things don’t go to plan in that department (do they ever?) who really cares when you’re having this much fun. I’ve helped organise and taken part in countless events over the years and would rate this as one of most quirky and enjoyable events in the UK; it’s that good – big thanks to everyone involved and get yourself involved if you ever get a chance to take part. Entries open next spring apparently…