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The Dirt Dispatch: Is enduro the next big thing or a flash in the pan?

Enduro racing is the hot new discipline in mountain bike racing, but does it have staying power?

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In case you’ve been off the grid at a sweat lodge on the Mexican border, enduro mountain bike racing has arrived. On one hand, the excitement is palpable. On the other, it rings of the sport’s faded glory days, when NORBA cross-country could be found on national TV, or those few years that thousands flocked to rural backwaters for 24-hour races.

If road and mountain biking are siblings, the former is an even-keeled professional with a suburban home, maybe kids. Mountain biking, however, has bounced around between an unfinished Ph.D., a sojourn in South America, multiple minor arrests, and annual trips to Burning Man. While road relishes consistent events and formats borne out of years of tradition, mountain biking frequently reinvents itself, usually based on the most current racing trend.

What is enduro?

Enduro is that latest trend. But perhaps, this time, it can enrich the sport in the long-term. For the benefit of the sweat lodge set, enduro is a race on a long (10- to 30-minute), technical, undulating downhill. Usually, multiple stages are combined to determine overall standings. As with most mountain bike races, the format and courses vary based on the venue and whim of the organizers.

In its purest form, enduro is a grassroots, accessible way for average mountain bikers to race. Neither eight-inch travel bikes nor endless base miles are necessary to hop in and have a fun time. The trail bikes people already own are well suited to the courses. If mountain biking wants to settle down a little, a steady influx of grassroots participation will go a long way, but there are pitfalls looming:

To the race organizers: Many race series have been doomed by inattention to the racers’ needs — your customers. Do you think they are going to gush about how much they love corporate sponsorship over post-race beers? Race promotion should be less like selling tickets to a Miley Cyrus concert and more like putting together an elaborate pig roast for your 200 closest friends.

To the bike companies: Don’t make enduro-specific products. Make mountain bike gear that works well for hard-charging riders that pedal. You shouldn’t need specialized gear to hop in a race. The average mountain bike will do just fine. Thanks to many companies, these bikes are better than ever, but don’t let fashion drive product development into the hinterlands of specificity. If I see an enduro skinsuit next year, I will dropkick my POC helmet with the rage of an ejected NCAA basketball coach.

To the riders: Don’t believe the hype. This isn’t new. Enduro is just a race format. Enduro “riding” or “training”? That’s what we call “mountain biking,” my friend, and we’ve been doing it for years. Keep it fun, get new riders involved, and don’t take it too seriously. Honestly, the fellas riding Repack back in the ’70s were living the enduro lifestyle harder than the majority of people buying dropper posts today, so keep it in perspective.

Power to the people

Like any half-crazy, free spirited sibling, mountain biking always manages to inspire. Does it need to find a career path? Does it need a racing format with staying power? Maybe. People race regardless, so why not cultivate enduro, which is coherent with the average rider’s experience; ride up to ride down. Give them great events and versatile technology.

Yes, it’s fun to marvel at Olympic XC racing or downhill forks that rival moto componentry, but how far can that inspiration take us? Mountain biking isn’t likely to find its own Tour de France to attract millions of spectators. Don’t force it to wear that monkey suit. Embrace the grassroots. Go try an enduro race, and maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Editor’s note: The Dirt Dispatch is an opinion column periodically penned by VeloNews tech writer Spencer Powlison. He draws on his New England-born pragmatism and over 18 years of riding and racing experience to contemplate the state of mountain biking and more.