JUMPING INTO THE E-ENDURO GAME
Firsthand racing experience
By Nick Claire
Regular readers of EBA might remember the story I wrote of my first experience racing an e-bike earlier this year, “When Things Get Racy” (EBA, February 2021). That event was held at Glen Helen Raceway, which is one of SoCal’s legendary motocross tracks, and it was an opportunity to test ride the new Foes Racing E-Ticket. Unfortunately, the Shimano STEPS e8000 drive unit happened to error out at the start, which meant I had no power off the gate as everyone else powered away. In short, the race did not go well.
Fast-forward a few months later and I saw a post about an e-bike enduro race. Having grown up racing motorcycles, I knew what enduro racing consisted of for the throttle twisters, but had no idea about how it worked for bicycles.
E FOR ENDURO
Enduro racing usually consists of about three to six stages. They are mostly shorter segments that are timed from top to bottom. The race I did had a total of about 12 miles, including the climb back up the hill that is mandatory but not part of your race time. In other words, you have to be at the start of the next stage, but there’s usually plenty of time unless you have a mechanical or injury slowing you down.
“There was never a feeling of being an outcast as an e-biker among the sea of regular bike racers—and that takeaway is even better than winning a trophy!”
The Southridge course (located about an hour east of downtown L.A.) has been a popular race site for years. Although the hill isn’t massive, the segments are somewhere around two to three minutes in length. There are no rules about how long the segments can be, so some bigger races could be double that length.
Mostly you’ll be racing downhill, usually with mandatory rock drops and some flat pedaling sections. The courses aren’t as extreme or scary as actual downhill racing, but still they usually have a section or two that will test your courage. At the end of your race day, the sum of all your segment times will be combined, and whoever has the lowest overall time is the winner.
Although I have a pretty extensive motocross background and enjoy letting the brakes go regularly, I don’t consider myself a downhill-type rider. Nonetheless, I was set on heading to Fontana for my first e-enduro stage race. Not without a voice in the back of my mind that kept saying, “Let’s get home in one piece!,” though that voice seemed to disappear once the race started.
After pulling into the Fontana grounds, I figured the first order of business would be to pre-ride the course. It’s about 3/4 of a mile to get from the bottom to where each of the three stages start. I was nervous about running my battery down, so I just rode the heavy bike up the hill about six times with no power so I could conserve my battery for the race.
I realized that the course was not as demanding as I was anticipating; in fact, I was hoping for a little more rock and technical features. Regardless of conditions we all had the same course to deal with, and there was plenty of time to be made up in loose corners that could take the wheels out from under you in a flash. It just so happens that I had been doing more trail and downhill riding than usual on a bike I’d begun to grow particularly fond of—the Kona Remote 160DL.
As I was huffing myself up the hill with no assistance from the motor for a sixth time, I noticed a giant truck full of bikes driving people to the top for a scheduled practice. “Wait, I could’ve been driven to the top?!” Note to self: When going to a race, be sure to mind the details if there’s a riders’ meeting. It was fine, though, because I got to have some time on the course with no one else around, so I could take my time and absorb as much of each stage
IN YOUR BACKYARD
I found out that a vital factor in enduro racing is the ability to memorize the course and be able to ride it like it’s a trail in your backyard. At first, I thought, “What a weird sport! Getting driven to the top only to let gravity take you back down!” But, after I saw some of the top pro men, I was so impressed with how much skill and how hard they pushed off the line down to the finish.
“The Kona is powered by the new Shimano EP8, and unlike the previous e8000 motor, the new EP8 will still power on if your foot is on the pedal.”
An hour of waiting and about 2 1/2 minutes per stage seems a little lopsided, but I can assure you that the stages had me fully gassed at the bottom. Once the guy said, “Go!,” I immediately fell back into my do-or-die mindset that I thought I had left behind with my teenage motocross days.
Although now slightly wiser at 32 than I was at 16, I focused on trying to ride to the best of my abilities and not above in hopes that I wouldn’t blow a corner or misjudge a rock section. Suddenly, I was in a in-it-to-win-it frame of mind, which is something that happens when you pay money to hop on a start line and head to a finish line.
ABOUT THE BIKE
As for my bike setup, I had a stiffer setup than normal anticipating my race pace to be faster than everyday riding pace. Running stiffer suspension in theory would allow me to hit big rocky sections without losing as much forward momentum. The trade-off being my bike wouldn’t squat as low in the corners making them a little trickier.
Also, I found out that I had too much air pressure in the tires, which made cornering even more of a challenge. So, after the first stage, I let some air out and was somewhere near 20 psi, which seemed to help. Again, there is always a trade-off. Stiffer suspension and more air in the tires mean less rolling resistance for the straights where I’d be sprinting faster than the motor would assist me. Looking back, I should maybe have been a little softer considering a lot of the corners were dry and loose.
The Kona is powered by the new Shimano EP8, and unlike the previous e8000 motor, the new EP8 will still power on if your foot is on the pedal. I still made sure I was in Turbo and that I felt the motor working before I got to the line each time.
As for those six practice runs when I rode back up the hill to give myself a full charge for the race, well, I still had five out of five bars of battery left when I crossed the finish line of the last stage. So, next time I probably wouldn’t be afraid to use some battery at an event like this, because, in all honesty, you might only need 10 percent of your battery for the actual race.
Unlike my first race at Glen Helen, I’m happy to say that I was able to walk away from the top spot on the podium. Considering my motocross history I guess it makes sense that my first win in a bicycle race would happen on a bike with a motor! Also, not unlike a motorcycle, e-bikes do have a powerband and like to be in a certain gear with a higher cadence to get the most torque available.
While winning was pretty sweet, better still was the overall experience of entering a race. Everyone on the SRC staff was helpful with a friendly smile and great attitude. Best of all, all the racers hit it off no matter what kind of bike they were riding. There was never a feeling of being an outcast as an e-biker among the sea of regular bike racers—and that takeaway is even better than winning a trophy!