Maybe this is the mountain biking season you finally decide to take the plunge and try your first enduro race. Or maybe you’ve done a few and your planning and preparation still needs perfecting. Enduro is a special type of racing. It’s like going out for a normal trail ride with your buddies, but once you call it a race, things tend to get serious. To do well (which often means just having fun!) you need the right gear to survive the rigors of the race and make it to the finish line.
Full Face Helmet
Depending on temperature and the difficulty of the stages of an enduro race, some racers may choose to race in a normal half-shell style helmet. But when you’re going to try to ride as fast as you can at your limit, especially on rowdy trails, nothing beats the coverage and protection of a full face. It protects your whole head, a half shell protects half, simple as that. A chinbar on a full face could mean the difference between getting up after a nasty crash, and getting a trip to the hospital. Wear one if you can. Now there are highly breathable full faces like the MET Parachute and the Fox Proframe that offer excellent ventilation for all day riding in the heat. There are also options like the Bell Super 3R and Giro Switchblade which have a removable chinbar so you can have a half shell during those long, grinding transfers between stages, and a full face when it’s time to point your bike downhill.
Something just looks right about moto style goggles set into the opening of a full face helmet. It’s so enduro. Compared to normal sunglasses they provide greater coverage and protection from trail debris regardless if that’s rocks, mud, or branches. And there is something to be said about the superhero effect that comes over you when goggles seal around your eyes. It’s like a pavlovian trigger telling you it’s time to rip. The traditional lens choice is clear, as it allows for the greatest visibility under varying light conditions. If the sun is going to be persistent though, a light tint might be beneficial. Also, if conditions are going to be extremely muddy or dirty, tear-off posts will allow you to use tear-offs to instantly clean your lenses.
Nothing inspires confidence on the trail like a good set of pads. If you do go down, pads may save enough skin so that you can soldier on and finish. Many pads now use materials that remain flexible which allows you to pedal in comfort, but will harden upon impact to dissipate energy from a crash. Pads will generally range from very lightweight, sometimes just a layer of abrasion resistance like the Race Face Charge, to bulkier and burlier pads like the SixSixOne Rage Soft pads. Both ends of the spectrum will work so it comes down to determining your ideal balance between bulk and protection. Knee pads are generally the bare minimum necessary on the trail. Knees are the most vulnerable and most common area to injure. But elbow pads are a good addition and there’s no reason not to wear more protection if you comfortably can.
Hydration Pack / Fanny Pack
A pack of some sort is essential as you need to carry the supplies necessary to keep your race going if you suffer some sort of mechanical issue during a stage. Hydration packs are the traditional choice. They offer ample storage for gear and can carry a large amount of fluid for big days in the saddle. Another option quickly gaining popularity in the enduro crowd is the fanny or hip pack. Inspired by moto riders, fanny packs can carry the bare essentials for a race in a smaller pack that frees up your back and is also located closer to your center of gravity. Many of these packs can also fit water bottles, essential since a large amount of modern enduro bikes aren’t spec’d with bottle cages or place them under the downtube where they collect trail nasties and are harder to reach.
You should be set up tubeless. But even so, tubeless setups are not invincible and you need to carry tubes just in case. Carry at least one, but two is better. A flat tire is killer for your race run and if your tire no longer holds air then a tube will get you going again. Carrying two is better because once you put one in, under racing condition, you inevitably will flat it again. Tubes are cheap and they’re for emergency use. Buy the proper size for your tire, with a valve long enough for your rim, and don’t sweat the rest of the details.
You’ll have a spare tube, but you still need a way to get it in. Even if you have a very supple or loose tire, it’s generally a good idea to carry a tire lever. Usually, you’ll only need one. Push the tire bead away from the rim wall, pop it in, and slide. Two or more levers would only be necessary for the most stubborn of beads, which you’d figure out if you installed the tire and found it near impossible to get on. A good quality tire lever can also be the difference between a bead that’s easy to get off and one that’s difficult. The best ones are stiff with a wide, flatter head.
C02 / Hand Pump
It’s always good to have a C02 on hand in case you need to reseat a tubeless tire. If you’ve remounted a tire you’ve burped off the rim, or if you’ve repaired a hole or tear in your tire with a patch, a C02 will reseat your tire and get you back up and running. Also if you’re trying to save time fixing a flat during a race, a C02 is much faster than a hand pump – at least for getting the initial inflation dealt with. Unlike C02 though, a hand pump won’t run out of air. These pumps are useful if you like playing with tire pressures between stages, or if you need to keep adding air regularly to keep a leaking tire or tube alive just long enough to make it to the finish. Generally it’s a good idea to carry both to cover any situation.
A small but complete multitool will be able to handle almost every repair situation you encounter during a race. A good multitool will generally consist of:
- 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8mm Hex Heads
- Phillips Head Screwdriver
- Torx T25 Head
- Chain Breaker
This will let you deal with common trail repairs such as straightening your bars after a crash, adjusting certain (SRAM) cockpit controls and brake rotors if they get tweaked, and repairing a snapped chain with a spare quick link by breaking off the broken part of the chain and using the quick link to rejoin the chain so you can keep racing.
By keeping your energy reserves up, you’ll actually descend faster and safer. Staying hydrated and eating before you feel hungry is essential to staving off the dreaded bonk. Also, the longer your ride is, the more important nutrition is. Any food that is easy to digest will work for keeping your energy up during long, hard rides. Food is something that will require experimentation to get right as everyone’s stomach is different. Some food may make you feel sick while riding. Try to find something that you can eat on the go and won’t leave a mess in your bag. There are plenty of companies making convenient energy snacks in the form of gels and chews that won’t feel heavy in your stomach and give you a bit of sugar and carbohydrate to keep going.