After a rad time at Southern Enduro’s loamy Southern Champs back in April, I was keen to check out their race series which is based largely over the south and south east of the country. Round 1 however was at Okeford Bike Park (formerly UK Bike Park) in Dorset…which is in the southwest so a fairly local race. Well, sort of. Anyway, despite a driving time equal to that of getting to south Wales, I signed up to the race as soon as entries were available…and then didn’t really think much more about it.
As the weekend came along, my usual pre-race excitement wasn’t really there for some reason and the thought of racing enduro at a downhill/freeride bike park wasn’t really helping matters. Bike parks are great fun and everything and certainly more weatherproof than the typical fresh cut enduro stages we often have, but my presumption was that they don’t really have much in terms of line choices and that it was essentially going to be a multi-stage DH race rather than an Enduro one.
That said, I drove up to ‘Dorrrrzett’ the night before with a stop over at a mate’s house in Swanage (cheers Chris and Lizzie) and then headed to Okeford in time for sign on around 9am. The stokeometer was still fairly low but with practice open for 2 hours, there was plenty of time to get it going. I’d never ridden here before so although it was a bike park, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but essentially, there were 4 stages using the existing DH trails and all started from the same area at the top of the hill. For the race, we’d be doing Stage 1 twice, so five timed stages later on.
With a fair bit of overnight rain on the chalky/clay ground, the trails were pretty slippery to begin with. I soon found out that although there were plenty of bike park jumps, drop-offs and berms, there was also plenty of tricky rooty corners and off-camber traverse, so it was looking good for some interesting riding. Rolling on my summer tyres (Maxxis Minion DHF up front and Maxxis Tomahawk rear) I had brought my Shorty tyre with me in case a strategic tyre swap was needed but with fast hardpack trails and roots, which have no regard for whatever tyre you’re running, I decided to stick with what I had and hope I had enough grip out back for any mud sections!
Stage 1 was fast and had several nice tabletop jumps to begin with. I’d say I’m an average jumper but I’ve got a thing about kickers and always end up getting bucked a little and landing nose heavy every time. Needless to say, I had a few close calls here! Stage 2 was nadgery to start with, with the only real uphill pedally section. Further down, there was a tricky lefthand corner over some big roots. I took time to watch other riders trying it out to see what lines worked and my only attempt was spot on so figured I had that dialled for the race later. Stage 3 was quite long with some nice steep corners down through the woods and then a long off-camber traverse at the bottom, only added to that stage that morning. Stage 4 also had a tricky rooty corner to deal with, with a couple of line choices, before heading into some mid-size drop-offs at the bottom. I had time to practice Stage 1 twice and the rest just once and then after a lengthy lunch break, headed back to the top for race runs.
Stage 1 (17th fastest) went well (apart from getting bucked a little again) but felt quite safe. Stage 2 (30th fastest) started well until I hit the rooty corner I’d ‘dialled’ in practice…only to have the back wheel slide out on a big slippery root, sending me over the bars in front of a small crowd! Back on as quick as possible and then to the end not quite sure if my bars were twisted or anything, but fortunately they weren’t! Stage 3 (26th fastest) was a lot of fun. I felt smooth and reasonably quick and caught and overtook three riders at the bottom pedally traverse. Suddenly, I felt more in a race frame of mind! I had a little moment on Stage 4 (28th fastest) near the top, landing a bit weirdly off a drop-off, causing me to go off piste through the vegetation round the following rock garden andthen rode the rest of the stage quite messily and then back to the top for the re-run of Stage 1/Stage 5. There was a long delay as a result of (I think), someone having a big crash on Stage 1 or Stage 2 but when things got going again, now with 15 second gaps between riders rather than 30 seconds, to make up lost time, I dropped into the stage and feeling quite good, I caught the guy in front and pulled off a ‘French line’ inside overtake on a tight righthand bend to the delight of the spectators sitting on the inside! That turned out to be my best stage of the day, getting 16th fastest although it was 0.015 seconds slower than the Stage 1 run.
As I pushed back to the top, I felt fairly happy with how things went but knew my OTB cost me time. It turned out I finished 24th of 70 in Masters so I was happy with that considering the crash, but I was also happy to get some mojo back a little as well.
So despite my initial concerns, it was a fun day riding and racing some bike park and I ended up with a respectable result. I’d love to do more of the Southern Enduro Series, but the rest of the races are just too far away from the southwest for me to travel to for a one day race which is a shame. Here’s hoping they drift further southwest for next year’s series (Grogley, Newnham, Triscombe, Exmoor hint hint 😉 )