In this all new article I’ll try and cover some of the things that may have been stopping you entering a competitive event. Things like what bike to use, where to go, what to take and what to expect when you get there. Follow this basic guide and take that first jump into the big bad world of dirt bike racing.
Can I do it?
Ok let’s get one thing straight, anyone can enter a race and have a good time. You are never too old to start and hopefully by following these basic tips your entry into the world of off road bike racing will be made a little easier.
Look at me, I’m no spring chicken or particularly fit, but I still have a great time racing and have managed a few half decent results as well.
Don’t be put off by being worried about being too slow. Everyone has to start somewhere, but there is race etiquette to be followed when out on track and I’ll go though that later in the DVD.
What type of race to enter, and where do I find them?
There are several types of events that you can enter and all have their plus and minus points.
The main events are:
- Hare & Hounds
- Time Card Enduros
- Cross Country Race (XC Enduro)
So where do you find out about events in your area?
The main source for race dates has to be www.enduronews.co.uk. Go to the main page and click on ‘events’. You’ll find almost all the clubs in the UK have their dates listed here. Most will also have links to their entry forms or their own websites. So how do all the different types of events compare and which one should you chose?
Here is a brief overview of each discipline.
Hare & Hounds
I think this is the best type of event to start out on, as there is less to think about and there are no time cards to fill out. The events themselves tend to be the most ‘beginner friendly’ as well.
There are loads of clubs doing these types of events around the country but they can be broken down even further by separating those that have a mid race break and those that run the race non stop from start to finish.
CHEC – or the Chiltern Hills Enduro Club is a good beginner series held around the south east. This is the club I started with. Their format is to run one race of four hours split into two parts with an hour long lunch break in between the two sessions. This format has the advantage of having the most saddle time for your money and if anything goes wrong in the morning session you can get it fixed during the lunch break, and get back out on track for the second part of the race. You can also make small adjustments to the bike to try and improve your afternoon speed should you feel the need.
South Reading MCC - this club offers a limited amount of three hour non stop hare and hounds races at the Ashdown Farm MX track in Berkshire. The day is a fairly relaxed event as you start in no particular order and race purely against the clock. You do as many laps as you can for three hours.
Time Card Enduros
These are a little more technical in the fact that they have the added problem of the timecard to fill out. These can seem a bit daunting at first but once you get the hang of them they are fairly easy.
Time card events in the south east can be far less demanding on the body physically. Why? Well you can take it easy for the first few laps as the times are designed to be slacker at the start and at the end of the race. However, once you get to a Welsh enduro or one set primarily in a forest you’ll find that this sort of event is a whole different kettle of fish due to the intensity of the terrain. If the weather turns bad these events can get pretty tough and are not for a beginner – unless you are fairly fit and up for a challenge!
Time Card Events. Ok this seems really confusing at first but it’s actually very easy to work out your times. Not only that but some time card events are easier on the body as you get a little rest each time you come round at the end of your lap – well you do if you’re on time!
This is how the times are worked out:
- First of all you will be entered into a specific class e.g. Clubman, this is done beforehand when you enter the race. Each class not only has its own number of laps to be done, but also has their own ‘times’ to complete the laps in.
- Once you get to the venue go and sign on at the organiser’s tent.
- Somewhere near this tent the times will be displayed. Look for the lap times for your class and write them down.
- Now look for your race number and note your ‘start time’.
- So if your start time is say 10h00 and your first lap time allocation is 20 minutes, then you have to be back to the start line for your next lap at 10h20.
- 10h20 then becomes the time you have to add the second lap time allocation to. For example if the second lap is also 20 minutes then you have to be back and ready to start the third lap by 10h40.
- Go through each lap, adding the times up and working out all the start times.
- You then need to transfer these times to the ‘time card’ using a pen. Double check the times before you do this!
- Take note that normally the times will start off as fairly ‘slack’ or long. The times then get progressively ‘tighter’ or shorter. So several laps in you’ll find there is one lap that it very tight and you’ll have to ride flat out to make your next start time.
- So you might already know this, but if you are ‘late’ starting any lap you get penalty points added. The tight lap is specifically designed to add penalties to everyone so to make it easier to work out the end placings.
- Most people will pace themselves so that they get back in time to pop into the pits to quickly check the bike over and have a little rest before the next lap.
Normally there will be one or more special tests to ride at these events. A special test is a short timed section of the track (or a short separate track). You have to ride these timed sections as fast as you can, as every second of the time spent riding it is converted into penalty points to work out your final score and race placing.
Cross Country Race (XC Enduro)
This is the next step up from the standard time card enduro and H&H in intensity. The format is more like an H&H but it differs in the fact that there is a mass start at the beginning and the standard of rider is a bit higher.
Mostly held in Wales these are really good fun and very beginner friendly. Laps are normally much, much longer - up to 45 miles per lap, but they are more like a long trail ride than a full on race. You get specific times to complete laps and have to do ‘special tests’ several times a lap which is the only time you have to put your ‘race face’ on.
In brief: you have to complete a lap within a set time. This time is set by the organisers and you'll be given the information beforehand. Within the lap are several short sections that are timed separately to the main lap. These short timed sections are called "special tests". These 'tests' will determine who comes where in the standings. They add all your individual times together and the person who took the least time wins. To make this more interesting you have to get to the start of these tests within a certain time. At some events you be given penalties for being late but not all (Hafren don't). However you can 'time out' of the event if you are very late ie more than 30 minutes for example.
There is one more type of event that I’d recommend, and that is going to an Enduroland practice day. These are well run days and not actually a race at all – it’s purely a practice day held at various locations around the south east. You’ll get the chance to ride a well laid out track similar to a proper race but without any of the pressure of an actual race. Once you get used to the track you can have a bit of a dice with other riders. These days give you the feeling of racing without all the added pressure. I can personally recommend these days as it gives you an opportunity to work on areas of your riding that need improving.
What is needed?
Just about any dirt bike can be used to race. But of course there are certain bikes that are more suitable than others. If you already have a dirt bike then it makes sense to start out using what you have. However it does depend on how competitive you are.
The ‘give it a go’ first time rider: If you are currently running around on a ‘old school’ design like a DRZ400 Suzuki or a Honda XR400/600 and you just fancy a bit of a ride around a track to see what it’s like then great. Any current trial bike will be more than capable of finishing the day and giving you a great insight to racing.
The competitive rider: if you are anything like the rest of the bikers I know, then the moment the race starts you’ll turn into someone completely different and will end up trying to race everything! That is when you’ll find the heavier, older bikes to be a big disadvantage. The weight distribution isn’t really suitable for front end grip in corners and the weight coupled to the basic suspension will soon have you feeling like a wreck.
Even on one of the latest ‘all singing all dancing’ bikes you’ll soon be knackered, but try that on a heavy, old school bike and you’ll be dropping out of the event in no time at all and run the risk of putting yourself off trying again.
Round up: any bike is capable of competing, just remember to tailor your riding to suit the bike and conditions.
Normal trial riding gear is going to be way too hot to race in. MX pants and a MX shirt is a must even in cold conditions. Trust me, within minutes of starting the race you’ll be absolutely boiling hot! No need to buy the latest stuff, the bargain bin at any MX shop will do but even better than that, ask a mate if they can lend you some old gear. Whatever you do don’t start a race in a waterproof trail riding jacket and pants as you’ll more than likely boil up within minutes and it’ll ruin your day.
Body armour is a must. If you don’t have or can’t afford a full body suit then what ever you do, at least buy some elbow guards as well as some knee protection. Both can be had for about £40 each but again if you know anyone that has been racing for a while they will more than likely have an old set they can lend you, or if you’re lucky you might score a freebie!
The MX style body armour has very little crash protection and is primarily designed for protection against flying stones and not to protect you if and when you go flying!
An off road helmet and goggles are again a must and in cold conditions an enduro specific goggle will help cut down on the steaming up problem. These goggles have double glazed lenses with more ventilation and are really great in wet conditions.
This is something that you can’t do without during the race. A water bladder of some sort will enable you to take on fluids during the race and minimise dehydration. You don’t need to invest in an expensive camelpack (but they are some of the best units out there), cheaper units can be had on the high street. Something that I can recommend is using an isotonic powder in your drinking water. It helps against cramp later on in the race and also boosts you when you are starting to flag. I use the Locazade stuff that can be found in any Tesco’s, it’s not too expensive. There are a lot of high tech additives on the market but as a beginner I wouldn’t worry too much about those. You can make your own of course by mixing fruit juice with water 50/50.
4. Essential Spares
You’ll not need much, a spare set of clutch and brake levers will just about do it. However, if you are adept at tyre changes then some spare tubes would be a good idea as well. A spare sparkplug and cap might also be worthwhile.
Basic hand tools are all you’ll need along with some electrical tape, cable ties, WD40 and perhaps tyre levers if you are up to changing a tube on the day.
On the tube front you might find that there is a dealer at the venue in a van that’ll be able to fit tyres and tubes for you for a reasonable rate.
A five litre can of petrol will more or less be enough, depending on how thirsty your bike is and how hard you ride it. I used to be able to get by with 5ltrs for my 450 but it’s getting a bit more thirsty lately, so I tend to use a ten litre can at four hour meetings.
There are quick fillers on the market but these are only of any use when competing in a three hour non-stop event, as at most other races you get enough time to fill up during a break or at the end of a slow lap. (Show quick filler and home made filler).
Make sure you have a good breakfast before you leave for the track and the best for that is a slow release high carb meal of oats. Snack on something before you start, not too much though. For lunch you are again after some high energy, high carb food but make sure it’s easy to eat and swallow as sometimes I’m so knackered I don’t want to eat. At a non stop H&H event, time is of the essence, so if you want a good result I gulp down an energy bar while refuelling.
Part Four: The rules.
Most clubs will have a set of regs to go with their entry form. Read these carefully and make sure you comply with everything they ask for. As the day of the event gets closer they publish some ‘Final Instructions’ with extra info. Again, make sure you follow any new advice on this document.
There is one major player in the enduro scene and that is the Auto Cycle Union (ACU). Any ACU affiliated event will charge £10 for a ‘day license’. So if you just fancy a one off ride then it’s cheaper to just pay for the one event licence. However, if you really get into it you can save money by buying a full race license from the ACU. There is an added complication in the fact that to get a license you have to be affiliated to an ACU club. They have to stamp the documents for you before they can be sent off. You’ll also need a photo.
Some clubs might be linked to the AMCA and they have new rules that came out in 2009 stating that everyone had to register with them, this caused a few problems.
There is a new player on the scene now as well, but I’m not sure if any clubs have aligned themselves with them yet.
2. Bike prep
Some clubs are a little stricter than others. I find the ACU clubs are a little more thorough and you really need to make sure the following are correct. Think of it as a mini MOT for your bike. Remember your bike is going to get a right hammering for several hours. If it’s a tight course or the weather turns bad the clutch will take a lot of abuse so make sure the fluid has been replaced recently.
- Brakes are firm and pads have plenty of meat left in them.
- The throttle snaps shut properly (this gets checked).
- Spokes are all tight and in place (this gets checked as well).
- Tyres are marked FIM Enduro (this does differ in some clubs so read the regs)
- Wheel bearings are in good condition (hold the wheel at top and bottom and feel for any movement – this will be checked also).
- Chain and sprockets are ok.
- Engine bore and stroke is written on the engine cylinder block
- Some events require working lights.
- Some events need a number plate (get a flexi one).
- Have the correct colour backgrounds for the class entered (not always needed in some clubs but again read the race entry regs).
3. Equipment needed for ACU.
If you join the ACU and get a full license they’ll send you a little booklet with all the rules and regulations in it. When you are starting out though, you’ll not know any of these rules.
Once again it depends on which club to start with as not all will be so pedantic to check you have everything. It’s worthwhile having a ‘refuelling mat’ (sometimes called an environmental mat) with you and if you have one a 2kg dry power fire extinguisher. However so far I’ve never been asked to produce either one. Having said that the mat is useful to get changed on when the ground is wet! The regs say dog tags are needed too but again we’ve never been asked for these. You might be asked to display your bore & stroke sizes on your engine barrel so right these on with a marker pen.
More tips & nice to have’s
- Spare car keys – if you rush back to get some spares/clean gloves or anything at all and your other half has disappeared with the car keys you’ll not be too happy, so pop the spare set into your drinks bladder.
- A side stand puck – made from a small piece of wood this is handy when the parc ferme is a little boggy. You can slip it into the rear fender bag if you have one or even into you drinks bladder but it’s a lot better than standing there like a twit when you suddenly realise you can’t rest your bike on its sidestand!
- Stopwatch – although some bikes have a stopwatch built into their clocks they’ve been known to fail so I attach a very cheap plastic digital wrist watch to the handlebars so I can keep an eye on the time without having to scroll though the function of the bike’s display.
- Aspirin – can reputedly help stop ‘arm pump’ as it thins the blood.
- A chair to sit on – it’s the small things that help make the day. The luxury of sitting down during a break or at the end of the day is so much better than perching on a bike trailer!
- Pen and a note book – at a timecard event you need these to write down and work out your times.
- Spare goggles – if it’s a really wet event at some point you might want to change them.
- Spare gloves - mud covered gloves don't grip well so have some spares handy.
- Front and rear inner tubes - just in case you get a puncture, but if you get bitten by the bug I’d recommend a set of mousses. See my fitting guide to learn all about fitting mousses and what they look like.
- Tyre levers.
- Bike stand.
- Split link for your chain. Note: it’s best to buy one every time you change the chain as not all links fit in different chains. I always use a rivet link.
- Electrical tape and cable ties.
- Gaffer tape.
- Top up oil for engine, brakes and clutch.
- Hand wipes & rags.
- Chain Spray - Some spray for the chain after the event, so it doesn’t rust before you can clean it.
- Pump for your bike tyres or even that tyre on your trailer that tends to lose some air now and again.
Part Five – Race Etiquette
One of the main things bothering new starters is being too slow when they first start out. Don’t be afraid of that – there is always someone slower than you! Well unless you are that guy, then you better pack up and go home. No - only kidding!
There will always be guys faster than you, so don’t worry too much about it, but it’s only good manners to try and make a little room – if you can. But ultimately it is the faster riders duty to find a way past the slower rider.
So where the track opens up a little, try and move to one side and if at all possible motion with your foot which way you’d like the other rider to go. Also very often you get a slow and fast route round a tree stump or at a bend. If someone has caught you up then take the slightly longer route round the obstacle so that the faster rider can nip past. Don’t take it to heart if someone calls out ‘excuse me’, they are just letting you know that there is a faster rider wanting to come through. However if you get a load of abuse and someone makes a un-called for aggressive overtake then try and remember his number and have a word with one of the marshals after the race. Mistakes can happen i.e. you move right and the other rider has already committed himself to an overtake on the right and there can be contact. However if several people complain about a specific rider then most clubs will have a word with him/her and in extreme cases they’ll be excluded from the results. Remember – it’s all about having fun so don’t take it too seriously!