Riding mountain bikes to me is about fun, riding with your friends, keeping fit, being outside in the mountains and switching off and getting back to nature. Since an early age I’ve always been a bit of a ‘tomboy’ and would always rather be outside than stuck indoors, and as I’ve got older with a busy life, always struggling to balance work and play, I’ve appreciated even more any time spent riding my bike, amongst other outdoor activities.
I’ve been riding now for quite a few years, and working in the bike industry and having a husband and many friends who race various mountain bike disciplines from cross-country to enduro and downhill, I have always wondered secretly if I could do it. I’ve been to many races to support my friends and family and always enjoyed the atmosphere and catching up with everyone, but not being a competitive person, and not being that confident in my riding ability to race, have always thought I would be rubbish at it! I’ve toyed with the idea over the last few years of trying an Enduro race, but never had the courage to do it, especially since the level of the female riders that compete is so high (big respect to those girls!) When I heard that Rachael Walker from Hope and the guys at PMBA were putting on a brand new Enduro race aimed specifically at women, and moreso women who hadn’t raced before but wanted to try it in a chilled, relaxed format, I realised that this was my chance to try it, without the pressure of a more serious race format.
For those of you that are not sure how ‘Enduro’ MTB races work, the format is that there are different stages, usually between 3 and 5, and each rider has a start time at each stage and is timed on the descent, and given a time allowance to ride the transition to the next stage. However the Hopetech Women’s PMBA format was slightly different so that there were no start times for each stage, meaning that you could ride in groups of mixed category/ability, essentially riding with your mates, and would just be timed on your descent sections. This took a lot of the stress out of the race as we weren’t worrying about getting to the start of stages for a specific time. It also meant that I could ride with my friends who were in different categories to me and a lot fitter and faster than me, they would just wait for me at the bottom of each stage.
There were only 3 stages in the Hopetech women’s Enduro held at Gisburn Forest, which meant that practice and race loops could be done in a day, which I guess a lot of women found beneficial as it wasn’t too exhausting and meant that you could still plan other things that weekend. The stages were all on Gisburn Forest trails, ‘Home Baked’, ‘Whelpstone Crag’ into the all new ‘Long Way Down’ and final stage on the ‘Hope Line’ which meant despite the rain the trails rode really well. The guys at Hopetech and PMBA did such a great job organising the event, with little extra details like a crepe machine and everyone getting a finishers Hope-machined medal. There were girls well known in the industry invited along to help with coaching out on the trails, on the techier sections, encouraging those of us that were a little nervous on practice to try certain lines, which was so helpful and such a nice touch. Those girls included world cup downhill and enduro-queen Tracy Moseley, Claire Bennett and Julia Hobson, and they were so supportive.
Brands were out in force to support all the girls, Jungle had their fleet of beautiful Juliana demo bikes with them, plus Sweet Protection, Hope supporting the riders with their mechanical services, Flare clothing, Ohlins, Hannah from Extra with enough Clifbars and Shotblocs to keep 250 women fuelled. The cafe at Gisburn Forest hub was open and serving great food and coffee, the set-up was spot on.
The weather was typically British, as expected for mid-October, with a huge amount of rainfall the night before that saw back lanes flooded on the drive to Gisburn and huge puddles out on the trails, but despite the weather the women that turned up to race were all smiling and eager to get out on the trails. I have to say that all the way round during practice and race laps everyone we met was so friendly and encouraging, regardless of how soaked wet through they were, how tired or scared, bikes ridden, kit worn, level of fitness, or riding ability, it really was an ‘inclusive’ event, which didn’t really feel like a race!
It was the most fun I have had riding with my female buddies, with no egos, but we still gave it our all, but really just to see how far we could push ourselves rather than how we stacked up against everyone else (well for me anyway!) The event made me realise how many skilled female riders there are out there, competing in a 50-strong vets category, and coming way down the pack! But, it made me want to get fitter and faster, and possibly even try my hand again next year if there were more of these style events. Don’t get me wrong I am never going to be a ‘racer’, it doesn’t change how I feel about riding my bike, but it does make me realise there a lot of other women out there who share the same passion as me, and getting them all together in one place for a day to race trails in the rain was a real achievement!
For any women out there who are thinking about trying Enduro races in the UK, I would definitely recommend this one! Hopefully due to the success of this first ever womens’ Enduro, the guys at Hope and PMBA will already planning the next ones. Definitely keep your eyes open for some dates in 2018, you do not want to miss these 🙂