By Vernon Felton
"Enduro" is either the dumbest trend ever or the most brilliant phenomenon to hit mountain biking. I can't tell which. This much is clear: There's never been a buzzword more abused than "enduro." You know, as in "enduro-specific" socks, shoes, jerseys, shorts, jackets, helmets, hydration packs, frames, forks, shocks, tires, wheels and saddles. All those things exist, by the way. I'm not making any of this up. And, since I'm very partial to the style of riding we're talking about here, I didn't blink an eye at the first 30 or so new product categories that glommed onto the "enduro" bandwagon overnight. Sometimes the label even made sense. Wide, lightweight rims? Sure, that would fit the bill. A lightweight helmet with a bit more coverage for those riskier, technical downhills? I can buy that. But enduro-specific grips? Here’s where I finally lost my shit. Can you honestly claim that something–anything–makes one set of lock-on handlebar grips ideally suited to enduro racing?
Let's examine that, shall we?
THAT'S SO ENDURO…
We now have two magazines, an upcoming movie, an international race series and several hundred cycling products emblazoned with the "enduro" label. It's almost hard to remember a time when we weren't lathering our taints with “enduro-approved” chamois cream and rehydrating with “enduro-specific” electrolytes, but up until 2011 we all somehow managed to ride bikes without calling it "enduro."
Enduro racing has a long, storied history in the moto-world (they of the twisted throttles and brahhhp-brahppp sounds), but that style of racing (long-distances covered at a respectable pace punctuated by intense, timed segments) never caught on in mountain biking. It's not like race organizers never gave it a try. They did, but no one gave a damn. Until recently, we were all too busy attending (or being bored by) mountain bike races that were a showcase for either crushing long climbs in your yoga leotards or hauling ass downhill in pajamas and a hockey mask--which is kind of weird when you think about it. Most of us aren't 140-pound, hill-climbing greyhounds or freakishly-skilled gravity fiends.
Boasting about how fast you can rip up a fire road is a bit like bragging about how good you are at masturbating. Sure, you can make that boast, but do you really want to? Most of us simply want to scale mountains at a rate that's not embarrassing, and then follow that up by demolishing our buddies' egos on the descents. We call this "mountain biking" and it's pretty much what everyone has enjoyed since 1979. What we lacked, you might say, is a racing discipline that reflected this.
BUT WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?
The fact that we now have an international Enduro World Series, as well as countless state and local enduro series, is actually a pretty damn cool thing. Races that look and feel like the kind of riding most of us actually want to do? Brilliant. But do we really need all the “enduro-specific” gear and garb? I mean, if enduro is basically just mountain biking, didn't we already have plenty of mountain biking gear to choose from? At some level, the sudden flood of enduro-specific products smacks of yet another desperate attempt to cash in on the latest trend. Lame, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
…BUT THERE IS A SILVER LINING…
The bike industry can glom onto a fad and polish the turd of a buzz word like nobody's business--there's no denying that fact--and there are clearly some products out there that really don't merit the "enduro-specific" badge of enduro-ocity. Enduro handlebar grips? Enduro saddles? Enduro hydration packs? It’s hard to pinpoint precisely when enduro jumped the shark, but the leap has definitely been made.
Then again, it's also fair to say that a lot of products in the past skewed too far to either end of the racing spectrum--wispy light and disposable or crazily overbuilt for any kind of riding that didn't involve the use of chairlifts. Enduro may be the most abused buzz word in years, but it has led some manufacturers to focus on building parts that strike a better balance between boat-anchor heavy and race-day light. That's a good thing for all of us.
And have you seen some of the descents in the Enduro World Series that guys like Jerome Clementz are bombing down? Some of those tracks are as rough as anything you'd see between the tape on a UCI downhill course, yet competitors are absolutely slaying the descents on six-inch travel bikes that weigh about as much as a Snickers bar. And this brings us to the subject of bikes.... Sure we already had plenty of great all-mountain bikes to choose from already, but enduro racing has put a flame under the collective ass of the bike industry to strengthen, lighten and stiffen up those bikes. The Specialized Enduro, Cannondale Jekyll, Trek Remedy, Ibis Ripley, Giant Trance Advanced SX and Santa Cruz Bronson are just a few of the bikes that have been forged into something better by the demands of enduro racing.
You may never race an enduro and you may despise the whole enduro marketing orgy, but there's no denying that the pool of awesome do-it-all bikes is exploding, a definite plus for anyone who doesn't have stacks of thousand-dollar bills lying around to piss away on the perfect "quiver" of rides. Owning one bike instead of three? For most of us, that's a step in the right direction.
So, there you have it. Enduro racing is overhyped, overplayed and over exploited. Kittens and angels die every time a marketing hack whispers the words, "enduro-specific." It’s gotten that bad. And yet, enduro might just be the best thing to happen to mountain biking in years and years.
A wise man once said, “There's a fine line between clever and stupid.”
I couldn’t agree more.