It’s obvious that the sport of enduro is growing more than any other MTB discipline lately. We could say that the reason is versatility in use, being a the mix of two opposing disciplines, Cross Country and Downhill. For many the new type of enduro bikes cover the full spectrum and is the only bike you need. It seems like we wanted to go back to the “get your bike out and play” attitude with which it all began with as kids, and the bike industry perfectly fused all disciplines into one.
Perhaps we wanted to break loose from having to choose a distinct discipline? Before Enduro, you needed to chose the type of Mtb for the intended discipline and it therefore forced you to stay in a specific slot and each discipline had a distinct personality. The DH guy has a reckless, fun loving attitude and gives more importance to speed and style, while the guy riding cross country likes to push his physical performance, is disciplined and treats his body like a temple.
Was the birth of enduro a revolution, or simply caused by technical advances? Let’s have a quick dip in Mtb history..
The discussion of the roots of Mtb are disputed, one could say they go back even to the far west Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, in 1897. These soldiers were some of the first using bicycles of road but I’m not sure that could be considered sport..
Then there’s the kids in the 50’s in Holland with their BX races, meaning bicycle cross (Ref. https://fatbmx.com/bmx-oldskool/item/2372-bmx-in-holland-in-fact-started-in-the-1950-s-check-this-out-by-gerrit-does). They simply imitated Moto Cross with “Dutch” bikes and attached a number board to the handlebars and raced each other.
Things started really taking off in the 70s in California near San Francisco, when a group of bike freaks modified their cruisers with bulkier parts to race down Mount Tamalpais. What a pleasure it is to know that DH started it! 🙂 The first mentions of Mountain Trail Bikes appeared, but before the label MTB was known, these bikes were simply called “Clunkers”. Among the founding fathers were Charlie Kelly, Gary Fisher and Tom Ritchey, ring a bell? They practically modified the iconic 1940s Schwinn Excelsior cruisers, reenforcing the frames, fitted on balloon tires, swapping out the hubs for drum brakes and putting wider MX style handlebars on. This became the company, Mountainbikes! These were made for freewheeling down fire roads and started “Repack” downhill racing. They basically swooped down dirt roads in Marin county with their wheels literally on fire because of the drum brakes overheating, the grease leaving the bearings and drying up the hub to the point of burning! I guess that’s where the saying “on fire” comes from.. FYI the name “Repack” Races refers to the fact that the grease had to be “stuffed” back into the hub bearings after each descent.
When people got wind of repack races interest arose quickly and first mass-produced mountain trail bikes started soon. The 80s saw the rise of the sport world wide with all the technical advancements leading to the first suspension fork, the Rock Shox RS1. The needed regulation so the UCI was formed and soon after held the first world cup in Durango, Colorado in 1990. Many racers signed in for both downhill and cross country with the same bike (sounds like enduro to me). The first champ was John Tomac winning the overall in all three disciplines, Cross Country, Downhill and Dual Slalom.
The 90s saw the most evident progression of the sport and forced the three branches to move further apart with technical advancements. The downhill got rear suspension and a double crone fork, the Cross Country bike got lighter with more gears and Dual Slalom bike got.. lower, lighter and stiffer? From these three many other disciplines emerge such as Marathon, Trial, Dirt Jump, Freeride, 4X, Slope Style, and now Enduro… E-Bikes.
The most significant invention that made enduro possible, has to be the retractable seat post. An absolute game changer, the Reverb by Rock Shox. Simply genius how a single component made everything so spot on. Not sure there can still be a similar dramatic leap forwards..
The progress in MTB is a bit like a spinning wheel, history repeats after completing a full circle? We started with an all-purpose bike because that’s what we had, but now that we have too many choices, here we go again with the same, more advanced, all purpose bike. The french say it best with “VTT”, vélo tout terrain!..
As if we came up with the conclusion that we were right in the beginning! The bike was one, so it needed to be versatile! Push the bike out of the garage and take a trip, climb to the top of the hill, ride down and get back home. Freedom to roam.
My personal opinion is that enduro brought back a, a much needed, natural balance that the sport lost sight of. People who only do cross country lack some technical skills, while the downhill riders tend to become lazy. I believe that enduro forces us to be better and more complete cyclists and people love it.. Evidently there has been a big shift in the MTB market towards Enduro, and now electric bikes took the lead bringing more people to get out of the city, which is great in many aspects. Even at the peak of cross country and road cycling, they realised that more complete and technical athletes win. For example Nino Schurter in XC and Peter Sagan in road racing.
Not to compare myself with those two legends, but speaking out of personal experience, in 2017 I was able to demonstrate the value of the technical side of things as a former downhill racer by winning the Italian champs of Enduro.
In conclusion, I’m convinced that the enduro bike represents the most advanced progression of the essential Mountain Bike. We’re all so mesmerised with the capability of these amazing new bikes, but the truth is that Mtb always stayed true to it’s simple all-purpose nature. Rad. (Trivia: Also means wheel in German)