By Don Stefanovich
PHOENIX, AZ (BRAIN) — “Yup, it’s on,” Dennis Yuroshek recalled of the moment in late April 2012 when he and girlfriend Carolynn Romaine decided to give it all up.
The couple ditched jobs, cars and worldly possessions to chase the dream of enduro racing in the Pacific Northwest. Romaine even sold her house.
“The little things like nice shoes and a new car don’t seem important anymore when you realize you’re going to spend the summer riding the best trails in the country,” she said.
Living in a Sprinter van with Pixie, a 65-pound mutt Yuroshek describes as “every kind of mean dog rolled into one,” the couple completed the inaugural Oregon Enduro Series with respectable results and minimal support. Bikes, gear and apparel were provided. Money wasn’t.
Both had competed in downhill and cross-country but had never gone to such lengths to pursue racing. So, why enduro?
“I just wanted the race experience to be worth what it took to get there,” Romaine said. “When I did cross-country races, it was like I did all this work to get here and I’m on a fireroad. Why? With enduro you ride in these amazing places—places you would ride anyway if you were on vacation. Enduro is an amazing experience all around.”
It’s enduro’s resemblance to the Everyman’s riding style—suffering on the ups in order to smile on the downs—that most agree is responsible for its recent rise in popularity stateside. It also leads to a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg argument when discussing enduro’s influence on product development.
While the earliest embers of enduro began glowing in North America, a host of technologies including dropper posts, clutch-type rear derailleurs, 27.5-inch wheels, 34-
millimeter fork stanchions and increasingly plush yet efficient midtravel bikes have not only proliferated, but have been refined exponentially, fueling the trend. “I really believe enduro is a trend and not just a fad,” Shimano’s Joe Lawwill said.
Norco, Specialized, Felt, Lapierre and Giant have all fielded 2013 factory enduro teams, and with the recent proliferation of North American enduro races—the Oregon Enduro Series and Big Mountain Enduro Series, the Sun Valley Shimano Super Enduro in Idaho, a 2013 California Enduro Series on the horizon, and the recent announcement of the Enduro World Series—it seems clear that in one form or another, enduro is here to stay. It was even recognized by the UCI recently.
“Overall I am super glad to see enduro being realized because it is the perfect event to get people into MTB events that normally wouldn’t compete,” Lawwill said. “Cross-country and downhill have both gone so extreme—whether it be cost or ability—that it isn’t bringing in many new people anymore. ”
And traits from both of those extremes are trickling into stock builds in the increasingly blurred all-mountain category from which most enduro steeds are reared.
“The frame, paint scheme, part spec—shorter stems, wider bars and heavier-casing tires—a lot of that comes from the enduro influence. They need to be light but extremely strong,” said Dustan Sept, marketing coordinator for Norco.
The Canadian manufacturer released its 2013 Range Killer-B exclusively as a 27.5-inch offering. Though it was designed as an all-mountain bike when it debuted four years ago, the Range will benefit in R&D from Norco’s new enduro team much as the long-travel Aurum already has from its downhill roster, said Sept.
“As we move forward, the Range will become tailored a little bit more toward the enduro racer and the Sight toward the everyday rider,” he said, drawing a distinction between the two models. The 140-millimeter Sight will continue to be offered in both 26- and 27.5-inch versions.
But X-Fusion’s John Hauer points out that since enduro embraces trail riding and turns it into a competitive event, it is also pushing the development of trail-bike products to be lighter, stiffer, more capable technically and more efficient.
“It’s the same story for any product category development, but luckily for consumers, instead of getting trickle-down technology from downhill or cross-country, manufacturers are really focusing resources to develop the best and most competitive products for bikes that were just considered fun, do-it-all bikes a handful of years ago,” Hauer said.
X-Fusion, Fox and SRAM have all hinted at a slew of enduro-specific Sea Otter releases answering that call.
“We’re 100 percent committed to the enduro category,” said SRAM public relations manager Tyler Morland. “One of our biggest developments will be suspension. We want to perfect the control of suspension, so that’s where we’re going to go next.”
The Chicago-based company isn’t alone. A prototype shock from Fox resembling an RP23 with a piggyback reservoir recently was spotted by Vital MTB on race program manager Mark Fitzsimmons’ test bike. “It’s designed specifically for enduro racing,” he says in a clip on VitalMTB.com.
Fox marketing communications manager Mark Jordan confirmed the enduro testing and the company’s commitment to the discipline. “2014 product has been under enduro racers since last year. For us to sort things out, to put it in a race situation with top athletes, really accelerates things,” he said.
Scott Sports’ Adrian Montgomery sees things a bit differently.
“I don’t think enduro is fueling R&D,” he said of Scott’s 27.5-inch Genius 700 series—a bike he says has been so successful that it has required increased production and decreased advertising to balance supply and demand.
“We think enduro racing is taking the everyday user’s bike and finding a platform to compete on it with. We’re making bikes for the everyday rider that are competition-worthy. I don’t believe the enduro racer is an image leader for the average mountain bike rider; it’s just a segment within a segment.”
In Phoenix, Arizona, Dennis Yuroshek puts down a wrench to pick up the phone and discuss the upcoming season. He has been working in a local bike shop so that he can train while most of the country waits out the winter.
For the 2013 season, bike sponsor Pivot Cycles is replacing Yuroshek and Romaine’s aluminum 26-inch bikes with carbon-fiber 29ers and custom carbon 27.5-inch prototypes.
“I was a diehard 26er for life,” said Yuroshek, “but it’s hard to hold out when the clock doesn’t lie.”
Most of his and Romaine’s sponsors have stepped up with new products conducive to enduro—simple changes that Yuroshek said will make a big difference on the trail.
“Things are looking up,” he said, citing the benefits of the genre’s growing recognition. “This year, we’re even getting paid.”