NDHuro round three: Kidland Enduro DH

Neal JarrettMackerel & Laphroaig team member Neal Jarrett got to have his cake and eat it at the third round of the ND(H)uro series in Northumberland. Take it away Jazza…

I remember having a conversation with my friend Chris a few years ago after some of our early disappointing forays into enduro racing where we’d spent a weekend either riding trail centres mixed with fire road sprints and stages that were trail centre climbs reversed (why on earth any one would ever think reversing a climb would be fun) or at locations where there where great DH trails but they’d cunningly decided to use the worst, flattest trails available instead.

We said to ourselves wouldn’t it be great if someone put on a enduro race but just used DH trails so you got to ride around all day just ripping down the best trails.

Then Carl Davison of NDH decided to turn his attention from purely DH races to enduro racing and so was invented the Kidland Enduro, using tracks that are predominantly downhill and technical.

Kidland Enduro race
M&L rider Pete on track (pic: JWDT Photography)

Now in its third year its generally run in the Kidland-Alwinton valley – Kidland being one side of the valley and Alwinton the other – with two stages on the Alwinton side and one on the Kidland side.

It’s always been one of my favourite spots to ride and race from the early days of riding the DH tracks, I’ve rode all over Britain and Europe but still regard Alwinton DH track as one of the technically toughest tracks I’ve rode, possibly because it’s never dry there!

Luckily for most and possibly even myself, although the enduro tracks use parts of the DH tracks they miss the really gnarly stuff, I’m still not sure I’d like to tackle these sections on my trail bike with my XC lid. I used to drop into these sections during the DH race weekends and think it was pretty much 50/50 whether I would get down them cleanly. Sadly NDH no longer run the DH races because numbers attending them dropped.

Anyway it was back to Kidland for the second time this year for round 3 of the ND(H)URO. Round 3 was originally scheduled for Kielder but due to circumstances Carl had to move it back to Kidland.

Unfortunately NDH only have permission to use the Alwinton side once a year but luckily Carl and the NDH crew have built a new track on the Kidland side and decided to run it with 2 stages – with practice in the morning and then both tracks being raced twice in the afternoon effectively making four stages.

I actually quite liked the fact we got to ride each stage three times as I always feel it takes me three runs to really start to get to grips with a track. Most importantly this was the  inaugural  Mackerel and Laphroaig Cup(cake) with the the fastest Mackerel and Laphroaig team member taking the cupcake baked by Pete’s wife Heather, who he’d recently sent on a cake-baking course.

A bloody brilliant idea, I think I’ll be sending my wife for her Christmas present.

Me and Pete drove over early doors and met up with fellow Mackerel man Chris, as he doesn’t like early get ups and decided to head over Saturday night. luckily just as we rolled up he was just doing some bacon rolls so we were treated to some pre-ride cards, protein and importantly essential fats, no one can say the Mackerel men don’t take this racing lark seriously!

After kitting up and signing on we headed up the hill, although there’s not a lot of peddling in the stages it’s still a fairly big day, when we did the first round in May the full day was 1,500m of climbing and 33km long, today was slightly shorter with 1266m of climbing and 23km long, as the hill on the Kidland side is slightly smaller.

Practice was 10am to noon, enough time to practice both tracks once comfortably – but with some people squeezing in three runs.

Then racing started at 12 with the first two stages being run on the new track. The track was mainly built on the section of the hill that wasn’t heavily populated with trees and was a mix of fresh taped, off-camber grassy sections with some steep tight turns and some built-up rock paths – and it finished back on the last two off-camber dusty corners of the original enduro track.

It was different to nearly any other kind of stage I’ve rode and a few people were scratching there heads as how to ride it fast, but I enjoyed it and it seemed like most others did. Stage one and my first race run, and I managed to wash my front wheel out twice. Once on an off-camber grass section and the second time on the  last-but-one corner which was really loose and dusty.

Both tracks finished back near the sign-on trailer and you could dib in and check your times. Chris had taken the lead of the M&LCC by two seconds from myself, with Pete in third not really feeling the track and having a few issues like myself.

Luckily for me stage two was on the same track and I managed to lay down a good run leapfrogging Chris to lead the M&L charge.

Stage three was the now-established Kidland enduro track which they’ve used for the past few years, it starts on the original DH track and it’s tight, twisty and rooty at the top – but not steep.

It feels really good as although it’s tight it can be ridden fast. I must have been enjoying it a little too much as just as the track comes out of the denser trees they had taped in a new section but I managed to run straight under the tape and off the track. Some choice words were shouted at me as I braked to a halt and dragged my bike back onto the track.

It then cut back into the trees and began to drop steeper and looser before cutting off the original DH track to miss the real steep stuff.

The rest of my run went smoothly and luckily for me, Chris and Pete both had a couple of directional issue of their own, mainly trees in their way and corners not going the same way as they decided to steer there bikes – so I was left leading the M&LCC with one stage to go. Other riders do slightly matter to us but the main thing is to be the fastest Mackerel.

Stage four was the same as stage three and I felt confident. I was enjoying the top section again and remembered about the re-taping which had caught me out the first time

I felt good but then my front wheel washed out twice as I got on the steeper looser stuff. When we got back to the NDH trailer Chris had pipped me on the stage but I’d manged to hold on to win the first M&LCC and gain revenge for Chris and Pete beating me in the earlier Kidland round.

Neal takes the cake
Neal (your author) takes the cake from Chris

In the actual race I placed 12th with Chris in 18th and Pete 19th out of 34 finishers in the masters category.

The fields are nearly always small at Kidland I’m not sure weather it’s because of the location in north Northumberland or that people are put off by the tracks.

Enduro races in general seem to have swung more towards the tracks being technical and gravity-based but still none of them are quite in the league of Kidland and Alwinton.

Other races have sections which are tricky and challenging to ride but these tracks have sections that can catch you out top to bottom. These aren’t the type of tracks that you find at waymarked mountain bike locations or on bridleways, they’re the kind of secret downhill tracks that a few mates  have cut  out down the local steep woods.

They’re ruff and ready, there not built up smooth with big berms and jumps, they’re off-camber and rooty and for people not used to this kind of stuff they can be a bit daunting – but for those that are prepared to come and give them a go and commit to riding them they are very rewarding.

Personally I find nailing a run down one of these kind of tracks  far more rewarding and definitely more fun than burning my legs out on a trail centre. Next year Carl is running a two-day event here with five stages – it’s going to be a great weekend so get entered.

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