This isn’t the typical stage race that most of us are used to. What York Timbers have done is create an event for a five-man team with up to 16 timed enduro stages. The rally ranged from cross country, downhill, hill climbs, dual slalom, and even the occasional Kurt Darren skoffel-sokkie to keep the legs warm on cold Sabie nights. The event tests a full range of mountain biking skills: fitness, technical bike handling, and the ability to share stoke and have a good time.
There are no early morning jitters before the race, everything is taken care of and you dictate your own pace, with enough time to get a breakfast twice, before lining up at the start line.
The air in the Mpumalanga mountains was so thin it had our seaside lungs clapping hands, paying for each breath taken. Although, the tougher the climb, the better the descent. Well, best believe the descents were sweet because the climbs were tough as nails. On average we were climbing 1500 metres within 35-40 kilometres.
As soon as we started climbing, we had to settle in, buckle down, and pay attention. There are no climbs under 30 minutes in the good old granny gear at York. Trails are specifically built for the event and the majority of the trails had a perfect balance between gravity riding and pedalling. Not overly technical, yet just enough to keep you on your toes, always excited and anticipating the next piece to carve up.
Piet van Zyl (CEO of York Timbers) mentioned that the faster you go, the more the tightly spaced trees tend to jump in your way. I realised my 780mm Specialized Trail handlebars could just as well have been a Stihl chainsaw with all the close calls I had inside the narrow plantation single tracks.
Special treatment came daily, and being spoilt became the norm. Shuttles aided us to the very top of Long Tom Pass, and the downhill course from where the whip-off jump sets off. I could not only watch the best in the business go down, but also slay some berms in the dual slalom eliminator myself. To balance out the downhill runs, York also included an uphill team time trial, a team cross country relay and finally a 55-kilometre neutral marathon, which would contribute to the team’s overall score.
Every day was rounded off with a banquet of good food and top-notch entertainment. All of which was only a two-minute walk from your bed, as all guests were accommodated by York Timbers, who also own the onsite Floreat Riverside lodge, making it conveniently close and comfortable for those with tired legs.
Each four-man corporate team at the York Enduro are assigned a pro-rider to mix things up and improve their scores. Our team was completed by our assigned pro-rider: 17-year old downhill and cross-country powerhouse, Zandri Strydom. From overseas freeride legend Matt Hunter and Hannah Barnes joined in the fun, alongside a long list of local pros including the NAD Pro MTB team, triathlon legend Conrad “Caveman” Stoltz, and many more.
Our team consisted of our wolf pack armed with our weapons of choice as follows:
Lycra bandit and our Sales representative for northern territory stores, Werner Roux, opted for a purebred XC race machine, the 2019 S-Works Epic.
Managing Director, Bobby Behan, chose the 2019 Epic Expert EVO: a more capable Epic, specced with a dropper post, 120 mm fork and burlier tyres than the standard Epic, while still offering the climbing pedigree of the Brain Shock and Epic chassis.
In-house sales support, and the primary connection to our Sales people in the field, Tim Wilkins chose the new 2019 S-Works Stumpjumper, a 140mm rear travel trail slayer.
I opted for the 2019 S-Works Stumpjumper ST. A capable short travel trail bike with 120mm rear travel. Offering a bit more beef than the Epic EVO, but nippier handling than the Stumpjumper.
By the end of the event, Bobby and I were the happiest with our bike choice, the Epic EVO and Stumpjumper ST respectively. Both bikes were more forgiving of the climbing required than the Stumpjumper, and allowed us to have a little more fun on the gnarly trails than the Epic.
At the end of the day bike choice is always a tough one, but for those looking for a versatile, one-bike-to-rule them all, here’s what we found:
The York Enduro dishes out challenging trails and curveballs from every angle, challenging a range of skills, encouraging teamwork and embracing the true spirit of mountain biking. It is the ultimate test of rider and bike versatility, all the while keeping it fun, which is after all, why most of us ride. It is a completely left-field and unique experience, and the best event we have been lucky enough to participate in.
A huge thank you to York Timbers for hosting us.