The Mental Edge
Gaining that Mental Edge to win Enduros.
Tips from Jake Todd
Bumper sticker seen on the back of a trailer hauling dirt bikes - "Experience is something you get after you need it"
It's true, there is no substitute for experience. Being successful at anything means gaining the right experience at the right time and using it to your advantage. You want to learn something from everything you see and do.

The problem occurs when you decide to start racing and you find yourself out there trying to go faster, the experience you gain sometimes comes at a high price. Insurance companies ask irritating questions, wives and employers complain, and you don't like it either.

It doesn't always have to be that way, if you can learn from what you hear, and relate it to what you actually feel on the seat.
You've seen guys ride fast and wondered how they do it race after race, year after year, don't you? Well, they have gained a mental edge. They've crossed a threshold and changed what they concentrate on when they are riding.
One A rider, when asked how he did it, described the transition from "controlled panic slow riding" to "smooth relaxed fast riding" once very simply by saying "Something just turned on... ".

You remember when you started riding, dont' you? You sat on your friend's bike while fantasies of crossing up the front end jumping the ditch behind the house danced through your head. As you twisted the throttle, here's your buddy trying to coach you with advice, "Give it a little gas and let out on the clutch slowly".
Whether it was that particular day, or the day your dad bought you a bike, or even the day your mother finally gave in and let you go to the bank for your paper route money clutching the newspaper ad in one hand, you got a bike.
The first riding session consisted of trying to take off and ride around somewhere, and you always had someone else coaching you. If you were really unlucky, your mom and Kodak were capturing the moment. The first thing you did was dump the clutch and fall over, or stall the bike and fall over. After you figured it out enough to get going, the next thing you did was grab a handful of front brake at just the wrong time and fall over.
If there was anyone watching, the odds go up you went high siding on an off camber downhill, went over the bars, and put on a good show. From there you start riding, and it's your favorite thing to do from then on.
You crash, you learn.
You go faster, chasing your friends and your brother down the trail.
You crash, you learn.
The number one thing you learn is "crashing sucks".
The number two thing you learn is how fast you can safely go. You have to un-learn that part.
So you find yourself entering a local hare scramble, then a motocross. You get a parade lap practice and a look at the course before you race.
Next, you ride an enduro and discover the love of your life. Enduro trail, where it's not just a trail, it's an adventure.

With enduros being laid out different than hare scrambles, you rarely, if ever, see the same trail twice and pre-riding is not allowed. Each turn is new, every hill different, each mudhole trenched with different lines, consequently you need to be ready for anything at every turn. After you discover this heads up style of riding is fun, you go to more and more enduros trying to go faster through the test sections, instead of just surviving them.

"Test sections" are trail you normally wouldn't go play riding on, designed to slow you down. The best way to practice enduros is to ride enduros, since you don't see this kind of trail anywhere else. You finish a few enduros, and realize you are riding at a certain speed and can't understand how you could possibly go any faster.
You crash when you do, which slows you down.
You start begging and gaining riding tips from your friends, and if you are lucky, the pros.

KTM sponsored 3 time National Enduro Champion Mike Lafferty writes a regular column full of honest, informative, and actually relevant riding tips for Trail Rider magazine. Some of the topics he covers are off camber turns, pre-jumping, log crossing, and he always stresses practicing on specific obstacles when you aren't racing.
Do it.

Practice obstacles until dealing with everything you might expect is comfortable and automatic. Training your semi-concious brain to make the correct movements on your bike, and the actions of your controls automatic, will free up your concious brain to focus on the trail ahead. The goal is to have fewer crashes and go faster and the principle is repetition. Do it right, over and over.
Ingrain that feeling deep into your sub-conciousness. Gain that mental edge where you no longer have to think about HOW to do it.

Practice getting off your seat and keeping your feet on the pegs. Also practice the specific mechanics to going faster through a tough enduro sections following the tips on the terrain.

Rocky trail tips include setting up the suspension really soft and staying on the gas when you are scared.

Tight trees tips include shaving your bars down and using the bottom of the trees as berms.

Here are a few more specific things I hear from A class enduro riders to practice until they become automatic.

1 - Look down the trail, not at your front wheel. Looking through the trees for the trail past the turns can give you a good idea of how tight the turn is and how fast you can come out of it, which will give you an idea of how to set up for the turn and execute it. Inside? Outside? railing fast? braking slide? Any advance knowledge of what to expect ahead of you improves your chances of going faster through it. Plus, you decrease the chances of fixating on an obstacle in the trail.

2 - Ride with your center of gravity over your footpegs. Whether you stand up or sit down, this will keep you in a position to be able to react fast enough to the obstacles you see, and many of them you don't, without crashing. You don't HAVE to fall down every time you hit something. You've seen guys moving all over their bike searching out and maintaining that center of gravity almost like a rubber band was tied from their butt to that point on the seat right behind the gas tank lid? That's what they are doing, reacting to an obstacle and seeking that center again.
Sometimes you've been passed well enough to not lose momentum and have gotten to follow a faster rider down the trail for a little ways. You've seen his back wheel fly all over the place, a solid plant into the turn ahead of you, and then never seen him again.
You've wondered "How in the hell do they do that all day without crashing?" When you find them and ask them about it, they don't even remember the back wheel flying around.

3 - Accelerate into, and all the way through, the turns. It's all about turns and as you try to go faster, you naturally change from steering through a turn, to a technique of braking into the turn, sliding the rear wheel into position, dumping the clutch and accelerating in almost a straight line out of the turn.
This looks dramatic and is a nice adrenalin rush, but not always the fastest way to carve turns all day long, plus it uses lots of energy.

Physics guru Ray Gamache tried to draw it on a piece of paper to show me how it works. We were on the way to the hospital to patch his broken fingers, so it's not legible, but Vet A rider Jake Todd explained it this way "Do all your braking in a straight line before the turn. When you get to the turn, you should be a pushing your back wheel down for traction as you get on the gas and accelerate through the turn. It's easier to steer out of a turn while you are accelerating, and you are really taking less time on the turn."
Since enduros have thousands of turns and are sometimes won by seconds, shaving 1/10th second on each turn can mean two or more places at the finish.

4 - Change your handlebar bend and your lever positions. Bend your bars to more in-line with your crossbar. Straight handlebars put your wrists in a better position for everything you are asking them to do. Put your levers lower so you don't have to work so hard to reach them when your arms are in position for a turn.

You've done this.
You are going faster than normal, feeling good. Watching down the trail and picking good lines. You are already in perfect position to react, since your feet are on the pegs and your balance is perfect. You slide a turn just right and see a rock or a tree right in your line. By the time you hit it, you've indelibly etched the patterns on the bark, or the edges on the rock in your brain because you stared at it the whole time you were headed for it.
After you pick yourself up, it's rattled your cage and shaken your confidence, and it takes a mile or more to get back into a rhythm. It takes an effort, but it pays off to practice forcing yourself NOT to look at the obstacle, and concentrate all your mental focus on the alternate line and making the correction of position for your bike and body to absorb the impact of the suspension IF you hit the obstacle, while still aiming down the trail past the obstacle.

6 - Dont' ride the ruts.
Ok, you are on a late minute and the trail is well bedded in. You've got a nice little slot car track through the woods. The fast guys have built up some nice berms on most of the turns. You are using your new technique of accelerating through the turns. You are trying to go faster, though, remember?
You've got alot of miles ahead of you, and the fastest line is not always right in the middle of the trail.
Try to ride a little to the left or right of the middle of the trail. You'll feel less rough braking bumps going into turns, and you'll miss more of the whoops coming out of them.

Another important rut tip is to ride ACROSS the ruts if it's sloppy. When you realize they are usually deeper and softer than they look, you gain the experience of how to yank your bike from a rut before it's cemented in, becoming another trail obstacle for the rows behind you. You've passed this art form before, and either gotten a case of nerves, or if you are lucky, motivation.
Once you learn how to get un-stuck, you really don't need to practice it, but rather practice avoiding it. Turn the mudhole into one or more traversing turns, riding across the ruts and using them as actual traction.

There are many more tips on how to win at enduros.
Visit the District 7 enduro website and check the links page.

There are also many more tips and things you can do to go consistently faster without hurting yourself which you will learn the more you compete. One ECEA A class enduro rider gives this advice:
"Think to yourself all day long "I am Grand Champion" and keep moving, even when you are tired. Going fast uses less energy than going slow, but going slow is better than stopping." another says "Don't think about your riding. Focus on where you want your front wheel to go, and let your bike and body do the rest."

Hours and hours of plain old seat time riding the correct way eventually trains the sub-concious part of your brain how to react and move your body automatically while your concious brain is busy scanning the trail ahead. That's what he's talking about, and it's the mental edge you need to go fast.

Soon, you, that moderately fast enduro rider will come through a tough test section to hear your buddies look at your score and say "Wow, you just came uncorked in there, didn't you?" and you'll reply "Something just turned on..."

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