EXTREMISTS - OF THE MOTORCYCLE VARIETY!
THE 'FAST EDDY RACING CLUB' LIVES UP TO ITS NAME!
Cowm Quarry sits in a cleft of moorland hills to the north of Rochdale - that's waaay up north for you London and southern metropolitan types. It's dominated by a huge slab rock wall and a high earth hill looms behind this.
Groups are huddled in the crags of the rock outcrops with a spectacular view over across the quarry floor and the hill; and they've managed to light a fire to keep the worst of the cold and damp at bay. Even though the calendar has announced the beginning of Spring, it's irrelevant today as assorted grey clouds race across the hilltops and drop varying quantities of rain.
The spectators wait to hear the sound of engines and the startline roar as seventy plus riders point their machines into the mud and rock morass.
We're all here to watch a round of the FIM European Extreme Cup and the ACU British Extreme Enduro Championship organised by the Fast Eddy Racing Club: Fast Eddy refers to Paul Edmondson four times world enduro champion who organises the punishing Extreme Enduro events that require, from those who enter, a mix of trials, moto cross, and enduro skill and experience. In short, balance and technical bike handling, speed and bags of stamina. Today's race is scheduled to run for two and half hours from flag to flag.
A Rock and a Hard Place
Cowm has been used for trials competition and practice since the 1950's, and is now an all round off road facility with sessions and practice days for enduro riders too, and for mini bikes up to 85cc for kids. It's remote, well away from houses and other premises where bike and 4X4 noise might be a disturbance. And to give you an impression of how inhospitable weather can affect the running of practice sessions and events, their website advises “our tracks sometimes have to be closed because of high winds, waterlogging or because they are frozen” www.cowmleisure.com
Rock and Roll
The top UK riders have entered. Names that are well known in world and UK extreme enduro land. David Knight, Jonny Walker and Paul Bolton are among the twenty riders in the Pro Class. Riders who earn their crust on the world circuits, and are supported by the works teams. KTM dominate, and in the paddock spectators cluster around the KTM marquee looking at bikes which all look the same to me. There's a contingent of seven competitors from Germany in the mix too.
Hard Rock and Liquid Mud
If the spectators think they are having a hard time, the riders have to endure much worse. Mud is everywhere, and the riders' paddock is a covered in it; but no one seems to mind. The organisers have described the course as being “significantly harder than last years” with “steeper, longer and tougher climbs” which will “test the toughest of riders”. I feel a certain degree of smugness as mine is the only two wheeler in the parking area. But it soon turns to regret that I didn't decide on car and walking gear as my riding boots and over trousers become coated in the aforementioned liquid mud.
At these enduro events spectators are as close to the action as they want to be. There is just marker tape between you and the riders, and you're free to wander any part of the course. The health and safety police would be apoplectic, but down the years at these and events with similar 'lax' control I've never witnessed or heard of spectators being injured by riders. This would be because many of the people who attend are riders or ex-riders and know where to place themselves according to the conditions. Some are even willing to jump into the mud and help fallen riders.
Kings of Rock
The high rock crag top proved to be a spectacular vantage point. It wasn't long before riders were flailing and failing in attempts at the big, big hill. A tumble or stall very near the top often found willing folk ready to pull bike and rider to the summit. On the lower reaches the only solution was to turn the bike around and head downwards to take another run at it. On a near vertical climb on a rock and slither surface it's energy sapping and difficult to remount the bike.
Courage, confidence and the quickest of reactions were needed to pick out the right line from any number of routes; or to avoid a fallen rider. Even the almost invincible David Knight, the eventual winner, struggled on one ascent and found himself heading downwards.
Time for a Rock Cake?
After an hour or so I climbed back to the paddock in search of refreshment. Regrets I have a few, and one was not being shod in walking boots, as I looked for rocks or anything solid to balance on as I progressed downhill. The rate of attrition amongst the riders was noticeable, whether by human or mechanical exhaustion it was hard to tell. Two riders, Jonny Walker and David Knight were well ahead of the rest of the field, with Walker leading by seventeen seconds; a lead that could be swiftly erased with even a small mistake over this type of terrain.
Walker seemed to be the spectators favourite, and he was being urged on all round the course. He's a works rider for KTM, while Knight who has been at the top of the world enduro tree for several years rides a Sherco and is also backed by Red Bull. He eventually ran out the winner despite a heavy crash, and he commented that this made him relax and go faster. I guess that's just one of the differences between competitors at this level and us mortals www.jonnywalkerracing.co.uk and www.knighter.net.
If you've never experienced Extreme Enduro before make it one of this year's bike outings; you will marvel at the skills, determination and courage of the riders involved.
Check www.fasteddyracing.com for their upcoming events, and check the weather forecast if you want to avoid after event riding gear and bike cleaning!
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Do you go to Enduro events as a spectator or a participant? If so we'd love to hear about your experiences - email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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