The Newbie Guide to Enduros
Origins of Enduro Racing
Nearly a century ago, a
youthful group of
quantum engineers
became distracted after a
long evening struggling
with theories on
radioactive decay. Particle
physics had lost its luster,
and the scientists were
ready to tackle another
problem:
Why were the
engineers consistently
slower in off-road
motorcycle competitions
than their non-scientific
counterparts?
With the
advent of the motor
carriage and its cousin,
the motor-driven
fortunate that such an important document was preserved by the
engineers and their descendants.

So, ok...I really don't have any idea how or why enduro racing came
to be, and I chose to perform no research whatsoever on its history.
But I figure the enduro concept had to have come from people much
smarter than me. Whenever I've attempted to explain how these races
work to newbies or non-racing friends and family, I might as well have
summarized Stephen Hawking's theories on cosmology - the
reactions are the same.  This joyfully confusing form of racing has
been around for decades, which is about as long as it's taken me to
nearly understand the rules and strategy.

The Basics
Ignorance aside, here is a general overview of my complete
knowledge of timekeeping enduro racing:

  1. The races are long.
  2. A concept called "timekeeping" plays a large role in who wins.
  3. There are many ways to eliminate yourself from trophy contention
    without crashing, breaking things, or getting stuck in the mud.

The object of the game is to maintain an average speed. Riding faster
or slower than the average speed generates penalties. Every so often,
speed averages are checked and penalties assessed to those who fail
to maintain the average. Oddly, the penalties are greater for riding too
fast than too slow. That is mostly designed to prevent riders from
speeding through the course during periods when the race organizers
would like everyone to take a break.

So how does one know if he is maintaining the proper speed
average? This is where enduro rules come into play, and there are a
lot of them. The first rule is that the race starts at a designated "key
time", which is usually sometime in the morning and almost always at
the top of the hour. Each minute, from that point on, riders leave the
starting line in small groups, each departing in the order of the
"minute" they've been assigned. A rider's minute is also referred to as
a "row". The rows are usually made up of 4 or 5 riders who will see a
lot of each other throughout the day.

Most enduro courses are set up with enough trails to keep riders
occupied for the better part of a day. For those accustomed to racing
hare scrambles or other forms of closed-course off-road events, the
intensity of a dead-engine start within a long row of competitors will
be replaced with the mental challenge of knowing the clock is your
primary rival. The riding varies among sprinting, cruising, and resting.
Wherever an enduro is staged, the competitors will see just about
every type of terrain the region has to offer.

Route Sheet
Upon registration, the organizing club provides each rider with a route
sheet. This very important piece of paper identifies the initial speed
average and any changes to that average throughout the course. The
route sheet provides information about certain points of interest on the
course, such as important turns, refueling stops, and the finish line.
In addition, the route sheet identifies special "catch-up" features
called a Resets. These resets are significant, because they allow
riders to get back on schedule if they're riding slower than the
required speed average. And much of the time, the average enduro
racer will struggle to remain on schedule.

One of the most common enduro speed averages is 24 mph, for
reasons that have as much to do with the math used in measuring
average speed, as with the difficulty in maintaining such a speed
inside the woods. Most trails are filled with enough trees and rocks
and other obstacles to prevent even the fastest riders from
maintaining 24 mph. The race organizers know it's unlikely that any
riders can stay on such an aggressive time schedule, so resets are
inserted at various points in the course to give riders a chance to get
back on time.  The resets have the effect of instantly "teleporting"
riders to a place further down the trail. Sounds magical, but it's really
not. The reset is simply a point on the route sheet that instructs riders
to advance their odometers forward by a certain number of miles. In
other words, the race promoters say, "When you arrive at mile marker
X, pretend you're really at mile marker X + Y." That effectively moves
you forward on the course, without taking any time to do it. Therefore,
your average speed increases, and
Presto! You're back on time...that
is, if you weren't already so far behind that the reset still did not get
you caught up.

Route sheets may also contain special instructions, warnings, or
general information of interest to riders. Below is an example of a
route sheet from the Akeley West enduro in the great state of
Minnesota, hosted by the
Norsemen Motorcycle Club.
the Leadbelt Enduro roll chart indicates that you're supposed to see
40.4 miles on your odometer at precisely 10:01. In practice, it's just
about impossible to read the watch and the roll chart unless you're at
a complete stop. The bike just bounces too much. A better option is a
digital clock
like this, with larger numbers. These can be bought
cheaply at Walmart or any auto parts store, and a strip or two of clear
packaging tape makes them somewhat water resistant. I taped two
digital clocks to my handlebars (a second one for backup), which
helped greatly in seeing the time, but I still couldn't read the mileage
on the roll chart while I was riding - not that it really mattered,
because when the time mattered most, I was usually behind schedule
and had no other option than to ride as fast as I could.

In a 24 mph average speed, riders should be traveling 0.4 miles every
minute. Enduro clubs often choose 24 mph because it's a tough
speed to maintain in the woods and the math is easier. Every 15
seconds equates to one-tenth of a mile. Riding one mile at 24 mph
takes 2.5 minutes. Other common speed averages are 18 mph (0.3
miles per minute) and 30 mph (a half mile per minute), for the same
mathematical reasons. In very tight, technical trails, enduro clubs will
sometimes use a lower 18 mph average. A 30 mph average might be
seen in wider, more open trails.

If you're really good with quick math, you might be able to calculate
these numbers in your head instantly and not need a roll chart. I
believe it was either Malcolm Smith or Dick Burleson who once said in
an interview that he could do the math in his head, which gave him an
advantage. Then enduro computers came along and leveled the
playing field. From experience, I can honestly say that anyone who
has the ability to mentally calculate where he should be on the course
at any given time during the race, all the while dodging trees and ruts
and rocks, is more of a man than I am. And based on what Mssrs.
Smith and Burleson accomplished in enduro racing back in the day,
on motorcycles far inferior to what I ride now, those two were certainly
smarter guys than I'll ever be.

For most of us, we need some help with the math and the roll chart
serves this purpose. The challenge is being able to read the
odometer, advance the roll chart holder to the correct spot in the roll
chart, read the time on the watch, find the corresponding time on the
roll chart, and then figure out if you're on schedule. All of this has to
be done while trying to avoid trail obstacles of all shapes and sizes.
It's basically impossible. But that's ok, because most mortal men can't
maintain a 24 mph average inside the woods. Once a woods section
begins, you're mainly just riding as fast as you can. The roll chart
ends up being used more as a gauge for when to enter (or not enter)
the woods after a reset.

The reason for this is that enduro clubs can be tricky with the route
sheets. An enduro, by its nature, is really just a series of tests. These
tests are made up of tough sections where it's very difficult to
maintain the required speed average. The club challenges each rider
in these sections, then places checkpoints near the ends of the
sections to see how close the riders came to the speed average. At
that point, most (if not all) the riders will be behind schedule, so the
real contest is to ride those sections faster than everyone else, be
less late, and thus be penalized to a lesser degree. A reset is usually
placed just after the checkpoint at the end of the test, giving most
riders a time cushion in which to rest and/or get back on schedule.

Temptation comes with these resets, however. A rider who finds
himself well ahead of schedule has two choices: 1) continue riding
through the course ahead of schedule; or 2) rest until enough time
passes to get back on schedule. An example of this temptation comes
often in Midwest enduros, which typically include roads linking up the
various test sections. These transfer roads often come at the end of
test sections, so riders may travel several miles through the woods,
get scored at a check, and then come out to a road. The check might
be followed by a reset, which is designed for riders to get back on
schedule so they don't feel the need to race at Warp Factor 9 over
public roads. Most riders will cruise down the roads to the start of the
next woods section, where they'll probably arrive ahead of schedule
and wait patiently. Others will take a risk and enter the woods early,
not knowing if the next checkpoint is placed just outside of view or
several miles down the trail. Clubs often locate these checks a short
distance inside the woods to keep riders honest. After all, showing up
early to most checkpoints comes with severe penalties. The roll chart
tells you when it's safe to enter the woods.

Checkpoints
A typical enduro includes 4 types of checkpoints:

  1. Start Control: This is a designated starting or release point. Most
    timekeeper enduros will have just one of these at the beginning of
    the race. "Qualifier" or "Restart" format enduros will have several,
    because those events are a series of special tests where you're
    "released" at various points to complete the tests. You can show
    up early at a Start Control without penalty. Start Control checks
    are marked with a banner containing the letters "ST".
  2. Secret Check: This is, as the name implies, a check that is
    "secret", meaning you won't know where it's located (although
    once you get proficient at interpreting route sheets, you can
    probably guess). These checkpoints are marked with a banner
    that looks like this. Secret checks are timed to the minute. There
    are limitations on where these checks can be located.
  3. Emergency Check: This is a check that is secret, and is timed to
    the second. Emergency checks are tiebreakers for when riders'
    scores at Secret checks are identical. An Emergency check is
    marked with a banner like this. There are limitations on where
    these checks can be located.
  4. Observation Check: As its name suggests, an Observation check
    is designed to observe whether you're staying on the course or
    not. Also referred to as "OB" checks, these can be located
    anywhere on the course. OB checks are marked with a banner
    that looks like this.

Here is where it's very helpful to read and understand the
AMA
enduro rule book, for there are specific instances where these checks
can and can't be used. For example, a timed check (i.e. #2 and #3
above) has to be placed on an even tenth of a mile. Following a Start
Control or timed check, the next timed checkpoint has to be at least 3
miles further down the trail. Timed checks can't be located within 2
miles before or 3 miles after a designated gas stop.

Then there's the "Known Control" concept, which is a point on the
course that is identified on the route sheet and known to all. Known
Controls are timed checkpoints, but only if you're late in arriving, or
more than 15 minutes early. Also, Known Controls can't be
Emergency checks, so they are basically Secret Checks without
penalties for early arrival (unless you're more than 15 minutes early).
The finish line is supposed to always be a Known Control, but there is
an exception to that listed in the rule book. Are you confused yet?
Don't worry, you won't be alone. At an enduro near Roselawn, Indiana
in 2010, I was well ahead of schedule near the finish line, which I
knew to be a Known Control. Problem was, I didn't know if I could
keep riding towards the finish line (visible a quarter-mile across an
open field) or if I would be penalized for arriving early - and neither
did about 20 other riders parked around me. It was April and I was
cold, wet, and in need of a warm, dry pickup truck. So there I sat
needlessly for 10 minutes, freezing my ass when I could have been
comfortable inside my truck.
little late to arrive at the 4.60 mile marker, so the
reset gives everyone a chance to get back on
time. Resets might also allow some time to rest.
For example, if you arrived at the 4.60 mile
marker 15 minutes into the race, then after
resetting your odometer you'd now be ahead of
schedule. The reset effectively moves you
ahead to mile marker 8.54, which you're not
scheduled to arrive at until 21 minutes and 21
seconds into the race. So you would have over
6 minutes before you needed to start moving
again.

We'll get into more details about what the rest
of the route sheet numbers mean later, but first
let's show what you would do with this
information if your intention was to keep time
the old-school way: Roll chart, odometer and a
watch.

Keeping Time
In order to encourage prospective enduro
racers to get in the game and go racing,
experienced enduro folks will often gently
encourage these riders by saying things like
"Don't worry, all you need is a watch and an
odometer" or "Just find someone on your row
with an enduro computer and stay behind him."
These well-meaning individuals aren't really
painting the full picture of timekeeping. While a
watch and an odometer are certainly basic
requirements, unless you are excellent at
quickly calculating math problems, you'll also
need a roll chart and a roll chart holder. A roll
chart is made up of a long series of mileage
points and the corresponding times on the
clock in which you would need to arrive at those
mileage points in order to maintain the average
speed.

Here is an example of a roll chart (click on the
photo for an enlarged view):
Editor's note: the following discussion focuses on the art of
"timekeeping" enduros, and by that I mean old-school cross
country racing against the clock - the kind that requires
maintaining an average speed over the length of the course.
While there are other types of enduros with different rules (i.e.
Brand-X, ISDE qualifiers, etc), below is my take on traditional
timekeeping enduros.

If you are new to or inexperienced in racing enduros, it may help
to review the official  
American Motorcyclist Association rules of
enduro racing before reading the rest of this page. Also, check
out
this awesome video by Mike Pohl. Enjoy!
The roll chart in the pictures came from the 2005 Leadbelt Enduro at
Park Hills, Missouri. The
Missouri Mudders club was nice enough to
provide a route sheet in advance of the race so I could put together
my roll chart ahead of time. Some clubs don't do this, and I would be
stuck bringing a generic roll chart to the race and then modifying it to
suit the route sheet.  It takes time, which is usually at a premium on
the morning of the race. The Leadbelt contained a number of speed
average changes as noted in the roll chart. The Akeley West enduro
did not contain any speed average changes. Its entire route was run
at 24 mph.

Using the Leadbelt Enduro route sheet, I set up the spreadsheet to
calculate exactly where I should be on the course at the top of each
minute. Their route sheet assumed that I would set my clock or watch
to read 8:00 (the Leadbelt keytime) when I began racing. Therefore,
when my clock said 10:03 a.m. , I should have been at mile marker
41.2. If my odometer read less than 41.2 at 10:03, I was running
behind.

The Akeley West route sheet assumed a stopwatch would be used to
keep time. When the race started, the times corresponding to the
various points on the route sheet would be the elapsed time since the
start.

The roll chart holder mounts to the handlebars and has two knobs;
one to advance forward and one to advance backward. In theory,
throughout the race you're regularly scanning the roll chart to see
how well it matches up with your watch and odometer. For example,
Most of this
information may
actually be
accurate!
Typical enduro checkpoints. Expect to see at least 3 people manning the
checks. One person calls out the time or arrival; one or two people write down
the times on the riders' score cards; and one person records the times on a
backup sheet in case there are discrepancies with the score cards, or a rider
loses his or her score card.
Scoring
The object of the enduro game is to be the least penalized rider.
Penalties are assessed in the form of points added to a rider's score
when early or late to timed checkpoints. But of course, it wouldn't be
an enduro without including
two kinds of points - one for Secret
Checks and another for Emergency Checks. Secret Checks are timed
to the minute, while Emerency Checks are timed to the second. Show
up two minutes late to a Secret Check and you'll have 2 points added
to your score. Show up two minutes late to an Emergency Check and
you'll have those same two points added to your score, plus an
allotment of Emergency points that are based on the number of
seconds you're late. A rider's final score is usually expressed in terms
of how many points were "dropped" at timed checkpoints. The
Emergency points are used for tiebreaker purposes. For now, let's
start with the scoring procedure for Secret Checks.

It's a Secret!
So we already know that for each minute you're late to a Secret
Check, one point is added to what I call the "regular" score (i.e. the
cumulative total number of points assessed at the timed checks).
You're also penalized for showing up early to a Secret Check -
s
everely penalized. The first minute you're early, 2 points are added
to your score. Each additional minute early adds another
5 points to
your score. If you were to show up to a checkpoint, say, 10 minutes
early,
47 points will be added to your score.  Since the lowest score
wins enduros, if you ride "hot" (i.e. ahead of schedule) and "burn" a
check by 10 minutes, no trophy for you...you're pretty much out of
contention and trail riding from there on.

This is why it's not uncommon to see riders loitering in various
locations on the trail, usually after a reset. Using a typical Midwest
enduro as an example, you might come out of the woods after a reset
and travel down pavement for a couple miles. You may come upon a
group of riders hanging out along a grass ditch next to arrows
pointing into a wooded area.
Why, you ask, are these guys resting?
It's because the reset and the road section put them ahead of
schedule and they don't want to risk entering the woods early. The
size of the potential penalties is what makes the riders pause. Even
showing up a few seconds early can cost a rider points that are
difficult to make up later in the race.

We got an Emergency!
An Emergency Check is scored somewhat similarly to a Secret Check,
in that the same points are added to your "regular" score for each
minute you're early or late arriving at the check. The "Emergency"
part of the score is a bit different. The correct way to show up to an
Emergency Check is to arrive exactly 30 seconds into your minute.
For instance, if an Emergency Check is located 30.0 miles into a
24-mph enduro, you want to show up at that check exactly 75
minutes and 30 seconds after you left the starting line. Do that and no
Emergency points will be added to your score. For every second you
arrive after 75.5 minutes, an Emergency point is added to your score.

In a tiebreaker situation, where two riders finish with the same number
of "regular" points, the Emergency points are added up. It's pretty
rare that any two riders would finish with identical Emergency points,
so this works well to break ties. Clubs will often set up Emergency
checkpoints at the end of particularly challenging and/or long
sections, where there can be larger variations in arrival times. That
way the Emergency points will serve their purpose and separate the
riders who tied in "regular" points.

Checkpoint Arrival
To really understand how points are assessed, you must know how
your assigned row relates to Keytime. If you are, for example, on row
15 and Keytime is 10:00 a.m., then your race will start at 10:15 a.m.
However, looking back on the Akeley enduro route sheet, you'll see
that it shows the mileage times as if you are the first row to leave. In
this case the Norsemen used elapsed time to indicate the various
mileage points, so you could simply bring a wristwatch with a
stopwatch function and start it up when the check crew told you to
leave. You don't want to do this...trust me. It's very difficult to push
small buttons with gloves on. Also, the movement of the motorcycle
might cause the watch to bump up against something (especially if
you strap it around the handlebars) and change the mode of
operation so you're looking at the timer or the clock or something you
don't want to see. Worse yet, you could manage to accidentally reset
the stopwatch, or do like I did once and get so caught up in the
excitement of the start that you forget to turn on the stopwatch.

Most riders simply adjust the time on their watch so that regardless of
row number, it will read 10:00 (or whatever the keytime) when it's time
to leave the starting line.  This is done by setting your watch
behind
the official keytime clock by the same amount of minutes as your row
number. In other words, subtract your row number from the time
shown on the keytime clock and set your watch to that. For example,
if you've been assigned row 15 and the keytime clock reads 9:35, your
watch should be set to 9:20. That way, when 10:00 rolls around on
your watch, your race begins.

The crews manning the starting line and the timed checkpoints all
carry synchronized clocks. These clocks are adjusted to the master
keytime clock and set up so that when a rider is scheduled to arrive at
a checkpoint (or depart, in the case of a Start Control), his row
number will be visible on flip cards. Typically you'll see one guy or gal
in charge of flip cards that are numbered sequentially. At the starting
line, these will be mounted on some sort of stand or post and made
visible to all. Each time the keytime clock turns over to a new minute,
the flip-card person flips over the next card. When it's time for the
race to begin, the card-flipper turns the cards over to "01" and the first
row leaves. If you're on row 15, you start when the "15" card is flipped
over, which should also (hopefully) be the same instant your clock
reads 10:00 (assuming 10:00 keytime).

This makes a little more sense when you look at how checkpoints are
set up throughout the course. For example, let's say the Keytime is
10:00 a.m. and the average speed is 24 mph. The first checkpoint,
located 10.0 miles into the race, is a Secret Check (i.e. timed to the
minute). Therefore, if you're on time, you should arrive at that
checkpoint 25 minutes after you started the race (i.e. 10:25:00). The
check crew will set up the same type of flip cards as you saw at the
starting line, and these cards will show "01" when the first row is
scheduled to arrive at the 10.0 mile marker. This makes it easy for
riders to know where they stand, just by looking at the flip cards as
they pull into the check (that is, if the check crew is nice enough to
make the flip cards visible as riders arrive - which they don't have to
do). If you're on row 15 and the flip card shows "15", then you're on
time. If the flip card reads less than 15, you're early; 16 or higher and
you're late.

A rider on row 15 is hoping to see "15" on the flip cards every time he
arrives at a timed checkpoint. Using the previous example with a
check at 10.0 miles, the rider's clock can read 10:25:59 and he will
still be considered on time. This allows, basically, a one-minute
window of opportunity. You don't always have to show up exactly at
the top of your minute to avoid penalties at Secret Checks, but this
should be your goal. That way, you effectively have almost a "spare"
minute to work with at the next check. For example, if you made it to
the 10.0-mile check right on schedule at 10:25:00 and the next
checkpoint is at 20.0 miles, your keytime-adjusted clock can read
10:50:59 at check #2 and you're still on time.  There's only 25 minutes
between the two checks (10.0 miles @ 2.5 minutes per mile), but by
showing up exactly on time at check #1, you gave yourself 25:59 to
make it to check #2 without being assessed any points.

Enduro Computers
Just about every time I pull up to the starting line of an enduro,
there's a guy on my row with no timekeeping equipment who says,
"I've only done a couple of these...there's a guy on my row with a
computer, so I'm just going to make sure I stay behind him."  If
aggressive trail rides are your thing and you want to come out and
help support the club, I got no problem with that. But if you come to
an enduro with any intention of being competitive, then I got some
other words for you: Try, at least, to figure it out. Don't rely 100% on
other riders. Bring a watch, buy a roll chart holder, and attempt to be
your own timekeeper.

A common mistake in enduro racing is to immediately buy an enduro
computer and think it's all good. You might convince yourself,
Now all
I have to do is enter the information from the route sheet...problem
solved, let's go racing!
After about 10 years of keeping time the old
fashioned way, before I finally switched to a
Watchdog enduro
computer, I can say that I learned lots more about the mechanics of
timekeeping than I would have if I'd bought a computer right away.
There's a simple reason for this: the computer is only as good as the
guy who programmed it. Believe me, I've screwed up the
programming more than once. What saved me was a general sense
of understanding about what's going on, that you'll never get if all you
know about enduros is how to enter information into a computer.

When I was first learning to use the Watchdog, I didn't realize that it
defaults to a 24 mph speed average. There's no reason to tell the
computer that the average speed is 24 mph at mile 0.00. In fact, if you
do, the thing won't work right. The odometer will stick firmly to 0.00
until the first speed change. If that happens, what should you do?
Maybe you get lucky and there's a faster guy on your row with a
computer. Or, maybe you've got a watch on your wrist that's on
adjusted time for your row. And you've got a copy of the route sheet
loaded into a roll chart holder. Maybe there are mileage markers
posted every so often for reference. If you're able to process this
available information and know what to do with it, you still might not
win the race, but at least maybe you'll feel like your day wasn't just a
trail ride.  

When I decided to step up to an enduro computer in 2007, the
Watchdog caught my eye because of it's lack of frills. After my years
of racing enduros and keeping time the old fashioned way, I knew
what I needed most. Mainly, I wanted to know 1) Am I on time or not;
2) How much ahead or behind am I; and 3) How does my odometer
compare to posted mile markers? The other, usually more expensive,
enduro computers had a lot of gee-whiz features that I just didn't see
the need for. One of the fancier models will beep at every mileage
point where a check is possible. Did I really need to pay more so I
could hear a beep every tenth of a mile? Through experience, I knew
what I needed and the Watchdog has served its purpose well. In fact,
it has a lot of features that I never touch.

If you do decide to go the computer route, do your research, scour
the off-road discussion forums, and talk to your computer-equipped
friends. Everyone's got opinions.
General Tips and Suggestions
If you're more accustomed to hare scrambles and other
"fastest-guy-wins" races, the most obvious difference in riding
enduros is the preparation time. Race flyers will usually describe the
general requirements for entry, which may include a spark arrestor,
working headlight and taillight, a muffler quiet enough to pass a
sound test, and a motorcycle license plate. If you don't typically ride
your dirt bike with lights or a spark arrestor or whatever else is
required by the enduro promoter, then you'll have to spend a little
more time in advance to make your motorcycle enduro-ready.

Bike Preparation
Most promoters are fairly liberal in enforcement of the bike
requirements set out in the race fliers. One early morning I walked my
bike over to a sound test crew, where a club member took one look at
my stock KTM exhaust and said "Don't bother starting it up. You'll
wake up the campers and I'm not concerned with the KTM's." If lights
are required, some clubs don't seem to care if they actually function,
while others want to see them lit up before you're allowed to sign up.
The clubs hosting events that use public roads are usually more
interested in the
appearance of street legality. But it depends on the
race, so check beforehand. At an enduro
a few years ago, I did not
bother to inquire and had to go all-out MacGuyver on my KX250, in
order to produce a working taillight.

The license plate issue always generates many questions and
debate, since most dirt bikes aren't sold as legal for road use.
How,
you ask,
does one comply with a license plate requirement for a
motorcycle that cannot be street-titled?
A common way around this is
borrowing a plate from a street legal motorcycle, which of course isn't
legal, but in 16 years of racing enduros, there was exactly one race
where law enforcement stopped riders and checked registrations.
Luckily for me, I had already houred out and was on my way home
about the time the police arrived (that was the final year for the
enduro). The bottom line is, no club is going to do a full-on DOT
inspection of your motorcycle. If you are required to appear street
legal in order to race, the burden is left to you to actually
be street
legal if you're ever questioned. Obey the rules of the road and avoid
riding like a jack wagon on pavement, and you'll probably be just fine.

Old Skool Timekeeping Preparation
Many clubs post route sheets online before the race, which is a lot
easier for keeping time the old fashioned way. In my old-school days,
if there was no route sheet available before the race, I'd bring a
couple of generic 18 and 24 mph roll charts (two speeds, just in case)
and then modify them the morning of the race for resets and such. It
was a bit time-consuming, and I always wondered if this was how all
racers did it back in the pre-computer days. Every once in awhile a
club would sell roll charts at the race, which I always considered the
best $5 ever spent.

The days of the mechanical odometer seem to be behind us, so most
likely your dirt bike came with either an electronic odo or none at all.
Electronic add-on odometers are available, but only a few give you
the ability to easily adjust mileage for resets and to match up with
posted mileage. The
TrailTech Vector appears to do this (when paired
with a remote switch), and there may be others as well.

Race Registration
Enduro clubs and promoters are pretty good at explaining the
requirements of the enduro in advance, especially in the Internet age.
Advance registration options are becoming more and more common,
which is helpful if you have a particular row on which you'd prefer to
ride. Beginning enduro racers should generally choose later rows, so
as not to get in the way of riders competing for series points, trophies
and bragging rights. Some clubs don't allow row requests, instead
having riders pull random row numbers out of a box.

At sign-up, riders are given some sort of stick-on number to indicate
his or her row on the front of the bike. These are usually made up of 3
digits. Two of the digits are the row number, and the third digit
identifies who you are on the row. For instance, a rider assigned 225
means he is on the 25th row and is rider #2 on that row. Sometimes
letters are paired with row number, such as "24B", which indicates
that you are on row 24 and you were the second rider assigned to
that row. The race organizers usually assign at least 4 riders to a row.

Trail Etiquette
A common mistake of beginning enduro riders is to think they're
racing against everyone. If another rider approaches from behind,
there may be a temptation to try to keep up, rather than immediately
let the faster rider pass. Fact is, you're racing against the clock, not
the other rider. If a rider catches up from a row or two behind you,
then that rider is clearly faster and the best alternative is to let the
rider pass as soon as you can pull over safely.

Most enduro riders are very polite in letting faster riders pass, more so
than just about any other form of racing. I will admit, there have been
a few occasions when I tried to push myself to keep ahead of a faster
rider, but that usually only invited unnecessary mistakes. These are
long races where speed doesn't always win out, so your best bet is to
move over. Who knows...you might learn something. At the 2010
Leadbelt Enduro, Shane Watts was on the row behind me, so in every
test section I had the pleasure of observing his riding style and line
selection for a minute or two, until he disappeared out of sight.

Who Leads?
So your row is assembled at the starting line and the seconds are
counting down to your minute. Three other guys are lined up beside
you. When the clock says go, do you blast off like a shotgun start or
cruise behind the other riders? If you're a newbie, you may want to
hang back a bit. If some of the riders on your row are clearly slower
than you, they'll move over when you're ready to pass. I usually
introduce myself to the other riders on my row and find out what
classes they are entered in. Anyone who's most likely faster than you,
let'em go first in the woods.

In Conclusion....
Growing up in a non-racing family, Dirt Rider magazine's descriptions
of enduros fostered an interest in racing those events from an early
age. When I first tried an enduro at Goshen, Indiana in 1995, I had no
idea what I was doing. I just rode. I got stuck in a huge mud hole. I
was way over-dressed for a November race and sweating like it was
July. I did half the race, called it a day, and vowed to be more
prepared next time. I was hooked.

I've not found a better way to spend a day riding a dirt bike. The clubs
who organize these events are miracle workers, especially those who
must obtain permission from private land owners. If you've never
ridden an enduro and are still reading this, I hope you'll give it a try.
Just don't try explaining it to someone who doesn't ride dirt bikes.
Here's the Watchdog on my old Gas Gas 300EC. The best way to mount these
devices is to buy those fancy aluminum cases. The brackets that came with the
computer work ok, although I did have to modify them a bit when using a
Scotts steering damper on other bikes. The remote control thingy works pretty
well and would be even better if they'd used metric bolts on the clamp.
Route Sheet Revisited
Let's take a look back to the Akeley West enduro route sheet. Now
that you're possibly less confused about timekeeping enduros, you
might have noticed that the route sheet contains more than just
mileage points and expected times of arrival. There is actually a host
of useful information, some which is obvious and some that isn't.

Gas Stops
The Akeley route sheet indicates that the race is 107.6 miles long. But
that's not actually the miles your motorcycle would have traveled on
that day. After accounting for resets, the course was 63.91 "ground"
miles. Most dirt bikes don't have the fuel capacity to travel such a long
distance without refueling. Therefore, the race organizers provide for
gas stops. Sometimes the course is routed back to the staging area
so riders can refuel where they set up for the race; other times a gas
stop is placed out on the course. In those cases, one of the items you
may receive upon registration is some sort of sticker to identify your
gas jug. If the gas stop is in a remote area of the course, the club will
usually have a flatbed utility trailer available for riders to drop fuel
containers. The trailer will show up with your fuel wherever the gas
stop is indicated on the route sheet.

Enduro organizers, in their quest to keep riders guessing, often
distinguish between gas
stop and gas available on the route sheet.
Checkpoint placement is influenced by the location of gas stops, but
not the location of places where gas is
available. So that means,
unlike a gas stop, you might encounter a checkpoint less than 2 miles
before or less than 3 miles after a "Gas available" location on the
route sheet. The Akeley route sheet does not indicate the types of gas
locations, although it could probably be assumed that "Optional gas"
means the same as "Gas Available". Hopefully the Norsemen clarified
this at the rider's meeting before the race.

Restarts
The Akeley route sheet contains a pair of restarts after the refueling
stops. Presumably, these are Start Control checkpoints, same as the
beginning of the race. Riders can show up early and wait their turn to
be released at the stated time on the route sheet. The length of the
resets prior to the restarts (each approximately 30 minutes worth of
"catch-up" time) would have provided most riders ample time to
refuel, correct any minor bike-related problems, and rest.

Checkpoint Placement - Let's Try to Guess!
Although I did not attend the Akeley West enduro, it appears to be
somewhat of a hybrid between a traditional timekeeper enduro and
the "time-trial" types seen in the AMA National Enduro series and
international events. Because there are resets between the restarts, I
would expect to see more than one timed checkpoint in between each
restart. The reason? Resets are usually dead giveaways for
checkpoints. The race organizers know most riders will be running
behind schedule through these sections, so they document how slow
the riders made it through and then graciously provide an opportunity
to get back on time.

While it's not possible to know the exact placement of a suspected
checkpoint, the guessing game is what fosters the mental challenge
of timekeeper enduros. The race organizers use various tricks to get
around some of the rules, such as the one that prohibits checkpoints
from being located within 3 miles of the previous timed checkpoint.
For example, if the first timed checkpoint in the Akeley West enduro
was at mile marker 4.50, you could ride down the trail only a couple
tenths of a mile and encounter the next check. Why? Because even
though you only rode a short distance, once you hit the 4.60 mile
marker, the reset instantly advances everyone to mile 8.54. According
to the route sheet, you are now well past the minimum 3-mile gap
between checkpoints.

So my interpretation of the Akeley route sheet goes something like
this:

  • Timed checkpoint around 4.50 miles, which the faster riders may
    show up on time for.
  • Timed checkpoint within a mile or so of 8.54 miles, to keep riders
    from riding ahead of schedule after the first reset.
  • Timed checkpoint around 22.0 miles. This is a fairly long section,
    which would be a good opportunity to separate the men from the
    boys. Might be an Emergency Check.
  • Timed checkpoint around 50.0 miles.
  • Timed checkpoint just after the 3rd reset, to keep riders honest.
  • Timed checkpoint just before the reset at 70.45 miles.
  • Timed checkpoint just before the final reset.

There could possibly be another checkpoint between the final reset
and mile 104.6, because the finish is a Known Control and no timed
checkpoints can be placed within 3 miles of that. But  since there is
6.8 miles between the final reset and the finish, it's more likely that
the final checkpoint will be at the finish. The 2010 Roselawn, Indiana
enduro that I referred to earlier had a final section with similar
mileage, where the finish line was a Known Control. However, the
final miles were just a transfer section on public roads. When the
finish line became visible, I was well ahead of schedule and didn't
know what to do. If I'd written this article a year ago, maybe I would
have.
Some of the most
interesting terrain
I've ever ridden
has come in
enduro races. This
"waterfall" section
of the Leadbelt
Enduro (Park
Hills, Missouri) is
a highlight of the
race each year.
The only time this
area is open to
riding is for the
enduro.
This article on enduro racing showed up in MotoKids magazine in
2006. The pictures came from the
2006 Leadbelt Enduro, which
was (and probably still is) the toughest race I've ever finished.
That's me jumping off a ledge in the waterfall section. This
version of the Leadbelt not only had rain and flooding, but also
hail! Click on the pages to view larger versions.
Back when I first started racing enduros, this is how I prepared for
timekeeping. Using an Excel spreadsheet, I entered one line for every
minute of the race, along with a corresponding mile marker for each
minute. The idea was to have this available during the race so I could
glance at the time on my watch, locate the nearest minute on the roll
chart and see what my odometer was supposed to indicate. If my
odometer read lower than the number on the roll chart, I was going
too slow and needed to speed up. If my odometer read higher than
what the roll chart indicated, I was going too fast and needed to slow
down. I formatted the spreadsheet so I could cut out the columns to a
width that would fit into a roll chart holder. I then taped the strips
together so that I had one long, narrow, continuous roll of paper that
could be fed into the roll chart holder.
What we have here is a 24 mph average speed for the 2010 event.
Various mileage points are listed, most referring to the locations of
specific places where riders will need to pay attention. Some enduros
use public roads to transfer between woods sections, and the route
sheets will typically list the mileage points at turns, intersections, stop
signs, railroad crossings, etc.

The Akeley West organizers helpfully included the corresponding
times at which riders should arrive at the various mileage points. The
first identified point of interest comes at mile marker 3.11, which is
marked as a right turn. What's so special about a right turn at mile
3.11, you ask? Wouldn't there already have been a few right turns
before that? Well, the fact that this particular turn is worth mentioning
probably means there is something different going on here. If I were
to guess, I would say that somewhere before mile marker 3.11, the
course followed some sort of road or wide trail, and at that point the
arrows marking the course would point to either a right turn on a
public road, or a right turn into an opening in the woods. It's probably
a spot where you'll be riding at a fast pace and might miss the turn if
you're not looking ahead. If riders are maintaining the 24 mph speed
average, they would arrive at this turn 7 minutes and 47 seconds after
the start. Here, the race organizers may have stapled a card to a road
sign or fence post to indicate the official mileage at that point.

It never hurts to study the route sheet carefully, but honestly, I rarely
pay much attention to location of turns. If I stay attentive to the
arrows, I'll know where to go. If there's a particularly dangerous point
in the course, such as a busy highway crossing, the race promoters
will probably point this out at the rider's meeting before the race
(something all riders should attend, all the time).

Absent on this route sheet is mile marker 2.90, which often shows up
as a mileage check. This is a reference to an enduro rule that
prohibits timed checkpoints (or in the enduro vernacular, "checks")
within 3 miles of a previous checkpoint. The beginning of the race, by
definition, is a "start control", which is a checkpoint subject to the
3-mile rule. Therefore, if you've entered the Akeley West enduro and
think you can ride faster than 24 mph for those first 3 miles, you're
free to do so without penalty because nobody will be there to check
your speed average.

At 2.90 miles into the race, the race promoters usually staple a card to
a tree with "2.90" printed on it. This gives riders a chance to compare
their odometers to the 2.90 mile marker and make any adjustments. If
the course has been fairly wide open up to that point and riders are
moving along faster than 24 mph, then the 2.90 mile marker is a
chance to take a breather. Anyone arriving at this point earlier than 7
minutes and 15 seconds from the start would be wise to slow down or
take a short breather (do the math...takes 15 seconds to travel
one-tenth of a mile when you're riding 24 mph).

Odometer adjustments are a common necessity throughout an
enduro, for a couple of reasons. The club member who rode the trails
and generated the route sheet may have a different type of odometer
than yours. If you use an electronic odometer, yours may be
calibrated slightly differently than the one used to lay out the mileage.
What may seem like small, inconsequential differences can add up to
meaningful variations as the trail passes by mile after mile, so it's
important to compare and adjust your odometer reading to the official
mileage markers posted throughout the course.

The first reset in the Akeley West Enduro occurrs at mile marker 4.60.
At that point, riders are instructed to advance their odometers forward
to 8.54 miles. Just like that, everyone moves forward 3.94 miles
without having to do anything. It's possible that many riders will be a
cycle, many in this group of laboratory technicians had found
themselves dirt-modifying Harley Davidsons and entering
cross-country races along the Eastern Seaboard. Their results were
less than impressive.

After several hours of heated arguments as to the root cause of these
unsatisfactory performances, a consensus emerged. At approximately
3:53 a.m. on the morning of May 21, 1919, the engineers presented a
unified theory:
The rules are stacked against us. Therefore, we must
change the rules.

This led to a spirited debate well into the early hours, which produced
the outline of what would eventually become the rules for what we
now know as Enduro racing. The original notes of that evening,
pictured here, are as important to enduro racing history as are the "13
Rules for Basket Ball" transcribed by James Naismith in 1891. We are