Riding gnarly hills

LEHIGH – The locations have been lined up, trail markers are in place deep in the woods, checkpoints have been established, and the Central Iowa Enduro Riders Club is set to hold its largest annual event in a number of years.

Dirt bikes will convene around 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the area around Lehigh for the Gnarly Hills Enduro event.

The club has been around since 1981, but the past few years it has held a smaller “hare scramble” instead of the larger enduro event, said Dale Iles, of Lehigh.

Iles is president of the Iowa Enduro Riders Association, a collection of clubs from throughout Iowa and a few in Illinois.

Both enduros and hare scrambles are off-road events quite a bit different from motocross, he said.

“It’s a lot longer track and it’s all in the woods on a trail,” Iles said.

There are no jumps or artificial obstacles on this trail – just creeks, ravines, hills and other natural features of the landscape to be dealt with.

But while a hare scramble is essentially a race, and uses an eight to 12 mile track, Sunday’s enduro will require participants to race against a timer instead of each other, while making two circuits of a 28-mile track.

That track is much shorter than what the club used to do, said Tim Anderson, Central Iowa Enduro Riders Club president.

“We used to try for 100 ground miles,” Anderson said.

Anderson and Iles are trying to keep the enduro alive in a time and place where holding such events are increasingly difficult.

“It’s much harder today to put these on,” Iles said.

“We jumped on it this year because we haven’t been able to get the land the last few years,” said Anderson.

Sunday’s enduro requires the use of eight to 10 different landowners’ properties, and it can be hard to get that many people lined up, Anderson said.

“You can have one key landowner, maybe they only have 10 acres, but if you need that to get from A to B …” Anderson said.

“That’s why we’ve been doing the hare scrambles. They usually only need two or three landowners,” Iles said.

Iles and Anderson ride enduros in states such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. There, it’s easier to get the space needed, from a few landowners with much larger properties or perhaps in a national forest.

In an enduro, four bikes start at a time, one wave each minute, Iles said. Throughout the course, there are checkpoints where each wave must arrive at a pre-determined minute. Riders are docked points for every minute they come in late at each point.

Riders are docked double points if they come in early, which is one way the event discourages cheating.

For this enduro, the times have been set faster than what people will be able to ride, Iles said. That should eliminate the need for careful timekeeping on the riders’ part to avoid coming in early.

“We’ve ridden this, we know how long it takes,” Anderson said. “We had to come up with a speed they won’t be able to ride.

“Typically we set the speed at 24 miles per hour in the woods,” he said. “You feel like you’re going faster, but you’re not.”

Riders will use county roads to get from one section to another. Those roads will be closed during the race, with permission from Webster County.

The checkpoints will be set so that riders can only go 12 mph on the roads, Iles said, so no one will be driving recklessly.

Part of the club’s goal is to get younger people involved in its favorite brand of off-road events.

“This is becoming an older man’s sport,” Anderson said. “I saw on the website – well over 50 percent of the riders are over 40 years old.”

But, he said, “one of those 40 year olds can be the fastest guy out there.”

Riding an enduro takes experience, he said. Some events have more demanding timing, which requires riders to use a timing computer or a stopwatch and time sheet to stay on track. And anywhere you ride, getting through the trail the fastest is not always straightforward.

“It’s not just riding hard,” Anderson said. “You may come to a mudhole where you don’t want to blast straight through it; it’s faster to stop and look for a way around it.”

Interest in the events is growing again, even as motocross loses popularity.

“Off-road riding seems a lot more popular in the last four or five years,” Anderson said. “People start to notice that you can ride all day in an enduro for the same prices as a motocross that’s over in 20 or 40 minutes.”

Plus enduros are much safer, Iles said. Starting in groups of four, instead of all at once, means racers aren’t getting in each other’s way or pushing to get ahead.

“You’re not actually battling with other motorcycles, per se,” Iles said. “You’ve got to push yourself because you can’t see your competition.”

“The injury rate is very low,” Anderson said.

An ambulance will be on-scene just in case, but it’s never needed, Iles said.

“In the 30 years, we’ve maybe had a broken leg,” he said. “We’ve never had the ambulance leave.”