It’s a cold and frosty January and all the delicate soft-skinned motocrossers have either gone into hibernation or headed to the warm sun of SoCal to get fit for the oncoming season. Not so the double-hard enduro boys who like nothing better than a sub-zero event in snotty conditions to get the year started. First off was the Fast Eddy Event at Tong, which Knighter dominated in the usual fashion. A week later Moto decided to see what all the fuss was about, and sent a team of crack reporters to the wilds of North Wales for W.O.R’s annual pain fest – The Tough One. So here’s the lowdown in the ten little polyps of goodness…
1. Location, Location, Location. Who knew that nestled into an unassuming hill north of Oswestry the UK had our own miniature Erzberg? Well apparently Steve Ireland and the Extreme Enduro community did, this being the eighth time the event has visited the astounding venue. After an uninspiring year off at another venue, the WOR team bought the event back to its spiritual home at Nantmawr. The fantastic bowl of the long abandoned quarry makes an awesome location for extreme events, from the manmade technical sections on the quarry floor, to the twisty snotty going in the woods round the outside – you could not get better.
2. Ice Age. You know the event is going to be a challenging one when all the puddles in the car park are covered in ice an inch thick. From a surprisingly mild winter the weather headed for Siberia in the days leading up to the event, and there must of been a few clubman and veterans wondering what the hell they were doing as they pushed there bike up the start over rock hard frozen ground. Knowing what to wear was a challenge as standing still you got frozen, but as soon as you started racing, you’d be at 100 degrees with seconds.
3. Last Man Standing. The organisers had retained the now traditional ‘ Le Mans style start, with the first of the clubmen and vets scrabbling up a twisty and stony climb in their Tech 7’s to get to the bikes and start the first race at 11.00. All got off the line except for one poor soul frantically pumping away at his particularly unresponsive TM. He got it going eventually and finished the race – good work fella.
4. The Root of All Evil. A regular part of this event, this snotty but short uphill would have been hard enough in the dry, the combination of rocks, mud and thick polished tree roots offering little grip. Once you add into the mix a steep downhill before hand, a couple of logs to pop over into foot deep thick ice cold water, before a 90 degree turn into the hill, and you knew it was going to be a good place to watch. Nothing short of a committed approach would lead to success, and whilst the trials based riders made it look easy, many of the less experienced ( and some of the very experienced!) made it look very difficult, spinning out before the top and clattering back down again.
5. Different Strokes. Whilst the MX world has all but turned its back on the wonderful world of pre-mix and power valves, the same is definitely not true in the extreme enduro world. Whilst there were a few more thumpers in the amateur ranks, the expert and pro class was almost exclusively two stroke, with 250 and 300 KTMs the most popular weapon of choice. NO matter how sophisticated the manufacturers make the 4T’s you simply cannot beat the light weight manoeuvrability of a smoker – throw on an e-start to cope with firing it up in difficult situations and it’s the ideal tool.
6. Captains Log. Of all the obstacles that Steve Ireland had thrown in to the man-made section, from the monster tractor tyres, the concrete water pipes or even the bizarre and slightly macabre gallery of hanging dummies dressed in Wulf Sport gear, the obstacles that were causing the most pain were without doubt the bastard logs, particularly to the clubmen and vets. Whilst the theory said concentrate on the other side, loft the front wheel and keep it straight and smooth, the practice was far more cruel and painful. Even the slightest twitch of the bars would send the front wheel slithering away across the polished surface, smashing the hapless pilot into the woodwork. The tireless team of marshalls were kept busy all day helping out the wounded, and dragging their bikes to solid ground. We were very glad to be watching!
7. School of Rock. The infamous rock garden was not included for the morning race, but was straight in for the Pro and Expert guys. Walking through the section was difficult enough, let alone propelling a mo’cycle across the enormous stones in the comedy titled ‘Boulder Dash’ (geddit?), and many riders came to grief in a plume of spinning tyre smoke and radiator steam. In fact the same section knocked out a raft of the Pro riders with cracked clutch cases, spilt oil just adding to the fun of the occasion. Brutal.
8. Who Dares Wins? Without doubt the two scariest parts on the track were a vicious incline in the woods, and a pant-wettingly steep downhill that dropped almost the entire depth of the quarry. The uphill was an almost vertical wall of rocks smeared in mud, and the spectators were lining either side of it whooping and hollering their encouragement to spur the riders to success, because failure was extremely painful – not only for the riders but the audience too as breeze block sized rocks bounced down into the crowd. Just a few seconds after scaling this almost impossible gradient, the big guys were sent down a decline that looked more suitable to suicide than racing. A mountain goat would be looking for an easier route, yet the riders plunged down with a disregard for personal safety that smacked of insanity.
9. The Dark Half. The main event started at 3.15, meaning that the second half of the race was going on as dusk was setting in. If the sections were hard enough in the light, imagine them illuminated only by a couple of camping lamps on your helmet (fnarr). The serious guys had the full set of helmet, bar and HID headlights to get the job done, whereas some of the less prepared seemed to be relying on a tea light and the protection of baby Jesus to find their way. How they managed the big hill is anyone’s guess, and there were some very close calls as riders guessed where to go. If you have never seen night time extreme enduro, you need this in your life – it was incredible to watch and Moto salutes every single rider.
10. Heroes. Ok so with Knighter out of the equation, Extreme Enduro legend Graham Jarvis was always going to be favourite to wipe the floor with the competition at The Tough One. Having won just about everything going on the EE scene last year, you wouldn’t expect anything less. Yet what was truly staggering was just how smooth, precise and controlled Jarvis looked, whilst at the same time gapping the entire field by about a minute on just the first lap. By the end of two and a half hours he’d lapped almost everyone, and all this without appearing to put a foot down or revving the bike over 3000 rpm – total legend. Yet for all his prowess, the rider that eclipsed his achievement was a 17 year old rider in the clubman ranks. Former Scottish trial champion Jane Daniels looked every bit the enduro regular as she took second place in the clubman class, riding with a style and confidence that some riders could only dream of. If somebody she does not pick up some serious sponsors in the next few weeks, then somebody is missing a trick.
So that’s it for the Tough One – a great event, well organised and top entertainment. What more do you want on a Sunday?
Words by Julian Challis
Images by Ray Chuss