We all have a love of bikes. We wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t. Each of us is drawn to a different discipline, a style of bike and riding that fuels our need for challenge, escape, and camaraderie. But while general categories such as road, BMX, and mountain biking are easily differentiated, subgenres within each can be blurry.
Despite having been around for several years, the difference between enduro bikes and other mountain bikes is not clear for many people. Enduro components and designs don’t appear much different on the surface than other bikes people are familiar with, and the category is young enough that it hasn’t yet shed all the fragments of its genesis.
Is enduro a form of downhill? Is it beefed up cross-country? For many people, ‘enduro’ remains a murky, ill-defined term. For others, however, enduro is an important, well-understood part of their lives. Regardless of where you fall, enduro is undeniably growing in popularity, shaping bicycle culture and technology, and driving sales at bike shops throughout the U.S., Europe and other parts of the world. Enduro is well past being a fad. At this point in the game, it’s a full-blown category, both driving and drawing from existing technology, and for many shops it’s a crucial part of their bottom line. In this article we’ll unravel some of the mystery and help get you up to speed on a category that is defining modern mountain biking.
All the confusion is not entirely unwarranted. Just as cyclocross spans the gap between road riding and mountain biking, enduro bridges subgenres of mountain biking, borrowing from the styles and technologies of other forms of off-road bikes. But unlike cyclocross, it is not as easy to see where the edges are. Enduro exists somewhere between cross-country and downhill, and it is that middle ground that makes enduro so attractive to so many people. While DH has become increasingly extreme and XC racing little more than a suffer-fest, enduro is an equalizer, rewarding downhill skill, technical prowess, and the athletic fitness necessary for long days in the saddle and hard climbs. Enduro riders muscle through challenging, though not usually crushing, ascents and are rewarded with extended downhill sections. DH tends to attract ballsy, hard-core adrenaline junkies, and XC bone-thin, hard-muscled athletes; enduro attracts a wide variety of riders, from focused racers to fun seekers, making the atmosphere around enduro racing and riding more relaxed than either XC or DH. Enduro is popular in large part because it is the Everyman mountain bike category, requiring less fitness than XC and less expensive kits than DH. This is not to say that enduro is easy. Enduro events are long; riders climb and descend for hours at a time, but as the skill of average and professional riders alike continues to increase, enduro presents a fun, new, and accessible challenge.
Another part of enduro’s appeal is its suitability to a variety of terrains. Although an undeniable part of its allure is descents longer than a few seconds, enduro doesn’t demand long mountain runs. In fact, there are two basic types of enduro racing. Enduro downhill made its name in big mountain races such as France’s Megavalanche and Mountain of Hell, where the point was long-form downhill racing, precipitous descents laced together with climbs. Venues in less mountainous locales spawned gravity enduro, which more closely balances climbs and drops. Basically, if you’ve got decent sized hills you’re smack-dab in enduro country.
Like so much else in cycling, enduro is driven in no small part by racing. In recent years, pro-level racers from both DH and XC disciplines have increasingly begun focusing on enduro. This in turn helps bring attention to it, and for average riders the interest is transformed to attraction by enduro’s accessibility, big fun, and the level of commitment required. Most enduro bikes are very much like bikes riders own or are at least familiar with, and special clothing and accessories are minimal, often the same sort of gear riders already possess.
So what makes an enduro rig? Most these days are purpose-built, with geometries and components that balance efficient climbing and forgiving descents, and have fairly common suspension systems front and rear. There are a few hardtails out there but the vast majority of bikes utilize full suspension to make the ‘endurance’ part of enduro more palatable. Mid-travel full-suspension bikes dominate the field. 140–160mm of travel is the norm, decidedly shorter than DH bikes, but fork stanchions tend to be beefier than those found on XC bikes, usually about 34mm diameter. Enduro bikes are durable, but are lighter and stiffer than DH bikes for the self-evident reason that too much weight and too much cush makes climbing really, really hard. Remote lockout forks are very nearly a necessity, especially for those who race enduro competitively.
Another virtual necessity is a quality dropper post. Dropper posts, for the uninitiated, are telescoping seatposts. Like remote fork lockouts, dropper posts function via a handlebar-mounted switch that allows the post to drop out of the way at the press of a button and return to their original position just as easily. No less an authority than pro racer “Rad” Ross Schnell calls a good dropper post a must-have for enduro, because getting the seat out of the way for descents is not just convenient, it’s safer, keeping the saddle’s nose away from loose shorts. Anyone who’s ever gotten the seat of their pants caught on their saddle knows how distracting and limiting it is. Now try going really fast. There are lots of great designs emerging, each generation improving on the last.
Like most bikes in the U.S. market, enduro bikes have moved away almost entirely from 26" wheels. 29ers are popular for the same reasons they work on XC machines: their stability and trail-smoothing ground approach angle equal smooth, fast riding. 27.5" has found perhaps its happiest home in enduro, where the midsize wheels easily adapt to effective suspension designs and a wide variety of riders’ heights and styles. Since they tend to be laterally stronger, and since the speed of rough descents can punish equipment, 27.5" is quickly becoming the norm for bikes of this type.
Enduro helped inspire the creation of clutch derailleurs, perhaps the single biggest technological advancement in derailleurs in decades. DH bikes have long used chain guide systems to keep the chain on the ring and to protect it from whatever hits it. On an enduro bike, the added weight of a chain guide system is a real penalty. Clutch derailleurs, however, keep tension on the chain, allowing riders to ditch the chain guide and manufacturers to offer lighter, highly functional 1x and 2x drivetrains. Clutch derailleurs almost entirely eliminate chain slap, too, a nice feature you will never want to give up once you try it.
Tubeless tire technology is also being driven by enduro, where the necessity for grip must be balanced against hard hits at speed and the desire to keep overall weight down. The stems on enduro bikes tend to be shorter than on XC bikes, and the bars wider, while wheels and tires are lighter and less aggressive than those used for downhill. When it comes to clothes and accessories, enduro requires little more than XC, and decidedly less than DH. Eye and knee protection is nearly essential, especially for extended downhills. Full-finger gloves are important too, for good grip and protection from flying debris. Full-face helmets are a good idea for faster, rougher terrain, and there are plenty of options out there that are light and allow excellent visibility, but a good trail helmet will suit most riders just fine.
All this helps to explain why shops love enduro too. Not only are customers drawn to it, the products shops carry and advice they can give are already mostly in place. Pure enduro thrives in mountainous or hilly regions, but if you have trails, you’re probably already selling many of the same products. For shops and riders alike, the beauty of enduro bikes is that they’re especially well suited to exploring whatever terrain is before them. They tackle rolling hills efficiently and aren’t cowed by technical sections or gnarly drops. Enduro is even adaptable to urban thrashing. Eventually new riders will seek new ways to have fun. Technology will advance, and new forms will confuse the uninitiated. For now, though, enduro rules the day. What’s not to love?