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What is an enduro bike?

By Janeen McCrae

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Riding enduro on a JulianaPhoto courtesy Juliana Bicycles

In a nutshell, an enduro mountain bike is designed for going as fast as humanly possible on rowdy downhills, without sacrificing climbing efficiency. These long-travel bikes (150-180mm of travel) are hard-wired for enduro racing with burly, take-a-kicking-and-keep-on-ticking parts, and geometry designed to rip on the downhills before mountain-goating you up to the next stage.

Wait, the next stage? Yes, because enduro is more than a bike it’s also a racing format. Enduro bikes need to survive a hard day, whether you’re racing or just hitting the bike park with your crew. Let’s dive into the fast and furious world of Enduro.

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What is enduro racing?

Apart from being a whole lot of hard-charging fun, enduro is a multi-stage racing format comprised of timed solo runs throughout the course of the event. A race can be one day or multiple days, anywhere between three to six stages per day, and with untimed transfer stages between each. These transfers are typically the climbs, which is why you need a bike that can both descend hard and climb efficiently.

The appeal for many lies in the challenge of racing the clock over multiple stages and seeing how your time stacks up against everyone else’s at the end, pros and amateurs alike. Gone is the worry of a course choked with riders. Usually, each rider starts 30 seconds apart, so if you do get passed or need to pass, it’s a mano a mano situation. Not quite XC, not quite downhill — that’s Enduro racing.

What is the difference between all-mountain and enduro?

In truth, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two, and both names essentially describe the same type of bike. Basically, think of an Enduro bike as being any long-travel mountain bike that’s not a downhill bike and you’ve got it. In recent years, "all-mountain" has become the less common term and "enduro" has taken over.

What is the difference between a trail bike and an enduro bike?

Enduro bikes have more suspension travel and slacker, longer geometry, compared to a trail bike. The slacker head tube angle helps with confidence while descending, plus a lower BB goes a long way in helping with stability and cornering.

Because enduro bikes hit rougher, steeper downhills, the bike may feature more heavy-duty components to take the repeated trail abuse. Trail bikes typically have a geometry that falls somewhere between an enduro and an XC bike, so are more suited for a rider who does a little bit of everything.

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Santa Cruz enduro shredding
Photo courtesy Santa Cruz Bicycles

What should I look for in an enduro bike?

To tackle the kinds of terrain enduro riders face, the top things to consider are:

Frame

Welcome to the well-worn carbon vs. aluminum face-off. Both materials have pros and cons, so weigh them accordingly (and yes, weight is one of those considerations, but with enduro, it’s not paramount). Carbon won’t dent or bend like aluminum, for example, but a crack in carbon isn’t good either. Price, impact considerations, and weight are important, with personal aesthetics the final piece in your choice puzzle. And remember, carbon can be repaired, while aluminum cannot.

Carbon frames

  • Lighter, more nimble
  • More expensive
  • Prone to impact damage

Aluminum frames

  • Small to medium impact damage not a concern
  • Heavier
  • More affordable

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Dropper Post

If there’s one ‘must have’ for your new Enduro race rig, it’s a dropper post. On steep and technical descents, you can hit the lever and drop your saddle out of the way. Jumps, drops, steep sections, and everything else are way easier when you have room to move your body around the bike. When the downhill's done, simply pop the dropper back up for pedaling efficiency on your climb out to the next stage. All modern Enduro bikes will have a dropper post.

Suspension

Enduro bikes are long-travel mountain bikes, meaning that they have more suspension than a typical trail bike, usually between 150-180mm of travel. Things come at you fast during an Enduro run, so being able to maintain speed with a wider margin of error can be the difference between making it through the rough stuff or going over the bars and lawn-darting your way into infamy. Plush mountain bike suspension… What’s that really mean?
Orbea enduro bike

Forks

Enduro is all about rough trails, and the right fork can tame that chop. You’re looking for a fork that absorbs the bumps with controlled damping, so your hands won’t get as fatigued from the constant beating. The best forks have supple top-end travel while still being supportive when you smash big holes or land flat off of a drop-off. Additionally, you’ll want a stiff fork for predictable steering, such as a Fox 36, Fox 38, RockShox Lyrik, or RoackShox Zeb. And finally, you’ll want a fork that offers several damping adjustments — rebound and low-speed compression at minimum — so you can tune it to suit your weight, style, abilities, and terrain. MTB fork quick reference guide.

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Rear Shock

The rear shock has three things on its mind — traction, control, and comfort. Rear shocks are either coil shock or air shock, and generally speaking, coil shocks perform better on the downhills, tackling small bumps with ease and providing you with more traction. Plus, they aren’t prone to fade on long descents, like an air shock. Bear in mind though, a coil shock can be harder to set up and heavier than an air shock, so weigh the benefits of each. Coil vs. Air Shocks: Which is best for your mountain bike?

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Brakes

Since you ride more aggressively, you want brakes that deliver the goods in terms of stopping power, can take the heat of long downhill runs or sustained braking and have good lever feel and modulation. They should be set-up in the perfect position for one-finger braking. The ideal enduro bike brake will provide a nuanced balance of power and modulation.

Gears

Enduro terrain serves up steep descents followed by pedally and sometimes steep uphill, so you’ll want a wide gear selection to get you there. SRAM’s 10-50T Eagle or Shimano's 10-51T 12-speed cassettes are usually the ideal choice for tackling steep climbs on a beefy enduro rig. As an aside, a chain guide can be very useful when you’re ripping those gnarly downhills.

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What size wheels should I buy?

Wheels can be a controversial subject, but options for wheel size for enduro mountain bikes are the usual suspects — 29” and 27.5” (also known as 650b). The current wheel-size de jour in Enduro is 29”, since they provide stability, capability, and can roll over pretty much anything. But… One recent development, particularly in more gravity-fed disciplines like Enduro, is the rise of mullet bikes, with a 29” wheel in the front (business and stability) and a 27.5” in the back (party and agility), which goes to show that people will do anything to get an edge in Enduro. Are mullet mountain bikes any good?

Scott Ransom enduro bike
Do I need to run tubeless tires?

Running a tubeless tire setup on your enduro race rig is a must. Not only will you save weight and potential race-run puncture headaches thanks to the self-sealing nature of tubeless, but you can also run a lower tire pressure for a more grippy ride and greater comfort. Simply put, tubeless gives you one less thing to worry about. If you want maximum wheel and tire protection, consider using tire inserts too. 

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Can non-professionals ride enduro courses?

One hundred percent yes, you can, and you will! Weekend warriors and would-be singletrack slayers find enduro to be a very approachable entry to racing. Even if there is a pro division at your chosen enduro event, everyone races the same course. At the end of that day, you can see how your time stacks up against absolutely everyone else’s, and that’s kinda neat.

Conclusion

Enduro bikes are for the bold, the brave, and the need-for-speeders. If your favorite flavor of riding is hitting downhill as fast as possible, whether that’s racing against a clock or just your crew at home before pedaling up to find the next downhill to pin it back down, congratulations: You’ve found your new whip.Shop used mountain bikes 

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