When you think of enduro riding, you probably picture known big mountain destinations on the west coast, the Alps, maybe Vermont. But enduro riding is alive and well in North Carolina, and has been since long before the term “enduro” was coined. As a result, a few of the coolest brands in the business are tucked away in the Pisgah mountains, riding, collaborating, and churning out some of the best products and services in the business.
It’s no surprise, really. We have mountains, rocks, roots, clay, mud, gravel and dry dirt. We have long climbs and rotor burning descents that span the technical gamut from fire road to clean your shorts.
The great thing about enduro, a discipline that requires you to pedal to the top of the mountain, but only competitively times you on the descent, is you probably already own the right equipment.
Enduro validates what most of us conceive of as true mountain biking – climb and descend on one bike. Enough pedaling to make you crave salty Mexican food and pizza but not so much that you need a special welterweight hardtail and EPO.
Enough descending that you’re left with a nice adrenaline rush at the end of the ride after white knuckle, burning calf sections, but not so technical that you need an eight inch travel bike that you can’t pedal back up the mountain.
This is exactly the riding you’ll find in Western North Carolina.
Or, as Kevin Booth, founder and president of Suspension Experts, a custom tuning and mountain bike suspension tuner in Asheville, NC, puts it: Enduro “reminds me of when mountain biking first started – cohesive without the splintering of different varieties of riding. Enduro has been reviving suspension products and services by introducing a level of competition to the riding we’re all doing, bringing competition back to the masses, making it fun again for all of us, re-injecting life back into the sport.”
The two products Booth most often mentioned in our interview were the new RockShox Pike and Cane Creek’s DB Air. Here’s why:
The redesigned Pike was born of input from tuners like him. RockShox throws an annual summit to collaborate with tuners and manufacturers. You know, the people servicing shocks regularly and in constant contact with the customer. Back in December, RockShox gave them a sneak peak of the Pike, including a full breakdown of the internals. This type of return to the roots, ground-up collaboration between rider, mechanic and manufacturer is exactly the getting back to the roots many see in enduro.
Booth is keen on it because, he says, Rockshox actually listened to what he and other tuners had to say and the Pike is proof positive. It’s designed with 650b in mind, which is kind of a big deal in enduro, instead of adapting an existing fork. Dual position air springs allow you to change travel by up to 30mm for efficient ascents and descents. And the new Charger Damper places the pedal and lock circuits behind the open circuit to avoid compromises, and the extruded bladder is durable and provides more comfortable, predictable characteristics for long descents and small bumps. Lastly, The Pike’s springs can take a larger variety of riders, so bigger or smaller riders don’t have to worry about rates or breaking springs. No, Rockshox isn’t a NC company, but their new fork pulled from NC riding to become something that’s getting rave reviews.
Cane Creek, on the other hand, is based here. They’re just down the road from Suspension Experts in Fletcher, NC, and practice both the vertical collaboration between rider, tuner and manufacturer as well as horizontal collaboration with bike manufacturers. The result is what many consider two of the best shocks on the market, the Double Barrel for DH and the DB Air for enduro/AM. And, in case you missed it last week, the forthcoming ultimate enduro shock, the DB Air with Climb Switch.
Cane Creek rides what they make, where they make it.
The DB Air wasn’t ostensibly created with enduro in mind, but was undoubtedly influenced by the enduro style riding that pervades the Pisgah National Forest, which surrounds Cane Creek’s headquarters. The recent Climb Switch announcement is just the beginning of a renewed commitment to suspension. In fact, although details are scarce, we may someday see a line of Cane Creek forks.
Holly Colson, Cane Creek’s Director of Marketing, reaffirmed their “we ride what we make” development philosophy. They don’t just ship a shock with a bunch of levers. The DB Air is the only air shock with a 4-way adjustability and Cane Creek encourages people to want more out of their bikes by teaching consumers how to set it up and fine tune it. It comes with a tuning field guide, a quick set guide, base tunes for various bike models, and there’s an app planned for the future, all based on face-to-face collaboration between Cane Creek’s engineers and bicycle manufacturer’s engineers. There’s even a spot in The Lounge where new tunes are added every Tuesday.
When a company like Specialized or Intense wants to try out a Double Barrel, they aren’t just sent a shock with a bunch of generic paperwork, they’re sent a real live, flesh-and-blood engineer to ride with them, on the trails they choose, so they can collaborate and get exactly what they want out of that shock. This collaboration and ride testing with OEM partners makes sure the frame does what they want it to do. “We hear from partners how different our process is, we just think that’s the way business should be as opposed to just sending a shock and saying test it,” says Colson. So when all this information sharing is said and done, the consumer is left with the best shock set-up for his or her bike.
Both Booth and Brandon Blakely, one of Cane Creek’s engineers and an accomplished DH and enduro racer, commented on the fact that you shouldn’t have to play with your shock settings all the time. You should be able to set it up once and spend your time focusing on the ride. One of the advantages of riding Cane Creek’s products in Western North Carolina is “NC has a really broad range of terrain so there’s nothing that the DB isn’t ready for when we take it other places. It’s designed and ridden here, but it holds up to par wherever we take it: Canada, Europe, Western US,” says Blakely. “And it’s not just the ride quality that holds up, a few of the unique Double Barrel features such as the use of a plunger instead of shim stack and lack of internal adjustments make it durable as well as tunable.”
INDUSTRY NINE WHEELS
OK, so you have the perfect enduro suspension set-up for your bike, it’s been fine tuned by yourself or a tuner, now how about a wheeslet? Head down the road again to see how North Carolina’s enduro riding has produced just the right set of hoops for that too. Enter Industry Nine.
Industry Nine is made up of ten folks who also ride what they make. In fact, a large percentage of Cane Creek and Suspension Experts employees are on I9 wheels, some are even in I9’s test group.
I9 believes in the concept of racing on Saturday and selling on Monday, which helps them really get to know their customers’ wants and needs. Jacob McGahey, one of I9’s PMs, had just completed the Iron Mountain 100k on prototype carbon rims before talking to us. This allows them the direct feedback you can only get out of a large chunk of time on a product. Then, I9 gets guys like Sam Koerber and the Shaw brothers to push their products to the limits before they’re released to the public.
In fact, Luca and Walker Shaw recently raced Fort William World Cup downhill on Industry Nine’s Enduro wheels, proving they are ready to stand up to the demands you’ll be putting them through.
I9 not only rides what they make and practices vertical collaboration with riders, they also collaborate with brands like Reynolds, who makes their new carbon rims. What really sets them apart is that everything except rims and bearings are made and assembled in their Asheville, NC, facility. (See how they do it in our factory tour.)
They’re so focused on product that they haven’t even had time to put all the goods on their website, so here’s a quick skinny on their new enduro wheelset now:
The Industry Nine Enduro wheel is “designed as a go-to Pisgah wheel and rim; designed with rider and bike in mind more than racing – light and stiff with the spread you need for 2.4 inch tires, 5-6 inch travel bikes. The cool thing about Enduro is that it’s a race format that addresses the way we ride. A race format that has come to where riders are as opposed to creating a new type of rider,” says McGahey.
The 2014 enduro wheelset really is built for the job boasting a 30.5mm outer / 26mm inner rim width. The wheels use their new Torch series hubs and 32 of their patented, super strong, J-bend eliminating spokes, though now in a thicker version than what you’ll find on the XC wheels. But for all that burliness, the 26″ rim weighs in at 455 grams, making the wheelset just over 1600g. And just 1650g for the 650b wheelset.
All of their wheels, including DH, come in significantly under 2000 grams, so even those could be ridden enduro. Thousands of hours of reliable riding will make you appreciate this, as will your ability to flick, whip, hop and ride your wheels at the end of a long, tiring day in the saddle.
“The industry will do you a disservice if they tell you you need a specific bike for enduro racing; there’s a wide variety of bikes and components you can ride” continues McGahey, a real testament to a rider driven company more passionate about riding than profit margins.
ENDURO RACING IN NORTH CAROLINA
Enduro riding has always been been here and is here to stay. And these types of products have been here for years. However, Enduro racing has just risen in North Carolina.
June 15th marked the inaugural Pisgah Enduro put on by Pisgah Productions, and September 7th will mark the Sunshine Enduro as part of the Green River Games. Enduro racing is the next big thing, but “the logistical demands of an enduro are daunting. The timing has to be perfect. The volunteers must be on point. If a shuttle is involved, that’s a whole new level of responsibility,” says Eric Wever, Pisgah Productions Race Director.
“This is exactly why these companies are excelling in creating Enduro minded products,” says Wever. “The riding here is, for a large portion of the community, all about the descents. Pisgah is full of 2 mile, 2000′ downhills. The rides to the top are when you hang out, joke, laugh, and be friends with friends. Once the downhill starts, that’s all secondary.”
LOCALS’ FAVORITE TRAILS
Interested in riding WNC’s trails? Here are some of the favorites:
Amy Williams, Darby Communications/Suspension Experts: Kistuma
#1 Laurel Mountain – Best route: Up Laurel, descend Pilot Rock. Pain Train: Up Laurel to Pisgah Inn, descend parkway to Big Creek, Then down lower Trace Ridge back to 1206.
#2 Squirrel Gap – Good in both directions. Favorite route: Ride 1206 out to the end of South Mills River Trail. Take this to the end of Squirrel, ride squirrel nearly to the end and break off onto Laurel Creek. Climb out on fire road 5015.
The Davidson River Campground provides access to quite a few of these trails. There’s also a plethora of friendly bike shops in and around Asheville with local information, including Carolina Fatz and Sycamore Cycles, both right on the border of the Pisgah National Forest and within pedaling distance of some of the best trails the area has to offer.
Got your own favorite? Leave a comment!