What a weekend!
There are few things in life as good for the soul as riding bike with friends old and new, eating well and being merry – so the return of THE MERIDA EX ENDURO, put on hiatus for obvious reasons in 2020 – was a rather joyous occasion, supported this year by Shimano STEPS.
Renowned for a mix of superb but challenging riding and hospitality that’s second to none, the fifth instalment returned to the small village of Allerford, nestled amongst the rolling Exmoor hills and a superb location for riding and racing – followed by top notch relaxing.
While the racing action was tight, with epic battles between riders playing across the entire weekend of 23 timed special stages yet coming down to a few seconds between podium spots, rider skill and fitness sometimes played second fiddle to plain luck, but while the racing is important, it always plays second fiddle the most important job of having a good time.
There are plenty of enduro races and a fair number of multi-day events but there are few – possibly none – that do it quite like THE MERIDA EX. With an all-inclusive approach, all riders need to do is turn up, put up a tent and then turn the pedals, with everything from a hearty breakfast to substantial dinner laid on, all with plenty of lubrication on hand; Bristol Beer Factory for the riders and Fenwick’s for the bikes.
As the event kicked off on Friday afternoon, the British weather threw a bit of a curveball into the mix. Heavy rain the evening before meant that the opening stages provided an extra layer of difficulty in the form of wet roots and slick mud, with the lack of grip proving a real eye opener, though with many riders not having been between race tape for over 18 months there were also plenty of cobwebs to be blown out.
The riders gamely battled on through the opening six daytime stages, producing some tight racing straight from the off, despite the limited traction. The conditions steadily improved, with the sixth and most technical stage even providing some dusty loam to get tyres stuck into.
That was just as well, because when the daylight faded, the fun didn’t thanks to the inaugural EXPOSURE LIGHTS Night Stages, where the darkness put a fresh spin on ‘blind’ enduro racing before everyone got stuck into a big BBQ in the barn at Horner Farm.
As day broke on day two, riders were greeted with blue skies and a promising start to day two, with the promise of drier trails and even the possibility of the elusive British later summer dust.
Despite the odd grey cloud and shower here and there, the promise held up, with eight stages that meandered, plummeted and wove through the Exmoor countryside. By turns they’d each test endurance, skill – and often plain old luck, as is always the case for blind enduro racing.
Still, with the slippery roots of Day One replaced by the finest tacky hero dirt, riders battled to maintain their positions, make up for mistakes or just get around the challenging course in one piece.
As is traditional at THE EX, the mid-loop refreshment is taken just as seriously as the riding, with the now classic village vintage tea stop on hand to top up energy levels. Whether it was a good butty, a slice of freshly made cake or a scone with cream and jam – we’re pretty confident this is one of – if not the – most luxurious lunch breaks in a bike race.
Still, after stuffing themselves, the racers still had plenty of stages left to race, so the lethargic lunch legs were soon spun away with some fresh riding delights. Steep, technical, fast and flowing – the riding had it all, often in the space of a few hundred metres.
While riders might have been cursing the big climbs, they were rewarded with stunning views over the Bristol channel and beyond to Wales, before an absolute corker of a fast and flowing descent that had riders buzzing all the way to the event HQ.
With the hard work of riding done – and at over 1900m of climbing and 41km for the day, it was hard work – it was time for the Luff’s Café crew to set to work refuelling riders while the Shimano technical support team took care of any bicycle related maladies to help keep any sickly machines in the fight, working into the night.
As is now traditional at THE MERIDA EX, the event crew put on table service, allowing riders to chill out and get fed without having to move a weary leg – unless they fancied another drink. Adding to the apres ride vibe was the ‘pub quiz’ with the chance to win some prizes courtesy of the sponsors.
While some choose to celebrate late into the night, others got an early start – the one thing they’d all have in common was that they’d have to be ready to tackle Day Three and the final stages.
The weather gods once again showed mercy on the now rather tired riders for day three and the sun popped out to play, though the event organisers were somewhat less merciful. With another 7 stages to race and a fair 1300m of climbing still to do, it would require even the fittest riders to dig deep, but another robust morning feed from the Luff’s crew and the option of an outdoor yoga session to help stretch out tired limbs would probably help.
Despite the fatigue, riders pushed on in search of making up time, maintaining a position or just making it through to the end. Once again, the stages had a mix of flowy loam, treacherous roots, low speed tech and high speed hoonery, providing a little something for everyone and guaranteed finishing on a high, though the day’s lunch stop was followed by a rather cruel hill-climbing challenge for those that had a little left in the tank and fancied competing for cider.
With the podium places now won and lost, awards were handed out, but the real prize of the event was getting to ride, race and hang out with fellow riders after what’s seemed like a very long time, enjoying good company, good food and great trails. We’ll see you again next year.
THE MERIDA EX powered by SHIMANO STEPS Enduro 2021
After we had to cancel the event in 2020, due to the outbreak of the pandemic, we are hoping to return this year with the 5th issue of our ‘small BIG’ event – THE MERIDA EX powered by SHIMANO STEPS Enduro 2021.
THE MERIDA EX Enduro is a three-day enduro mountain bike event like no other in the UK, presented in partnership with MERIDA BIKES, MERIDA Bicycles UK and SHIMANO STEPS.
The 2021 event will take place on the 10th-12th of September 2021 and will be based in Allerford, a small village between Minehead and Porlock.
As in the years gone by, we will keep THE MERIDA EX small, and just 80 riders will get the chance to challenge themselves over three unforgettable days of mountain biking.
More than just a race, THE MERIDA EX is an adventure filled with punishing climbs, beautiful singletrack and stunning descents on some of the least ridden trails in the country.
Riders ride, eat and celebrate with fellow racers and are treated to the best locally sourced food and drink Exmoor has to offer.
After MERIDA BIKES joined THE EX as the new title sponsor, they will carry on supporting the event in 2021 and will be joined by SHIMANO STEPS as a ‘powered by’ sponsor.
Also introduced in 2019 was the dedicated eBike category, which will return in 2021 for some more exciting eBike enduro racing.
New for 2021 will be the addition 5-6 new tracks and also some Exposure Lights ‘night enduro’ stages which will be included in the Friday of the event. So, make sure you bring your lights!
What you guys said…
“I also just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all so much for the most incredible event and thank you and your team for all your hard work it was an absolute cracker!!! I have been lucky enough to ride and race events all over the country and world, and this is one of if not the best I have ever ridden, and you have something so very, very special. I know I speak on behalf of all my mates that raced and all the new friends I made over the weekend that just again want to thank you all and your amazing marshals etc.”
“…a brilliant event and I don’t think there is anything else like it in the UK. The sheer amount of riding you get in over the three days is awesome and combine that with the overall atmosphere, and it ranks as one of the best weekends of the year for me.”
“Thanks so much…for the best weekend, I have had on the bike this year! Don’t know how you do it, but it keeps getting better each year… must be something in the scones!”
“…can honestly say, THE EX was the best thing I’ve done all year.”
“…what a fantastic event, one of the best I’ve been to and really appreciate all the effort you guys put in to make it happen…”
“The whole event was incredible, the trails were great, and the effort you had all put in to make everyone feel so welcome was exceptional.”
“The descents were unreal … It’s 3 days of loads of miles, loads of downhill, riding with your friends, awesome food. It’s been brilliant, I’ll be back for sure.”
“Amazing trails. Great atmosphere. Well organised. Great sponsor support.”
“Really, really well organised. It’s nice because there aren’t too many riders on the trails. The riders are nicely spread out, so there’s no waiting at the top of stages. All-inclusive means you can just focus on the race.”
“It’s been absolutely brilliant. I’ve enjoyed it…it’s absolutely EXcellent!”
“Absolutely fantastic. An incredible mix of trails, there’s a fantastic mix. The trails really do make it.”
“The trails were superb and the food, entertainment and organisation were fantastic! More of the same next year please!”
“Longest day on the bike I’ve ever had but what a pleasure to ride so many hidden gems of Exmoor! “
“The tea is phenomenal!”