OK, I’ll admit it, the main motivation for me entering an enduro race on the Montesa Cota was so that I could tell my mates I was racing a Repsol HRC Honda. Childish, yes, but hey there’s nothing grown up about doing skids on bikes. Sat amidst the Christmas festivities, mainlining mince pies and basking in the warm glow of gifted alcohol, the thought of racing an enduro in the first week of January seemed like a brilliant idea. The cold clarity of soberness hit me like snow off a roof on New Year’s day, but by then it was too late, I’d committed to the race so I had to suck it up and get stuck in.
My mate stepped in offering a cup of cement, to help me ‘harden the f*ck up’. Twat.
“How long is left mate?” I pant to the start line marshal as he cleans an inch of mud off my front numberboard. “You’ve been going 45 minutes, so there’s an hour and a quarter left” comes the reply. Another fifteen minutes I reckon I could cope with, but the remaining hour just might kill me. I think my fingers are frozen, although I’ve not heard anything from them in a while, my legs are like jelly, I can feel blood running down the back of my left knee and any riding technique I once had is now buried deep in a Suffolk bog. An enduro, as the name suggests, is not supposed to be easy. An extreme enduro, which it turns out this is, well, you can guess that for yourself. Ruts so deep they swallow the little Montesa whole, endless logs, rock gardens, bogs and even a line of oil drums litter the lap. And just to top it off, our old pal J. Frost turned up to coat everything in a layer of ice. Chipping the centimeter-thick layer off the straps and handlebars before the race should have rung some alarm bells that this was going to be a tough couple of hours. As I rolled back onto the course, my old mate and off road mentor Kiwi, aka Dr Shox, stepped in to offer me a cup of cement, to help me ‘harden the f*ck up’. Twat.
On 4th January, Sudbury MCC held their first extreme enduro event and, handily for me, included a class for trials bikes to enter. 44 riders stood around, stamping their feet and wondering what was going to be colder, standing here waiting for the start signal, or landing in that massive icy puddle behind the first jump. It was definitely the puddle. With seven other trials bikes entered, I had a few people to beat, but within five laps it was clear that the real enemy was the course. The first couple of laps were great on the little Montesa, hopping my way around the course, skipping queues of cumbersome enduro bikes and zig-zagging my way to the sharp end of the pack. The big logs were dispatched with ease; even the frosty tractor tyres and oil drums didn’t put up too much of a fight. The way the enduro bikes were getting stuck, it looked like the Montesa could put in a challenge for the overall win. But what I hadn’t counted on was just how deep the ruts could get and just how hard it was to un-bury a whole motorcycle. Soon the event became a survival race, with bikes overheating, losing chains and generally doing their best to get an early shower. Repeatedly lifting and dragging the Cota out of thigh-deep ruts and mud was sapping what little energy I had left and I was seriously flagging by the time I asked the marshal for a time update.
Cursing my lack of training, cursing the excesses of the festive period and cursing the Montesa for refusing to do the decent thing and break down, I limped back out for another lap. Each time I found an alternative, rut-free line, one lap later fifteen enduro bikes would have spotted it too and dug a trials bike-swallowing trench to slow me down. Still in the lead of the trials class, I pushed on until I got wedged up to the fork crowns in a bog. As I wrestled with the bike trying to get free, the chain came off and jammed itself around the front sprocket. Tilt, game over. I was almost ready to leave it stuck there, but the thought of going home on a DNF pissed me off enough to drag it out with the help of Kiwi. Once he’d finished laughing and calling me a w*nker obviously. We dragged the bike back to the pits, forty-five minutes still on the clock and the chain locked solid between the engine, swingarm and front sprocket. I legged it across the car park to grab my tools and then tried to persuade frozen fingers to operate a socket set. It took the best part of half an hour to untangle the muddy metal mess, and just as I got it all back together, I watched second place in my class zip past the pits to take the lead. All thoughts of cold fingers and wanting to clean and tidy my now decimated tool kit went out of the window as the red mist descended. The poor guy on the other trials bike was in full ‘just make it to the finish’ mode, when I came past him like it was the first lap of a supercross race. I railed the berm, launched off the jump and smashed through the trees on pure adrenaline. Rest assured, zero riding technique was involved in those last two laps and I didn’t blink until I crashed across the finish line and slid to a halt on my side, still holding the bars and grinning like an idiot.
Out of 44 starters, only 17 people made the finish line, every one of them with some ridiculous crash or overheating bike story. MX legend Jake Dixon did most of the race with a stuck throttle and upside-down handlebars. When the results went up, I’d won my class and beaten a fair few enduro bikes to boot. Obviously I played down how pumped I was on my first ever off-road win and definitely didn’t do figure-eight donuts around the car park in my pickup with the window down, fist pumping and whooping along the way. No sir.
The Montesa Cota is not an enduro bike. It is not designed to be ridden flat out, launched off jumps, smashed into logs and hammered through ruts for two hours straight. But it sucked up all the abuse without missing a beat, save for the chain incident, for which I was as much to blame. I was dreading washing the mud and sand off for fear of what wear and damage I would reveal beneath, but in typical Honda style, it cleaned up to look like new. A broken lever, handlebar grips in need of some glue and a slack chain is about all that needs sorting – that’s bloody impressive for the punishment it received. And despite my grizzling, I can think of nothing better I could have done with a frozen Sunday in January. What a way to kick start the new year.
Check out our other exploits with the Repsol Montesa here.
Thanks to GmxF and P7 Photography for the images.
Thanks to Dr Shox for the words of, er, encouragement.