Gee Atherton in Vallnord 2018
© Bartek Woliński
MTB Enduro

MTB Downhill vs Enduro: How do they compare?

A breakdown of the specific demands of each discipline, their similarities and differences, and how training and prep differs between them.
Written by Alan Milway
4 min readPublished on
Mountain biking has many guises – from the trick-focused and judged disciplines of Slopestyle to the big-mountain Red Bull Rampage events and racing against the clock. Downhill has always been the premier ‘gravity led’ discipline, but with the emergence of Enduro racing, we are seeing world class racing on bikes many of us own and ride ourselves.
Enduro is best explained as a Rally but on bikes – a long event covering large distances, with numerous sections against the clock. You have specific times to make each stage, with liaisons taken at your pace between these stages. Stages are primarily gravity focused, generally the liaisons take you to the top of the hill and you race back down for the timed section. The duration of the stages can vary hugely, with part of the remit of Enduro to be an all-encompassing discipline to challenge multiple areas of skill and fitness.

3 min

Enduro with Steve Smith

Steve Smith out on the Vancouver Island trails with Nick Beer and Josh Bryceland on Enduro bikes.

How is Enduro similar to Downhill?

The timed stages can be compared to many World Cup DH tracks – especially those old-school DH tracks that were more natural in their design (rather the more ‘bike park’ focused tracks that are now often seen on the DH calendar). These technical courses require a huge amount of skill and speed.
Katy Winton Emerald Enduro

Katy Winton Emerald Enduro

© Enduro World Series

Both disciplines are against the clock, and riders are separated by very fine margins – even after nearly an hour of total race time, riders at the top are often separated by just a handful of seconds. The times are remarkably close considering the length of the races – in 2017 Sam Hill beat Martin Maes in USA by just 03.84 seconds over 46 minutes of racing!
The nature of the racing is very similar – high pressure, mistake free riding at the limit of your grip and control will deliver the best results, not a full attack run bouncing from one side of the track to the next with a high risk of mistakes. Watching the top riders in either discipline is a lesson in control, composure and momentum – something any amateur can take a lot from.

What are the main differences between Downhill and Enduro?

1. The bikes
Where a DH bike is often seen as a ‘Formula One’ machine, often modified from stock and a thoroughbred beast aimed only at going DH, an Enduro bike is very similar to most bikes you’d see at any trail centre. They are designed to go up and well as down and need to be a master of all trades. In DH racing the mechanics can change parts every single run and I know of riders who change wheelsets multiple times a day.
However, in Enduro racing the bikes must last the event – your wheels, forks and frame must last the entire duration of the event, so a robust bike is primary.
2. Racing format
Downhill racers learn one track to the highest level of accuracy. The challenge is putting together one perfect run on a track they have almost unlimited riding time on.
DH racers have to learn every bump in the track

DH racers have to learn every bump in the track

© Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

For Enduro racers, they often just get a sighting run for each downhill timed stage (of which there can be up to six in a race weekend) and they must then take as much as they can from this little track time to carve out the best possible run. Momentum, smoothness and speed are all critical and there is clearly a trade-off between the riskiest lines that might save fractions of a second but could lead to crashes or bike damage versus a smooth, consistent and fast run. The first thing you must do to win is complete all stages without mechanical incident!
3. The duration
Downhill runs usually last between three to five minutes. An Enduro race will be across two days and you are often out on the bike all day. Within this you complete multiple stages of durations often exceeding ten minutes and total race time can be close to an hour – an hour against the clock in tough, technical and energy-sapping conditions! Fitness is key, and not just fitness to power through a stage, but the fitness to complete the transitions between stages as well as recover for the next run.
As an accessible form of mountain bike racing, and for pure adventure, Enduro has really hit the spot and it is attracting riders to this format. Why not give it a go? There are many events held across the UK, from big two-day events to ‘mini’ enduro events held over one day where there is less pressure and total race time but gives a good taste of the sport.
Here are a few suggestions on how you can get involved: