With the Merida EX Enduro due to take a rest for a while and the e-MTB-only 'eEX' in the pipeline for next year, for this year's EX, organizer, Michael Wilkins, decided to turn the fun and flagellation levels up to 11 with more timed stages, more descending, and yes, even more up.
80 hardy riders (plus some MTB journos and Merida staff) ventured into the beautiful Exmoor hills for three days of riding mostly natural, enduro-esque singletrack mixed with the savagely steep climbs that this area is well known for.
Friday – day and night riding
Proceedings kicked off Friday lunchtime with superb riding conditions and bone-dry weather. In fact, the only issue was a lack of grip from some hard-baked trails during the five timed stages in the day session. While the racing doesn't start until midday, it goes on well after dusk with the Exposure Night Enduro. Riders are uplifted up to near the top of Dunkery Beacon and then descend over three timed stages that end with a BBQ and post-ride festivities at a local farm – a party that's definitely one of the highlights of the EX.
Saturday – the big one
With heavy rain overnight, then mist and mizzle punctuated with showers during the day, Saturday's riding was a very different affair from Friday's. There's roots aplenty on almost all of the trails, so things suddenly became more treacherous in the moist conditions. The wet ground also meant more slippery climbs and with plenty of riders spinning out on the steep terrain, pushing up became a common sight.
Saturday is a big day of riding at the EX and consists of nine timed stages plus the longest hauling between race stages of the weekend. It's also the first day of the legendary vintage feed stop, which is essentially high tea complete with cut sandwiches and cake stands, plus of course, hot drinks served in china tea cups.
After Saturday's racing comes the EX's party night. This year, riders were entertained by a funk and soul band from Bristol, who played after the three-course meal and a Race Face sponsored competition to find the most convincing lumberjack among the riders.
Sunday – proper rain
Anyone who thought Saturday was wet, was in for a shock as on Sunday the rain hammered down all night long and just did not stop throughout the following day. It was torrential during the riders' briefing, but it managed to get even wetter as everyone got in the uplift for transporting back into the cloud-covered hilltops. During the briefing, it was announced that the conditions had got too iffy to run one of the timed stages, which would have been one of the spiciest of the weekend.
While the conditions made for a tough start, everyone I spoke to had an excellent time once they got going. The amount of water running down the trails made for some very slithery conditions and some proper laughs were had at the daftness of it all.
So that's it from the Merida EX Enduro for a while with the eEX planned to replace it next year. Fortunately, its the usual EX team behind it, so we're sure that the electric EX will be just as brilliant as the purely human-powered competition. You can register your interest in riding the eEX Enduro over at the-ex.co.uk.