EX Enduro 2023 review – spooky singletrack and biblical rain failed to dampen the party

A MTBer riding through misty woods
Spooky woods in Somerset rather than Glentress (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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.

A MTB rider railing a corner

Look mummy, dry trails (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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.

Friday's stats
Stages: 8
Distance: 34km
Descending: 1,550m
Climbing: 1,200m

A MTB rider on a trail

After cloud covered trails to begin with, visibility improved as the riders descended lower (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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.

A muddy rider with a cup of tea

A proper cup of tea is a special thing at a race, plus there's a ton of calories from real food on offer too (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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.

Saturday's stats
Stages: 9
Distance: 42km
Descending: 2,000m
Climbing: 1,600m

Riders loading their bikes in the rain

Getting hammered by rain during a ride is par for the course, but soaked before turning a crank is pretty special (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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.

A MTB rider in deep mud

Yes, plenty of traction here (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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. 

Sunday's stats
Stages: 5
Distance: 25km
Descending: 1,100m
Climbing: 1,250m

A stag themed MTB trophy

The overall winners of each category across the weekend each received a prized Golden Stag trophy  (Image credit: The Merida EX Enduro)

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.

Richard Owen
Editor, Bike Perfect

Rich is the editor of the Bikeperfect.com team. He has worked as a print and internet journalist for over 24 years and has been riding mountain bikes for over 30. Rich mostly likes hitting flowy yet technical trails that point downhill. A jack of many trades, he has competed in cross-country, enduro and long distance MTB races. A resident of North Devon, Rich can mostly be found pedaling furiously around his local trails, or slightly further afield in the Quantocks, the Mendips or Exmoor. 

Current rides: Merida One-Forty 6000, Banshee Paradox

Height: 175cm

Weight: 68kg