Lesotho and rediscovering the
joys of enduro riding
Words: Donovan Fourie
I’m incredibly lousy at enduro riding. I’ve known this for years since I was a teenager. At first, I was in absolute denial and slogged on relentlessly, determined to prove my God-like prowess for the impassable trail. Sadly, it was more cow than prow, despite a concerted effort, and I eventually took that to heart.
This epiphany completed its manifestation two years ago when my friend invited me to Lesotho to ride some motorcycles. He really is a good friend of mine, and apart from being a malicious sadist that rejoices in the suffering of others, I will not hear a bad word said about him.
“Buddy, come ride in Lesotho with us.”
“I can’t ride enduro, remember? You guys are going to kill me.”
“No, you will see. It’ll be fine.”
Knowing full well that nothing will be fine, I headed into the Mountain Kingdom. There were about ten people on this ride; two were Lettenbichlers of World Enduro fame while everyone else was chisel-jawed, adorning the latest in pro enduro apparel, and looked excited about what lay ahead. I, on the other hand, was wearing half adventure gear because it’s all that I had, I was nearly a foot shorter than everyone else, and I was trying figure out how to climb aboard these towering, monolithic machines without the aid of a stepladder.
The ride was 40km long, a pitiful amount to someone who rides something with the letters G and S in its name. However, Lesotho has various flat services, though, sadly, most of them are vertical.
Eight hours later and we had covered a mere 26 km.
Most of the ride was everyone else waiting for me to clear whatever obstacle I was failing to conquer. Or, more accurately, waiting for Manuel Lettenbichler to fetch my bike, ride it up the sheer cliff while I attempt advanced mountaineering in motocross boots. I was not able to keep the bike moving over this craggy topography, my legs were too short to keep the bike upright when it came to its inevitable halt, and I was too unfit to pick the bike back up again after it had fallen.
After 26 km of climbing in the wilderness, I eventually spotted a graded dirt road in the distance, bid everyone adieu and spent about R20,000 on roaming to Google Map my way back to the starting point.
Four hours later, everyone else drifted home having half-broken themselves – the last 14 km was the worst, and I couldn’t have been happier to have missed it.
So, I’m no good at enduro. I commend the people that thrive in the cliffs but would prefer to do so at a distance. Preferably at home on my couch with a pizza.
Then, Husqvarna invited us back to Lesotho to ride their 2020 range (see full road test elsewhere in this mag). A launch is work – no one else at The Bike Show will go anywhere near enduro, so it was up to me. Having finalised my last will and testament, I boarded the shuttle and again ventured into the Kingdom of Mountains. Fred Finchem, the man at the Husqvarna South Africa helm, assured us that the ride will be fun, just like everyone else that has ever subjected me to this torture.
The ride started, and immediately we found ourselves on a slippery, rocky piece of vertical-ness. We were heading up the famous Baboons Pass and were then going to come back down. This used to be one of the most infamous passes in the Roof of Africa back in the ’90s but these days they call it “Baboons Highway”. Highway my arse! A mere 500 metres up this climb later, my hands had frozen up, and the bars could move freely without any resistance from me.
I noticed that everyone was concentrating on the ride and ignoring the overwhelming beauty that surrounded us. Feeling this injustice, I humbly volunteered to park on the side of the trail and assume this duty while everyone else could continue with their selfish way.
We were only 500m in; the ride was another 30km to lunch and then 30km back to the lodge. Given my previous experience in Lesotho, this ride should be finished, if I ride continuously without eating, drinking or sleeping, in about three weeks.
When the group returned, I remounted my Husqvarna and set off into certain doom.
“Come on Donovan. Take it in its stride. Loosen your grip on the bars. Breathe. Look three steps ahead. You don’t know much about enduro, but you can ride a bike. Keep at it.”
About five kilometres later, we had not attempted to scale any cliffs, my arms felt good, and I was beginning to smile. Part of this is because the 2020 Husqvarnas are 20mm lower than previously, so I was no longer tip-toeing in desperation, but mostly it was because we were avoiding cliffs and merely riding on the fun parts. There were climbs, there were the odd littering of rocks, but nothing that required superhuman capabilities. We made it to lunch, ate lunch and rode home. And the smiles did not once dim.
What was this new magic? Why am I not leaving in a melancholy sense of loathing, of low self-worth, of seeing my enduro dreams fleeting out of reach? The answer was simple – the route was fun. The organisers genuinely took us on an amusing route.
Thinking back to my younger enduro ambitions, all our rides were done on holiday in the Valley of 1000 Hills where my “friends” assured me that the ride would be fun. It never was. It was always torturing.
Right now, back in Joburg, I want to ride more enduro. I haven’t felt this way since I was in my early twenties, and it’s all down to riding where it is fun, with fun people.
And this begs an interesting question – why do so many enduro riders feel the need to belittle others, to send them on arduous rides they don’t know under the promise of “it will be fun”? For whom, exactly? If there is a noob on the ride, then why not take them on a genuinely chilled ride and let them get into it, to widen the circle? Why send them into a veritable torture chamber for, what is presumably, your own amusement?
Saying that there does appear to be some change in the paradigm, starting with SA’s most significant enduro paradigm setter, the Roof of Africa. Charan Moore has assumed leadership of this event, and has promised change – the Gold Route will no longer be a “rally”, the Silver will be for race regulars, while the Bronze shall be toned down more for the weekend warrior.
In the late ’90s, the Roof had a class called the Clubmans that was half the distance of the main Roof and cut out all the steep passes. It was magnificent. I did it three times.
Maybe the Roof of Africa, a race previously the domain of only the most advanced, deranged or deluded of rider, might become something attainable to the common man.
I, the worst enduro rider in the world until recently, might even join.