Trail Blazer

If you’re looking for a more adventurous type of mountain bike riding, enduro is the way to go

With a rush of adrenaline, a supportive community, and an escape from the hectic energy of the city, enduro mountain biking is gaining popularity and exposure in Vietnam and all throughout Asia thanks to the hard work of the folks behind the Asian Enduro Series and South Vietnam Mountain Bike Club.

Mountain biking used to only have two styles: cross-country for endurance and downhill for speed. The solution to wanting the best of both worlds? Enduro Racing. “We climb mountains but aren’t timed. We just have a time limit to reach the top and then we race down the mountain. And then we keep going to the next mountain,” explains Florent Poilane, cofounder of the Asian Enduro Series and 2016 and 2017 Asian Series champion. “It’s four hours of racing. It’s pretty nice because for crosscountry or downhill you just go to the start and race as fast as possible. [With enduro] you have a leisure stage and can ride with friends and discuss and see the landscape. You can share your experience. All times are added together at the end. This racing style started in France ten years ago, now it’s the most popular sport in mountain biking, everyone does it now.”

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Originally from France, Florent spent 18 years riding on the national circuit and participating in Euro Racing. After moving to Vietnam and not riding bikes for two years, Florent felt he needed to make a change. Inspired by a love of travel and a desire to see a more cohesive racing organization in Asia, he got to work.

“I bought a bike and wanted to mix racing and traveling. While I travel, I can race and it allows me to meet more people and get more integrated. I know people because we share the same passion,” says Florent. “Three years ago I really started to race again and I liked it, so I was really disappointed with the number of races in Asia at that time. I reached out to some organizers and asked why are there only one or three events a year? That’s how we started the Asian Enduro Series.”

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“In Asia, enduro started three years ago, but there was no cohesion with other countries so it was difficult for riders of any country. If you commit to training and buying a bike with only one event a year, it’s not very fulfilling. That’s why I wanted to get involved and bring my experience overseas,” he adds. “Three people founded the Asian Enduro Series, (in Brunei, Nepal and Vietnam), now we receive applications from all different countries. So far we have raced in Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, The Philippines and Indonesia. This year we are going to Japan, Bangladesh, and discussing with Korea and China.”

Although races aren’t held here, Vietnam is not without its own events. “We organized an international event with Asian Enduro Series. It was more of a gathering to invite other riders to discover Vietnam and for Vietnamese riders to meet them and see where they’re at. It was very successful with about 90 participants. Last year three Vietnamese riders went overseas to race and see how good they are, they did pretty well. I think this year, more people will go,” says Florent.

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Because Asian Enduro Series offers organization and communication between countries, it makes racing much more accessible internationally, even being endorsed by The World Cup and EVOC Sports. “It’s an international series, we don’t want to have too many events, so we keep it five or six events a year, so every two months. We want to have more participants. We limit it at 150 or 200. In the past we were less than that, but now we have to stop at registration,” he explains.

Several years ago there were no enduro trails in Vietnam, so Florent and friends got to work building them in Ba Ria, painstakingly digging and cutting bamboo every weekend. The bike park took a total of 40 weeks, over three years time, and now has different trails for differing skill levels.

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“In most countries there are already trails, in Vietnam that was not the case. To ride bikes, we need trails. So three years ago I found a mountain, Nui Dinh, in Ba Ria. We found that this place had a lot of potential, near the city, very natural. So I asked around town, how we can do a trail there? At the end they gave us the right to make the trail,” says Florent.

Growing a supportive biking community in the city has always been an important piece of the puzzle for Florent, as the sport is just as much about shared experiences as it is about racing, “I created a club called SVMB, or South Vietnam Mountain Bike. The goal was to bring people together and share my experience with them and start riding bikes off road. Two times a week we had some bike clinics. I give them techniques and they train.” And now, every weekend, a group of bikers drives the hour to the trails and goes riding together.

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The sport may sound intimidating and it can be dangerous, but the community of SVMB wants newcomers to feel more than welcome and help them learn skills at a safe, healthy pace, “Anyone can ride bikes, the thing is you need to start step-by-step, this is why I created this club. You need to have someone to guide you. If you take your own bike and go to the top alone, you won’t go again. You need a technical background to go down. So we start here in the city with exercise, and then we go to the mountain. They gain confidence and then can go. Most newcomers want to go too fast, too quick. Then they quit or get hurt or feel not good enough, there is no such thing when you start a sport you will be as good as people with ten years experience.”

On why he is so passionate about this, Florent answers, “I really do this because I want to develop the sport. I have no incentive to make money. It’s rewarding to see young riders that joined us a few years ago who are now racing internationally.”

If you’re interested in joining SVMB, heading to the park and learning how to race enduro, visit their Facebook page: “SVMB – South Vietnam Mountain Bike” for more info.

Images by Baschi Bender

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