Having recently competed in both of these series, there are some obvious differences. I thought it would be helpful for people trying to decide which events to enter, possibly for the first time, to give an idea of what to expect and which may suit better.
Disclaimer. I have only entered one single Gravity Enduro event. Therefore my conclusions may be more specific to that event and venue rather than hold for the overall series. Further, to try and give a more accurate overview between the two series, a lot of my comparisons will be based on the races from both that were held at the same venue, the Ballyhoura Mountain Bike trails. And, while both event shared some of the same stages in full or in part, not all the stages were the same.
The recent Gravity Enduro round at Ballyhoura was held by many of the riders as the most pedally round, being more physycally demanding and less technical than other rounds. On the other hand, the Grassroots round held at the same location last year (there was no Ballyhoura round this year) was widely described as the most technically demanding round of the series in 2017.
In short, this is a comparison based on my limited experience. And, as both events used different stages and have a different approach to Enduro racing, it can not be a direct comparison. Rather, I hope this will give you an idea of what the key differences are between both series, and what you can expect if you were to enter a round in either.
A Tale of Two Irish Enduro Series
A description of what the Gravity Enduro Series is, taken straight from their website:
Founded in 2011, the Vitus Gravity Enduro Ireland series is the original Enduro series in Ireland with events taking place around the country. The format is relaxed and fun; it really is the perfect combination of competition and a great day on the bikes with your mates.
It’s a two day event with optional practice on Saturday and the race only on Sunday. The course is approximately 25km long and has a number of mainly downhill timed “special stages”. There are no transition cut off times so you can start the event in any order and ride together with a group of your pals for example. There is a Challenger category which is roughly half the distance and features 3 stages, ideal for first timers. The event typically takes 4 hours to complete and the special stages are each between 2 and 8 minutes long, totalling 15 - 25 minutes.
And this is how the Grassroots Enduro Series describes itself:
A grassroots Enduro mountain bike racing series run by local clubs with the single goal of encouraging anyone, regardless of age or gender, to try racing in the simplest format. Its success is measured based on the feedback received from those who participate.
The one day blind race format is unique in that riders do not get to practice in advance, but can attempt the stages multiple times as they like before the cut-off time (usually a maximum of two attempts per stage).
While we encourage newcomers to have a go, the technical standard of most trails and venues is on a par with other regional and national Enduro competitions.
The Cost of Entry
Entry fees for the Grassroots rounds to date have been €25. The Gravity Enduro rounds cost €57.50, or at the beginning of the year they offer a 100 full season packages at €230 which equals paying for 4 entries and getting 5. Both series require that you have a Cycling Ireland race license, or that you pay for a day license at €20. At the Gravity rounds you will also need to leave a €20 deposit for the timing chip, which you will get back once you return the chip at the end of the race. The Gravity Enduro entry does cover two days of riding and includes lunch.
The Race Format
Both series have a different format for the individual rounds.
Each Gravity Enduro round is held over two days, with practice on Saturday and the race on Sunday. Most races have five timed stages, although at Ballyhoura there were six. Each stage is raced once by every rider, and the total combined stage time determines the overall position. The transitions between stages are not timed and don’t affect your position. Each rider is allocated a start time to begin, and the stages are then done in order as indicated by the organisers.
A Grassroots Enduro race is held on a single day, usually a Sunday. There is no practice before hand, which is known as ‘blind’ racing. There are generally only three stages. However, each stage can be attempted multiple times, sometimes this is limited to two per rider, but generally there is no limit. Physically, though, including the transitions the average person will manage to do each stage twice before the cut-off time around 3 or 4 o’clock. The stages can also be done in any order.
The Race Length
Gravity Enduro rounds vary in length. The round at Ballyhoura was on the long side at just over 30 kilometers. Remember that each round is two days, that totals between 50 and 60 kilometers in a weekend.
Last year’s Ballyhoura Grassroots round was around 17 kilometers, based on doing each stage twice. Which is pretty average for the series. The concluding round of 2017 in Cahir was one of the longer ones at 20km.
Both series tend to have a race head quarters where the registration tent is. Generally there will be a food truck and a DJ to keep the atmosphere alive. The difference is in the number of people present. The grassroots rounds are generally limited to 150 or fewer entries, whereas the Gravity rounds can have over 250 depending on how popular a round is. All those people milling around at the end of the day make for great vibes.
At the Grassroots rounds you ted to rotate through the race village several times a day. At some rounds, like at Bike Park Ireland, you’ll pass through after every stage. At others you may only come through around lunch. At the Ballyhoura Gravity round you were only in the HQ at the start and finish of your race loop.
The Gravity Enduro races include lunch in your entry fee. At the Grassroots you bring your own, or buy sandwiches or burgers from the food truck. Both series tend to have a water and banana/snack station somewhere around the loop so you can refill your bottle or hydration bladder and refuel. And at both this is a first come first serve affair. Once the water or snacks are gone they’re gone. At Ballyhoura Gravity we arrived at the lunch point, which was also the refill station, literally about 4 or 5 people before the supply of water ran out.
This is where my previous disclaimer comes into effect. I can only base my comparison on the single Gravity event I’ve done. However, based on talking to mountain bikers that had done previous events and on my experience of the various Grassroots races I’ve been to, the difficulty between races can vary significantly.
In the Grassroots series I know the Ballyhoura round was technically demanding, with some very steep and very muddy stages. However, Bike Park Ireland provided stages that were much faster, but shorter.
At the Gravity Enduro round in Ballyhoura the first three stages were much flatter and, for the most part, followed the trail center. They required a lot more pedalling on, mostly, gravelled surfaces. The last three stages were more of a mix of trail center and natural trails. But, form watching footage of past events and from talkin gto other riders, I know other rounds can be steeper and more technical.
Who Should Do Which
This is a tough question. Spanning two days, the Gravity rounds require an bigger investment in time, so will not suit everyone. If you have family or work commitments, being able to free up two days may not be as easy or even possible. For this reason alone, the Gravity Enduro series tends to attract more dedicated racers. Whereas the one day format of the Grassroots series suits more people.
The greater distance of Gravity events, especially once you combine the two days, makes them more physically demanding and requires a greater fitness level than the generally shorter Grassroots events.
Neither series claims to be for beginners, while they are welcome at both. The Grassroots organisers do stipulate that there are no big jumps or large drops on any stage without an alternate line around them. As far as I’m aware there is no such condition for Gravity Enduro stages. Based on this, the Grassrootsmay be more beginner friendly. However, directly comparing the two series at Ballyhoura, the Gravity round involvved a much greater distance, but I wouldn’t say any of the stages were beyond the skill level of the majority of riders. Whereas last years Grasssroots round there, while much shorter, was much more challenging and had a number of participants getting off their bikes on parts of the stages.
Overall, the level of competition at Gravity rounds is higher than at Grassroots events. The latter attracts more casual and club racers versus the larger number of elite entries you’ll find at Gravity Enduro rounds.
If you are a first time racer, relatively new to mountian biking or not overly confident in your skill level rather than recommend one series over the other, I would suggest you carefully select which venue you choose. For example, the Grassroots round at Bike Park Ireland was relatively accesible to less confident riders with no huge features and shorter stages.
I know that there is a third series, the First Tracks Enduro Cup with multiple rounds in Northern Ireland. However, I’ve never had the opportunity to go and race at any of their events, mostly due to the distance I’d have to travel. Therefore I can’t include them in my comparison ahaving had no personal experience with the series. I do know that their format is very similar to that of the Gravity Enduro, two days with one for practice and the second for racing.
At the end of the day, both series aim to provide a fun time on the bike. The racing is not overly serious, and the atmosphere is always great. If you can only spare a single day, the Grassroots series is great. If you can spare a full weekend, afford the slightly higher entry fees and want to stretch your legs a bit more, the Gravity rounds are just as much fun, even if the level competition is a little higher.