Commentary

Enduro X-plained

Updated: July 30, 2011, 5:29 PM ET
By BJ Smith | ESPN.com

Telephone poles as obstacles proved to be a failure when they were integrated into the Daytona Supercross courses of the early '70s. Covered in dirt, they were called the "whoop-dee-doos," and on the high-speed, sandy, rough Daytona course, they were murder on the suspension-challenged bikes of the time.

The track builders and promoters eventually realized gimmicky obstacles such as logs and water holes wouldn't survive the evolution of Supercross. In 2004, successful French-born, U.S.-based promoter Eric Peronnard invented Endurocross, a new indoor sport that required the skills of motocross, off-roading and trials to win. Besides dirt, the staple obstacle in an Endurocross course is one from a bygone era of motorcycle racing: the telephone pole.

Shortened to Enduro X for its X Games debut, this hybrid motorcycle sport will on July 31 flood Staples Center with dirt, water, logs, boulders, giant tractor tires and 18- to 24-inch wide rocks, or, as the track builders like to call them, cobblestones.

Drew RuizRiders maneuver over a rock section at an Endurocross event last year.

The concept condenses the obstacles that could be found on a three-hour off-road enduro course and slams them into a track that is the length of an arenacross race. Instead of racing the clock like in enduro, riders start on a backward falling gate, like in Supercross, and race a predetermined number of laps. "I thought that Endurocross would do for off-road racing what Supercross did for motocross," Peronnard said of moving enduro from spectator-unfriendly forests to the cushy seats of air-conditioned arenas.

A young sport, Endurocross has sailed the slow ship to success. From 2004 through 2006, it was a once-a-year invitational race in Las Vegas. It since has expanded from a three-event series in 2007 to seven stops in 2011. X Games 17 will be Round 1.

The short evolution of the sport has proved that the fastest lap time doesn't always produce a winner but neither does the calculated ability to cleanly clear obstacles. "It takes the most well-rounded rider to win that series," 2008 champion Ricky Dietrich said. "You can't be just a trials specialist and win it or just a off-road specialist. You have to have the best of all backgrounds."

Red Bull Austria's Red Bull Hare Scramble is one of the most challenging off-road moto races in the world. Look for similar features to be brought inside at X Games 17.

Geoff Aaron is perfect proof. A 10-time AMA Trials champion with 73 national wins, he could clear an Endurocross course on one wheel. But unlike trials, the Endurocross referees don't care how many times a rider dabs his foot because it's all about who crosses the checkered flag first. The term "holeshot" doesn't even exist in trials. "The very first time I ever lined up on a gate was at that first Endurocross in Vegas a few years back," Aaron said. Still a full-time trials competitor at that point, Aaron knew he needed to learn speed to win. Now he's a two-time runner-up in the series with two career victories. "When I first threw myself in there, I wasn't making mains, I wasn't even cracking top-10s, but I knew that the sport was made for me and I knew that if I put in more time on the bike and more effort I could do well," he said.

The most popular one-word descriptions of the sport are "unpredictable" and "difficult." The latter is Peronnard's favorite. "You ask a guy like Mike Brown [2001 AMA Motocross champion], and he'll tell you it's the most difficult 10 minutes of racing he's ever done," Peronnard said.

Destry Abbott is a five-time AMA Hare & Hound champion, and is known for his endurance and ability to race in the desert, where he runs risks such as getting bitten by a rattlesnake or riding off a cliff. Endurocross still leaves him challenged and exhausted. "It's not like the rest of the off-road sports where you have three hours of racing," Abbott said. "Here, it's 8-10 minutes, and when you're done, you feel like it was a three-hour race."

X Games 17/Schaefer TracksA glimpse at the inaugural X Games Enduro X course, coming to Staples Center on July 31.

Dietrich, also a former World Off Road Championship Series champion, agrees. "It's not so hard to hop one log, but when you have to hop six in a row, it's tough," he said.

Even though runaways are rare in the short main-event races (X17 will feature a 10-rider, 10-lap final after two rounds of qualifying), for the past two seasons, the level of unpredictability of the sport has been erased by the dominance of Taddy Blazusiak, a Polish rider with a trials and extreme enduro background. The two-time and defending Endurocross champion has won nine of the past 12 events held and is a heavy favorite for the gold medal at X. "Taddy pretty much has it," Abbott said of Blazusiak's skills. "You have to be able to throw a 180 over a log, and trials guys are really good at that. At first he didn't have the moto and aggressive experience like the rest of us but he's really picked that up. He's a talent on a motorcycle, no doubt about it, but he can be beaten."

Peronnard might be one of the most patient men in motorsports. For six years, he had been trying to bring Enduro to X Games. After four years of not being able to put the absolute best riders on the line for the now-retired men's Super X event, ESPN turned to Peronnard, who guaranteed only the elite athletes for the inaugural running of Enduro X. He has champions locked in from many different motorcycle disciplines, and he's even told Travis Pastrana he would find the freestyle legend a spot. "I've been asking Travis for years to do one, and he always tells me, 'It's too gnarly for me,'" Peronnard said.

Men's and Women's Enduro X debuts at X Games 17 on July 31 (live on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com, 9:15 p.m. ET). For a complete list of Enduro X competitors, click here.