Graham Jarvis is a former five-time British trials champion who has stamped his complete dominance in a second career in extreme enduro.
This month the 38-year-old won the only event in the calendar to so far elude him, the Red Bull Hare Scramble, known as one of the world’s toughest races.
It’s a four-hour battle against the virtually impassable terrain of Austria’s Erzberg mountains, in which hundreds of riders start and only a handful finish.
Many are eliminated in the opening minutes by huge hills, which quickly become clogged with bikes.
Jarvis said: “On those first few hills there are so many riders. If you don’t get out in those first few, there are riders coming back down towards you, going sideways and in all directions. Sometimes there are riders veering into your line halfway up.
“You’re hitting the hills flat-out in third gear. Everything’s quite loose so it’s just spinning up and you’re trying to keep the bike straight and moving, and avoid everyone else. There’s luck involved.”
Those who get through are faced with a course so tough that everyone has to get off and manhandle their bike at some point. That’s if they can work out which way to go. In places only a single marker points the way. Missing one and inadvertently taking a short cut, even of a few metres, leads to disqualification, as Jarvis well knows.
“The last three years I’ve missed parts and been disqualified,” said Jarvis, from Ripon, North Yorkshire. “Two years ago I got to the finish, did all the celebrations, champagne and interviews, and then they disqualified me for missing a checkpoint by five metres.
“Last year I crossed the line first again and people were already shaking their heads because I’d missed a checkpoint. They set the track out at the last minute and don’t like you looking at it. So there can be a single arrow pointing you into some trees and if you miss it you get disqualified. They don’t tape the corners.”
Understandably, when he crossed line first again at this year’s race, he hardly dared believe it.
“This year I was paranoid,” he said. “In some places I was going a bit slower just to make sure I didn’t miss any of the track. I wasn’t sure whether to follow people just to make sure I got it right, but I ended up getting into the lead.
“Even when I’d come into the finish, I didn’t want to celebrate. I couldn’t cope with the disappointment again. It was only a few hours later, when I was driving out of the venue, that I started to believe it. That was the only event I hadn’t won so I had to tick it off the list.”
Despite that now complete list of victories, Jarvis is better known to many as the man who can make an enduro bike look like a trials bike. He can do rolling stoppies down steps in a Spanish villa.
Knock a beer bottle off a table mid-jump. Land a jump on the front wheel and then stay on the front as the bike rolls down a dirt hill. Ride up and over six-foot-tall rocks. Wheelie on the balance-point through a river, and while almost stationary. All on an enduro bike.
His YouTube videos, like ‘Graham Jarvis Spanish Training’ have deservedly garnered millions of views. They are amazing.
He says we too can learn to ride an enduro bike like he does. Clearly so much of his brain is occupied by bike control that he’s gone insane. But let’s humour him. And read his rules…
1. Learn trials
You can pick up tricks on an enduro bike pretty quickly if you’ve done trials because the skills are there. With my trials background, I never had to practise tricks on an enduro bike.
I didn’t practise any of the tricks I do in my Youtube videos. Most of it I could just do first time. I’ve just done it for a bit of fun when the cameras are on and it’s turned out people like to watch it.
Techniques can be adapted pretty quickly from trials to an enduro bike. They’re basically the same except the bike’s heavier and you’ve got less grip. It’s harder to balance and there’s a lot more risk involved because it’s not as easy to just put your foot down and manhandle the bike.
You can’t correct any mistakes as easily as on a trials bike. You have to be more precise. You’re basically just more out of control.
2. Go slow
Going fast is the easy bit. It’s going slowly that will help you develop control. Simple riding exercises which are actually difficult to perform can give you a lot of control.
Try riding slowly in a figure-of-eight, on full lock. When you’ve mastered that, try it over some gnarly, uneven ground, where you have to control it with the clutch. The majority of riders can’t do that.
3. Master the clutch
The most important thing to learn is clutch control. That’s where all your bike control comes from. Clutch control will get you out of trouble in difficult situations. Try riding as slowly as possible over some small logs, without putting foot down. Feel what the bike’s doing underneath you and use the clutch to control grip and power.
4. Build confidence
A lot of ability comes down to confidence. You need to build the confidence to attack different obstacles. Take it step by step. Push yourself a little bit all the time, so you’re stepping out of your comfort zone but not constantly crashing.
Try some hill climbs. Then try getting over some logs and rocks, gradually increasing in size. Riding along a log is good for balance. Just use your imagination and have fun.
I train with natural obstacles, like rocks and banking in the woods. A good way to build control is by trying to wheelie at low-speed on flat ground. People find that really hard to do slowly, using the clutch to get that initial lift without building speed.
5. Get fit
The only way to develop technique on the bike is through practice, but your technique will come on more quickly if you’re fit and strong. It will improve your stability on the bike.
Sometimes, when I train people, they get so tired they can’t hang onto the bars anymore. Using arm pumps every day will strengthen your wrists and grip.
I train for about an hour a day on the bike and a couple in the gym, depending on the event I’m preparing for. For the Erzberg, maybe two really hard hours on the bike. It’s such a physical sport.
You need to be on top of your fitness. And it’s not just one aspect of fitness, like road racing, which is about stamina. In extreme enduro there are short bursts of exertion and long days. When you drop the bike you need pure strength to pick it up. All-round fitness is required.
6. Develop balance
Doing exercises to improve your balance will make you a better rider. If your balance is good, you’ll use less energy to ride. You’ve probably seen those exercise balls in gyms. They call them gym balls or Swiss balls.
They’re big balls that you balance on as you do your weights. You can stand on them, kneel on them. There are hundreds of exercises you can do with them to improve your balance.
7. Downhill rolling stoppie
To do this, you throw your weight forward, compressing the front suspension, unweighting the rear and putting everything on the front end. Apply a lot of front brake and pressure on the handlebars to make the rear come up in the air.
Once it’s up, you’re finding that balance-point where the bike feels quite light. Then it’s just a case of controlling it with the front brake.
8. Wheelie through a river
It’s like a normal wheelie except the surface is uneven and slippery. An uneven surface makes the front want to come down. You can’t see it because it’s underwater. So you’ve just got to react very quickly to what the bike’s doing underneath you.
Once the front wheel is up, and you’ve found the balance-point, you control it with the back brake and a finger on the clutch. You’re on and off the clutch, and obviously using the throttle, to adjust the front wheel height. If it goes too high, just a bit of back brake as well.
9. (Almost) stationary wheelies
To wheelie slower than walking pace takes a lot of control. Your clutch control needs to be really good. You can’t rely on speed to keep balance. You’re entirely depending on clutch control and back brake to find that balance point and keep it there, without revving the engine too much.
10. Rider up a six-foot step
For any step it’s important to bounce the front wheel off it at the right height. Too high and you’ll case it – that’s when you smash the engine case into the step. Too low and you’ll nose-dive into it, over the bars.
You want the front wheel to touch just below the top of the step. That’s going to send you up it rather than into it. You need to be slipping the clutch, with the engine revving.
When that front wheel touches, that’s when you’ve got to quickly release the clutch, just for a fraction of a second. That will fire you up the wall. Give a quick pull on the bars so the back wheel smashes into the step and drives you up. Push with your legs to get traction. Easy.