Getting started

Race guide: A brief explanation of the basic rules of enduro and UK rally events and how they work

For people starting out in off-road motorbike riding, new to the sport or even for people who simply have an interest in the sport, it can be difficult to find out everything you want to know before you enter your first event. I will try to give a broad overview, keeping it simple but with enough information to be useful. If you find this guide useful, please consider making a donation to Wales Air Ambulance.

Most of the information covered here is available in fine detail in the Auto Cycle Union (ACU) Handbook, but this guide should give you a basic understanding.

In an event, riders are separated into different groups based on ability, normally known as "classes". The classes are then given different time allowances, number of laps or track sections to complete, depending on the event. The classes set in the ACU Handbook are:
  • Championship
  • Expert
  • Clubman
  • Ladies
  • Sportsman
The Sportsman class is designed for beginners. If it is your first event, you would be wise to enter this class! There will often be additional classes such as Veterans (vets) or O/40s (over 40 years old), Twinshock (older bikes with twin rear suspension), sidecars and quads.

The class system varies slightly for the UK rallies, where the following example of a "rating" system is used. Upon submitting their race entry, riders will be asked to grade their riding ability as best they can. This is for your own safety and enjoyment so that riders of similar ability can ride together. Occasionally, depending on the event, the beginner classes will have a shorter race distance and the higher classes (e.g. 1-4) will have compulsory difficult sections to complete:
  1. Good expert
  2. Expert
  3. Good clubman
  4. Clubman
  5. Good sportsman
  6. Sportsman
  7. Good novice
  8. Novice
  9. Good beginner
  10. Beginner
Your first race - which events are coming up?
First of all, find out which events are running in your local area and the levels of ability they cater for. Information on events can be found in several places by searching the internet, but here are a few good starting points:
Another good idea is to search the internet for the event beforehand. You will often find that people discuss the event on public forums and almost always there will be videos on YouTube of special tests or a lap of the course, this will give you a great idea of what's involved, riding wise.
Typical race fees
An event entry fee will typically be somewhere in the region of £60 for a single day event, but they can vary between £50 and £100 depending on the complexity, length and difficulty of the course. For a two day event, you may expect to pay between £120 and £150. Your ACU license fee is additional, so this could be £10 for the event if you purchase a one-event license, or £45ish annually (more on ACU licenses below in the "Entering the race" section). You will also need to be a member of the club organising the event or another local ACU-affiliated club. If you have no current memberships, normally this just involves ticking a box on the entry form and paying the required fee £5-£30 for the year.

Entering the race
The club organising the event will publish a set of Supplementary Regulations before the event, often referred to as "regs". They will describe the format of the event, classes, location, times, servicing rules, fees, timing, results and awards, officials and other various details including any requirements for your "machine" (bike).

Sometimes entries for events can be completed online but, most commonly, you will need to print out the entry form (normally accompanies the regs), complete and sign it, then post it to the "Secretary of the meeting" along with the fee required (cheque) and any requested stamped, self-addressed envelopes.

You will receive confirmation of your entry either by email or by post and in the weeks/days leading up to the event you will receive the "Final Instructions". The final instructions will describe in detail exact times for scrutineering, signing on, location of the start, parking facilities, toilets, food and drink, the course and how it is marked, any rider's briefings, refuelling rules and often nearby accommodation.

Your bike will be examined by an official before you can race, and this process is referred to as either "Machine Examination" or "Scrutineering". The regs will typically describe any noise limit and tyre specifications that apply to the event.

The regs will inform you that you need an ACU license to race. Don't panic! You can purchase a one-event license on the day of the event by simply filling in a form and paying (normally) £10 during "signing on". Signing on and scrutineering must always be completed before you can race, and there is normally an order to be adhered to which is described in the regs, e.g. "all riders to sign on before machine examination". The process of signing on is basically a register which you sign to let the organisers know that you are in attendance and have shown/purchased an ACU license. If you know you will be racing more than 4 events in the year, you should consider an annual ACU license which is £45ish, purchased directly from the ACU.

Signing on will also usually involve collecting your race numbers (if they are provided - it will say so in the regs).

The regs will also stipulate any road legality requirements for the event. In other words, if the course uses any roads or byways that require your bike to be fully road legal, including tax, MOT, insurance etc - you know the drill.

Scrutineering and how to prepare your bike
Tyres - Check the regs, but typical examples are "FIM approved enduro tyres", or "no motocross tyres"
Helmet - Must have an ACU sticker on the back, bronze, silver or gold approved.
Boots - Sometimes you will need to show your boots are up to scratch, but this is uncommon.
Bore and stroke - Sometimes you will be asked to show the bore and stroke of your engine on the engine casing in permanent marker. This is very uncommon at this level.

Once you have passed scrutineering, you can either return with your bike at the start time (dead engine start normally and they are strict on this), or quite often you will need to leave your bike in a "parc ferme". This is basically a sealed off area where once your bike is in there, you are not allowed to touch it until typically 10 minutes before your start time.

In terms of preparing your bike, here are the things that are most commonly checked at scrutineering, so check them yourself thoroughly, because if you fail scrutineering, they do not refund your entry fee!
  • Loose controls levers (clutch, brake, gear, brake)
  • Smooth throttle return
  • Wheel bearings
  • Brake action (they need to work properly)!
  • Footpeg spring return
  • Depending on the event (regs will say), your bike may be noise tested
I would recommend having a digital watch strapped to your handlebars, which you should calibrate using the organisers clock on the start line before you head off. This helps you easily keep track of your progress as you are riding. I'd also recommend (before you leave your bike in parc ferme), getting your time allowances from signing on and placing them somewhere easily visible on the bars. I tend to write my check times on white duct tape and attach it to the brake hose so that it's directly in front of me. I have my watch strapped around the front brake master cylinder and I have a section of old tyre tube around my clutch master cylinder with a cable tie handle so that I can quickly store my timecard (see the "Timecards" section below).

Common elements of an event
The courses are generally split into two distinct types of riding:
  • Checks / checkpoints / going / liaison
  • Special test / test / special / special stage
The checks are defined by time allowances (vary for each class) and distance and are designed to be non-competitive but challenging. The special tests are run over a defined distance and strictly marked course against the clock - you will need to go as fast as you can.

The way results are decided is effectively based on time penalties. The aim of the game is to amass the lowest penalty possible, and each second you spend on the test is a penalty point. Timing on the going is where there is a big difference between the UK enduro and rally formats, which is explained further below in the "Race formats" section.

Timing of the special tests can either be achieved by manned checkpoints at either end of the test, or by transponder (this will be described in the regs). A transponder is an electronic device which is attached to your bike. It uses radio signals to record your times to thousandths of a second! Look after your transponder - you effectively rent it for the duration of the event and must return it afterwards. Usually a deposit is taken in the form of a driving license or ACU license, but if you lose or break the transponder, you pay for its replacement, which can be up to £200!

Race organisers and club members often make up the team of "marshals" that ensure the event runs smoothly. Marshals will wear high visibility vests and can either be at the checkpoints or riding the route on bikes themselves, to help struggling, injured or broken down riders. They are there to help you and more often than not they are volunteers - be nice and respectful please, they love the sport as much as you do!

A timecard is in principal, yours and the organisers' way of keeping track of your progress throughout the day. At the start of the event, you will be given your time allowances, which form the basis of your timecard. You'll have a start time, then a time allowance in minutes for each check. From this, you can complete your timecard.

The timecard format is normally reserved only for use in enduros, but some UK rallies use them too, but generally only to remind you.

A timecard is a long, narrow sheet of paper which is encased in a plastic sheath and therefore waterproof. The paper inside is that pressure sensitive stuff, so don't worry if your pen isn't leaving any ink on the paper, it's the indentation that counts. Before you start, you'll need to fill in your name, class, rider number, start time, all your time allowances in minutes and all your ETAs. You can work these out by adding the minutes to your start time cumulatively. Make sure you double check this in an enduro because you are penalised for early as well as late arrivals!

In a timecard enduro, you will be given a time allowance to get to the check. At the check there will be two sets of flags, a white flag as you approach the check, to let you know it is within a few hundred yards, and a yellow flag, which is the check itself. There will be a clock at every check. When you arrive at the check, check the time and check the time you are "due in" at the check (ETA). You must not "clock in" early or late (or at least that is the idea), so you wait before the yellow flag (do not pass it) for your minute to tick over, then you can go into the check and have your timecard filled in by the officials.

For example, your start time is 10:00am, the first check is 10 miles long and your time allowance is 32 minutes. That means your time due in at check 1 is 10:32am. If you arrive at the check at 10:29am, you need to wait before the second set of flags where you can see the clock, and as soon as 10:32am ticks over, you may go into the check. The officials will record your arrival time in another column on the timecard. Have it in an easily accessible place so that you can get to it quickly and put it away quickly, time is precious!

At some point you will inevitably be late or early to a check. The important thing to remember in a timecard enduro is that you have to "carry your time". In other words, if you arrived at the check at 10:35am, you would have been 3 minutes late. You then have to stay 3 minutes late for the rest of the day. If you lose more time throughout the day, you must add that on too. The principal is, you must use the exact time allowance on each check, nothing more; nothing less. So, if you accidentally clocked in early at 10:30am, you would need to stay 2 minutes early at the next check etc.

Staying on time is often referred to as "cleaning a check" or staying "clean on time" or even just "clean". Deliberately clocking in early is known as "crashing" the check.

The maximum amount of time you can be late is 60 minutes, after that you will not receive a classification, you will be deemed to have "houred out". In the results you may see this as HO or DNF (did not finish).

When you finish or if you retire, you must hand in your timecard to the organisers. This is so that they know you are off the course and not to go looking for you!

Course marking
In both enduros and rallies, the courses are commonly "marked" using DayGlow arrows. These are brightly coloured arrows around 10" long, usually bright orange or bright green. In two day events, the regs will describe which colour is used for each day. Read the ACU Handbook to learn about what the markings mean, but generally there will be single arrows to indicate a direction or turn, double arrows for a turn or sharp turn, crossed arrows for danger and twin arrows to indicate that the course passes between them.

Blue tape areas are important and you must slow down to a walking pace. If you are caught breaking the rules you will be disqualified on the spot.

You must not, for any reason, ride against the flow of traffic on the course. If you have any mechanical or medical difficulties, you must stay where you are and notify a marshal.

Make sure you have plenty of fuel with you to finish the event! If you ride a 2 stroke, make sure you have enough 2T oil to mix with your petrol, and bring a funnel with a strainer in it, a jug to measure oil and some good quality jerry cans.

Events often have designated refuelling areas or pits where you must move your fuel and environmental mats (a large enough carpet can suffice) before the race. These will be described in the regs if necessary.

Race formats
Enduros can be in either a multi-lap format (most common) or cross country e.g. the Welsh 2 day. The UK rallies tend to be multi lap but can vary in that some may be in a sprint format. In a normal event (both enduro and rally), your special test times are cumulative, i.e. they will all be added together to give you your final time, whereas in a sprint format, your fastest time counts.

Typical lap distance for a multi-lap event is between 15 and 30 miles. Typical riding time is between 3 and 6 hours but can be as many as 10! The average speed is usually 18-25mph over the whole course and riders will start in groups of 2-4.

Commonly in the UK rallies and in most multi-lap enduros, the first lap will be untimed. It will say so in the regs. This may be referred to as a "sighting lap", the idea being that you familiarise yourself with the course and choose good lines for your next timed lap. Some enduro events do not have a sighting lap (obviously not the cross country ones). In these events the organisers make the special tests available for you to walk beforehand. It will say in the regs when you can do so e.g. "test will be marked 24 hours before the start and may be inspected on foot". Strictly no vehicles are allowed on the test including bicycles.
Terrain can vary immensely, but generally speaking, enduro terrain is more difficult, technical and demanding than a rally course. This does not mean to say that the rallies are easy, but enduros tend to be relentless and include obstacles, sometimes referred to as "stoppers", these can be deep ruts, deep water, trees, steep climbs, steep descents, jumps, drop-offs and so on. You should be physically fit if you want to have a good chance of finishing your first enduro. That being said, the best way to get fit is to ride, so don't let that stop you, and don't be demoralised if you don't finish on your first attempt.

One of the most important values you must have as an off-road rider is determination. You will spend a lot of time picking up your bike, fixing it or falling off it, but it's all part of it and it will always be part of the sport, no matter what level you compete at. What matters is how you deal with it - get back on it and get going again as soon as possible, don't give up easily just because it's getting difficult. Again, this is subjective, you also need to know when to stop, and I can't tell you that, you need to listen to your body. Everything will fall into place with experience.

In the UK rallies, you will be given time allowances, but they are quite lenient, you are allowed to be up to half an hour late to a check with no penalty. However, if you are any later than this, you will be disqualified.

In enduro, there are sub-classes (sometimes known as capacity classes) in the entry system designed for awards so that similar powered bikes compete against each other. These are E1, E2 and E3 (2T refers to 2 stroke, and 4T to 4 stroke):

  • E1: 2T up to 125cc & 4T up to 250cc
  • E2: Over 125cc to 250cc 2T & Over 250cc to 450cc 4T
  • E3: Over 250cc 2T & Over 450cc 4T
Awards are usually a winner and runner up for each class, then a "Best" award for each capacity class.

Before the race
I always think it's a good idea to carry some spares in a backpack or bumbag, so get this ready before the race with all the essential spares you think you might need. Most common are a spark plug, chain link and the necessary tools to replace them, along with some cable ties and rope.

I'd also recommend bringing a set of spares with you on the day (if your budget allows). Things like spark plug, air filter, sprockets, chain, chain link, chain lube, spare levers, WD-40, tyre tubes, brake pads, wheel bearings and obviously the tools you'd need to be able to change these parts.

In terms of riding gear, I would recommend a good helmet and boots, body armour which includes elbow pads, shoulder pads and chest/back protector with kidney belt (wear a thin base layer underneath), goggles, gloves with knuckle protection, a rain jacket, a motocross jersey or enduro jacket, enduro or motocross trousers of a high quality with in-built padding for your hips and knees and some good quality knee pads.

On race day
  • Get there nice and early and find a place to park
  • Go to sign on
  • Unload your bike
  • Refuel your bike if necessary
  • Apply your race numbers on the correct colour background (as per ACU Handbook)
  • Fill in your timecard and your times to put on your bike
  • Get your bike scrutineered - try to do this ASAP so that you have time to solve any potential problems
  • Take your fuel/tools/refreshments to the correct location (if necessary)
  • Get dressed and go racing!
If you arrive at the scene of an accident, notify a marshal as soon as you can or at the very least the next rider so that the medical team can be sent out.

On multi-lap events you will often encounter faster riders who want to overtake you. Don't panic, if you can find a safe place to pull over and give them space to pass, do so, otherwise it is their job to find a way past safely. If you want to overtake someone, try to use your horn or shout (not obscenities)!

Drink plenty of water, and I mean plenty! I'd recommend buying a rucksack which doubles as a water carrier, there are loads out there to choose from. Try to get one with chest and waist straps so that they don't flap around. Being able to drink whenever you like out on the lap without needing to stop is a huge advantage and helps prevent dehydration which can lead to cramp. Make sure you eat enough as well, have a good slow-energy releasing breakfast if you can, it makes all the difference. Chances are you won't want your lunch either, but get it down, otherwise you will struggle.

After the event
Hand in your timecard at the finish. You are allowed to clock in early at the last check of the day. The results will be published by the club usually within a couple of weeks of the event, sometimes they can be available immediately or within a few days, but please be patient.

In enduros, you can often win an award for your finish within your class, depending on the event:

  • Gold: within 10% of the winning time
  • Silver: within 25% of the winning time
  • Bronze: finish within the time limit

Useful links
RallyMoto club / All Terrain Rally Challenge

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