Idaho City 100 ISDE Qualifier

Chasing a spot on an ISDE Club Team

Idaho City 100 ISDE Qualifier
Chasing a spot on an ISDE club team.Dirt Rider

From the September 2016 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine.

For any diehard off-roader, the ISDE (International Six Day Enduro) is the pinnacle of off-road racing. Ever since watching Malcolm Smith in On Any Sunday, I've been infatuated with Six Days. I have tried two times to qualify, missing a spot by less than 30 seconds on each attempt, so this year I decided to put in a full-fledged effort and give it my all. But before we get to how that went, let me explain how the format works for the West Coast qualifier.

Each year there are two qualifiers in the US. Last month Dirt Rider gave the breakdown of the East qualifier, which was a Sprint Enduro format, but the West is a true ISDE-style format with transfer sections between tests that technically are not timed but with special test start times tight enough that they are far from relaxing or cool-down rides. If you intend to qualify, before going to the event, you must send a letter of intent (LOI) to the AMA, which states that if you do qualify, you understand and accept the expenses that go along with racing ISDE, which for a club team rider can be between $15,000 to $20,000.

Idaho City 100 ISDE Qualifier
Idaho City 100 ISDE Qualifier.Dirt Rider

The West qualifier has been held in Idaho City, Idaho, for more than 30 years and is a two-day contest. The event is not just for riders trying to qualify; it’s also an enduro open to everyone and can be ridden in a one- or two-day format, with classes for every skill level. The Friday before day one, you must go through rider registration, then tech, and impound your motorcycle by 8 p.m. Tech inspection consists of a sound test and marking of the cases, hubs, and wheels because these parts are not allowed to be changed during the event.

At 7 a.m. on Saturday the route times are posted. You must do your own math to figure out what time you need to go through each check based on your given minute. You can also figure out the speed averages for each section, which will tell you how fast your trail/transfer pace needs to be. For this year’s event I was number 3B, meaning I was on minute three. Key time was 9 a.m., so I left the line at 9:03. This is the same for all check times given—all I had to do was add three minutes to every checkpoint time given.

Idaho City 100 ISDE Qualifier
Idaho City 100 ISDE QualifierDirt Rider

Each day consists of more than 100 miles of single-track trails and fire roads, with four to five special tests. Special tests are how the event is scored, assuming you make it through all the checkpoints on time. The special tests have a start and stop point, and you are timed in between. At the end of the weekend all your special tests are added up, and whoever has the lowest total time wins. There are three classes for LOI riders: E1, which is 100cc to 125cc two-strokes and 175cc to 250cc four-strokes; E2, which is 175cc to 250cc/290cc to 450cc; and E3, which is 290cc to 500cc/475cc to 650cc. Until this year the top two riders of each class were selected to represent the United States at ISDE on a club team, but this year the AMA decided that only the top seven overall would be selected, which made my slim chances of qualifying even slimmer.

Upon my request for a 250F for Idaho, Dirt Rider suggested the 2016 Suzuki RM-Z250. I knew making the yellow steed into an off-roader was going to take some work due to its harsh suspension traits, but I was up for the challenge.

Idaho City 100 ISDE Qualifier
Idaho City 100 ISDE QualifierDirt Rider

I installed a Flexx Bar, hand guards, a skid plate, and had TBT Racing make the air fork less painful for off-road riding and also make the motocross-valved shock a little plusher. The fork and shock revalve were definitely an improvement over stock, but as with most air forks, the initial movement of the fork was harsh. Over the six hours of riding, the fork went up 3.5 psi, which added to the harsh initial feeling. Tokyo Mods had installed a new cam along with a Vortex ignition, which helped smooth out the bottom-end and give the Suzuki less tendency to stall. Before leaving for Idaho, I installed mousses front and rear and put a wrench on every major bolt on the bike to make sure everything was tight. I didn’t want a little mechanical issue to ruin my chances at qualifying.

All racers must use USFS-approved gas cans.
All racers must use USFS-approved gas cans.Dirt Rider

Day one had five special tests, one being the grass track; this is the only test that riders are allowed to walk before the event and is 100 percent bannered off. The 90-degree weather made for dusty conditions, and I may have collected some banners and blown some corners. At the start of day one it was hard to judge how fast the riders around my minute were, so after catching some dust, I was able to sort out who to try to ride ahead of in the transfer sections so as to not get caught behind them in special tests. Day two was basically the same course as day one but ran backward, which was nice on one hand because it’s all familiar. On the other hand, the course was very rough on day two since 300-plus riders had been through the day before. The ruts were ruttier, the roots were more rooty, and the rocks were bigger—or at least seemed that way.

A bar pad makes a great place for your check times.
A bar pad makes a great place for your check times.Dirt Rider

Being that most of the course consisted of single-track, the speed averages were around 20 mph, and let me tell you, 100 miles of tight trails when it’s 90-plus degrees is fairly taxing on the body. I have Ironmanned the 24 Hours of Glen Helen and used what I had learned there to pace myself in the transfer sections. But I also had to remember that I couldn’t completely go into cruise control mode because I still had to charge in the special tests. If I had tried to keep a blistering transfer pace, I would have been worn out by the second gas stop, and the special tests at the end of the day would’ve reflected that. I always kept in mind that sometimes the club makes the last transfer section times very tight and hard to make it to the last check on time. Other times they will throw a special test in at the end of the day when you’re already tired. With this in mind I kept a decent trail pace (about 60 percent speed) to try and limit mistakes that take up valuable energy.

Qualifier-style enduros are my favorite type of event for three reasons. Number one is that you are never racing bar to bar with a fellow racer unless you are passing or getting passed in a special test; this makes the event results a mystery until the end of the day. Reason two is that there are small breaks where you get a chance to refill your hydration pack and grab some food. The final reason is that every second counts; this format forces you to minimize mistakes or recover from them as quickly as possible. For instance, I made only two mistakes during the two days: Mistake one was a small tip-over in special test two of day one (luckily the bike kept running). Mistake two was stalling in special test two of day two, which was costly because the RM-Z250 doesn’t like starting in gear, so I had to take my time to find neutral before kickstarting and continuing on.

Daily air filter changes are a must.
Daily air filter changes are a must.Dirt Rider

Throughout the two days of qualifying, I rode 217 miles, nine special tests, and made it to all six checkpoints on time, finishing third in E1 and 17th overall out of 106 LOI riders. Needless to say I didn’t make the cut for ISDE, missing it by 10 spots.

If you’ve never ridden a qualifier-style enduro I highly recommend it because—let’s get real—is there anything cooler than taking a lunch break in the middle of a race?