X Enduro Challenge UAE-1

In the spirit of the GS Trophy, the KTM Rallye, and the Adventure Bike Festival worldwide, there are many events for the adventure bike enthusiast. Here in the UAE, we have the X Enduro Challenge, which started in 2021 and has grown in popularity, serving the riding community and running throughout the riding season. This weekend was number four in the series for the 2022–23 season, and unlike previous events with teams of three or a single rider format, this was special in that there was a two-rider team event and a single rider challenge.

Preparations for the event took several days, with trails and obstacles being prepared in the beautiful countryside of the now very green Wadi Showkah. Using the natural terrain and undulating landscape, a challenging series of obstacles were prepared to test the riders on every level. Bridges and ramps had to be installed in some of the more difficult crossings. The course consisted of three main sections: the agility course, the ‘Roof of Showkah,” and the ‘Wadi Run’. Each would be ridden individually by the teams and then combined, testing the riders and bikes to their limits.

The event was sponsored by ANB Motorsport, the dealers for KTM and Gas Gas motorcycles, and their wonderful team headed up by Mike Grove and Mazen Mneimneh. The event was hosted by Wander Retreats in Wadi Showkah, managed by the amazing Vren Heierli.

Wander Retreats consist of affordable eco-lodges and bespoke teepee tents nestled in the Hajar Mountains and surrounded by amazing countryside, hiking trails, rock pools, and riding tracks. They are easily accessible and only an hour’s drive or ride from Dubai.

As dawn broke, those riders who came on Friday evening and camped chatted over coffee and greeted the first of the main group from Dubai as they started to arrive. There were a total of 28 riders entered for the event, and with organizers, families, and spectators, the number rose to 70. We kicked off with the riders check-in and welcome briefing. The X Enduro team had worked tirelessly to ensure smooth running from the very start. Old friends caught up with each other, and there was a general buzz of anticipation and excitement in the air.

Teams were drawn on a seeded lottery basis, matching up less experienced riders with more seasoned ones, ensuring an even playing field and fair competition. Bikes of all makes and sizes are ridden by men and women of every age, from every imaginable background, and a range of nationalities that would impress the UN, a true reflection of how the UAE has become home to so many different people.

X Enduro Challenge UAE-1

Once all the administration was completed, the riders left the camp for a warmup ride led by Mikael Odmark, my co-founder in X Enduro, riding through the beautiful wadis and arriving at the competition area. The bikes were lined up according to their team numbers, and the first challenge began. As a warmup, the teams had to push one bike with the engine off through the slalom course and back to the start box, approximately 200 meters. As riding these big adventure bikes is quite demanding, we always start the competitions with a good physical warm-up that gets the riders blood and enthusiasm pumping.

This challenge is directly followed by riding through the agility course, consisting of a tight slalom, stop boxes and exercises, tight U-turns, and a race back to the finish line via parallel bars, a washboard, a tire run, and a narrow plank. Teams would set off together, one rider on each run, and their combined times would make up the score. The next challenge was the ‘Roof of Showkah,” named after the Roof of Arica, the world’s oldest and hardest enduro race. The riders are put through their paces by riding the agility course combined with a complicated trail ride incorporating the undulating hills and narrow trails on the plateau. At the same time, the other team member is riding the ‘Wadi Run,” which is a complex trail ride that calls on all the skills to negotiate off-camber, steep hills down and up, narrow trails traversing ramps and bridges, water crossings, and a long flat-out gravel-filled wadi with a steep rocky hill climb to the finish. Some riders had difficulties completing the run, but in the spirit of the challenge, competitors stopped to help each other, sacrificing valuable seconds from their own race times.

The competition was well and truly in full swing: marshals guided and helped each rider; time kept sending off riders with one-minute intervals; riders who drew “oohs and ahhs” with near misses and the occasional fall; and loud cheers as they got up and jumped back on the bikes, roaring off again in a hail of sand and gravel.

The next was a final combination of both challenges, all combined in a long, timed trail ride, with the timing and penalty points giving the teams’ final scores. The riders gave it their all, drawing on every skill they had ever learned and moving on the bike like pro athletes; for some, they were way outside their comfort zone but powered ahead regardless. Fear was overtaken by determination, and the competitive nature in each of the riders came out strong. Hot, sweaty, and exhausted, the last riders crossed the line to cheers from everyone, marking the end of the team event and the break for lunch.

The riders returned to camp, and there was a buzz of conversation about near misses, joy, and pride in completing the challenges. Teammates sat together, congratulating each other on a job well done, thanking each other for the help and support given, and discussing the pros and cons of the various bikes. The whole spirit of the challenge is not just the competition but the friendship and sense of community that it builds, showing riders what they are capable of and, of course, what their bikes can do. Wives, husbands, and children of the competitors got to see the passion for adventure riding and meet the many friends who ride most weekends together. It was a wonderful family event, all housed in the wonderful Wander Retreat.

At this point, the second part of the challenge was announced, off course with a twist. It would be a single-rider challenge, using a variation of the course, but not on their own bikes but riding either the KTM or Gas Gas Enduro bikes. Same-sized engines, same course, and it’s all down to the individual rider and his or her abilities.

The challenge started with riders at the ready, at one-minute intervals to avoid any collisions, belting up through the agility course, gliding over the hilly trail ride, and through the canyon connecting the upper and lower loops, to the gravel wadi and water crossing, with the long flat out run to the hill climb and finish line. The concentration and determination clearly visible on each rider’s face were driven by the newfound confidence of the morning’s competition. Rider after rider, they rode with great speed and skill through the course, focused on their own ride and cheering loudly for others once they had finished.

This was by far the most demanding and challenging event we have put on. With the support of ANB Motorsport and the amazing location, the competition was a great success for the riders. With a sigh of relief that it was all over, the riders returned to camp, each one triumphant in having completed the day’s challenges.

The fun did not stop there; once everyone had returned to camp and relaxed a little, a whole series of events started. A yoga session with Abby, the camp marshal and yoga teacher, swimming in the camp pool, fun coached rides for the kids on minibikes and small quads, and a troubleshooting workshop with Mike from ANB Motorsport As the BBQ was being prepared, it was time for the prize-giving and a few announcements. X Enduro are the ambassadors of Motoz Tires from Australia, with the distribution for the MENA region being handled by Adventure GG. ANB Motorsport announced the Middle East launch of the all-new 2023 KTM 890R adventure bike, and X Enduro supported the #MND24Worldwide campaign and Sandy Stirling in raising awareness for Motor Neuron Disease. The party went well on into the night as the riding community’s family and friends all shared their enjoyment of the day’s activities.

The next morning started with a sunrise yoga session with Abby, and it was surprising to see the turnout, with many seeing the benefit of the session from the evening before. After breakfast, a ride out was organized, taking the group of riders through Wadi Showkah and the many back trails in the area. The route was challenging, but most riders found it all so much easier considering what they had done the day before. On returning to the camp mid-morning, some morning coffee marked the end of the X Enduro Challenge #4.

The winning teams and single riders were: Gold: Katrina Corcoran and Karim Saad; Silver: Hamid Doueihy and Sajin Sarthyan. Bronze: Nazim Saleem and Lorenzo Meroni; Single Rider Red Winner: Przemek Bogusz; and Single Rider Blue Winner: Sreekanth Paraarath

X Enduro Offroad Motorcycle Academy is operated by David O’Connor and Mikael Odmark, both passionate riders and certified offroad instructors. They provide training for all levels of riders, from absolute beginner to the serious world traveler. You can contact us either through Instagram (@xenduroadv) or Whatsapp (+971564801965 David) or (+971506246715 Mikael).

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David is a 56-year-old Irish Scuba Instructor with 30 years of experience. He owns a Dive Centre in Spain for the last 24 years. David moved to Dubai back in 2006 and stayed there for 4 years. In 2014, he returned to Dubai and since then, he's been living here. O Connor got his first motorcycle, a Kawasaki KH 125, when he was 16 years old. He then had a Z400, Z500 GPZ and Z750 GPZ. He has also owned an FJ 1100 and three BMW GS bikes. David started his off-road riding in Dubai. He had represented the UAE in the well-known BMW GS Trophy qualifiers in Lebanon in 2019. He also did his Instructor's Certification in Germany last year and also started X Enduro with Mikael. Since then, they have been running Challenges & Training for riders with varying skill levels