For fans of enduro riding, Chris Birch is practically a household name. He's up there with Graham Jarvis and Johnny Walker (the RedBull KTM rider).
Birch is currently in the country for adventure ride and coaching sessions in Luzon and in Mindanao. Despite his superstar status in the enduro world, this Kiwi rider is very down to earth and we were fortunate to have lunch with him on the same table at the Mitas-KRB Offroad Park. Over lunch, we asked about his experiences in the Dakar Rally (South America), Red Bull Romaniacs (Romania), Hell’s Gate (USA) and even his Christmas off-roading trip with his mom, dad and child.
Chris shared that he started riding off-road bikes at a very young age, when he was 4 years-old. His mother and father were both off-road riders back in the day, but now loves to ride on the road, “maybe because of age?” he joked. He even shared that just this Christmas, his mom and dad rode with him together with his child on the backcountry roads near their place in New Zealand. It was such a magical bonding experience that we could just imagine this happening within our own families, too.
I was very eager to learn or at least know what he does to stay in tip-top shape.
"Do trials riding improve your skills?”
“Well, you can’t really do any riding on a trials bike so you would be forced to learn [riding] skills on a static position,” said Chris.
His reply reminded me of what Graham Jarvis said in one of his interviews, "going fast is the easy bit, it's going slowly that will help you develop control." It all makes sense now. If you want to go fast, go slow first. He also added that there’s only one guy he knew of who competes at the international hard enduro competitions that has no trials training and the current 1-2-3 podium placers have trials riding backgrounds. But that might change in the future, he says, as hard enduro competitions these days get better and better, compared to the early days. Some young riders might start straight from enduro riding and be good at it.
While Chris can be considered as one of the ‘enduro gods’, he also shared that he doesn’t do [much] road riding.
“I live about an hour, hour and a half from Auckland (comparable to our Marilaque), and the road riders from there go up to our place but I was just, nah.” While he competes in numerous hard enduro challenges from all over the globe, he hints that riding the asphalt with sportbikes or other road bikes is just not his thing.
Chris also shared that one of the hardest races he’s been through was Hell’s Gate – a 6-hour qualifying session in the morning and after lunch break, another 5 or so hours racing in the afternoon until the evening where his hands and feet get numb because of the cold weather and soaking wet from the river crossings along the course.
All bikes and brands welcome: Bikerbox and KTM Philippines made it possible for Chris Birch to share his knowledge here in the country.
Red Bull Romaniacs on the other hand, is quite easier, but not without surprises as no one really knows the route until race time.
As for Dakar, the only difficulty is to get yourself a budget for the competition as it requires a lot of money - $100,000 is a modest budget where, “you will be sleeping in tents unlike the other high-budget teams where they sleep in comfortable campers.” Most riders actually do not earn from it, but spend huge amounts from their own pockets just for the love of the sport he added.
Eating at the same table with one of the 'enduro gods' - priceless. (Enduro in the Metro organizer Ariel Ansaldo beside Chris)
When I saw Chris’ coaching methods for adventure riding, his exercises focus more on the development of off-roading skills, which I believe has practical usage when riding in the streets. For example, he taught his students to maximize the rear brakes: ABS off, no locking – just feel the traction with your right foot. We all know that coming off from speed and locking the brakes always has bad consequences. Here, he teaches his students to be more reliant on their skills rather than the bike’s onboard rider aides. The same is true when riding enduro as the rider will be more reliant on precise throttle, brake, balance and suspension controls when riding on dirt or muddy terrain.
Chris was very happy with his Pinoy students who were very eager to learn the science of off-road riding. In fact, he said that he is already in talks with Bikerbox and KTM Philippines for a possible Enduro Coaching Session (possibly, hard enduro) soon. We will hope and pray for that to happen.
Chris Birch said that he also has a #BANAYAD friend in NZ telling everybody that it's going to be an 'easy-half day' offroad adventure. Well, 12 hours inside the jungle is half day isn't it?