Enduro21 weren’t just busy covering the Red Bull Romaniacs from the sidelines – we were also axle deep in the trenches competing too. Deciding to take on the 11th edition of the race and get a true taste of what it’s really all about we had Llewelyn Pavey and Jon Pearson tackle the Silver Team class.

It was an emotional week for the guys – one filled with some incredible highs and lows. And despite JP breaking the scaphoid bone in his wrist during the Prologue and Llel at times biting off more than he could chew, they both made it to the finish.

An experience of a lifetime – JP and Llel tell in their own unique way exactly what’s it’s like to take on the Red Bull Romaniacs for the average midpack guy…


Make no mistake the Red Bull Romaniacs is a big deal. I didn’t expect it to be anything otherwise but getting ready, getting fit, getting there, getting sorted in paddocks, signing on with all the right equipment – there’s a lot to do before you’ve turned a wheel.

The first wheel turned for the prologue takes a bit of bloody-mindedness to tackle the obstacles in front of the big crowd. I enjoyed it and definitely got on better by being relaxed and having some trials experience helped too. Third in class and a spray of fizzy pop was a bonus.

All that was just a toe dipped in the water before the real riding begins. The next four days are basically spent ascending and descending Carpathian Mountains, with the odd bit of riding along a dangerously narrow peak thrown in. Some times it’s hard, sometimes it’s sadistically hard. Some of it is glorious top gear stuff through forests or across open meadows. It was all hard but brilliant.

In the Silver Team class we were a step down from the Gold pros but make no mistake it is still hard. In places like a trials section; so steep either up or down you need strong skills and a whole heap of confidence (or muscle) to get through. These are the places where you can lose so much time, so much. It’s where the event is won or lost in my view.

I’m sure the Gold class saw those moments on our track as relative breathers, in the same way I did when we over-lapped with the Bronze class. There’s very little chance for an actual breather though. This event is relentless. You cannot afford to take it easy or you risk running out of check time.

Nine hours to complete the day sounds easy on paper. Until you try it. On the day we did run out of time. We’d worked hard all week and were massively disappointed.

The whole event is an amplified version of everything I thought I knew about enduro. Everything is harder, longer, tougher and more technical than anything I’ve ridden in the UK. The Tough One or Scott Trial sure as hell are tough but they are sprint races by comparison. The SSDT pushes you physically and mentally for longer but it’s not as hard, or maybe, now I’m forty, things seem harder!

The Romaniacs taught me I’m even softer on my tyres than I thought I was. Mitas’s EF-07 SL rear with a soft mousse lasted the whole event and was perfect for the job. With more money in the bank I’d have swapped it after two days but did I really lack grip where it mattered on the final day? Not really.

I needed better boots. A brand spanking set of Alpinestars Tech10s looked the bomb for the prologue but they aren’t the right tool for gripping slippery hills. I needed a sole with a sharper edge to it to dig in and a grippier sole.

Stronger hand guards would have saved some knuckle bruising too and next time I’d spend more time setting my bike suspension up. My 100 per cent standard Husqvarna FE350 was definitely the best tool for the job in my opinion and was utterly reliable the whole week. The four-stroke had better traction so many times where everyone around me was struggling on 2T machines. It might weigh more but that was more than cancelled out with less pushing.

Without question I could have saved time as a solo rider – some of the steeper hills came as a blip to me but were major hurdles on my teammate’s radar and that’s not a criticism, it’s completely understandable. Without a decade or so of British championship and national trials under my belt I’d have been the same. They are dauntingly steep and technically demanding. If you can stay on the bike and ride the obstacles they take a stack less time and effort.

However, Llel’s British Enduro Championship experience on the faster going pulled me on loads though. More importantly he kept me going. Now would be a good time to point out I rode the week with a broken hand. I spanked my scaphoid going over the bars in the prologue. The pain on some of the tremendously long downhills was immeasurable.

If the front wheel shook either way in a rut, off a root or rock – something it did lot – I usually had no answer and crashed. For all the times the pain had me wincing and looking for an excuse to stop, the regular “are you alright man?” made me buck up and keep going. I’m forever indebted.

LLEWELYN PAVEY “My ego was just a little big to go Bronze and my ability horrendously short of going Gold”

Hard Enduro Rallye… On the outside it’s not exactly clear what you’re getting yourself in to. Now, Romaniacs is an extremely well covered and well documented race, so you would think that by watching videos, looking at photo’s and listening to stories from other riders that you’d get a clear picture of what was going on.

You don’t. See, the endemic problem with a race like Romaniacs is that the media coverage physically can’t do the race justice. With everyone’s eyes turned toward the pro class, or more importantly the first handful of motorcycling legends that run up front, on fresh tracks, with exponentially more talent in their belly button fluff than us normal folk have in our whole bodies, it doesn’t tend to give a true perspective of the race. Take for example the daily update videos. Three or four minutes of footage that make Walker and Jarvis’s day look like a trail ride, split with a tough section here and there; after 80 seconds of riding it’s done.

So when you sit down with friends, people you know are good riders and they say things like “I wanted to kill myself” or regale you with stories of crushed radiators, snapped clutch perches, crankcases, broken bones, horrific hills and drinking water from sewage ponds just to stay alive it somewhat appears like there may just be a little disparity in the message conveyed. I personally struggled to believe the tales of drama and erred towards the “how hard could it be” crowd.

The next difficulty you arrive at with Romaniacs is class selection. The website provides some direction, Gold, Silver, Bronze or Iron. Knowing my weaknesses and strengths and reading the information, Silver class was the decider. My ego was just a little big to go Bronze and my ability horrendously short of going Gold. 

By the end of Day One I’d quite successfully joined the club of people who will spew horrendous stories of drama, death and drinking from places they shouldn’t.

The key is in the name really:

Hard: Given to the race because frankly, the class you define for yourself will be hard. If you have some ego and undoubtedly you will, it’ll be HARD.

Enduro: This bit allows the organiser to put ridiculously long, technical sections in, mark it with tape and put a time cap on things. There is the enduro part.

Rallye: The rallye part simply means you have GPS for when the bears start chasing you and the organisers can make that stuff as long as they bloody well want. Long, long, long, endlessly long.

So when you add those three words up and your mates tell you it’s really tough and they hated it, they aren’t lying. Romaniacs is way tougher than it appears from the outside.

The scale of the riding is one the biggest killers. The hills obscenely steep. Both up and down, to the point where having a mild fear of heights becomes an enormous issue. Calling them hills is doing them a disservice, the up-mountains can easily last an hour and the down mountains are at a minimum 15 minutes of pure, steep, brutal descending. Nothing in Romania is small. You never go up a riverbed for 100 metres, more like two or three km. An off camber will last 20 minutes. Add into the mix riding for an absolute minimum of six hours in that going and we’re getting somewhere.

The timescale of each day is also brutal. To stay on time, you cannot at any point take it easy, stop for a chat, go sight seeing or relax. It’s not like an enduro where you arrive at a check and take a breather, or have slack and tight checks. The whole day is non-stop. In four days riding the bike was running for 24 hours on the meter. It ran for six hours EACH day and that doesn’t cover the times I was dragging it from the abyss, or lying underneath it drowning. Romaniacs really is hard. Don’t ever doubt it.

But would I do it again? Probably!