NEW PARIS — On a cold fall morning, a group of members of the Riders Motorcycle Club have gathered for a ride.
But this is no ordinary ride.
It’s a week before the club’s big annual event this weekend and the Turkey Creek Enduro, and club members are headed out to check out the course, a long, winding route that snakes around New Paris, through woods, around streams and across fields.
The event is a labor of love for the club and its members. It’s also about much more than racing motorcycles.
It’s about helping the community, according to club member Todd Mikel, a former club president who on this cold October Saturday morning is putting on his riding gear to hit the trails in preparation for this weekend.
This is the 44th year for the event, and money raised will go to help support local first responders. There are two separate events: A family event on Saturday, and another event on Sunday for adults only. The Saturday event gets underway at 10 a.m., with the start time for Sunday’s race slated for 11 a.m.
The local event is part of a series that includes races in Indiana and Michigan, with a season that runs from April to early November.
It’s a different kind of motorcycle racing for a different kind of rider. And it’s the kind of activity that a family can participate in together.
That’s what Ryan Smith of Wakarusa and his son Riley, 17, do.
Ryan Smith has loved motorcycles since he was a kid. Today, he has a street bike he rides when he can — a Suzuki, he stressed — and an enduro bike for weekend events.
Last Saturday, he was helping out the other club members on the ride to look at the course. But this Saturday, he and Riley will be competing on the course.
“I just enjoy being on a bike,” Smith said, “and this is a different way to enjoy it.”
Riley Smith has been riding motorcycles with his dad since he was about 7. In addition to the quality time spent with his dad — doing something both enjoy — Riley Smith likes the endurance aspect of the races: The fact that it’s not just about going as fast as one can.
“There’s a lot of skill involved,” Riley Smith said. “It’s a great combination of speed and skill.”
Mikel also enjoys the family race, and has ridden in it with daughter Brooke and son Collin for several years.
The Mikels spend a lot of time each year preparing for the races, and traveling to other races.
One race the Mikels have not done yet takes place in the upper peninsula of Michigan, near Marquette. They plan to do that race some day.
“We like seeing the country,” Mikel said, “and having something we like doing together makes it that much better.”
A long history
The Turkey Creek Enduro has a long history, and New Paris resident Jerry Yoder has been there for all the races. Yoder was part of a group that restarted the Riders club back in the late 1960s, and has been part of the annual event all that time.
Yoder said the club, over the years, has bought land near Ligonier to use for riding. But the Turkey Creek event, he said, uses big chunks of land lent by landowners.
That, Yoder said, is something the club has been grateful for over the years.
Yoder passed the sport down to his children, and now he’s seeing his grandchildren get involved in it.
“That’s something I never would have imagined,” Yoder said. “But the sport needs to be passed along to new generations.”
Enduro racing is not necessarily based on being the fastest. It’s based on having the best bike, navigating challenging conditions safely. Starts are staggered, so in a way, riders are racing against a schedule.
Riders must ride at a set speed average over varying terrain. They are given penalty points based on being late or early to secret checkpoints along the course. Checkpoint crews know exactly the minute, and sometimes the second, each rider is expected to arrive, and they write it on a score card that is taped to the front fender of each rider.
And if riders arrive early — or late — at a checkpoint along the route, they are docked points.
The rider at the end of the race with the least amount of points is the winner.
As far as the actual bikes themselves, Enduro motorcycles closely resemble motocross bikes.
They sometimes have special features, including oversized gas tanks, engines tuned for reliability and longevity, sump protectors, and more durable (and heavier) components. That, according to a Wikipedia entry on the bikes, helps them handle the tougher courses found in enduro racing.
Some enduro bikes have street-legal features, including headlights and quiet mufflers to enable them to use public roadways. The engine of an enduro bike is usually a single cylinder 2-stroke between 125cc and 360cc, or 4-stroke between 195 and 650cc.
For more information on enduro racing in the area, visit d14enduro.com.
Follow Sports Editor David Vantress on Twitter @dvantress_TGN