Back from Erzberg - The ENTIRE Story with Pics


This is kinda long, so before i get into it, if u are overwhelmed with details here and just want pictures, u can visit this thread here for just pics and simple explanations

It’s not very encouraging when you see groups of fellow riders stopped mid race because they just don’t want to ride down the next cliff. I knew something bad was going to happen when I rolled up to a cliff and 1000’s of spectators were standing just a few feet from me, waiting to see me rag doll down a couple hundred foot cliff. When I was caught in traffic jams, I wasn’t thinking that I am loosing time, I was actually happy that I wasn’t out breaking my neck on the crazy hills. If I had to describe my KTM Erzberg thumpertalk experience in a sentence I would say that Erzberg is more of a contest of distance then a race against competitors. Surprisingly, it was much less physically demanding then I expected but MUCH more extreme than I experienced. I am glad I got to experience Erzberg, but if I knew than what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gone.

For the last 17 years, 1000’s of extreme riders from every continent and 40 countries have traveled to take a crack at 1500 year old active “Iron Giant” mine in Eisenberg Austria. All 2000 entries were sold out in couple days and there was a waiting list of 1600 riders for 2011. 500 of the top racers are determined from 2 days of prologue qualifying and they will get to race on the main event on Sunday; however, some racers came just for the prologue only, like Stephan Everts. In the end, only 9 people were able to complete the 25 mile course in less than 4 hours.

Over the 4 day period, approximately 50,000 spectators and pit crews are treated to additional attractions like a free style show, an endurocross race and wide spread partying. There is a very large beer and food pavilion that is always hopping and the practice hills can be great entertainment. A special “family” pit area is designated so everyone can enjoy. Comfortable passenger buses shuffle people around from the pits to spectator points as well at the concessions.

The atmosphere is a strange cross between the professionalism of an ISDE and the party attitude of Glammis dunes or the old days of Unadilla. Many manufacturers and vendors are represented in the pits with KTM having the largest presence. It seems to be KTM VS everyone or should I say everyone VS KTM. Riding a KTM is not only the best bike for the race, but the support on and off the course is 2nd to none. It may be possible to win on something other than a KTM, but that would be doing it the hard way. The KTM headquarters are located near the Erzberg and extreme adventure tours are run in the mine throughout the year. Course knowledge can be attained in a variety of ways.

On race day there are 600 crew members, however for some it is a full time job and local residents actually embrace the Enduro and the year round income generated.

. Medical crews travel on bikes, ambulances, mountaineers on foot and 6 helicopters allow doctors to be within 5 minutes from any part of the course. Due to unsecured helmets during the prologue, the promoter claims they have had only 2 deaths in 17 years. Even 1 death is a tragedy, but considering the situation, this is a testament to the promoters concern for accessible medical attention; Even though this made me a little more comfortable, it wasn’t very encouraging when I had to sign a release acknowledging that I could afford an emergency helicopter ride.

The main obstacles at Erzberg are the hills.

Erzberg Start Hill Low Res.jpg

The hill in the above picture was hit by waves of 50 riders at the start and every available line on this hill had to be used. The more difficult hills required a towrope to get up. Better riders will make it up most of the hills without help but I know everyone required help at some point.

Later in the race I saw 20 riders at a time stuck on the hills. While I was going up, others were sliding down out of control. It was like riding on the wrong side of the road, bouncing past out of control riders going the other direction. Because some of the hills were 100’s of feet long, many obstacles couldn’t be seen from the top or bottom. Things like 3 foot ruts, angles past 180 degrees and rocks typical. The best I could do on many of the up hills was to make it within tow rope distance of the spectators.

In the pictures below, if you look carefully at the dangling orange banner behind the spectator in the KTM pants, you can see that the angle of the hill is vertical because the banner is not even touching the hill. You can also see the direction that the spectator is holding the tugger strap. The bottom of the hill, or should I say cliff, is in the background a few hundred feet down.

Hanging Orange Banner rope-poster.jpg

Stuck on a vertical hill 30 stories up.jpg

Bathtub Up Hill.jpg

Bathtub Down.jpg

Spectators were even using the ropes to get back up the hill. When I didn’t make it over the crest, I had to lay the bike down and use the handlebars as an anchor or the bike and or I would slide right back down out of tow rope reach. Some times when the bike was being towed up the hill, I would slide down the hill away from it. The bike was actually holding me on the hill. I’ll admit that I begged for help to come quickly. Even if I came within inches of the top of the hill, it’s physically impossible to push or pull a 250lb bike on a vertical wall. Thank god for the rekluse clutch for going up and also the Rekluse LHRB (left hand rear brake) for going up (yes up). The LHRB prevented the bike from sliding back when I was off to the side of the bike. As I was lying beside my bike I had both brakes locked with my hands.

Bathtub Down.jpg

Going down was much worse than the up IMO. While near the crest, I couldn't see down the hill past the fender, all I could see was the bottom 30 stories down. Some times I would get off the bike I and walk to the edge of the hill so I could see the decent and the line NOT to take. I rolled a brick down one hill and it picked up speed and got air. I would always pick up unwanted speed on the way down. To be honest, I didn’t even like standing near the edge of some of these hills but I have a fear of heights. If I knew the majority of my race would be tackling extreme heights, I would not have gone. To add to the terror, it rained every day which not only makes the course harder, it scares away the spectators (i.e. helpers).

When I reached the limit of how high I could climb, I would often try to ghost ride the bike up a few more feet or over the lip. The spectators loved this, I could hear them cheering over the screaming bikes. Spectators also were intrigued that I ran my chest protector over my shirt. Europeans all run the shirt over the chest protector. I got lots of questions about the GNCC, NEPG transponder still on my chest protector, “Is that a bomb? A pipe bumb!?”

Bike Launch Long Hill.jpg

In the picture below, I launched my bike up a rocky hill and it tumbled down and was teetering on a 30 foot rock ledge.

Bike Launch Rock Hill Low.jpg

In the picture below, I had to ride on the top of a retaining wall, see the rider below. There rock below my foot down pushed the rear wheel closer to the edge, so I hooked the rock with my leg, as an anchor.

retaining wall low.jpg

Dump Truck Bus.jpg

Prolouge 2 wet.jpg

Hole Shot.jpg


Sruck on the side of a vertical hill 30 stories up.jpg


Grease Garden.jpg

The Prologue



I didn’t feel intimidated by the danger of the cliffs on the prologue but the speeds were a bit of a nail bitter. WFO in 6th on a 300 with an occasional rain rut or crest you couldn’t see over. Some people ride the prologue on their Dakar bikes, quads and other contraptions. The prologue terrain was very similar to concrete with lots of pebbles for pleasure and about a mile was littered with baseball size rocks and occasional water holes. It’s so hard packed that after the first 2000 riders went through, there still wasn’t any berms! I ended up qualifying 293 on the first day and on the second day (you get two chances) I got bumped to 302 and ended up on start row 7 (from 6 on day one). The prologue process takes all day, 8:00 am to 6 pm and riders go about every 30 seconds. The reason they don’t use a more difficult qualifying process (similar to the race) is because it would take too long to get the riders off the qualifying course. If I was faster at the prologue and I made it to the front rows, I surely would have made it to some more of the physically demanding (and more challenging stuff) later in the race, but my Erzberg experience was relegated to mostly hills and ledges, no crazy rock gardens like Carl’s Diner, which is what I was looking forward too.

Cheaters? Or all is fair in love and racing?

Many times the course marshals would regulate who would get the next to attempt at the hill; however, on many occasions, racers would cut around the marshal and the group of waiting riders and go right the hill climb. I have one helmet cam video where 15 people went right in front of me and the marshal. Even though this created some grumbling from the racers, the spectators at the top didn’t even know that these riders cut the line and consequentially they would help anyone who got close enough. And wouldn’t you know it that many of these racers clogged the lines and made wait even longer. I really couldn’t count how many people I passed, but I was surprised to hear I got 231st at the end of the day. I started on the 7th row, so 300 people started ahead and I thought I moved back, not forward, I guess I couldn’t really tell in all the mayhem.

In the picture below, this woods section that was extremely greasy, rooty and steep. I could see 50 + riders were stuck and not moving, this is where I (read east coast rider) made some time.


As far as I could see in every direction there were riders and steaming bikes, I couldn’t even tell where I was supposed to go, so I just headed up hamburger hill hoping to reach a trail. My Pirelli MT 16 seemed to chug up the hill with minimal effort but eventually I had to form an alliance with another rider or I would have been stuck for another hour.

After completing any tough features, I would ride some trails or jeep trails to the next challenge; however, it seemed that no one was “racing” on these connector trails anymore. It was like everyone forgot that this was a race and it was more of a cruise to the next obstacle.

Private and group tours were conducted in hummers, helicopters, motorcycles and custom dump trucks. These tours are available before and during the race. During the race, tour vehicles had the right of way where ever they went. Hummers would roll up right on the course within a few feet of the racers. I felt like I was the entertainment for the rich. Not that it was a bad feeling, just a weird feeling watching people very comfortable in their hummer sipping their drinks while my heart was pounding with fear and this is what they came to see. Signs of civilization in a uncivilized time.


The start area was flooded and I hear that the water gets pumped here purposely. It flooded my goggles really bad. The only hill that I had to go back down and try again was the same hill I cleaned every time in the practice pit! But because my goggles were flooded, I couldn’t see where the ruts and riders were. Now I know why 1000’s of spectators gather around the start, it’s entertaining to see racers ride their bikes with little to no vision. Come to think of it, nearly any Erzberg video I have ever seen, most riders are not able to retain their goggles after the start.


Once I had to ride through a pitch black tunnel that went thru the mountain. This is a uncomfortable feeling, it’s like riding with your eyes closed. I was lucky to be able to follow a tail light of the rider in front of me.


When the race was over and I was riding back to the pits, I actually felt like I was fresh (physically) but spent mentally. I worked on my bike for 3 hours removing or swapping items like the Turntech battery (which got a real workout) the rekluse LHRB and clutch, Scorpion radiator braces, Richoet Skid plate, tire balls, promoto billet bark busters, TGT bars, G2 throttle cam, EBC red pads, shock spring, tire balls (which I ran at about 6-7 lbs) and other stuff. The KTM pits and semi was completely packed before I was.

So what about the other top dawg races? Well believe it or not, I am just looking at the results now (2 weeks after the event). I see there were only 9 people who made all 20 checkpoints. Taddy finished first (for the 5th time in a row) Dougie Lampkin 2nd and Johny Walker 3rd; however, Taddy was not the first guy to cross the finish line. I am told it was Graham Jarvis (EDIT but i thought it was Andreas Lettenbichler) finished first and word has it that he had a significant lead; however, he missed a check point and was disqualified at check 10. Before the race, word in the pits was that Taddy was not the best mud rider and that he wasnt going to win. Weird thing is that the KTM team was very very concerned about beating Husaberg but isnt a Husaberg 300 2 stroke basically a blue KTM, go figure.

There is one American rider who needs some mentioning, that is top American Don Boespflug. Where most riders were struggling to just make it up the practice hills, he would ride up and then across the hills (perpendicular) until the spokes broke in his wheel. In the pictures the hills look like sand, but in this iron mountain, the hills are very hard packed, more like little rocks on a hard as rock hill. Don had 100’s of spectators just watching him. Don made it to check point 12 (out of 20) for 78th overall. I made it to check 7 (and 231st). Most of the guys who I talked with said last year was more physically demanding but this year was technically harder. Any one I talked with said 9 finishers was the lowest they could ever remember.

On a side note, I was able to put this trip together with a friend I met on thumper talk. He made most of the arrangements for me including arranging for KTM to set me up with a 250 XC-W. Funny thing is that we almost never spoke on the phone nor did I have any detailed conversations with KTM before I left the USA. As we got closer I started to wonder if I should have done more confirmations about the bike. When I got to Erzberg, my bike was missing and I was a little nervous to say the least. When the bike finally showed up I was able to breathe again…… until I realized it was a 200 and not a 250! I had all my accessories and protection for a 250 and the 200 just wasn’t fast enough to qualify. I tried everything to get a 250 but they explained to me that there just wasn’t any left and that something got lost in the translation of the order. They were very sorry but I just wasn’t giving up. Half the day went by and still no 250. I ran around the pits to every manufacturer and dealer with a list of everything I could offer some one if they would rent me a bike. Riders were lined up to pre-run the prologue and still didn’t have a bike. Eventually, the owner of a very large KTM dealer gave me his personal 2010 300 to ride!!! I kissed his feet (literally), made some simple adjustments and basically rode it straight to the prologue pre-run, however on the way there, I was encouraged by Don to go run the rocket ride (a drag race up 3 steep hills). The bike was barely warmed up and the last time I rode a 300 was 1995. The only fall I had in the 4 days (that drew blood) was on this day, but I think it had something to do with a 20 hour old rear ecology tire.

I later found out that KTM managing director of central Europe Christian Waach was working hard for me to get a bike. He made sure the dealer was properly compensated for lending me a bike. I had about 6 KTM employees working to find me a suitable bike. If this seems unusual, I would say not for KTM. They treated me and everyone who came into the pits like royalty, even the spectators were treated very well by KTM. The mechanics, the management and the top gun riders are all the nicest people you will ever meet. The KTM semi is open to all spectators. Even though I was the small fish in the big pond (nice way of saying slow as hell compared to the other riders in my KTM pit), I was still treated like I was someone important. I made a lot of friends at KTM and hope to see them again someday.

Is Erzberg for you?

Well if u are looking for a really cool experience that you will remember for the rest of your life, than go! Erzberg is like being on a roller coaster that can and does occasionally come off the tracks… terrifying but exhilarating. If you are from the west coast and are comfortable at high speeds and big hills u will feel more at home. If you think you are going to beat these guys at their own game (as I thought I would) think again. They may look funny with their jerseys over the chest protectors but the 500 Erzberg riders are great riders, they are crazy, fearless and experienced....One more word of advice, make sure you can afford the helicopter ride….

Dude, it was Graham Jarvis to be the first across the finish line, not Lettenbichler.

Dude, it was Graham Jarvis to be the first across the finish line, not Lettenbichler.

Very good possibility you are right, i am going on rumors since i was stuck on the course....I really based my account on what I saw with only a sentence or 2 on what i heard. thanks!

Awesome report. Event of a lifetime for most of us to dream of. Congrats.

hi Mike

nice meeting you, and i have similar feelings about erzberg. having ridden my hardest and wildest on day 2 prologue and being about 20 seconds off the pace I formulated a plan of more MX track and more flat out riding to be able to make it for 2012 (i mostly ride rocks and technical stuff)

But then walking a lot of the areas on sunday and seeing what it is like (re jams and ques) i now also feel that unless you can make the top 100 in the prologue then don't fool yourself into thinking you will get anywhere near the end within 4 hours, so i think i will notch this one up as a good experience and there are others to try, so next i think will be 2012 roof of africa!

After seeing you out there on the course in one of those long queues and offering a few words of inspiration (;-))i was pleasantly surprised to see that you made the next check point, not due to technical ability, but purely by the number of riders queued up ahead of you and with only about 30 minutes remaining. Nice One!

PS interesting that you also noticed the ktm vs the rest at erzberg. What i am sure will not really be broadcast is that ktm roped in stefan everts to try to win back the prologue, and we even saw him practicing corners on the prologue on the wednesday, when the rest of us could only do a mass ride to view the route, but the prologue still remains with a relatively unknown mxer on a suzuki, followed by a kawa

happy trails

I enjoyed reading the comments. Great story, great post!

Great story Mike thanks for sharing. How much was the helicopter ride exactly? Should you have worn a parachute? Good qualifier video too, pretty straight forward, pin it and don't over shoot any turns. Enjoyed the preparation videos too. Cool stuff, you like all them gadgets, but i guess some of them came in handy.



Awesome recap. Glad you made it out in one piece. That place looks gnarley.

good to know you dfidnt need that heli ride. way to go finishing just under half the field on a first time try. take what you learned and pin it to win it next year.

Now for some easier events, like the roof or romaniacs :thumbsup:

Glad to hear you had a good time.

Sounds like you are primed to go back again next year.

PS Unadilla was da bomb back in the day.

PS Unadilla was da bomb back in the day.

I second that. :smirk:

Way to go Mike, you got some big ones tackling that like you did.....

Thanks Mike for the report, looks just awesome! I am tenatively scratching this into my 2013 calendar. You gave me the first hand report I was looking for to push me over the edge.

Awesome Mike! Looks like an amazing adventure. :smirk:

Pretty fascinating

Great report Mike, thanks for making us feel like we were there with you.

Thanks for putting so much effort into reporting on your whole experience, looks like it was one hell of a journey for you!


Mike, Nice report and spot on.

I love your comment about the jersey worn over, I think we were the few that had our flak jaks over the jersey, I guess they like to give their sponsors more shirt time.

Your comments about KTM are spot on, yeah they had a huge presence but were also so open to everyone and had a huge support mechanism for thier riders, from people on the hills to pull up the top riders to fueling stations that had fuel, water and goggle replacement. The KTM group really checked the pulse of their riders. Because they are located so close they also were tied into the promoter which gave them alot of recon priviledges, it may seem unfair but that is the benefit of the home team I guess,

For anyone thinking of going from the states I must wholeheartedly suggest entering into the KTM race program. It cost me 500 euros or 700 dollars. Which gave me the following services.

- Secure pits

- Mechanic

- They washed my bike

- They put my parts on the bike

- Food, snacks, water and red bull for me and my entire family

- They secured lodging for us at a local ski resort (pretty nice too)

- Changing place in the KTM Semi

- No waiting in the sign up line, they walked me to the front of a 500 person line

- Crew parking Pass (this was huge)

- Assistance with virtually whatever we needed

When I say secure pits, they gave me a pit stall right next to Chris Birch, Johnny Walker, Cyril Despres, Taniaka and Taddy, As a SSB rider to be pitted with these guys was obviously humbling but they were the nicest people I have ever met.

One funny thing about the european racing, there are no sports drinks only water and red bull. Kinda funny when you look at the hydration crazed people here in the US.

Would I do it again? Maybe for the sheer number of people we met and the venue is hard to beat, plus the beer tent rocks for socializing. The race itself and amount of riding is the questionable part, lots of prep for a limited amount of riding. I am actually thinking of the Roof of Africa if I did another extreme enduro for several reasons

- The dollar goes farther vs the Rand

- 4 days of solid riding

- The south africans we met were by far the nicest and most outgoing people I have ever met, we made freindships that will last a lifetime and I would love to visit them on their turf which they are so proud of.

Thanks for the props everyone!

Great Addition to the Erzberg Experience Jon

Nardiboy, nice to meet you at Erzberg. Do u happen to know what size bikes the winners of the prologues were riding? I saw a relatively stock RM 250 on the 1st row, i doubt it was him, but just wondering.

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