Toeing the start line for your first mountain bike race can be rather intimidating! I came from racing criteriums for 5 years and was still fearful about the idea of RACING mountain bikes. To outsiders, the thought of going as fast as you can while weaving in and out of trees, bombing down bumpy descents, and maneuvering around other riders can be frightening. I promise that it is not really as scary as it sounds!
Here are a few tips to help you enter your first race with some confidence:
- More often than not, YOU are in control of your own destiny. Unlike road racing, you are not in a big group of people drafting. It’s called SINGLETRACK for a reason; the majority of the race you must ride single file. The terrain usually splits the fields up pretty quickly as well. (Don’t feel confident riding something? Fine, walk it! Want to go slower? That’s great; you are still beating everyone not riding. Mountain bikers are generally a pretty nice bunch and will be very welcoming and encouraging to beginners.)
- Pre-ride the course if possible. Knowing what to expect is HUGE for race success. Note the more difficult areas and plan out where you can recover and where you need to go hard. Also, if there is a section that you know you cannot ride, plan to get off and walk during the race rather than trying to ride it (when you are tired!) and being forced to awkwardly dismount halfway through the section.
- Races generally start fast on an open (sometimes pavement) section prior to entering the singletrack. Your position going into the singletrack matters because once on the trail passing can be difficult. Faster riders try to get to the front of the race early! Expect the first lap (or so) to be fast, eventually fatigue sets in and riders will settle into a more manageable pace.
- Passing can be tricky, but don’t be afraid of it. If you want to pass someone, let the person in front of you know your intentions. Also, be aware of people behind you that want to pass and listen for them letting you know. In either situation, the person being passed should pull over to the side of the trail when there is an opportunity to do so. Sometimes the person passing will say something such as “on your left up here.” Both parties can stay on their bikes but just move to opposite sides of the trail, and hardly any time is lost. Sometimes it can be hard to get out of the way, depending on the trail, so make sure your intentions are well known whether passing or being passed. Communication is the key to a safe and timely pass.
- Have fun! Even if you aren’t at the front of your race, take the opportunity to work on skills and gain confidence. You do NOT have to be winning a race to be competing. There are always many races within a race, whether you’re battling for 1st or second to last, just keep pushing! The beauty of mountain bike racing is that you don’t have to be winning a race for it to be successful; every race is an opportunity to work on skills, gain confidence, and enjoy a variety of trails in pristine shape.
Mountain bike racing can be a daunting prospect, but if you learn to enjoy the process, it can be extremely rewarding! It is an amazing feeling of accomplishment when you finally ride something that you previously thought was impossible. So if you are considering signing up for a race, I encourage you to give a try. Keep these tips in mind, and enter with a positive mindset. You will not regret it!