Here are a bunch of great tips that really will help your first mountain bike go as well as possible. Good luck and have fun!
Your body is in your hands (as it were) but here’s some hints to help your first mountain bike race go well. We’ll not go into how best to train for a mountain bike or how to improve your riding skills. If you’re reading this it’s probably too late for that!
You don’t even necessarily need to have the best mountain bike in the world to get involved and find racing rewarding. Just run what you rung, as they say. The key part is diving in and having a go. Having said that, listed below are a few pointers to make your race day less stressful and potentially more successful…
Be ruthless with what you take
If done sensibly, a rider on a cheap bike with a well-thought-out backpack can be lighter than the overladen rider on a bling carbon bike. Tip out your regular ride backpack and re-pack it with an eye on essentials. You’ll be surprised what junk you’ve been carrying around in there for the past 18 months.
You definitely do not want a heavy pack when you’re racing, so this is always going to be a balance, but we’d recommend taking a well equipped Allen key with a chain breaker, a quick link for the chain, an inner tube or tubeless repair kit, and a pump (or we’d recommend going with CO2 canisters for racing).
But don’t forget…
Spare brake pads. A packed lunch of some sort is also a wise thing to take, as is some hydration tablets that you can drop into fresh water mid-race.
Underdress but take a hefty jacket
During a race you’ll be riding and working harder than your usual Sunday casual ride. Don’t wear too many layers or thick layers. You’ll sweat to death. BUT don’t take a lightweight jacket. The only times you’ll want to be wearing a jacket is during rest stops and in the queues for the stages. So take a jacket for that, not purely for riding in. We have several great suggestions for the best waterproof mountain bike jackets.
Lube your bits
It really is amazingly easy to do a quick lube job on your suspension. Ditto your dropper post. No special tools required. Some appropriate suspension fluid is the only thing you should track down. You’ll be amazed – and possibly a bit ashamed – of how lovely your parts feel after you’ve made them moist again.
Treat yourself to a fresh new pair of the best mountain bike grips you can afford. Try some softer and/or larger grips and you’ll be impressed by the reduction in arm pump and hand-clench.
This is not (just) to keep mud out of your eyes. It’s more to do with preventing your eyes from watering during race stages. Not having your eyeballs being buffeted by wind will result in clearer vision, calmer riding and faster times.
Rear tyre choice
Basically you want a tyre that rolls fast but doesn’t puncture very easily. There aren’t that many of these sort of tyres around but a few brands do have some good options. The Schwalbe Rock Razor is a classic. Maxxis do the Maxxis Minion SS now. And the Specialized Slaughter is something of a cult bargain. Just make sure you get the versions with the stronger sidewalls.
Wear a watch
It’s all too easy to lose track of time before and during a race. This can cause rushing and panic at the start. It can also cause you to miss your allocated start time on the timed stages of an enduro, for example. Don’t rely on your phone. You won’t look at it often enough. And if you try to keep your phone in your shorts pocket you’ll either crash on it (pain and £££) or it’ll bounce out somewhere never to be seen again (£££).
Go to registration ASAP
Get to the venue as early as possible and head straight to the sign-on tent. Take your bike with you if you’re worried about someone nabbing it, but don’t do any in depth bike fettling or clothes dressing etc. Get all the time-sucking registration stuff done first. This will make the rest of the race prepping much more relaxed.
Find out about feed stops and water
This way you can plot how much water storage you need to take. You might not need to load up with a full three litres of water (AKA 3kg of weight) from the get-go. Similarly, you don’t want to assume there’ll be plentiful refuelling points and just head out with a single water bottle for a full day in the saddle.
Eh? The name of the game is to go as fast as possible isn’t it? Well, yes but a common racing mistake is to go full pelt at everything only to then have to brake hard, over-correct and regain your speed back up. Rinse and repeat. Tiring. Hard sprinting into hard braking is not going to be as fast overall as simply staying smooth and consistent. Ride at 90% for 100% of the time. If you must, save your redline sprinting for the finish line.
Don’t trackstand if you can’t trackstand
At the start gate of a race – or timed stages in enduro events – you’ll see some riders balancing on their bike with both feet on the pedals (trackstanding). This is all well and good if you can do it consistently really well. It doesn’t really save you any time or offer you any significant advantage though. Quite often it goes wrong and leads to tumbles or traction-spitting errors. Better to err on the safe side and just wait at the start gate with one foot on the ground.
Cable routing can make it tricky to attach a number board; if you normally route your cables crossing the head tube then you might want to swap to running cables that don’t cross the head tube i.e. cables on the left hand side of the frame go to the controls on the left hand side of the bars.
If you’re riding for more than an hour, it’s always worth bearing in mind food and drink; personally we like to make sure we eat at least something every 40 minutes and drink at the same time, if not more often.