Your first race doesn't have to be so daunting. Here's some tips on how to get the most out of it!
Words: Jared Rando
Racing has taken a bit of a back seat in the mountain bike scene in the past couple of years but no matter what happens, racing will always be the place where bikes and athletes are pushed to their absolute limit and where the latest technology is developed, tried and tested by the world’s best athletes. I’ve ridden mountain bikes seriously for 25 years and spent 10 of those years as a pro DH racer and I can honestly say that there is nothing you can do on a bike which compares to the feeling you get after a great race.
There’s no doubt that racing is, on the surface, an intimidating element of the sport. However, the reality of racing is that it’s just a bunch of dead keen riders who are there to have some fun, push their limits and see what they are capable of. The racing scene in mountain biking is a very welcoming place and by no means should you feel intimidated to give it a go. The great thing is that these days there’s a variety of racing to suit any bike or style of riding and with bikes being more capable than ever, there’s never been a better time to dip your toe in the water and give it a go. Here’s some of the best tips I can give if you are looking to do your first race.
1 - Understand what you are doing and come up with a plan
Once you have a race selected, have a look at the schedule and plan around that. You’ll need to understand how much practice time you have and a plan to suit. If you have all day to practice, that doesn’t mean you need to practice all day! Instead think about how long it will take to learn the track and plan appropriately. Take your time to learn the course but also take the effort to understand how it feels at race pace. There’s no point stopping all the time for a chat when you are going to have to race the entire time. Do full laps, or full runs to gain an understanding of what you are in for on race day.
2 - Ask for advice
Racers for the most part are a really friendly bunch. Don’t be shy to ask questions before on forums and seek advice from those who have done it before. Most people will be more than happy to share everything they know with you. You’ll also be surprised at just how approachable the majority of pro racers are at the races as well and most guys will be stoked to hear it’s your first time and help you out with some good advice and also let you know what they do to prepare. Use the advice to plan how you’ll attack the race and fill in the gaps you aren’t sure about.
3 - Don’t try anything too crazy
Now’s not the time to throw on a super light set of tyres the first time, drastically change your suspension or completely change your bike setup just because you’re racing. Chances are you are already comfortable with your setup and how it rides if you are considering entering a race. If it works don’t change it! I’ve seen it far too many times - people trying something totally left of field to what they usually do only to have it all go pear shaped. Have confidence in your approach and have some fun – after all that’s what it’s all about.
4 - Make sure your gear is in good order
This is a no brainer really but it still amazes me how many times people go into a race with basic items not up to scratch. By the time you get your licence, pay your race fees, take the time to prepare and travel to get there, you already have a lot invested. Making sure your gear is in top order is the best insurance policy you can have. Racing will push you and your equipment to the limit so everything needs to be ready to go. Make sure you have the gear to wash your bike, lube your chain, have some spares, fresh sealant in your tyres and all the bases covered. Whatever goes wrong when you normally ride is way more likely to happen when you’re racing so be prepared, make sure everything is as good as it can be and take the items you need to get you through the weekend.
5 - Have some fun
I could say ‘don’t be nervous’ but that would be a total lie. Even the most experienced racer gets nervous before a race, so if you feel like you’re going to crap your pants during the lead in, well the reality is that everyone feels the same. What you can do though is focus on having some fun and enjoying the experience. Don’t stress about the small things. The difference between 25psi and 27psi in your front tyre will make bugger all difference at the end of the day. Fiddling with your suspension all the time will just drive you crazy and worrying about the weather is a pointless exercise because everyone is in the same boat. Don’t over think it. Instead just focus on going as fast as you can once you get going, enjoying the experience and I can guarantee you’ll be coming back for more.