Freeride (FR): A freeride race is like an extreme DH, but with the addition of points for stunts. On the FR course, there are "gates" -- areas where the rider must clear some insanely difficult technical spot. A judge at each gate awards points for the gnarly-awesomeness with which a rider travels through. The winner is determined by a combination of points and overall time.
Mountain biking -- even racing -- is supposed to be fun. So mountain bike races are divided into categories of gender, age, and ability. First year you've tried to race your bike? No problem. You'll ride in the beginner category. 43 years over-the-hill and don't want to ride against young punks? You won't. You'll race against riders in the 40 to 49 age range. Porked on a few pounds last winter? Enter in the Clydesdale category, where you only compete against riders weighing more than 220 pounds. Anybody can race and have fun doing it.
Racers may be started in a large group, or in smaller groups by individual racing category. For example, here's the Men's 50 to 54 Expert at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George.
Racing makes you a better rider. You can improve your riding skills more in a single race than in six months of casual riding. Why? A race focuses your mind and floods your neural synapses with adrenaline. This makes your brain learn more efficiently. As you hit every turn as fast as you dare, pick the best riding lines, and make moves you didn't think you could, the race environment makes your brain pay attention, so you really gain skills. And racing gives you a goal, even if that goal is just getting a better time than your neighbor. Knowing a race is coming up, you'll eat better and train better. Every mountain biker should try an occasional race.Checking in. Plan to arrive early for the race.
Most mountain bike races are XC -- "cross-country." Racers start out in a group and compete directly against each other. When there are large numbers of racers, the groups are split up by age or ability level, starting at different times -- or even riding on a different track. The race will typically be a couple of laps around a large loop of varied terrain. Experts and pros will ride more laps, or may have a longer, more difficult loop. In XC racing, experience becomes important in helping you find a place to pass and in managing your energy reserves.
There are races in every terrain: rocky desert, foothill brush, high mountain meadows, deep forest. This is Powder Mountain.
Early season races tend to be in the desert. Here's Five Mile Pass.
A hillclimb is usually a "time trial" race. Riders are started individually, a few minutes apart. There's no drafting, blocking, or teamwork. It's just you against the mountain.Like the hillclimb, the DH race is a time trial. Riders head downhill alone, trying to get the fastest riding time. A DH race may involve tough stuff like ledge drops and technical rock. A variant of downhill is the "Super D" which is a XC race down ski resort trails that often involves some climbing.
CX is an insanely fun type of racing. Held at fairgrounds and parks, a winding track is laid down to create a race loop. Obstacles are created such as logs, trenches, and sand pits. Riders pedal multiple times around the course, jumping off the bike to clear obstacles. While it can be done on a mountain bike, the best "crossers" use a rigid bike similar to a road bike but with larger tires. The race has a set time (for example 40 minutes) so riders do multiple laps. This is a very spectator-friendly race. [ Read our introduction article for more info on CX! ]
Jason Sparks jumps the barrier with his CX bike.
Endurance: Long, long XC races. Some offer options as short as 6 hours, most are 12 or 24 hours. Riders do laps around a large XC course. May be done as a team with riders swapping laps, or "solo" for those who want to suffer. [ Read endurance racing article! ]
Meet new people, hang with the pros, get some swag...
Riders declare a racing class when they register for a race. The Beginner category is for first-season racers or occasional racers. In local races, "Beginner" means those who rarely ride a bike but want to ride with their neighbors in the community race once a year.Rain or snow, the race must go on. Bring gear for any weather!
For a community race, anybody who knows their way around a bike should declare Sport category. In Intermountain Cup competition, even the Beginner Category is full of some pretty awesome riders.Some racing series have specific rules about who can declare Sport vs. Expert, but here's a general rule: If you're not sure where you belong, you should start in Beginner. If you're win by a large margin, move to Sport. If you're consistently finishing in the prizes riding Sport for one season, it's time to move up to Expert. It's not fair for a speedy rider to hog the Beginner or Sport prizes, when he/she really should be getting trounced by fellow expert riders.
Crossing the finish line. Hammer down, dude! Solitude resort.
A very good way of deciding which category you'll race: Go to a race web site, for example www.intermountaincup.com and find where this week's race is being held. (The race loop will be marked a few days before the race.) Go ride the race course, all out, while timing yourself. Then after the race, check the race results spreadsheet on the web site and compare your one-lap, two-lap, three-lap (or whatever) time to riders your own age in Beginner, Sport, and Expert.
A time trial means each rider goes alone, riding against the clock. The Frozen Hog.
The typical community bike race has an entry fee of around $20 to $40. Usually, this includes a t-shirt. In regional races, the entry fee is a bit higher, usually $35 to $70. Often, bike gear prizes and gift certificates are provided free by a local bike store. Races aren't held to earn money, they're done for love of biking.
Well, you need to stay on the course. You can't sneak across between trails to shortcut. And you need to qualify for the category you're entering. If you're 25, don't register to ride against the 57-plus guys. Most race series will allow you to upgrade to a harder category, though. For example, if you're 60, you're welcome to race as a 40-plus Expert, while if you're 8 years old, you can race in the 10-14 age group.Unless you're told otherwise, you're allowed to have other people hand you tools and water bottles. You can stash spare wheels and other gear for emergency use.
Regardless of class, age, or ability, all racers are family! There are no snobs here. Green Valley, March 1.
Riders check the "leaderboard" where their time slips are organized in order of finish. Different colors denote different racing categories. Five-mile Pass.
Take what you need to fix your own bike while you're out on the mountian. But unless you're specifically told otherwise in the race registration materials, assume you can borrow anything you need from anybody. Or you can run the bike back to the start/finish area (while not short-cutting the trail) to make a repair.
Know the course -- plan what cog and chainring you'll use for major climbs, identify problem areas, and know when the next "passing zone" is coming. Alpine Days race.
The race course should be marked about a week in advance. Go ride it, a couple of times if possible. Make sure your bike works, but don't do major changes or overhauls just before a race. Register for the race in advance. (You'll have enough to worry about on the morning of the race.)
After the race, hang with your fellow racers. Cheer the late finishers. Chilling at the finish line, waiting for the awards to start, is half the fun. There's usually a freebie or two, or there may be a drawing for bike gear. Plan about 5 hours total for the typical XC race -- an hour to check in and get ready, two hours of racing, and an hour or two of hanging out.
Making it to the winner's podium is nice, but the real reasons for racing are having fun, improving your skills, and becoming more fit. Warner Valley Cholla Challenge, 50+ winners.