Whether you’ve been mountain biking for years, or have just discovered the true joy of singletrack, here are 10 reasons to don a race number and get those elbows out.
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So, you’re a seasoned mountain biker and have the scars to prove it. You regularly clock up Strava top tens, always join the local club on their ‘adventure weekends’, can navigate your way around your local trails without GPS or a map and can wax lyrical about tyre choice, the pros and cons of boost spacing and which body armour works best with a sports bra.
Or you’ve been convinced by your friends to get a bike. They’ve dragged you out round local trails at the weekends and, although you initially struggled with fitness and skill, you enjoyed the post-ride atmosphere. You now regularly find yourself sneaking out on your lunch break to try and nail that step up, hone the switchbacks and shave a few vital seconds off your lap time ready for the next group ride.
Or, perhaps, you’re somewhere in between. You love riding but don’t always have time to do as much as you like or head out whenever you can, but have never ventured ‘in between the tape’.
Whatever your level of riding experience, we reckon everyone can benefit from a taste of racing, and here’s why…
1. The community
You may only see your fellow competitors over a race weekend, but give it one race and you’ll feel like you belong to a new community.
Your fellow MTB gang will be like family for the weekend. They’ll keep you company on the push-ups, session the technical sections with you and high-five you across the finish line. By the end of a season you’ll be organising Christmas BBQs and holidays to the Alps.
Seems obvious! Former 4X World Champion Katy Curd, says: “Most people have Strava, right? You like to see if you can beat your time or get further up the leaderboards? Well racing is the best competition! Especially if you win!”
But winning doesn’t necessarily mean beating everyone else. You could aim to be fastest on a particular climb, stage or section of the run, or just race your own time. Sometimes, winning can also mean setting yourself goals to try and improve on over the season.
3. Support your sport
Increased entry numbers raises the standard across the sport. The more riders that enter the better you have to be to win. Although you may not have aspirations of being the next World Champ you could be supporting someone who does, and that’s pretty cool, right?
4. Find new routes
Most of us love a good trail centre; the all-weather trails, marked routes and warm post ride cafes, but racing can take you off the beaten (and groomed) track.
Emily Horridge, once World Cup downhill racer and now a mountain bike guide, says that she got in to racing to find new places to ride: “Touring a variety of venues on a race circuit would mean that I’d get to ride loads of new places I didn’t know existed! Racing made it easy to find new routes and gave me the confidence to explore different areas.”
5. Pushing your limits
Everyone gets scared or nervous on race day, Curd laughs and says that “even the pros will stop at big features on a World Cup practice run and wait to see who will drop in first.”
Former Downhill World Champion Manon Carpenter agrees: “Racing definitely pushes your idea of what you think you’re capable of, but you step up your game under those conditions.”
Mountain biker and club racer Davinia Rogers says: “I want to prove to the other women in the club that anyone can have a go at racing, you don’t need to be an expert. It pushes my limits and scares me, but I think that’s good as it makes me improve and progress.”
6. Find other people to ride with
What, not everyone is in to mountain biking? You may find it hard to believe, but it’s true!
If you’re having trouble finding people to ride with then signing up for your local race series could be the perfect way to find new riding buddies. We’re a friendly bunch, after all.
7. Guaranteed time on the bike
By entering a race you’ll be setting time aside to be on the bike and it will give you plenty of guaranteed riding time, what with the practice as well. Your friends and family can join you too, whether that be racing or spectating to cheer you on.
How much time you’ll get on the bike will depend on the race, it could be a whole weekend away or just a day out competing, but whichever it is you’ll have to make plans, so all other distractions will need to be rearranged.
8. The sun won’t always shine on race day
You’ve entered the race, paid your entry fee, washed your kit, packed up your bike and travelled to the event village. But wait… it’s what? It’s raining? I have to ride in the wet? What if it’s off camber? What if it’s rooty? What if the rocks are slippery?
Race conditions won’t always be your ideal conditions but practice makes perfect and the experience can only make you a better rider (although admittedly, it may not feel like it at the time!).
9. The smile
Once the nerves have passed, the buzz you get from racing can be amazing. No matter where you finish, being part of a group of people all enjoying the same thing together is great fun and the camaraderie you can experience just adds to the feeling of accomplishment.
10. The race photo…
Definitely a tongue in cheek reason — and occasionally tongue out — but you may find yourself with some insta gold to post… like the photo of me above. One glove shoved in my mouth after a spectacular over the bars moment at the Swinduro. I just need to get it framed for the downstairs loo…
I appreciate that racing isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve already given it a go and really didn’t like it don’t take this as a ‘you must race!’ article. If you’re out riding your bike and having fun it’s all good.
You can get involved with racing in other ways too, such as marshalling. It’s a good way to get involved while staying outside of the tape.