10 Mistakes That Every Mountain Biker Makes When They First Start Racing
"Think of this list as a template for what not to do at your first race..."
Before we start, don't take this the wrong way. You might think this article is pointing the finger at newbs, but it's not.
Most of the mistakes listed here are things I've done myself, or have seen other people doing. Yep, from nervous poo nightmares to humiliating mountain bike crashes, there are riders out there who've done it all before.
"From nervous poo nightmares to humiliating crashes, there are riders out there who've done it all before."
So think of this list as a template for what not to do at your first race. Which (for most people) is an incredibly nerve-wracking experience!
1) Don't miss your start time
This might seem obvious but it's a classic. I forget how many times I have arrived at the top of the hill to either hear my race number called immediately or for the start marshal to look at me with sheer disdain when I ask if my number has been called yet.
Both are immensely stressful experiences, and both will give you no time to calm yourself before starting your first ever timed race run.
At most regional downhill races, you will simply be slotted in at the next available opportunity, at national or international races, you will simply not be allowed to race.
Enduro races usually have a very relaxed format and only have cut-off times for certain stages, while the national events will see you not able to race or be hit with a time penalty.
Cross Country races are more straightforward. Just line up with everyone else and get the hammer down when everyone else does.
2) Don't forget your front wheel
Or anything else important for that matter. Having made your way two hours to the race venue after a 6am start to realise your front wheel, armour or helmet is still on the drive is a day-wrecker.
Forget your gloves at a UK Gravity Enduro and you won't be allowed to race, most downhill races insist on them as well.
"Forget your gloves at a UK Gravity Enduro and you won't be allowed to race."
Unsurprisingly a lack of helmet will bring your day to a very abrupt end, just like a lack of front wheel.
This is where races and their competitors are shown in their true light. Grovel to the guy on the PA system and if he/she is a legend, then they will make a call to see if anyone has a spare you can borrow.
Should a knight in shining armour appear with exactly what you need, make sure to buy them lots of alcohol to say thank you. As long as you haven't forgotten your wallet of course...
3) Don't stand in the wrong queue for registration
Here's a handy tip for not wasting a lot of your own precious time. At most races, the long line of sweaty men queuing impatiently at the registration tent will likely be in the Senior category.
The 19-29 age category is always the longest and a meek first-timer will usually be most British and simply join the back of the queue.
If you're one of the lucky ones to fall outside this age range, then getting your number board should be a simple process. Juvenile and Grand Vets never have to wait in queues for sign-on.
Make sure to keep your eyes open and read the signs on the desks that indicate your race category. Getting in the right queue leaves you more time to do other things, like the next two points...
4) Don't forget to fix your bike
Racing takes a heavy toll on bike and body. While the body is usually easy to repair, bikes are fickle mistresses that require near-constant attention, and trailside fixes won't cut it come race time.
You will never have enough time before practice or race runs to fix your bike, no matter how inconsequential the repair is.
Most race rules state you must have a bike in full working order before racing, but a cataclysmic bike failure can often be hard to spot by the naked eye.
Also, one man's 'fixed' bike is another man's scrap heap. Arriving with a bike in need of repair will seriously impair your ability to fully satisfy #5.
5) Learn to deal with nervous poos
You never know when you'll need to go!
This phenomenon is not exclusive to first time race goers, in fact even the best can suffer this awful feeling despite not actually feeling nervous.
The nervous poo is something that is much harder to deal with than a nervous pee, and usually strikes where no suitable facilities are available, normally at the top of the hill, miles away from the nearest portaloo.
"The nervous poo defies physics and simple biology."
Find solace and camaraderie in the fact that almost everyone else present will be in the exact same situation.
Do not make the mistake of assuming that because you have had one or two nervous poos that the trauma is over. The nervous poo defies physics and simple biology.
Tank empty? Running on fumes? Irrespective of whether or not you think you're done, the nervous poo will rear its ugly head as many times as it sees fit.
6) Don't hold up faster riders
If you're lucky enough to be practising on the same course as people like Troy Brosnan, don't be a bellend, let them through!
During practice, everyone is in the mix together. In the same queue as the entire Elite field for the next uplift truck at a DH race? Arrived before the pros at the top of the next enduro stage?
Don't mindlessly ride off down the hill with Mr. Rainbow Stripes still putting his goggles on.
"Steve Peat passed me with his wheels at about my eye level."
Yes, practice is for everyone, but use your head and ask if they want in front before you set off.
Most fast boys will be able to overtake you without you ever knowing they were coming, Steve Peat did this to me at the Rheola NPS downhill in 2005, passing me with his wheels at about my eye level.
That was practice though. Don't do what I did and prevent someone from winning by feeling incapable of moving over to let a faster rider past. I wouldn't advise crashing to let someone through either, you may simply make them crash as well.
7) Remember to eat and drink enough
Inextricably linked to point 5 and 8: The nervous poo will leave you feeling hollow and you will need to refuel more so than doing too many practice runs.
At your first race it's hard to gauge how much fuel to take on without feeling queasy, despite being super fit, racing asks more of your body than a normal ride would.
Don't rely on the catering at the race either, bring what you know works, bring too much of it and you will be fine.
Bringing a single pack of Jelly Babies for a 50km enduro race will not do you much good and you will likely be requiring attention before the day is out.
8) Don't do too many practise runs
Dialling in your lines at any race is key to getting the result you want. Riding yourself into the ground is diametrically opposed to this.
Find a happy medium.
Arriving the night before the race rather than first thing in the morning will give you ample time to walk the track before you even ride it.
Value for money is a powerful force but will eat into any time you have remaining to resolve any of the other issues previously mentioned.
9) Learn to put your bike on the uplift properly
This mistake is downhill-specific. Only Glencoe and Fort William sport chairlifts, and the lifties will help you if necessary.
Everywhere else, you will likely be putting your bike next to someone else's in a cattle truck.
"You run the risk of having your bike mangled."
Put your bike the wrong way round and you won't be able to get as many bikes in the truck.
Leave your pedals sitting high and you run the risk of gouging someone else's paintwork/stanchions/wheels, or having your own bike mangled as the truck rattles its way up the hill.
10) Remember you'll have the most vocal support
Not a mistake to avoided as such, just something that's always true at your first race. This is a big deal for you and your friends/family.
They will make you feel very conspicuous even during practice.
Deal with it well by sending a wheelie, turnbar or pro line.
Deal with it badly by piledriving yourself into the ground within inches of your nearest and dearest.