Getting trail experience on your cross-country bike is the best way to prepare for racing. So long as you’re fit and have good bike, you’ll have all you need to get into the XC circuits. It’s the field with the most popularity and sees growth as the only mountain bike sport with Olympic standing, with long-running world championships held regularly for over a decade. There are several categories, starting with beginner tracks suited for newbie bikers, which usually involve only a lap or two and about an hour’s ride over few miles of circuit.
You can ascend as you get more capable and fitter, meeting more competitors and doing more laps as you progress. There are circuits for kids and seniors so the family doesn’t have to be left out. And to liven thing up, XC is the rare sport where you may spot top national and global players riding the same courses as you. Want to know the top cross-country bike? Check out the best xc mountain bikes post from RecreationSpace.
Where and when. The first thing to do is to locate a race venue and join one of its events. You can find schedules online for most areas, so this is straightforward. Once you have something calendared, it’s time to get fit and ready. With most series you can just show up and join one of a few categories. But for you to get to that point, you’ll need to prepare your bike and yourself to be competitive. Your strength and endurance will build as you ride your trail bike up hills and down tracks and on roads. As you get better, your bike-handling skills should improve steadily to the point where you might try racing others for a different challenge.
Ready your bike. Just about any rigid, front, or full suspension mountain bike with seats which aren’t adjusted too low to the rear should work out fine. Before going off to join, check that the chain and sprockets are shifting smoothly and that the brakes are operating predictably. Be sure to inflate the tires to the correct air pressure as well – a good rule of thumb is to get them up near 40psi. Don’t be overly excited to upgrade many components prior to an event if most are performing well enough. But if your racer is also your daily commuter, you’ll want to temporarily detach any lamps, mudguards, or storage racks beforehand.
What to Wear. It’s mandatory to wear a protective helmet, and it’s safest to use one which hasn’t been knocked hard in some previous fall, read this article to choose your best mountain bike helmet. Put on clothes which already works comfortably for you on your roads and tracks. But if the weather’s a bit iffy you might want to try on a decent racer’s jersey as it will likely be less sticky to wear, as well as shorts with padding for more comfort on and off the bike. You’ll also find gloves worthwhile for keeping your hands rash-free. Closed-toed athletic shoes are good with most regular pedals, but if you choose to go clipless then be sure to loosen the pedals a bit so that you can get off quickly in a situation.
Snacks and Drinks. Most non-endurance events run for an hour or so. You’ll be hard-pressed to keep up with everyone else doing their best. You’ll likely be hungry by the end of the race and very likely be thirsty well before that. So keep a water bladder or bottle in your pack or clipped to the frame throughout the day, plus some packed fruit and mini-sandwiches or energy bars to boost your sugar level when you’re slowing.
Gear to bring. It’s usually a good thing to have a spare tire tube and a portable pump with you when you’re doing the laps. You might also want to pack some lightweight chain and tire handling tools just in case. The leading veterans are likely not carrying any, but they’re trading the risk for performance while you’re just aiming this first time to finish well with some lessons learned.
Before the day. On the day itself, try to be at the venue early so that you’ll be relaxed when you’re registering your entry and tying your number to your mountain bike’s front. If you’ve played it right, you should be good to go at least a half-hour before your category rolls. Get yourself to the line early and find your position before the pre-race talk starts, if any. Be sure to understand what the XC organizer is saying as it may be important.
The race begins. Once everyone’s rolling, you’ll need to establish a healthy pace at speeds which you know you can handle for tens of minutes at a time. From experience you’ll eventually learn your best pace for any given pavement and bike, and as you join more cross-country races you will find the cadences at which you are most efficient on average.
One More Thing
Be aware that you will likely be riding with lots of other mountain bikers sharing the lanes with you. There will always be some going faster at any given time, so show some courtesy by giving way when someone’s signalling audibly to pass you. When it’s your turn to get past somebody else, try not to just flash past them. Signal ahead to let him know you’re coming through, and move as quickly and confidently as possible, with some thanks offered when you’re offered for the breaks you’re given.
A running appreciation of others’ courtesies on the track will help to keep the day’s rides sunny and enjoyable.