Mountain Bike Racing – What You Need to Know

Mountain bike racing is a rapidly growing sport. It is often thrown into the 'extreme sports' category, but shares little in common with such sports as skateboarding or trick biking. A mixture of ski slalom and intense trail riding, a good mountain bike race is exhilarating to watch but even more fun to ride.

When you think about mountain bike racing, if you have at all, you probably think it's just for crazy young people. The truth, however, is that people of all ages and abilities can partake, from children to grown men and women.
Before jumping in, however, it's a good idea to learn the basics. This article will cover everything you need to know, so you can hit that trail today!

The Name of the Game is Fun

The first, and most important rule, to mountain bike racing is to have fun! Sure, in any competition, we want to win, but this sport is about the pure thrill of riding on new and exciting terrain, and a win is just the icing on the cake.

In order to keep things balanced, most races are broken up into different skill levels, so you'll always be riding against someone of comparable skill and experience. Categories are broken up by age, experience level, weight, and sometimes there are even men- or women-only races. Before signing up for one, check out what the race has to offer and sign up for the appropriate level.

Start Small

If you're just getting started, no matter how much riding you've done, it's a good idea to start at the lower, or beginner, levels. If you try to dive headfirst into an extreme race, you could lose your confidence, or worse, get injured. So start small, and once you have some experience you can move up to higher difficulties.

That said, if you really know what you're doing, don't take on a race that's way too easy for you. Just as you wouldn't like to be left in someone else's dust, it's not fun for other riders if you fly past them on a course below your level.

Also make sure you're in good physical condition. A mountain bike rice can be a strenuous affair, so make sure you've got plenty of practice on downhill rides, and on different terrain. Also make sure you've got the strength and endurance to finish a race. Make sure and check out how long a race is first.

Your Bike – Is it Ready?

Once you've ensured that your body is ready, it's time to check your bicycle. It can be frustrating and potentially dangerous to breakdown mid-race, so always do a routine check-up before a race. Tune your bike, check tire pressure, check the brakes, and take it on a test run before tackling the challenge.

You should also consider what kind of components your bike has. A full suspension mountain bike can really help cushion those falls, but it also means a heavier bike, which may slow you down. A bike with a lighter frame is great, if you can afford it.

The general type of mountain bike matters as well. For trail races, a cross-country bike will keep you covered, but for serious downhill bike racing, you'll want a bike specifically designed for downhilling.

Finally, always carry an emergency repair kit. We recommend a good multi tool as well as a tire puncture repair kit and a water bottle.

Types of Racing

There are several different types of races. You may want to try them all, or focus on one kind. Let's take a look at the options:


The most common type of race, the cross-country (or XC) race is a direct competition where riders take on a pre-constructed trail or track. If there are a large number of riders, the race may be divided into sections, such that only a few riders go at a time. This is a fast-paced and intensive race, somewhat comparable to track-bike racing, only with obstacles and rough terrain.


This is a straight-shot downhill race. Riders go down one at a time and the fastest time wins. Usually the course will have both natural and man-made obstacles, such as ruts, jumps, boulders, and other obstructions. It is essential to have a clear view ahead of you at all times, so that you're surprised by any of the obstacles.

Downhill Slalom:

Similar to straight-forward downhilling, the slalom may take place on the same (or similar) course, except there are gates along the way. Just like in slalom skiing, the rider must pass around the edge of each gate. A penalty is given for any missed or touched gates, and the best time wins.


This is also an individual race against time. Much more physically taxing than the downhill ride, in the hillclimb the fastest rider to the top wins.

Important Tips Before you Race

Once you've picked out your race and bike, you're almost ready to hit the course. There are just a few more things you should keep in mind.

  1. Practice: Before entering a serious race, you should have logged hundreds, if not thousands of hours riding your bike. The only way to get better is to keep doing it.
  2. Know the risks: Competitive mountain biking can be a dangerous sport. Always wear a helmet, but know that it is a potentially dangerous extreme sport.
  3. Hydrate: Always drink before the race, and keep a bottle or Camelbak with you at all times. Dehydration can stop you dead in your tracks.
  4. Pace yourself: If you're in a long race, just like in a foot race, don't blow all your energy at the beginning.
  5. Know the course: You should always take at least one test-run on a new course, at a slower speed, before racing it. Surprises can be dangerous.

Time to Race!

Once you've covered all the above steps, there's nothing left to do but get out there and race! There are lots of races all over the world, so check online or a local newspaper or biking magazine, and enroll today!