I know racing is not for everyone, and I don’t think every rider needs to race. That being said, there are some compelling reasons to try racing.
I recently wrote about how bikers that race should slow down for a minute and ride for funl. In this post I’m going to counter that opinion and encourage riders to try a race. If you are already thinking about trying a race, but aren’t sure, just do it. This one’s pretty simple. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t. It might seem like an intimidating scene, with tons of people hanging about, looking all sponsored and serious in their spandex or fancy protection. Don’t assume that just because people have fancier stuff than you, that they are better than you, it’s the rider not the bike or the kit that wins races.
I can assure you that your local mountain bike and road bike races are some of the friendliest events around. Everyone is stoked to see new people trying it out and most races have a beginner category that you can sign up for if you’re nervous about being slow. As a avid mountain biker, for a first race experience, I suggest either a team endurance event or an enduro race , but those are also the races I like most in general so I’m a bit biased. Downhill and XC can just be a bit more intimidating for a first try. But if those are the disciplines you want to try, don’t let that stop you! The road racing scene has a myriad of skill level races, as well, that will let you grow your skill set through the categories. Or, you can even try racing triathlons where you can choose whether to compete against the challenge, the clock, or the other competitors.
Just like anything in life, in mountain biking, if we want to improve, we need to set goals.
I have motivation issues. If I didn’t sign up for at least 1 race in a year, I would slack off and get lazy. Just like anything in life, in cycling, if we want to improve, we need to set goals. A race is a great motivator just to get out and ride more even if you’re not into a structured training plan.
There are so many times when I am tempted to skip tricky features, or walk my bike if I’m just riding with friends. If it’s on a race course, I’ll try almost anything (within reason!!). More often than not racing helps me discover I can ride harder lines than I thought I could, or I learn a new skill by trying until I get it. I know I won’t want to get off and walk in a race, so I’m more inclined to push my limits.
In road races you’ll learn how to ride in groups with more confidence and control. You’ll learn to brake later into a corner, or push the sprint just a bit harder knowing that you can depend on your bike and your skills to eek out a win or a personal record.
The benefit to your riding from this, is once you’ve forced yourself to ride harder lines in a race or learn a new skill to be a bit faster, it opens up all kinds of new options on the trails and the road. Suddenly that jump you’ve been staring at for months seems more doable, that rock roller is less intimidating, that hill a little easier to climb.
Racing is a great way to meet other riders that have similar abilities and preferences as you on a bike. Where else do you find that many bikers in one place? You’re bound to meet a few you like! Plus, you will meet people who are better riders than you. While that may not seem like a plus at face value, it truly is. These are the people who will really help your bike handling skills and confidence grow.
Not only are you hanging out with like-minded people all day, feeling good about yourself for trying something new, and riding your bike with the potential to win prizes and bragging rights, in some MTB disciplines you also get one other cool bonus: You get a clear shot at a trail without anyone else on it. No worrying about trail etiquette for a few minutes, no worrying about running someone over, no having to slow down for the guy/gal you meet on the trail. Guaranteed continuous flow for the extent of the race course. Sounds kind of elitist in the context of just riding, but in a race, that’s fair game unless you come across someone injured, and it’s fun. I guess this only applies to Enduro and Downhill, but I’m sure XC and road have their fun bits too. The lack of cars on a road race has to be pretty awesome.
Im not saying there is anything wrong with riding bikes purely for fun, but if you’re in the mood to shake things up, improve your fitness or skills or challenge yourself, don’t be afraid to sign up for a race. I’m betting it will be a rewarding experience, you are guaranteed to learn a little, and I’m pretty confident you’ll have a little fun at the same time. I’ve met some wonderful people through racing, and have been some pretty cool places, and you could too!
Now go ride your bike.