Beginner’s Take on Mt. Bike Racing

The idea of racing a bike has always been so intimidating to me. There are rules, etiquette and tactics. You have to be reasonably coordinated – which I’m not – and all the men and women lined up at the start look way tougher than me.

But underneath all that, I’ve got a bit of a competitive streak – and racing was starting to look very fun.

I’m a pretty novice mountain bike rider, but I’ve developed a smattering of skills and I put a lot of faith in my new mountain bike, a Raleigh Eva 27.5″ hardtail. For some reason, I decided to not only check out the Eva, but to combine that with checking out the Portland Short Track mountain bike series at Portland International Raceway.

(Full disclosure – my husband is a bike rep, so we get to act as foster parents to a lot of sample bikes, the Eva included.)

Though my July has been packed with travel, I managed to get out and race twice. It’s a great workout, and everyone there is really supportive of newcomers. There’s even a clinic before every race where newer racers can work on skills and train for the more technical parts of the course.

The Eva has been a fantastic bike for me. It’s really stable, handles great and the 27.5″/650b wheels make for a smooth, fast ride. The geometry is pleasantly aggressive while still being comfortable – it feels just as good to do a long fire road climb as it does to bomb the trail afterward.

I loved the hardtail for racing, and for most of the trail riding I’ve done – although for anything super rooty and rocky it can buck you around a bit.

If you’re interested in getting onto racing, here are a couple tips from a fellow newbie.

  • Read through the FAQ of whatever race you’re wanting to do to see what’s required. You’ll need an OBRA license for any races sanctioned by that organization, but don’t let that deter you, it’s only $5 for a day and you can usually take care of that and your registration on site at the start line (arrive early).
  • Check to see if the race offers a clinic beforehand to teach you basics of race etiquette and help you work on skills. Or, check out the weekend clinics at Otto’s Ski and Bike in Sandy. There’s one coming up July 19-20. I loved the clinic aspect, because it gave me a comfortable place to ask my dumb questions.
  • Take time to ride the course beforehand. It’ll help you get a feel for how the race might go, and if you find a particularly tricky section you can ride it a couple of times to choose the best line.
  • Bring some snacks and fuel to keep you going, and to eat after the race – especially if you’re anything like me and turn into a ravenous beast after a ride.
  • Bring a change of clothes, especially if it’s a muddy day.
  • Bring layers – you’ll heat up while you’re racing, but you’ll probably want something to keep you warm when you’re cheering everyone else on later.
  • Racing is about endurance as much as it is having the technical skills. Take it easy at first, and don’t burn yourself out on the first lap.
  • Arrive early. You will want plenty of time to park, unload your bike, suit up and familiarize yourself with the area. That also gives you time to potentially ride the course during open periods.

Oh, and don’t feel bad when the 12-year-old boys pass you. Everybody’s got to start somewhere.

What are your tips?

Are you a new or experienced mt. bike racer? What has worked well for you?

Jessie Kwak is a writer who loves to type about the good life: travel, outdoor adventures, food and drink, and (of course) cycling. You can find her at Bictoro: Bikes and Crafts.

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