Knowledge Level: Beginner
Junior Academy mountain bike coach Simon Watts tells you how to get into cross-country (XC) mountain bike racing.
What does a typical cross-country course consist of?
One of the great things about the sport is that there is so much variation. World cup tracks these days are highly technical and around 12 to 14 minutes a lap for the elites. That means they are often around 4km long and have 170 to 200m of climbing per lap.
From this, there is a sliding scale down to various national series, regional series and local events. Expect all the usual trail features, such as berms, drop-offs, rock gardens and even jumps. However, a good course should have line options that reward skill but make it accessible to a wide range of riders.
How long do the races last?
For XC, the commissaires will name the number of laps for each category, with the intention of bringing them in close to the target times of 1:30hrs for elites & seniors and 1hr for juniors. Regional or local races with a mix of categories will have a time somewhere between these. Marathon events are much longer and can often be between 75 and 100km. Sprint disciplines such as dirt crits or eliminators make great grass roots races and are brilliant for kids.
Do I need a super light expensive bike?
No, if you are looking to give a local event a go, any well maintained mountain bike will get you round. Particularly at regional events, it is great to see people on a range of bikes from retro steel steeds to full suspension trail bikes. Don’t be put off from trying because of your kit or equipment.
Will I be fit enough?
That depends on your goal. Get your targets right and you will be fit enough. If you intend to just finish your first event, whether that be a 50km marathon or a 45 min local cross-country race, then you are on to a winner. The next time, aim to go a little quicker, clear more A-lines or come a little higher in the field.
How can I give it a go?
It can at times be tricky to find events, but don’t let that put you off, XC is the best kept secret in cycle sport. Have a look on the British Cycling Event Calendar but the best way is to join your nearest club that is mountain bike friendly. Just get stuck in a enjoy it.
How old do you need to be to race?
Regional events will often have kids from under-10s and under-12s through to grand veterans. Any age is really welcome, as long as they are going to bring positivity and a smile, it can be a real family sport.
Any first time racer tips?
Pre-ride the course and know your intended lines before you start. Events often aren’t the time to try big technical features that you aren’t confident of riding. Go for the lines you are consistent on and aim to practise the techniques in training that you need to improve your line options. Training isn’t just about physical effort, your biggest gains may be made in technical work, which you can have great fun improving.