Racing your mountain bike is a brilliant mix of skill, endurance and constantly trying to find the fastest lines. While there are cross-country (XC) events running across the UK, we wanted to highlight the Crank It series, which brings coaching and racing together to ensure riders are getting the most out of their event experience.
The series first sprung onto the calendar in 2015 with a mission to grow the mountain biking community through accessible and enjoyable events. The events have become popular fixtures in the north, with great representation from local cycling (and Go-Ride) clubs, plus riders just wanting to give it a go.
Sarah and her son, Ethan, first attended a Crank It event in 2015 and have been back to every race since. We spoke to Sarah about what both of them have taken from racing mountain bikes over the last six years.
How did you get into cross-country (XC) racing?
"I’d never done any racing before Ethan started - in fact I’d not really done much riding and I’d never done any competitive sport. The kids all seem to have so much fun and they persuaded me give it a go (‘It's easy’, they said!). I soon learned that kids make everything look easy and quickly developed a huge respect for all the young riders that lined up.
"I was keen to show others that this was for anyone at any level, and while not everyone could win, we could all have a great time improving ourselves and making new friends. The racing community is now a huge part of our lives. We have so many friends that provide endless giggles and support and because of this we have both progressed from local XC racing through to regional and national."
What’s great about XC racing?
"It’s always a really relaxed, welcoming and friendly atmosphere. As a complete novice I often find myself chatting to elite riders on practice laps who are always happy to help. And there are so many line choices, so if you aren’t confident to do one bit you can usually go a different way. Some people even get off and run up or down sections so there really is no set route you have to take.
"Because it’s a timed race doing laps, you can do as much as suits you. If you are slower like me, it doesn’t matter; everyone finishes after the winner no matter how many laps you’ve done. As faster riders start to lap slower riders, it’s hard to see who is where in the race so there is no pressure of being at the back. In a way it’s quite nice to come over the line straight after the winner, yet be towards the back of the race.
Tell us about your first Crank It event
"As newcomers to riding and racing we honestly didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but we were made to feel welcome and at ease. The friendly sign-on team were happy to help us out and explain what we needed to do (plus they never seemed to get tired of the endless questions we had). And the marshals and timekeepers were a constant source of smiles and encouragement throughout the day.
"Ethan was raring to go but probably a little bit nervous to try something new. The coaches were on hand to take the kids around the skills course, which gave them all a chance to try different things in a fun way before the racing started. This was great as it showed them that they were all good at different things.
"The races were different in length and difficulty depending on age category, but were all good fun at every level. Those at the front of the race were rapid, but with staggered starts and a long, wide course, I didn’t feel like I would be getting in anyone’s way or that I shouldn’t be there just because I was a novice and wasn’t able to ride as fast as them.
"It was great to see, as the adults arrived for their races, that support grew for the kids. Everyone got cheered on and it didn’t take long for the shouts of ‘come on mum’ to turn into ‘come on Ethan’s mum’, all the way around the course. It was a lovely friendly atmosphere which encouraged us to stay for the whole day."
What do you need to race?
"If you’re thinking about racing for the first time it’s a great event, as all you need is a mountain bike, helmet, and a sense of fun and adventure! You don’t need a race licence; you can get a day licence if you want to try it out first. And people ride all sorts of mountain bikes, so as long as it’s safe and working you’re good to go."
What sort of riders turn up?
"Crank It races are for all ages, with categories ranging from under-10s through to veterans. These aren’t elite events although they do attract elite riders. They cater for all riders across the racing spectrum, from complete beginners to world class and everyone is made to feel welcome and part of the race.
"The last race attracted riders from all over the country which was great to see – but equally lots of local newcomers too which was brilliant. It’s great for the kids to be able to watch all levels of riders racing at the same venue as them and definitely gives them something to aspire to."
What have the coaching sessions added?
"Mountain biking is so much more than just being able to ride fast. The coaching sessions have shown the kids the importance of bike handling and that there are many ways to win the race. They also gave them take-away skills to practice at home.
"You could see their confidence grow as they practiced and pushed themselves. It was also nice to see them being recognised for their skills which at a young age don’t always go hand in hand with speed."
Jack Humphreys is one of the founders of Crank It and this year introduced coaching sessions for all ages and abilities as part of the event experience.
“We wanted to provide another access point for riders who were nervous about entering their first event as well as riders who don’t want to race but still want to have some fun. These sessions aim to develop you from your current ability so that you are leaving more confident and able to get more out of your riding than when you started.
“In 2022 we plan to expand the series across the north of England to bring events to as many areas as possible. Alongside this our coaching offer will grow, with group and 1:1 sessions being offered both as part of and away from the events plus training plans for riders looking to improve their fitness.”
The second event in the series takes place on Sunday 18 July at Lee Quarry in Lancashire. Sarah and Ethan will both be there and can’t wait:
“If it’s the same course, it’ll be an opportunity for us to try and improve on last time, but if it’s changed I’m sure Ethan and I will be both hoping for different things as we are very different riders. I’m sure there will be bits that suit us both and bits that we both find challenging. Whatever the course is, I’ve no doubt I’ll surprise myself at what I can achieve and have the biggest smile on my face all the way around.”