Get Into Cycling - Mountain Biking - The Sport By Racing Discipline


Mountain Biking: The Sport By Racing Discipline


With many sub-genres mountain biking is divided by three key factors; the type of bike you ride, how your bike is defined by manufacturers' marketing departments and if you race or not. For the purposes of this section, we'll take a look at the sport of mountain biking, which defines itself by sub-discipline.

The sub-disciplines have been decided by the UCI, which is the international governing body for cycle sport.

Cross Country
Start Racing | Racing Calendar | Guide To Cross Country Riding | UCI Rules And Regulations

Also known as XC or XCO - the ‘O' standing for Olympic - as this is the only mountain bike discipline to appear in the Olympic Games; cross country mountain biking accounts for most off road cycling in the UK.

Defining cross country mountain biking as a sport at an Elite level is simple; racing a pre-determined number of laps head to head riders take on a taped course to include climbs, descents, singletrack and doubletrack. Courses measure a total of 5-7km in length - although are more often defined by a desirable time per-lap of 15-18 minutes. Optimum total race time for men is around 2 hours, 1 hour 45 minutes for women.

In the past five years there has been a concerted effort from the UCI to reduce lap times, which previously stood at 25 minutes per lap, with total race times of 2 hours 30 minutes not uncommon. The change to a shorter lap and race format is a bid to attract more spectators, easier opportunities for TV coverage and ultimately sponsorship deals for the World Cup Series which enjoyed a peak in the early and mid 1990s.

As a result of this new definition offshoots of cross country have been born. Marathon (XCM) racing is a longer, single loop version of XCO. Lasting around five hours and 100km, using a single loop allows for sustained climbing and descending. An extension of marathon racing is multi-day stage racing. Similar to a road stage race, riders compete point-to-point with the shortest total time deciding the winners.

At the opposite end of the spectrum short course racing takes place on laps under five minutes in length for a total time of 30 minutes. Courses are varied and can be set in urban environments

Finally there are 6, 12 and 24 hour races. Although unrecognised by the UCI these events are more like mountain bike festivals and are decided by those completing the highest number of laps (generally ten miles/one hour long) within the determined time. Riders compete solo or in a relay format in teams of up to four.

Downhill (DH/DHI)
Start Racing | Racing Calendar | Guide To Downhill Riding | UCI Rules And Regulations

Taking a chairlift, gondola or uplift to the top of a downhill run and then racing down best summarises the most extreme form of mountain bike racing. Typical UK courses last two minutes, with World Cup courses closer to double that. Average speeds of 30mph over that distance are common, despite extremely technical terrain. Typical course features include rocks, roots, mud, berms and some jumps. However, there has been a move away from having too many jumps in downhill races as riders felt they were not true to downhill. Another component key to downhill racing has been a ban on skinsuits. Introduced in 2009 by the UCI the controversial amendment was put in place following pressure from riders who felt skinsuits were damaging the image of the sport and could force sponsors away. Opponents believed this ban was ridiculous and held the sport back from the basic mantra; to be the fastest from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill.

The format of a downhill race revolves around open practice where riders will walk and ride sections of the track, making decisions on bike setup and line choice. Following practice the course will be cleared for qualifying where riders will be sent off individually, separated by one minute gaps. The fastest riders from qualification will then get to ride in the final in ascending order (fastest rider last out of the starting house). The fastest rider down the hill in the final run - regardless of qualifying time - is the winner.

Fourcross (4X)
Start Racing | Racing Calendar | Guide To Fourcross Riding | UCI Rules And Regulations

Fourcross is the youngest of all the mountain bike sub-disciplines and was born out of a fusion between BMX and Dual - today the same riders who excel in BMX dominate fourcross - while downhillers have slowly been marginalised from the sport due to the high risks involved when racing head to head.

Riding on a purpose built course featuring a variety of jumps (rollers, stepups, tables) berms and flat turns, four riders go head to head in a gated start, similar to that in BMX. From the gate the course is marked by flags - hitting one results in disqualification. Fourcross tracks are around a minute long but depart from the BMX ideal with loose stony and gravel surfaces, rock gardens and braking ruts, all making a mountain bike shod with knobbly tyres a distinct advantage.

While deliberate t-boning and takeouts are discouraged, fourcross is very much a contact sport, even if the rules say otherwise. Close passing manoeuvres in corners and even over jumps make fourcross the most spectacular and TV-friendly form of mountain bike racing; every race with a controversial battle.

Events start with practice after which the course is cleared and all riders have a single timed run, taken individually. This decides the top 64 competitors who qualify for the motos or heats. Each moto contains four riders who are drawn on the merits of their qualifying time - those who qualify fastest getting lane choice which is essential for choosing the best racing line into the first corner. With two riders of each heat going home, racing continues until there are just four riders left in the final. Podium positions are decided from the top three, with a small final consisting of the four riders knocked out of the two semi-finals; this deciding positions 5-8.

Start Racing | Racing Calendar | Guide To Trials Riding | UCI Rules And Regulations

Descending directly from motorbike trials, bicycle trials is a fusion of bike handling skill and speed, with no room for error.

Taking place on a predetermined course which riders must negotiate in a fast time, but with as few dabs (feet or hands touching the ground) as possible. Any dabs will result in time penalties - so riders must balance the faster, riskier routes, against the potential of losing time and momentum by making mistakes.