Mountain bike racers can be found peddling away everywhere these days. They are a visible bunch, whether they are kicking up dirt on azure tracks, carrying their bikes over streams as they make their way cross-country, or rushing down mountainsides at a frenetic pace.
It should come as no surprise that mountain biking is becoming increasingly popular and attracting more and more enthusiasts. From its humble beginnings in the 1970s to garnering a 40 million strong following in the US alone, it is here to stay. Mountain biking allows enthusiasts to pit their bodies against challenging yet beautiful natural landscapes and leave the tumult of daily life behind.
If you’re interested in jumping into this exciting world, here are some events that you can train for:
1. Cross-Country Events
Cross-Country races are the most visible of the lot, partly because they are an Olympic event and the recognizable hardtail bikes you need for it. Hardtail bikes feature short suspensions and can be exceptionally lightweight.
Cross-Country Races like these come in multiple flavours, with the most common ones being:
a. Olympic Cross-Country. This mountain bike race takes place on a specially designed track that can be anywhere between 2.5 to 6 miles. Riders are typically released in groups and do multiple laps. The person to finish the last lap first wins the race, irrespective of their overall performance. Sturdy bikes, such as those from Jenson’s Collection, ensure that riders can easily survive the 2-hour race.
b. Short-Circuit Cross-Country. This fast-paced race takes place on a track up to a mile long, featuring 6 to 8 laps, and requires up to half an hour to finish. These circuits push riders to their limits, with each vying for the top spot from the get-go.
c. Cross-Country Eliminator. First introduced in Germany, this type of race pits four riders against one another over a very short track, typically no more than 0.6 miles. The race is split into two ‘heats’ lasting a minute, with the two slowest riders eliminated in the first heat, leading to an intense head-to-head battle in the final one.
d. Cross-Country Marathon. These events push the rider’s endurance to its maximum limits. They are typically held over rugged mountain terrain and come in two flavours. The shorter ones last between 3 and 7 hours, while ultra-endurance ones may go on for longer. Riders who participate in these events need to be highly fit and master techniques that get them ‘free speed’ to cruise to victory.
e. Cross-Country Relay. This mountain bike race comes in various lengths and times with one common feature – mixed teams. Teams of 4 to 6 riders compete to finish fastest, typically with men and women from elite, under-23, and junior categories. Team managers usually pick the order of the race. Some position their fastest riders at the start to pressure the other team. In contrast, others start with their most experienced riders in anticipation of a dash to the finish.
2. Downhill Events
This race is particularly attractive to technically masterful, thrill-addicted mountain bikers and is the most popular gravity-based event. It usually takes place at a mountain resort, where bikers riding full-suspension bikes with over 200mm suspension travel are escorted to the trailhead via chairlift before being let loose. Tires used in these bikes also have to be incredibly sturdy and usually have double protection layers and super sticky treads.
Tracks typically take just under 4 minutes to traverse and have some of the most technically demanding features and heart-stopping jumps to enthral audiences and riders alike. Riders commonly memorize these tracks while practising and rely on exceptional concentration and stamina to safely and successfully navigate them. Riders can reach speeds as high as 45mph in these races, making them genuinely nail-biting to watch.
3. Enduro Events
Enduro events look like a casual day out with friends, except they test riders every way. These races resemble many Downhill events strung together with ‘liaisons,’ or timed and untimed events. Riders are expected to make it through untimed events, which may involve riding, trekking, or even hiking, to get to their locations for the timed events. These may take anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes to complete and resemble Downhill events except for compulsory jumps.
Bikes used for this event usually have between 120 to 180mm of rear-wheel travel and sturdy brakes to survive the fast-paced timed drops. The riders cannot change bike fork, frame, and rims without incurring a penalty, so these have to be exceptionally rugged to last for the duration of the event. Riders are also expected to take care of any problems they encounter on the trails independently.
4. Freeride Events
These mountain bike races combine the endurance and stamina required for other gravity races with the creativity and style usually expected of gymnasts. Riders spend a few days charting out their downhill route, picking out spots where they can execute thrilling jumps, flips, and spins, before trying to execute them flawlessly. Judges typically see how the riders pushed the envelope in agility, skill, imagination, and technical excellence.
Bikes used in these events are very lightweight but extremely strong, with at least 200mm travel to help land difficult jumps. However, this comes at a cost – these bikes aren’t usually good at pedaling uphill. It is also common to see chainguides, large-diameter disc brakes, and single-crown forks on these bikes.
5. Slopestyle Events
Slopestyle events are gravity-defying versions of freerides, except that the ‘slopes’ ridden down are manmade rather than natural. They feature massive berms, drops, and elaborate jumps and resemble elaborate skate-parks in their overall construction and design. As with freerides, judges score slopestyle riders for their technical virtuosity, airtime, and theatrics rather than speed.
Designers make slopestyle event bikes for maximizing air time, with very stiff rear shocks that can boost up to 100mm of rear-wheel travel. They are meant to be ridden standing up with a forward torso position. Typically, they are also heavier because of their rear-suspension systems, which allow for increased stability while in the air. The lower center of gravity that results from this configuration, focusing the weight around the pedal brackets, also enables impressively fast cornering.
6. Fourcross / Dual Slalom Events
Both fourcross (usually called 4X) and dual slalom events take place on custom-built circular dirt tracks similar to those used in BMX racing. These tracks often feature huge jumps and cambered corners and require a lot of power and exceptional stamina to navigate successfully.
In a fourcross race, four riders compete head-to-head in a mad dash to the finish line. These races usually last only a minute, making every technical decision the riders take extremely important.
Dual slalom races are similar to fourcross ones except that two riders compete on identical tracks rather than sharing the same with their competitors. Riders who excel at this format are often well-regarded by others due to their high technical skill and cornering expertise. They use short-travel full-suspension bikes to make this happen.
7. Pump Track Events
Pump track riding combines exceptional physical conditioning with expert techniques to generate free speed through body/bike separation, without pedaling, using the contours of the track itself, and riding virtually brakeless.
The fastest rider to complete a single lap wins. Tracks used in these events are short loops with rollers, berms, and whoops. Riders have to rely on their aerodynamic knowledge to ‘pump’ the bikes without exhausting themselves or causing an injury.
Mountain bike racing events are a popular way to test your physical fitness while connecting with nature and exploring the great outdoors. Whether you train to endure mountainous cross-country terrain, fearlessly ride down steep and challenging slopes, or want to experience the rush of gravity-defying jumps, there is a kind of mountain bike race for you.