Mountain Bike

Anyone who has lined up before the start of a mountain bike race will tell you that in those brief moments of calm before the starting gun, there is an intense energy that surges through the group of racers, be they women or men, juniors or masters, first-timers or pros. It is the anticipation and excitement that drives racers forward to tackle the wilderness that has been carefully taped off, creating a challenging course for the race at hand. Mountain biking is a fledgling discipline compared with other forms of bicycle racing, but it has all of the elements of classical cycling tradition: adversity, speed, unpredictability and rugged individualism. Basics Over its evolution, mountain bike racing has branched off into two major disciplines: endurance and gravity events. The former covers cross-country, short track and marathon racing, while the latter includes downhill, mountain-cross and dual slalom.

Cross-country races are held on wooded loops, varying in distance from 5 to 9 miles. One’s ability, age and gender determine how many laps to race. Juniors and beginners usually race 45 minutes to 1 hour, sports and most women race 1 to 1.5 hours, and elite juniors, experts, semi-pros and pros race for 2-2.5 hours.

Short track racing is to cross-country what criteriums are to road races: short, hard and fast races that favor a shrewd and quick competitor. All categories race for 20-30 minutes, and course officials determine how many laps are necessary to achieve the time limit. Lapped riders are often pulled, since the course is no longer than 1 mile.

Marathon racing is a relatively new discipline, but it harkens back to the epic races of old; courses usually 100 kilometers long and often are point-to-point or single-loop races. Like their running namesake, marathon mountain bike races are grueling tests of endurance.

Downhill is a whole different realm of physical ability, equipment and psychology. Almost always held at a ski area, a downhill race does not usually take longer than 6 minutes to complete and includes the most technically demanding and dangerous terrain that mountain biking has to offer. Full-face helmets and body armor are obligatory, and bicycles are almost always full-suspension, resembling a motocross bike more than DaVinci’s original prototype.

Mountain-cross and dual slalom share similarities with downhill, but they are also comparable to BMX. Racers go head-to-head in elimination format racing on a course that has numerous bermed corners and jumps. Mountain-cross sends four racers down the course at once, while dual slalom only sends two. For the most part, the former has replaced the latter as the new standard.

This article printed with credit to USA Cycling.