First race guide

Ok, so you’re a keen mountain bike rider, and have been practicing on your local trails with your mates for a while. You have heard about downhill racing and I bet you have seen a few bike movies, watching Sam Hill and Gee Atherton ripping World Cup races all over the world. You get on the internet forums and learn of the upcoming races, and then you probably hear all about them afterwards. So far, you haven’t ventured into the world of racing for any number of reasons, but you would really love to. You want to experience some of the different tracks that you have heard about, and it would be great to meet and ride with heaps of other like minded riders, watching and learning from some of the great riders in the local scene. You might even want to see how you fare against other riders and compare your race times with your mates. If you haven’t been racing yet, read on for some handy hints, some racing myths uncovered and everything else you might need to get you into and through your first race. By Matt Swann.


Pick your first race

Have a look at the race calendar, learn when and where the races are and decide which one you’re going to get in to. Talk to other riders that you know, and speak to some of the organisers of events, to determine which event may be best to start at. Some tracks are harder than others, and can be more intimidating to start with. You don’t want your first race to be your last!!

Get your equipment ready

Ok, so you are going to your first race. Make sure you, your bike and your equipment is in good working order, and ready to ride. For yourself, you don’t need to be a super skilled DH rider that can do big jumps or massive rock gardens. The most important skill you can have, is a can-do attitude and to know your own limits. Nobody is going to laugh at you if you cant ride a section and need to walk it, just know where your riding ability is at. Your equipment includes, body armor, clothing, tools etc. When you’re starting out, body armor can be very important. MTBA (governing body) requires that every rider has a full face helmet, handlebar plugs, no singlets, and closed toe shoes (no thongs). But, it is usually recommended that all riders should wear full face helmet, knee pads, elbow pads, goggles and gloves. There is, of course, plenty of other protection items available for use including, full body armor jackets, neck braces, kidney belts, racing pants, and everything in between. Contact your local bike shop for information and prices on protective gear. One VERY important thing to remember… don’t just look at what the ‘good’ riders are wearing as they can often be a bad example of adequate body protection. Wear what you are comfortable in, and what you feel safe in.

When you ride bikes, sometimes things on your bike can break, or need adjustment. You should learn the basic information on how to fix your bike, and you should have a reasonable amount of tools in your car. Basic tools to include are, allen keys, tyre levers, a good floor pump, rags, chain lube, a spoke key, some screw drivers and spanners, a hammer, a block of wood, side cutters. Other tools are a bit more specific, but can be really handy. Also, always bring at least two spare tubes (the right size and valve type), and ALWAYS have at least one spare derailleur hanger. Why? Because these are specific to your bike and don’t expect anyone else to have one for you. If you snap one of these, your going home early, wasting your weekend and money.

Your bike… the most important bit.

Always, always, always have your bike in good working order. Either do it yourself (properly) or have your local bike shop go over it. Take it to them AT LEAST one week before the race. Don’t expect to rock up on the Thursday or Friday and get it done for the race. Book it in early!! Remember, your bike will be carrying you at high speeds over all sorts of terrain, and you want to make sure everything is done to prevent this from falling apart. Make sure your tyres are in good condition. It will make your riding easier, safer and faster and you will be far less likely to puncture. Choose good quality 2 PLY tyres with medium size tubes. Make sure your brake pads are ok, anything less than the thickness of your rotor, should be looked at for replacement.
At most DH races, there is usually a bike shop set up for helping you out. They will have some spare parts and some accessories for you to buy if you need it. BUT, do not expect them to have everything and be able to fix everything, you are in the middle of the bush… also, say please and thank you for any help you get, without them you might have been going home.

Learn about the event

Get onto the right websites and contact race organisers to learn about the race. Find out things like, entry fees, how to enter, what time you should get there each day, when you are racing, what the weather might be, is there any food or water available, is there toilets, where is it?? (I mean exactly) what sort of accommodation is around, is there anything you can do to help (race organisers are nearly always volunteers and really love more help).

Try and find info on the track, not that it really matters, but it might help you feel better about what you are getting in to.

Organise your trip

Book accommodation pretty early, at least 3-4 weeks before the event. A lot of good places get booked out pretty early. Work out your car arrangements and try to travel with mates. Its better for the environment, and if someone does get hurt (it can happen) you can still get home, if you swap drivers. VERY IMPORTANT!! It is extremely important that you have current ambulance membership. If you do hurt yourself badly, the race organisers will not hesitate, and are required, to call an ambulance. If you don’t have the membership, it WILL cost you a lot of money. Its cheap…do it!!

Get into it!

For racing, there are two fees you will need to pay. The EVENT ENTRY and MTBA MEMBERSHIP.
Event entry will vary, but expect anything from $60.00 to $150.00+ for a weekend of racing.
MTBA membership is your racing insurance, and comes in two formats. Day License OR Yearly License. Day License will cover you for the WHOLE EVENT and costs between $15.00 and $30.00 and a Yearly License will cover you for ONE YEAR FROM PURCHASE, and costs between $70.00 and $110.00 (Junior or Senior).
It is highly recommended to get the yearly license as this will give you access and insurance for ANY MTBA sanctioned event (race or ride day) and will give you insurance (including public liability) for every day you are licensed. (One year)

Your race practice

Whenever possible, it is a great idea to walk the track before you ride it. This gives you a great chance to have a good slow look at all the lines and obstacles. To do this you will need to allow at least one hour before practice, so get up early. Practice sessions are your chance to learn the track and get good lines, but also, it’s a chance to have a great day of riding, on a new track. Get a good number of runs in but don’t overdo it. You will get tired and sloppy and start making mistakes. Watch other riders, mostly the good ones, and watch the way they ride the track. Learn their lines and work out if you want to do them or not. Make sure you eat and drink HEAPS of stuff, despite what people say, DHing is pretty physical and you will get buggered. Drink lots of water and eat good food, including bananas and sandwiches. Sugar and coke will not give you the energy you need to ride all day, and will only make you feel dizzy!! When you are riding, you will notice that there are heaps of riders on track. It can get busy! If you hear faster riders coming up behind you, do your best to move over when its safe. But DO NOT PANIC!! You have the same right to be there as the fast people, and if you try and move over when its not safe, you can both crash. Riders will call track if they want you to move, but just do it safely. If you do stop on the way down, get way off the ride line and move your bike out of the way and don’t stop on the low side of a jump or where it is likely a rider might crash. If you crash and your ok, get bike and body off the track. If another rider crashes, help them get off the track if safe to do so. If a rider is badly hurt, do your best to stop the other riders and notify a course marshal or first aid. Expect that there can be long queues in transport pick up. [B]NEVER JUMP THE QUE![/B] I’m sure you would be told if you did. Listen to transport marshals and drivers when loading bikes and try to help other riders with loading. Never load or unload bikes from the middle of the trailers, just wait your turn.

Your race run

So you have done heaps of runs on Saturday, and you are probably feeling a bit stiff and sore (we told you this was hard yakka!!) On race day, get there early, at least a half hour before scheduled practice. Get prepared for riding, your bike should have been checked over last night after you finished riding, and is all ok. Get on the first early shuttles, you don’t know what might happen during practice and it can get very busy, limiting your runs. Don’t do anything silly on race day, just check your lines and get comfortable on the bike. 2-3 practice runs on Sunday morning is a good number. Finish your runs and get back to pits, eat lots of good food and drink plenty of water. Check over your bike early, and if you need the bike shop to look at it, get in early, they will be busy! Make sure you listen intently to the ‘Rider Briefing’ by the race organisers. This will give you handy information of the racing process. Make sure you double/triple check your start time. It should be posted in the race village. Make sure you get to transport in plenty of time, when the event organisers ask you to. Don’t miss it! That’s bad!! Take water to the top of the hill with you, as you might be up there for a while, you will need it. Put the bottle in the bin.

Go to the toilet before you start, a full bladder and/or bowel is super off putting when you’re riding, and could end in tears!

Listen to the race starters, and line up when you need to.

Get in the start gate… Countdown… 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go!

Ride the same lines you did in practice, keep smooth, pedal hard, don’t ride outside your limits, and don’t panic!! A fast rider is one who finishes. If a rider comes up behind you in racing, you should move over as soon as its safe, but as quickly as possible, and if you catch someone, yell ‘TRACK’ and hopefully they will get out the way.

Sprint hard across the finish line and finish your first race..Woohoo!

You did it!

I bet your knackered!

You’re all in one piece, the bike survived, and the crowd is cheering.. maybe.

Wait patiently for the times to be published. The Timing Crew have the hardest job of all, don’t go near them, you will get yelled at!!

Check you result, but maybe it doesn’t even matter, you’re just happy to have finished. Compare times with your friends, and the pro’s, and have a laugh at your crashes, your near misses, your sweet style and your super speed (or not). That’s the best bit. It doesn’t matter where you finished or how slow you went, and how many jumps you didn’t hit. Its just all about the fun and having a laugh at the end.

Go to the next race!

You just had so much fun, you cant wait for the next race to come around. Prepare yourself and your bike in the same way. Keep riding your bike as much as possible and you will get fitter, stronger and faster. If your bike needs anything done, get it down to the bike shop early and give them time to do it. Downhill racing can be heaps of fun. You get to meet heaps of great people, you learn lots about your ability and you limitations, you challenge yourself all the way and at the end of it you will just want to do it all again. Don’t be scared of the faster people, they were all in the same position you are in now, don’t worry about not having the best stuff, don’t worry about finishing last or walking down the hard stuff, its great that you’re just having a go.

Don’t let life slip by without having a go, you won’t regret it.

If anyone would like any more information on downhill racing or skills training, please don’t hesitate to email me on and for the girls, Tracy Whittaker is dedicated to getting you on the bike, so email her at