Get started in… XC racing: Part 2 - Bike Magic

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**How To

Get started in… XC racing: Part 2

The start of XC races can be frantic affairs

In our first instalment of our new XC racing guide, we talked about how XC racing is a great way of increasing your fitness, honing your handling skills and generally just great fun. In this article we’re going to take a look at what you need to do enter your first XC race.

First, you need to find a race. Fortunately, there are many race series organised across the country, so finding one in your area shouldn’t be a problem. The best place to start, of course, is the BM Events Calendar which has a comprehensive list of events.

With your event marked in the diary, hopefully you’ve got a bit of time to get yourself ready. Luckily, you can turn up at any race series and enter the appropriate category, but there’s a few things to tick off your checklist first.

The bike

Any MTB, rigid, hardtail or full suspension will be perfectly suitable, but before you head to your race ensure it’s in good working order. Make sure your gears are working slickly (you don’t want slipping gears to ruin your first race) and similarly ensure your brakes are in tip top order. Pump your tyres up for the conditions, but if you’re not sure, 30-40psi ought to do it. Don’t get carried away changing stuff around before your first race, but if your bike does double duty as a commuter it’s well worth taking off lights, mudguards, racks and the like.


Something comfortable, there’s nothing to stop you racing in a cotton t-shirt and baggy shorts. But we’d recommend a proper cycling specific jersey as it’ll be less clammy, and a pair of padded shorts – you’ll thank us. A pair of gloves is also a good investment too.


Compulsory by all organisers, ensure it’s not full of dents and cracks and you’re good to go.


Flat pedals and trainers will be fine for your first outing, but if you’ve got clipless pedals and shoes we’d advise setting the pedals loose so you’re able to get out of them in a hurry.

What category should I ride in?

Juvenile: Riders must be at least 12 years old or be in their 13th or 14th year.

Youth: Riders in their 15th and 16th year will race in the Youth category.

Junior: Riders in their 17th and 18th year will race in the Junior category.

Senior / Expert / Elite: When a rider reaches his or her 19th year then the Senior or Sport category is the appropriate aged based category until they are in their 29th year. See below for how riders can attain Expert or Elite status.

Master: The Master category is relevant to riders aged 30 to 39.

Veteran: The Veteran category is for riders aged 40 to 49.

Grand Veteran: The Grand veteran category is for riders aged over 50.

Food and drink

You’re looking at about an hour of racing, which doesn’t sound a lot but as everyone will be going as fast as they can, it’ll be tough work. Of course, you can go at any speed you wish, but the competitive urges when surrounded by many other MTBers usually take over. A bottle or small hydration pack with your favourite energy drink should suffice, and provided you’ve eaten appropriately before, you shouldn’t need to eat during the race.


It’s probably a good idea, at the very minimum, to carry one inner tube and a mini-pump with you, so you can at least complete your ride. Chain tool and tyre levers are optional extras – the real race heads will choose to carry as little as possible and run the risk of not getting any mechanicals. Outside mechanical support (if you’ve managed to drag friends/partners along) is sometimes allowed but check with the organisers first.

Ticked all those off? Good, you’re just about ready to enter your first race. It’s a good idea to pack everything you think you’ll need the night before. Then plan your route and allow plenty of time to get there – it’s always better to err on the side of getting there really early rather than miss the start. Get there early and you’ve plenty of time to register, pay your money and ziptie your race number to the handlebars of your bike.

Before the start

Then, with about 30 minutes before the race, you should be all kitted up and ready to go. Allow yourself time to get to the start line nice and early. Don’t forget the last minute visit to the toilets if nature decides, then take your place on the start line. As this is your first time, we suggest hanging back. You don’t want to get caught up in the frantic pace that occurs at the front of the bunch, and from back here you’ve got the opportunity to let everyone else lead and set the pace. There’ll usually be a briefing by an organiser so listen clearly to what they’re saying; it’s most likely to be important.

You’re racing!

Once the race is underway, you’ll want to pace yourself. Go out all guns blazing and you might not make it to the finish line, so try and pick a speed which you can confidently manage for the duration. This is tricky at first and comes down to experience – the more you race the better you’ll get at judging the speed and pace to race at.

It’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll be sharing the track with lots of other racers, and some will invariably be faster than you, so try to be as courteous as you can when they come past. Likewise, if you need to overtake someone, don’t just barge past. Instead, let them know you’re approaching and that you want to pass as soon as is safely possible. And don’t forget to say thanks. A little bit of courtesy and racing etiquette can go a long way to ensuring everybody has an enjoyable race.

You’re pretty unlikely to get the pacing nailed first time out – you’ll either arrive at the finish having completely exploded and grovelled around the last bit, or you’ll still have plenty in the tanks and could have gone faster. Use that result to plan your next outing…


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