Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Racing Your Mountain Bike For The First Time

You're thinking of racing your Mountain Bike for the first time, or you're thinking of buying a Mountain Bike and racing it for the first time, or you were thinking of neither of the above, but once you learn how easy it is, you might just consider it. I hope so anyway.

First off, you'll need a decent bike. The less you spend on the bike initially, the more you will spend on it later as the parts break. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. As you break things you essentially earn your upgrades. Replace the broken parts with better ones. As Lance says "It's not about the bike". You don't want to be the person on the $6,000 bike off the back of the beginner race. Let your skill level exceed your fitness level.

You'll need some accessories to make sure you can finish the race (or any ride).
  • Helmet. This is required at all races. You don't get to decide when you'll smash your head, that's why it's an accident. My helmet has saved my brains on a few occasions.
  • Gloves. A minor fall can cause a lot of pain if you aren't wearing them.
  • Glasses. Recommended but not required. Even cheap safety glasses from the hardware store can save your eyeballs from flying dirt and poky sticks.
  • Pump. You don't want be walking out of the woods. C02 Cartridges are another option but should be used only during races.
  • Tubes. Bring two with you at all times.
  • Tire Levers. Have them, know how to use them, if you don't ask someone at your local bike shop.
  • Tool. A good flip tool should be in your pocket or bag on every ride.
  • Water Bottles or Hydration Pack. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! On hot days and during races use a sports drink. Anything from Gatorade to more high-tech stuff like GU2O or Accelerade.
Items like Bike Shorts and technical clothing are something that can be figured out later as you get more serious. After the first wet, muddy race you do wearing baggy cut offs and a T-shirt, you'll be looking to upgrade your wardrobe fast!

Getting your bike ready. Take it to a reputable bike shop (hmm, where would I find one of those?) to have it checked over for safety and have it tuned if needed. They should also be able to help you with a rough fit on the bike as well and answer any other questions you might have.

Getting your body ready. Don't over-think it at first. Just go out and ride your mountain bike, NEMBA can show you where to go. Let your skills and your fitness improve together. Don't worry about Heart Rate Monitors, Power Meters, Coaches and training plans when you're starting out. That can come later if you decide to take things to the next level. Ride as much as you can or as much as you feel like. Seek out group rides, NEMBA can also help with that.

A fun way to chart your progress is set up an off-road Time Trail course. Choose a loop that takes roughly 30 minutes and then do it as fast as you can without stopping and record your time. Do this course once every week to see if you are getting faster. It's a great method for figuring out pacing and develop the high speed skills and focus required to race a bike. You'll begin to look forward to your MTB TT day!

One of the truly wonderful things about mountain biking is that, once you get past the initial, basic learning phase, you will be way too focused on how much fun you are having to worry about "working out" or "getting fit". Fitness just happens as your love for the sport grows.

Riding with faster, more skilled people is the best way to improve. Ask the folks at your local Shop when their group rides and skills clinics are.

Race Time. You'll need to know where and when the races are. There are few indispensable resources you'll have to familiarize yourself with (for finding races in New England anyway):

  • - Search for races in your area then register online. A great service.
  • Root 66 Race Series - A huge schedule of local races. Jill and Chris do a swell job with these.
  • EFTA Race Series - An equally awesome schedule of local races.
  • USA Cycling - The big, national level events. All have beginner races.
You'll have to fill out a profile on Bikereg to register for events. Pre-regging as it is called is easier for both you and the race promoter. I'd highly recommend it.
Of course you can almost always just show up and register on the spot. Just allow a little more time. USAC races like Root 66 will give you the option of purchasing a day racing license or an annual license. This can also be done online at the USAC site. EFTA does a day license as well or you can purchase an annual license at any event.

Eating before your race
. Big, I say BIG rookie mistake is to over do it. You almost want to be hungry on the line, seriously. Eat your breakfast at least three hours beforehand and keep it light. A couple packets of Oatmeal, or some cereal, maybe a bagel with peanut butter. Whatever sits well in your gut. You might want to try out a few food combos before hard rides leading up to the race. Have a bar of some sort or a banana an hour or so before the start. You can supplement that with Gels and energy drink right up to and during the actual race.

Warm up? Get there as early as possible, an hour before minimum. If your race is 12 miles and you're used to riding much farther than that I would warm up by pre-riding the course or just spinning around for a bit. If that seems like a huge distance I wouldn't warm up, you'll need that energy for the race.

Race Prep. I like to get out of the car, get suited up, put everything I need in my pockets or Hydration pack and get on my bike as soon as possible when I get to an event. First place I head is registration to get all sorted out and get my number on the bike. At that point I'm basically ready to go, plenty of time to work any bugs out.

Begin hovering around the start line ten or fifteen minutes before your race is scheduled to start. Unless you are at a big, national level event like Mt. Snow you won't need to worry about start position. The promoters will get on the loud speaker to announce staging or delays. Just make sure you are within earshot.

Go Time. Eat a gel, take a good swig of your drink, and focus on how you are going to ride your bike really, really well. Think "Fast, Fun, and Efficient". If you are nervous think to yourself "Well, let's go out there and see what happens, no pressure". People will start fast, if you can follow them, go for it. If you find yourself hyper-ventilating for a long period of time, your head starts feeling tingly, or you begin to see stars...back off a bit. Ride at your own pace, enjoy the act of riding your bike in the woods, do it as fast as you can, but don't go nuts! If you have something left for the next lap (most beginner races will be two laps) then pick up the pace.

What I've outlined here is really just a quick primer. The best way to gain more knowledge is to get out there and do it! Call or email over to The Shop or leave a comment below if you have any questions.

International Bicycle will have a full schedule of mountain bike related events starting up in April. We want to help you get out on your mountain bike and start having fun!


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

IBCer Erich Leas on

From a February 15th article on on the subject of winter Cyclo-Commuting in Boston.

Erich Leas, 26, takes the opposite approach. The Jamaica Plain resident says he puts in 300-plus riding days a year. His traction strategy? "Run the skinniest tires you can get to cut through the loose-packed stuff," he says, available to speak only because he's behind the counter at Allston's International Bicycle Center rather than slugging it out on the roads. "It's worked pretty well for me. And fenders, of course."

-Erich Leas

Read the rest of the article HERE.