Mountain biking has a colorful and rich history. For more than 30 years now, the sport has evolved from just riding the trails with converted cruisers to going downhill at 50-70kph with hi tech full suspension bikes that are becoming even more expensive than a small car. Mountain biking has brought riders thrills and adrenaline rushes and is one of the most fast-paced spectator sports today. There’s no question that mountain biking will continuously evolve and thrill every rider and spectator alike.
Mountain biking started during the 70s in California, USA. Mt. Tam or Mount Tamalpis is widely considered to be the place where mountain biking originated. The first successful and high quality fat tire bicycle was built by Joe Breezer in Marin County, California. Joe Breezer, Otis Guy and Gary Fisher used 1930-1950s cruisers with coaster brakes. Around that time, mountain biking was all downhill and the coaster brakes overheated the brake assembly and the hub thus both parts often needed replacing.
Most of the mountain biking pioneers developed, created and manufactured their own parts for their off road bikes. Coaster brakes were soon replaced by cantilever brakes, lightweight tubing were used in making the frames and high quality 26”x 2. 125 knobby tires become the norm. Soon after, Gary Fisher, Otis Guy and Tom Ritchey started manufacturing their own bikes and a new sport was born, Specialized was the first mountain bike brand that was sold out of the box and ready to ride. But for many riders, Joe Breeze is considered the first builder of mountain bikes. The marketing push was made Gary Fisher, Tom Ritchey Charlie Kelly.
Cross-country Mountain Biking
Although it began as “downhill” biking, the sport that has ultimately made mountain biking so popular is cross-country mountain biking. This was the first type or style of mountain biking that was recognized by NORBA, UCI and eventually the Olympics. Cross-country mountain biking gave birth to other forms of mountain biking today. XC cycling is the most common and popular discipline of mountain biking. The first world championship was held in 1990 and it became an Olympic sport in 1996. It’s also the only mountain biking discipline practiced at the Olympics.
Cross-country MTB can be defined by the course or terrain on which riders race. XC trails consist of a mix of single track, double track, rough forest tracks, smooth fire roads and paved paths. Riding can also be defined as cross-country if the trails’ complexity is between easy to moderate. XC races are often held on very technical courses that require a rider’s nimbleness, stamina and agility.
Cross-country mountain bikes are considered the thoroughbreds of the mountain biking world. They are the lightest of the bunch and are the most efficient pedalers. The bikes are designed to go for long distances and on trail-style routes. Most XC MTBs are built to be as light as possible, but still retaining material strength to handle a bit of rough terrain. Head tube angles are usually steep for effective mountain climbing with enough slack to handle short descents. Most racers prefer hard tail bikes for races, but more and more top riders are going for full-suspension XC bikes that are stiff enough to prevent power loss when pedaling hard. The XC is designed to use suspension with short travels usually between 80-120mm rear and front. The reason for this is to prevent power loss and bobbing when pedaling and to provide efficient power transfer to the pedals.
26” wheels are preferred by most racers, but some pro riders are winning using 29” inch wheels and 650b bikes. 650B bikes are still rare in XC racing, but are very popular in Enduro. 29” wheels have gained a reputation for winning races, specifically when Lance Armstrong used a Gary Fisher 29er.
There are three popular XC racing disciplines today:
- Cross country eliminator – this is a race where the last rider or last 2 riders who go through the finish line are out of the race.
- Cross-country Olympic – this race consists of a lap race around a short circuit. This is the only MTB race accepted in the Olympics. This race requires great technical skills and a high level of stamina.
- Cross-country marathon – some organizers and some people mistakenly call this Enduro. Enduro mountain biking is a different type of racing and has a different riding style as compared to a marathon. The race route is usually between 65-100km. This long distance race has gained popularity over the last few years because it’s open to every level, including newbies and beginners. However, to participate you should have a good level of endurance, super lungs and strong legs.
Surviving Your First Marathon
Since XC marathon is the most popular race today, here are 10 tips for surviving your first 100km MTB race.
1. Do your homework
Before your race you have to know what’s ahead. Go through the race website and know the logistics. Get the start location, the exact race day and time of the race. Anticipate any possible surprises. Know how many aid stations and the services they offer. Line up the details where and when you will leave your drop bag and where to claim it.
2. Day before the race
Prepare everything that you need a day before race day, this will prevent you from having panic attacks or making mistakes with your equipment and other essentials that you need for your race. Put labels on your drop bags, fill up your hydration packs and water bottles, lay out your race clothing, prepare your breakfast and most importantly, prepare your bike. Put the race number on your bike and attach the timing chip.
3. Eat your breakfast
Do not eat anything new or fancy for your breakfast. You don’t want anything that will upset your stomach before or during the race. Eat a breakfast that you’re used to eating, will digest well and fuel you to for race. Your breakfast should consist of mostly carbohydrates with a little protein and fat and eaten 2 hours before the actual race start.
4. Wear the right race clothing
Check the possible high and low temperatures for the race days and dress for it. Wear layers that are removable or that have ventilation. A vest or a jacket that unzips easily and arm warmers that easily slides down are very nice options. If your race day is going to be a scorcher, wear light colored race clothes to stay cool.
5. Start right and finish fast
Your goal should be to have a good and even pace all throughout the 100km race. To do this, you need to start at a speed that feels conservative and then increase your pace gradually as fatigue sets in. If you start faster than what you have trained, you will run out of juice quickly. Overworking yourself at the start of the race will lead to muscle cramps, premature fatigue and an inability to keep your body going.
6. Do not forget to fuel up
No fuel, no race. Your body is just like an engine that needs fuel to run and perform at its best. For your 100km race, take 60-90g of carbohydrate/hour, 18-24 Oz of fluid, 100-300mg of potassium and 400-700 mg of sodium. Consuming small amounts of any combination of fruit, water, sports drink, energy bars, gels or electrolyte capsules will help you finish.
7. Find your groove
Find your flow once race traffic eases up about 30 minutes into the race. Settle into your pace and focus on your pedaling efficiency and fueling. Stretch your back at regular intervals. Finishing the race is your goal.
Experienced marathon riders pedal with the cadence on their high side efficient cadence range. This will put stress on your cardiovascular system early on and will save your legs later in the race. As fatigue sets in, allow your cadence to slow down a bit and then settle at your trained pace.
9. Go deep
When you reach the 60km mark, fatigue will accumulate and this is the time you need to dig deep, stay focused on the challenge and achieve your goal. This is the stage that you need to challenge yourself, from here on it will be mind over matter. Sweet talk yourself into smiling and forget the pain. Sing a song in your head in time with the rhythm of your pedals. This will keep you in pace and will help you forget all the pain and suffering you’re feeling. Be tough and conquer.
10. Finish with your head up
When you reach the 90km mark, pick up your pace and chase everyone in front of you. Spend all your energy in the last few kilometers and cross the finish line. You may in the first place, but finishing your first 100 km XC marathon race is an achievement itself.
The most important thing is to enjoy riding and have fun.