FAQ and Tips

Racing FAQ

Interested in what MiSCA has to offer but still have some questions. Feed your curiosity. Get familiar with our programs and offerings!

Why would I want to race?

Everyone has their own reasons for racing: speed, camaraderie, competitiveness (with yourself and others), social aspects, spectating, kids races, a point series, pain, challenge, awards, beautiful courses, motivation for training, fitness, etc. The racing experience will inevitably provide memories of accomplishment, whether you won a race or just suffered harder than you thought you ever could just to see that darned finish line.

You’ll have stories of good luck, bad weather, and pain. The challenges you’ll battle on the race course will certainly put perspective on the lesser challenges of your everyday life. Invariably, you’ll find yourself alongside someone who is the same speed as you. You’ll go back and forth during the race, exchanging handshakes or congratulations at the finish.

What kind of mountain bike races are there?

There are several types of events: time trials, cross-country, point-to-point, and endurance events

In a time trial, racers start one or two at a time at separated intervals (every fifteen seconds, for example). The events are usually 12 to 20 miles for all categories. This race format is preferred on courses that don’t offer much room for passing. Time trials are a good choice for first-time racers as you are primarily competing against the clock. In a time trial, you don’t know how your competition finished until all racers are in from the course and the results are posted.

In the cross-country format, racers are started in waves based on their race category (e.g. Varsity Men). Most cross-country races involve multiple laps. The number of laps is based on the race category (e.g. 4 laps for Varsity, 3 for JV, and 2 for Middle School). When you line up at the start line, your immediate competition is lined up with you. Basically, the first racer across the finish line is the winner. To avoid confusion and congestion on the course, the classes may not race on the course at the same time.
Some cross-country races are point-to-point, which means the start and finish lines are far apart. Endurance events will generally be lap-type events and the winners are the racers that complete the most laps within the allotted time (6 hours, 12 hours or 24 hours).

Do I need a racing license?

No, a license is not required. For other events, a UCI or USAC license may be required. Check with the promoters of other events for this requirement. For the races that do require licensing, refer to the USA Cycling website for fees and application information.

What are the rules during the race?

Review MiSCA’s Requirements and Racing Rules document, which is updated regularly at www.miscabike.org/miscarules.

What should I carry on my bike?

The answer depends on how much risk you’re willing to take. If your bike works flawlessly, you may only need water and, depending on the race distance, some form of nutrition. However, if you get a flat tire and don’t have the tools, your race might be over. Most racers carry a spare tube and either a pump or CO2 cartridges. You may want to carry tire levers, though in a pinch, you can use a quick-release handle. A multi-purpose tool can be invaluable, especially if it includes a chain tool. Quick tube patch kits are small and may come in handy for dealing with multiple flats. You don’t want to learn how to use your tools on the racecourse. It’s a good idea to learn how they work in advance rather than fumble with them during a race.

Standard mountain bike racing rules stipulate mountain bike racing is an individual event. While other racers are courteous and will often offer tools and materials to a racer suffering a mechanical issue or flat tire, technically, a mountain bike racer should be self-sufficient. Help is NOT allowed from support crew or spectators.

What kind of support is there on the course?

Depending on the race, there may be water, sports drink, or food offered. If you’re relying on that support, make sure you know where it is on the course and what will be offered.
Also, you should be cautious when counting on a sports drink you have not tried before. You do not want an upset stomach to ruin your moment of glory.

When should I arrive at the race?

You must report to the start line 15-mins prior to your race start time. It is recommended to arrive at the race venue at least 1-hour prior to your race start time. This will give you time to understand where the start is located and warm-up prior to starting. It’s best to err on the early side and not waste energy racing to get to the starting line. Make sure to leave extra time for getting into the venue and parked.

Should I pre-ride the course?

Yes, but only if it’s practical. Pre-riding a course offers numerous advantages, especially if you’ve never ridden it before. It’s always best to know what to expect in advance. You’ll want to know the best lines on the loose climbs and in the more technical areas, where the finish line is as well as the good places for passing. The better you know the course, the better you can gauge where you are and how much effort you can expend to get to the finish. Pre-riding also lets you test your equipment, such as your tire selection, tire pressure, and suspension setup.

When should I pre-ride?

You should pre-ride the course in the days and weeks leading up to race day. Typically, courses are not marked until one or two days before the race but course maps and GPX files will be published months ahead of time.

What is cyclocross racing?

Cyclocross was originally a winter training regimen for European road racers. The short courses, barriers, and group dynamics make cyclocross races exciting to watch. It involves riding laps on short courses which area combination of dirt, pavement, and grass. There are wooden barriers set up throughout the course. These barriers force riders to dismount, carry their bikes, and remount as fast as possible. These barriers were originally added to force the cyclists to run, which helped keep their feet warm. These races are multiple laps and are based on time. Beginners typically race for 45 minutes while others race for an hour. The race promoter rings a bell when there is one lap remaining.

Cyclocross bikes look like road bikes with fatter tires and mountain bike brakes. However, you can certainly do the cyclocross race on a mountain bike (as long as you remove any bar-ends.)

Mountain Bike Riding – The Basics

A step by step guide to beginner mountain Bike skills to help make the riders first rides easier. A basic set of bike skills to master before heading out on the mountain bike trails.

Mountain biking is an exciting sport that can be enjoyed by everyone who knows how to ride a bike. It does, however, present some additional challenges compared to the average neighborhood ride. Master these basic skills before you hit the real dirt and turn those obstacles into something to look forward to.

These mountain biking beginner skills can be practiced at a local park, school, bike path, or simply in your neighborhood. Try to find a safe location with a steep hill.

First Things First – Get a Helmet

It’s simple. Get a helmet and wear it. This simple concept has saved thousands of lives. Modern helmets are comfortable, stylish and every mountain biker wears one. You can go to your local bike shop and they will be happy to help you pick one out that fits your needs and budget.

Some other safety equipment and accessories recommend are cycling gloves , some sort of hydration system (either a water bottle or a hydration backpack), eye protection or sunglasses, bike shorts with extra padding, sunscreen, and a shirt made from quick drying material.

Learn to Ride with Clipless Pedals

Practice removing your foot from the pedal. Do this first while sitting on your bike with one foot on the ground. Then move on to releasing and replacing your foot while pedaling around.

Find a Proper Fit and Position

Sit on your bike and pedal around. Your arms should remain slightly bent. Your seat height should be adjusted so your leg is about 70 to 90 percent extended at the bottom of every pedal stroke. Keep your body loose and relaxed. There is never a situation when you should have your knees or elbows locked.

Learn How and When to Shift the Gears

Get comfortable with shifting the gears on your bike. Higher gears are harder to pedal and will go faster while lower gears are easier to pedal and help you get up hills. Next, try to get used to what gears you need to be in to comfortably go up different pitched hills. As the hills get steeper, it is best to shift before you get to the hill rather than while you are on the hill.

Proper Mountain Bike Standing and Coasting Position

Spend some time coasting while standing on your pedals without sitting on the seat. Keep your arms bent and don’t lock your knees.  Place your pedals at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions (horizontal).   Experiment with shifting your body towards the rear of the bike.

You will want to be in this rear shifted standing position when you coast over obstacles or when the trail gets rough. You should be standing on your pedals with your knees bent and your seat should be between your legs. This is your primary standing position.

Learn to Pedal While Standing

Get comfortable with pedaling while standing on your bike. Lift yourself off the seat, stand on your pedals and crank them around. Try this in higher gears on the flat and in lower gears on the hills.

You will want to be in this rear shifted standing position when you coast over obstacles or when the trail gets rough. You should be standing on your pedals with your knees bent and your seat should be between your legs. This is your primary standing position.

Additional Tips

Practice going down off of curbs.  Find a curb where you can easily get to the upper level. Practice standing and coasting straight off the curb from the upper level to the lower level at a moderate speed. Stay in position and absorb the drop with your arms and legs. Try this at different speeds until it becomes comfortable.

Practice going up curbs.  Approach straight at a curb in your primary standing position from the lower level at a slow to moderate speed. Shortly before you reach the curb push down towards the handlebars to get some spring from the front tire and then quickly push your body up from your hands and pull the handlebars up lifting the front wheel up just in time to reach the upper level of the curb. Next, quickly lighten your weight on the pedals if you can and allow the rear wheel to come up to the top of the curb. Absorb any bump with your legs and continue on forward.

If you are nervous about hitting the curb with your front wheel you can practice this at first by going over a parking stall line but be careful to keep your front wheel straight when you lift it up.

A more advanced technique for getting up the curb is to pedal your way up. To Practice this, approach the curb at a much slower speed while standing with your pedals in the 2 and 8 O’clock positions and lift your front wheel up to the top of the curb as described above. Just as your rear wheel contacts the curb crank your pedals to the 12 and 6 O’clock position bringing the rear wheel to the upper level.

These are very effective techniques for clearing obstacles on the trail at slow speeds.

Mountain Bike Safety Tips – Ride in Control

There are a lot of ways to improve mountain bike safety.  While wearing a helmet is arguably the single most important step you can take,  the second most important step should never be overlooked; you should always ride in control.

Riding in control not only helps prevent crashes, it keeps others on the trail safe as well. When you ride out of control, you loose the ability to adjust to the terrain and environment as you pass through it. This can and does lead to dangerous crashes and injury to yourself and others.

Mountain biking is inherently dangerous and we all like to push the limits sometimes, but there is a fine line between pushing the limits safely and pushing them recklessly.

Follow these steps to stay safe on the trails and on the right side of the danger line.

Gear Up

Always wear a helmet and any other appropriate safety equipment for the riding conditions.

Never Ride Beyond Your Abilities

There is no shame in walking sections of the trail you don’t feel confident enough to ride, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Use Appropriate Equipment for the Terrain

Some bikes are better for different situations. Just because you can see tire tracks, doesn’t mean you can ride it with your bike.

Keep Your Speed In Check

Always keep your speed at a level that will allow you to adjust to any unforeseen obstacles or changes in trail conditions.

Know The Trail

Never push the limits on a trail you are not familiar with. You need to get to know the trail you are riding at slower speeds before you can ride it like the trails you’re used to.

Slow Down for Blind Corners

You never know what or who is around a corner when you can’t see past it.

Stop and Look

Stop and look at sections of the trail that look like they may pose a challenge before you ride them.

Plan on the Crash

Always look at the consequences of crashing in a particular section or on a particular stunt before trying to ride through it. Sometimes a section can look easy to ride but can have deadly consequences to a crash.

Start Small, Go Big

Work your way up to obstacles and stunts. Find ways to practice moves in less difficult and dangerous situations or at lower speeds before committing yourself to something more dangerous.

Play It Smart

If you think what you are doing is not the smartest, you are probably right. Think about what you are doing and trust your instincts.

This article is dedicated to all those who have lost their lives mountain biking, including Adam Don who died in a freak mountain biking accident, and who’s family inspired the this article.

Necessary Mountain Biking Accessories

The beginner mountain biker can get a little overwhelmed when they first walk into a bike store to buy their first mountain bike and all of the mountain bike accessories they will need to start riding.

There is no shortage of mountain bike accessories and related product that you can buy. The sales staff will certainly sell you anything they can but the real question for beginners and bikers on a budget is not what mountain bike accessories are cool, but what you need to have to make your rides safe and enjoyable. Start with these accessories and you won’t come up short on the trail.

The Bike Helmet – The Most Important Mountain Bike Accessory

This is a shameless plea, but please wear a bike helmet. Nobody should be on a bike without a helmet. There have been too many people with serious head injuries that could have been prevented if they were wearing a helmet. Modern mountain bike helmets are both comfortable and stylish and everyone on the trail wears one.

Mountain Bike Gloves – A Mountain Bike Accessory for Comfort and Safety

When you ride, your hands can take a beating. Beginners who tend to keep a death grip on the handlebars can be especially brutal on their hands. Mountain bike gloves are a great mountain bike accessory because they take the beating for you. Gloves come in full finger and half finger models.

Mountain Bike Shorts – Ride Longer and Stay Comfortable

The first few mountain bike rides you take can be a bit uncomfortable on the rear end. Your body does adjust to this after a few rides, but bike shorts are a great accessory that can help keep it to a minimum.

Mountain Bike Shoes – Pedal More Efficiently and Keep Comfortable

You need to pick the type of shoes you wear depending on the type of pedals you have and the type of riding you want to do. If you have clipless type pedals which are recommended for most types of riding, you will need to get some mountain bike specific shoes to accept the special cleat for your pedals. A good mountain bike shoe will be durable, comfortable and should have a stiff sole for better pedaling efficiency. You should also pick the right shoe for the terrain you will be riding in.

Eye Protection – Protect Your Vision from Wind, Bugs, and Dirt

Something in your eye can run you right off the trail and into trouble. Eye protection such as sunglasses or clear-lensed glasses help keep your eyes free from debris as well as protect them from the wind that can cause your eyes to tear and blur your vision. Make sure you use non-breakable lenses for safety.

Hydration System – Keep Yourself Hydrated for Better Energy and Health

Bring either a water bottle with you or as I recommend take a hydration backpack such as a Camelbak or similar product. It is easy to let yourself get dehydrated so bring water with you and drink it on the trail to keep your body running properly as you ride.

Trail Repair Kit – Make It Home When it Counts

Its not to hard to get stuck in the woods if you don’t bring the most basic mountain bike accessories for the most common repairs on the trail. To be prepared bring a multi-tool designed to repair bikes, tire levers and a patch kit for fixing flats, an extra tube in case your tube us un-repairable, and a mini-pump.