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Race Day. Minimize

Recreational Rider to Racer Series:

Race Day.

Jumping from playrider to racer can a bit of an intimidating experience. The spectre of competition can make anyone nervious, espeially a first timer. I've been racing for years and I still get butterfiles in my stomach on the start line. But hey there is no need to panic or worry. Just plan and prepare beforhand.

Prepping Your Bike

The main point here is that you need a reliable bike.  Like the motto says "To finish first, first you must finish. Make sure that your bike is in good working order and tuned properly.  My best advice would be to strip the bike down and rebuild while carefully checking all the parts. While you're at it you should redo the top end with new rings (at least) this will provide some more power for the bike. You should keep up with the maintenance so that there is less chance of the bike breaking down on the course. You should also get fairly good at fixing the bike so that you can fix problems out on the course if they arise.

Personally, I modify my bike to survive a crash into a tree (It's more of a question of when not if for me) That means I usually do the following to my bike:

  • Install Bark Busters
  • Install Devol Rad Guards
  • Install a tug strap over the rear fender
  • Loctite all the bolts
  • Install a skidplate
  • Get a good set of intermediate tires
That's pretty much it really. I would leave the engine mods alone until you get good enough to go faster.

Prepping Yourself

This is where I tend to spend more money on at first. To those of you who think that you can get away with a helmet (or nothing at all) I say stay home.  Some of the more advanced riders have a saying "If don't crash twice a lap you're not going fast enough!" Wiping out is very common especially among junior riders.  Most of the spills can be more a nuisance than result in injury if you're wearing the right protective gear.

What you need:

  • Helmet, Don't cheap out here. A good helmet is well worth the money. And for the love of God, DON'T BUY A USED HELMET!
  • Goggles, Roost hurts.  I personally use safety glasses. (They fog up less, but don't have the coverage. But wear something at least.)
  • Body Armor, ProSport is the cheapest, but the rivets holding the shoulder together tend to fall out. Bolt it together and it works fine.
  • Elbow Guards, Can be rollerblade type, but the ones from Fox offer better protection.
  • Long Sleeve Jersey, Losing a fight to a bramble bush can be painful in just a T-shirt.
  • Kidney Belt, Provides support and lower back protection.
  • Knee Pads, I recommend the ones that go inside the pants.
  • Pants, You can wear jeans but make sure they're loose.
  • Boots, Bike boots can cost up to $400.  If you buy a pair, spend the money on Italian made boots, they last longer. I have used construction boots, but the warning here is that the toecap can fold and pinch the toes off if you kick a rock.
  • Gloves, MX gloves are the best, find ones that fit fairly snugly so you can work on the bike with removing your gear.
  • Camelbak, You can get thirsty on long race, I don't know how I survived without one.
  • Fanny Pack, I stuff every tool I have into mine, along with tie wire, electrical tape, and zip ties.
I would search in the bargain bin of your local bike shop.  Last year's styles are cheaper and nobody's really fashion conscious here. (Plus if the color sucks, just cover it with mud.)

Things to do on Race Day

Show up on race day early. Unload and check your bike.  Some race organizers will allow you to preride some of the course.

Sign up. 

Go to the rider's meeting (usually 1/2 hour before a race). Save yourself a headache and go ready to race. (Once an organizer started a race right after the meeting.) The organizer will explain some essential matters concerning the race, such as;

  • Course Markings: Pink ribbon for the course, pink and blue for turns, yellow for caution/no entry, white for checkpoint. Or other clubs use arrows to mark the course and W's to mark wrongways. There is a strong push to standardize the markings using arrows and W's There is motion to standardize arrowing, but keep your ears open at the riders meeting for specifics
  • Road Crossings: How many and where.
  • Course Distance: How far a lap is. (Really approximate)
  • Start Procedure: Usually dead engine, hands on the helmet.
  • A/B Splits: Where the novice and experts ride different courses.
  • Time Limit: How long each class rides for.
  • Warnings: Things to watch out for
Go to the start area. Starts are usually in waves depending on class. They usually are a dead engine, hands on your helmet start, but I have done straddle the front fender while facing the bike or hump the rear fender starts as well. Listen to the race marshal. Also make sure you get a starter's punch as well.

The starts are usually mayhem. Twenty to thirty riders are all gunning for the holeshot. (Holeshot = First lunatic to the first corner.) If you're starting out, don't worry about getting the holeshot. Most of my best races have been where I've come from behind and passed riders one at a time. If the start is dead engine, then I recommend putting the bike in neutral, and your foot on the kick starter. As soon as the race is started, kick the bike over, then you can grab the clutch and drop the bike into first. The straddle the front fender is a real bitch of a start. First when you pull up to the start, make sure there is enough room to swing your leg around. Again keep you bike in neutral and the kickstarter out. Practice really helps.

As soon as the race starts go. If you are starting out I recommend that you ride at you own pace. I wouldn't gun for the holeshot right off the bat. (The crowd at the front takes a little getting used to.) You can't win the race by getting the holeshot but you can sure lose it if you screw up. Keep in mind that crashing is inevitable. Try to let riders who quickly catch up to you pass, they usually are in different classes. (A lot of people will yell "EXPERT!" even though there not. Let them pass. If they're slow, you might catch up to them. If they are an expert then you have just avoided being stuffed into a tree.)

If you are unsure about missing a check, don't worry, watch the crews. If at a road crossing, they are just waving you through, go for it. (Be careful, according to the law, bikes don't have the right of way, that's why there are people at the crossing to stop cars) When they start coming at you, then it's a check.

After a preset time or distance, the race is over.  The checkers will usually tell you.  Surrender your tag and relax. If you breakdown in the woods and decide to quit, hand in your tag anyway so the organizers don't send a rescue party. Unless you intimately know the riding area, stay on the trail. After the race the results are usually posted an hour after the last rider has been accounted for.

Types of Races

What's a Hare Scramble?

No it doesn't involve rabbits and blenders.  It's a type of race usually done on short loops through the woods. Basically it is the person who completes the most laps in the shortest amount of time is the winner. You usually get a preset time from the start (1 1/2 to 2 hrs) You ride as many laps as you can until the time expires.  As soon as you cross the finish after the time is up, your race is over.  If you cross the line before the time is up; they punch your card and send you out for another lap. The scoring is simple.  The scorekeeper counts the amount of punches you have. Then he or she sorts the ones with the similar amount of punches by the time that they finished in. The ones that finished the soonest, win.

What's a Cross Country?

It's basically one long loop of the countryside. There are checkpoints in the woods. The organizers do provide a gas check for most bikes. Also the organizers usually have a midpoint section where they will pull you out of the race if you arrive after a certain time. This is to avoid forcing you to spend a ridiciously long time on the course.

What's an Enduro?

An enduro is a test of riding skill. Basicaly in a nutshell, you are given a loop to ride, that has to be ridden in a precise amount of time. The loop is broken up into sections. Each section has it's own time to run. Riders are penalized one point for every second later or early. Also some sections are known as special test, where the fastest time is the key. Any rider after the fastest time gets penalized 1 point for every second late. The rider with the fewest points wins.

I crash too much. Is there an easy race I can go to?

Care to define easy? Answering this question can be loads of fun. What the hell is easy? I consider a logging road easy. A Master will call climbing a vertical rockface with wet moss easy. The answer to this question is in yourself. It's called skill. The more skilled you become as a rider the easier things will get. An easy trail gets difficult when you can't see due to the roost from the bike in front and you can't take the line you want due to a rider trying to nudge past you. I will freely admit that this isn't easy.

If you're new to racing and are having trouble, you should think about a few things. Is this sport for you? Off-road racing is physically and mentally demanding. It's all about finding your limits and pushing them, sometimes you will push too far and crap happens. Think about what you are doing. As a beginner you should be riding to the best of your abilities, not on the ragged edge of control, you should ride for yourself. You should not get "pushed", if this happens, just pull over and let the rider pass. There is no shame in that. All we race for is a plastic trophy and bragging rights. The beginner class is where new riders should learn the skills it takes to race, but it's up to you to learn them. If you want easy then sign up for a poker run or dual sport ride.

Also a lot of club's don't have a huge pool of manpower. Often a new trail is cut so that it is passable to bikes. Then bikes are ridden through to break in the trail and to open it up. That has been the job of all the racers in the race. One race can help the trail as much as a full year of trail work.

  
 
 

 

 

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