How to Prepare for a Mountain Bike Race

Racing isn’t for everyone, but like most things, don’t dismiss it until you’ve tried it at least once. Events are becoming more accessible, with the continued success of races like the mini downhill, it proves that fun, bite-sized versions of races help riders get a small taster of the inner workings.

This doesn’t apply solely to downhill either, there are great enduro, cyclocross, BMX and Cross Country events all over the UK.

There are more than a few reasons why you should enter, not only does it give you more confidence, it gives your riding an extra push. If you’re thinking of entering, here are just a few things you can do to help prepare.

Top Tips:

  • Check out helmet camera footage, pictures, race reports and ask other riders what it’s like to get an idea of the track if you’ve never raced it.
  • Do a track walk on the day, and check out features you think you may struggle with. Get a few practice runs in before the race too.
  • Don’t panic! If you put too much pressure on yourself it can really ruin the experience.
  • Start off somewhere close to home, it may help you feel confident and be more enjoyable. Pushing your limits on a track you may have done before will give you a surprising boost.
  • Enter with a friend, having someone to help you through it will mean it’s less daunting, treat it as any other ride.



  •  A mini downhill is a great place to start. Short, intermediate tracks with some good features to test your riding skills on.
  • Try and do an uplift day, or ride the course at least once prior to the actual race.
  • Never do anything you don’t think you can’t handle. And only race if you feel you’re up to it.
  • Make sure you eat plenty the night before the race, keep your fluids up during the day and eat a balanced breakfast that will release energy throughout.
  • Make a list of all the things you might need for example: Tent, camping gear, bike spares, tyres, tools, food, water etc.
  • Organise how to get there, and write down any details you need to find the venue.
  • It may sound odd, but make sure you warm up before doing any riding, stretch and make sure your body is warmed up to avoid unnecessary injury.


Before the race:

  • Check your bike over before going to a race, check wheels are trued, gears are working, suspension is good and your brakes are working.
  • Try and get a good night’s sleep, it can be hard with pre-race nerves but it will mean you feel fresh in the morning.
  • If it’s your first race be prepared to feel nervous, it’s perfectly natural, just relax and don’t put pressure on yourself. Try to enjoy it.
  • Remember it’s not all about podium, winning is great, but there are so many things you can take away from racing, tackling a tough section, beating your times, meeting new people, the list goes on..
  • Don’t forget to drink plenty! and take breaks when you need them.

Your bike:

  • After the first ride, tweak your set-up, if you aren’t too good with that sort of thing ask other racers or mechanics if they have five minutes to help you set up your bike for the track.
  • If your bike isn’t set-up correctly for the track it can really throw you off, so experiment. Change tyre pressure and work on getting your suspension dialled.
  • Bring spares, if you break something during the weekend, it may be quite hard to get hold of.


Your kit:

  • Prepare for every eventuality, you will most likely get wet and muddy, cold and hot. Bring plenty of clothes, especially if it’s a full race weekend. 
  • Depending on the kind of race (XC, DH, BMX) cater your kit for what you will be doing. Will you need a camelbak? What kind of protection will you need? 
  • If you’re racing downhill, most organisers expect you to wear adequate protection. You will need a full face helmet and knee/shin pads, and may consider a neck-brace, body armour and full finger gloves (It will vary for categories and races)

Practice days:

  • Take your time and be prepared for faster riders to pass you, don’t panic and pull in or move over so they can pass.
  • Don’t focus too much energy on just one section of the track, not everyone can be great at all trail features. Just focus on where you excel, this will help you ride with confidence.
  • If there is something you aren’t sure of get someone to practice it with you, most of the time there is also an alternative line. 
  • Don’t waste all your energy on the practice day, you still have race day to go! ride the track, get to know it and then relax. 
  • If you’ve never done a gate start before don’t worry. It takes some getting used to and can be quite intimidating. Just try and get on it as many times as you can, and attend practice days if they have them near you.


Race day:

  • Don’t panic! take deep breaths and try to relax.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast, something that will keep you going and not cause an energy crash.
  • Find out your race times and get to the start ready to warm up.
  • Fingers crossed the moment you cross the start line the nerves melt and you get into the ‘zone’. 
  • Try put in a good time for your first run (DH) and then set yourself  goals on where to improve on your next run.
  • If you’re racing with other people try not to get distracted by what they are doing and on and focus on what you’re doing.
  • When doing an endurance race don’t push it at the start, save your energy and build a steady pace.
  • Be prepared for the changes that you may face on the track, the weather doesn’t always stay dry, so take a look at the conditions in the morning.

Nothing can really prepare you for doing a race, aside from actually doing one. Every discipline will be different. Most of the things covered are obvious, but it’s surprising what happens if you aren’t sure what to expect. Don’t be put off if your first experience of racing isn’t great, it’s just like riding normally, sometimes you have a great ride, and other times your head isn’t in it. 

Racing isn’t for everyone, so don’t worry if you don’t enjoy it, there is nothing in the MTB rule book that says ‘thou must race’ (or an MTB rule book at all) so take it or leave it, it’s entirely up to you. One major benefit to racing is the that it will push your limits, it will make you ride harder than you usually do and could mean you are tempted to get to know your bike a little better too. Preparing yourself for a race is not an easy thing, especially if you’re new to it, but after a few races you may find it becomes easier. Another great benefit to racing is the amount of new people you meet, the mountain bike community is a fairly close one, and with the odd exception everyone at races is generally pretty friendly and will be willing to help.

The best advice is to grab a few friends regardless of racing experience and get out for the weekend, push your limits and try something new. You may be surprised what you are capable of when you just go for it. As with any sport there are always risks and don’t forget that mountain biking can be quite dangerous, so as much as you may want to go for it, make sure it’s within the limits of what you are actually capable of. Most of all have a great time, racing doesn’t have to be all about competing, it can just be a way of pushing your limits and testing yourself on the bike. If you don’t feel overly confident you could try against friends or another mountain biking club, and there is always Strava for those who want to be king of the mountain, but don’t fancy committing to a race. 


Is there anything you think should be added? Let me know on Twitter. What do you do to prepare for a race? Are you thinking of entering one? Share your hints and tips!

Photos by WDC Cuts.