Introduction to Downhill Racing Part 1

Racing is one of those things that you have to experience for yourself in order to understand why week after week the participants keep coming back for more. Depending on how you look at it, racing may not sound very appealing. Driving for hours to wind up at a mountain in the middle of nowhere, paying to ride the same trail over and over, and waking up early to go wait in a long lift line doesn’t appeal to many. And that’s not to mention those competitive jerks who take riding too seriously. If you share these feelings, let me explain why those of us who race downhill keep coming back for more.
The race environment is not as intimidating as you imagine. Most riders attending the race are probably not as experienced as you may think. Some of the riders attending haven’t even been riding for a year. They are regular people who work as computer programmers, mechanics, teachers, carpenters, and even orthodontists. Racing is not their livelihood, they are simply riding off the pent up energy they have built up. Everybody attending the race is there to enjoy themselves and ride bikes.

The price is right. The majority of races are held at ski resorts, which during the winter usually charge $75 for a lift ticket. However, in the summer, these lift serviced mountain charge about $35 for a lift ticket, and around $65 for a weekend pass. A downhill race will usually have a $65* entry fee (which includes a 2 day lift ticket). So the price isn’t much different than a weekend’s worth of riding at the same mountain.

*USAC races require a license, a one day license that costs $10. There is also the option to purchase an annual license at $60 for all non-professional competitors.  USAC License inforation.
Your riding skills will improve drastically, and at a rapid rate. The main reason is that race courses will subject you to terrain that you are not comfortable riding, such as off camber wet roots, nasty rock gardens, or even something as simple as a water bar. You will end up riding the same course over and over, trying different ways to navigate the terrain. At the same time, you will have a chance to watch more experienced racers ride the same course, and then feed off what they are doing. Even if you are comfortable with the terrain, at a typical riding pace, at race pace the same terrain become challenging once again.
Side note: Don’t be too worried though,  the really dangerous sections such as drops, will have go-arounds and B-lines. Some mountains even have separate tamer courses for beginner riders. The last thing a race promoter wants is for  somebody to get seriously injured. It’s not failsafe but mountains will make sure the course isn’t overly precarious and that  blatant safety hazards are removed.
Races will soon become a home away from home. This may be one of the best reasons why racing is awesome. You are eventually going to be seeing familiar faces from one race to another. Unlike in a work environment, you know you have at least one interest in common with everybody around you, the love of for mountain biking. These people quickly become friends, and sometimes even family*. After a long day of practice it isn’t uncommon for riders to camp out and share a few drinks, while grilling burgers in parking lot. You may also find out that some of these folks live in the same town as you.
*Last year two of my good racer friends  got engaged at a race. I don’t go gaga for that kind of stuff,  but given the environment it was very heartwarming.
Downhill is not limited to males. Being amongst the stereotypical demographic for a downhill racer, it’s hard for me to imagine just how difficult it must be to enter a foreign environment almost completely made up of the opposite gender. With that said, there are some very courageous ladies, young and old, who show up to races. One of the perks of being female is that most other women who race will make you feel at home. Some will go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable, and quite often will help you get acquainted. A downhill race will have a high concentration of female riders, that you will not find on a regular day.

Post race party bike trains. After all the racing is over, there is usually time to kill before the awards ceremony. Most riders will use this time to go explore the rest of the mountain, see what other trails the mountain offers. One of the many things that comes from this is large groups of riders, varying in skill and ages, meeting at the top for some post race shenanigans. As you can imagine having 10 riders or more riders following each other down a trail can get hectic quickly. There are riders going in every which direction, adrenaline is racing, and but moral is through the roof. To be quite honest some of my best biking memories come from these trains.There are plenty of other reasons that I haven’t touched on, but I think this covers the basics. The main reasons why we race is for personal enjoyment, socializing, physical fitness, and a way to monitor progress. Like everything in life, it’s not for everybody, but if you approach it with an open mind  you may just end up coming back for more. In future posts, I’m going to cover related topics aimed towards riders who are considering downhill racing. If you have some questions you’d like answered leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your questions either in the comments or following blog posts.

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