Hey crash-monkey! Get your bike off the trail.

After an overwhelming and surprisingly positive response to Really, no undies?, I figured I’d do what I could to share more from the “things I wish I had known from the beginning” category.

Mountain Bike season is knocking on the door, and with little snow and warm temps, that knocking cannot be ignored. Mountain bike racing can present some unique challenges. I’ll shine some light onto a few pieces of critical information that I hope you find useful as you prepare for your season:

·      Check your equipment before heading to the starting line; cleats, handlebars, saddle, rotor bolts, quick-releases. These can all rattle loose unbeknownst to you and a quick once-over could make or break your race.

·      Warming up is not optional.  The longer the race, the shorter the warm-up, but even long races require some time on the bike before heading to the start line. The first few minutes of a mountain bike race are crucial. A good warm up can be the difference between being first to the single track and being at the back of a long string of folks who you will be working to pass for the next 6 miles.  Begin your warm up with a bit of easy spinning, gradually ramp up the intensity, throw in a couple 3-5 minute efforts, and a few starting sprints before rolling to the line. Your legs and your lungs will thank you.

·      Ride your mountain bike. You can be stronger than an ox but if you don’t practice riding your mountain bike, you are going to pay for it come race day. Passing someone on a double track climb only to concede time to them on the single track decent is no fun at all. Work on your weakness, without forgetting your strengths and you will be unbeatable. Set up a time each week to meet with friends and play Bike School. Pretend you are a kid again; jump off curbs, go to the pump track, practice riding skinnies and drops and doing wheelies.

·      Gloves and glasses, wear them. They protect your hands and your eyes.  Gloves give you better grip on your handle bars, especially once your hands begin to sweat, and reduce the likelihood of blisters that come with hours of hands around grips.  No matter the temperature, you will never find me riding or racing without gloves. Invest in lightweight summer gloves, warm winter gloves, and a few different in-between choices. Giro offers a full assortment to keep you fingers warm, reduce friction blisters, or protect your hands from dirt-rash when you have the inevitable crash.   Glasses not only make riding in the sunshine more enjoyable, they actually protect your eyes from all the dust, dirt and grit that gets kicked up during off-road racing. My go-to pair of sunnies are the Julbo Groovy, with photochromic lens which quickly adjust to changing light conditions.

·      Overcome self-imposed limitations. Don’t be afraid to crash, it is going to happen if you are riding your bike fast. If you do go down, be sure to evaluate your physical condition before springing up like a jack-in-the-box, move your bike off the trail and then give it a quick check to be sure the handle bars aren’t twisted, your saddle isn’t pointed toward the sky, and your chain is where it should be. Make any necessary adjustments (with the multi-tool in your jersey pocket) and get back to racing.

·      Bring a multi-tool, and know how to use it. Be sure to have a few items in your jersey pocket every time you ride your bike, this includes while racing.  A small multi-tool, spare tube, CO2 cartridge and inflator, tire lever, and quick-link are all on the short list.

·      EAT. You are going to be out there for a while. Unlike cyclocross where you can get away without eating or drinking during a race, mountain bike racing requires deliberate fueling while on the bike. Take in calories early and often. I have my Garmin set to beep at me every 20 minutes, reminding me to eat and drink. Everyone is different and practicing your fueling strategy during training is essential to know what your body needs and your stomach can handle. Do your research and know where water is available on course, and do not rely on aid stations for your caloric needs. My water bottle is filled with CLIF Shot hydration, and my jersey pockets are full of SHOT Bloks and CLIF Shot gel.

A lot of work and effort goes into preparing to toe the line.  Be sure you are able to take full advantage of your training by paying attention to the little details that could make or break your day. Race hard, take chances, and don’t forget to smile – RIDING BIKES IS FUN!

For more tips on everything from underpants to recovery drinks, click here.