Editor’s Note: Dustin Gaddis has raced a slew of endurance MTB events and has helped coordinate races ranging from a local time trial to a national championship, but he isn’t very fast in the grand scheme of things. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
Greg is a friend of mine. We’ve known each other for a few years now, have ridden together, and we’ve even done a MTB race on the same team. But, he recently wrote the article “10 Reasons Why You Should NOT Race Your Mountain Bike,” and now it seems, our friendship has come to an end.
Just kidding, of course. The thing is, his points aren’t wrong, but there’s another side to that coin. At this point I should point out that I LOVE racing, especially longer endurance races. I own a big collection of number plates pinned up to the wall of my garage. I’ve even helped host a lot of races–everything from a local mid-week night time TT where you get a bonus for wearing a costume (or racing without a light!) to being “THE course guy” for a national championship race where I was in charge of coordinating volunteers to make sure a 65-mile course with hundreds of turns was marked, and managing volunteers on race day to make sure the SAG stations were set up and manned and riders’ drop bags were delivered to the right places. Basically, I’ve seen every side of racing, both as a participant and an organizer/promoter.
I should also point out: I SUCK at racing. I’m a busy guy, I don’t have time to really train, I barely have time to ride every now and again. I’m not a naturally-gifted athlete, and I’m carrying an extra 20lbs I don’t need. I’m a mid pack racer on a good day.
So, I would like to present my counter points to Greg’s article. I’d recommend having both open at the same time, and going back and forth as you work through the list.
1. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, but there are good reasons it sometimes does.
Sure, some races are expensive: I’ve paid as much as $150 for an event registration fee (plus a night in a hotel, gas, food, etc.), but I’ve also paid as little as $2 at a local race I rode my bike to after work… so getting your competitive fix doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s also important to keep in mind that the expensive races are expensive for a reason (besides just greed – there aren’t many rich MTB race promoters). Promoters have to buy insurance, swag items, number plates, course marking materials, permits from land owners, and prizes, among many other things. Most big races are typically manned by volunteers from various local organizations (bike clubs, boy scout troupes, local trail running clubs, etc.), and the promoters make donations back to the those groups as a thank you for their help.
2. You can spend all day enjoying yourself on a bike.
Greg is right that at some races you’re pedaling too hard to look around and enjoy the scenery. My advice: do an endurance race! If you’re riding 50+ mile, and you’re like 99% of MTBers, you will not be riding super fast. Sure, you’re pushing yourself, but if you’re going to survive and make it to the end of race you’ve got to be somewhat conservative, and there’s plenty of time to look around and enjoy where you are. I’ve even stopped for pictures at races. I’m nowhere near the front of the group, so why not?
3. You get to ride new places and not worry about navigation.
Exploring is great. But a lot of times, I just want to ride my bike and shred some singletrack. Races are a GREAT way to explore trails you’ve never been on without the hassle of stopping to check maps again and again. Just turn the pedals and enjoy.
4. You can see tons of new things while preparing for an event.
I like endurance races… have I mentioned that? Preparing for an endurance race means riding–a lot. A lot more than you otherwise would. I don’t know about you, but I can only ride circles around the same trail so many times a month before I need to venture out and try something else. Also, most of the races I do aren’t local–they’re off somewhere else, which is why I want to go. It’s really rare that I bother pre-riding a race course, certainly not riding it again and again and again.
5. Races give you a guided tour of awesome trails.
Most of the races I’ve been to go out of their way to route the event over some of the best trails in the area. Avoiding technical areas? Some do maybe, but lots of races use those technical areas as the focal point of the route–it’s why you’re there. Hundreds of people haven’t flocked to Dalton, GA every January/February/March for over a decade because of the doubletrack sections of the Snake–they go for the 5-mile-long rock garden. Blue Ridge Adventures host plenty of LONG and stupidly-hard races on some super gnarly terrain in Pisgah. If you want to ride your bike all day on fun and/or challenging terrain, there’s plenty of opportunity to do so.
6. You don’t have to be as self reliant.
Self reliance is great, and I’m a big proponent of it. I carry the tools and supplies to fix almost anything on my bike on pretty much every ride. Even road rides, I’ve got a pump, a minitool, and a few spare tubes. But it’s also really nice to ditch some of that stuff and ride all day without carrying the extra crap. When I go to races, I make sure my bike is in tip-top shape, and since there are aid stations every so often, I’m able to carry less, and I can send supplies ahead to the stations to refuel/top off supplies along the way. Where else can you ride 65 miles and not have to carry a hydration pack? I do always carry the essentials, though (spare tube, multitool, power links, and derailleur hanger all fit in a small saddle bag, and a pump in a jersey pocket). Even if the aid stations are only 10 miles apart, I don’t want to have to walk for miles in bike shoes.
7. Grass Roots Good Times.
Greg’s point about over commercialization is valid to an extent, but at the same time it’s silly to complain about pros decked out in matching kits head to toe when A) they’re paid to do so, and B) plenty of weekend warriors spend their own money do exactly the same thing. Most MTB races I’ve been to, including the big ones, are super laid back events where everyone is there to have a good time. Sure, there might be some sponsor logos on the finish line banner and whatnot, but who cares? Those companies probably donated that stuff.
8. The time constraints.
Honestly, I don’t have a major counterpoint to this. Races are (sometimes) big events with (sometimes) lots of people–there has to be a schedule, and if you’re participating, you have to adhere to it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still explore the town. I’ve explored towns I would have never been to had it not been for attending a MTB race–ate at great restaurants, explored nearby trails the day before the race, and checked out some cool bike shops.
9. Meet lots of people!
Okay, if you want solitude (and we all do at times), a race is not the place for that. But at the same time, races present the chance to meet a lot of really cool people. I’ve shaken hands and chatted about the course and bikes with pro riders like Todd Wells and Jeramiah Bishop (both super nice guys, by the way). I’ve met people in person I’ve chatted with on forums before. I’ve seen with my own eyes people do things on bikes I wouldn’t have thought possible.
10. You’ll realize you suck, and will then get much better.
A few years ago I raced ORAMM, and when I pulled into the first SAG station at mile 15 one of the volunteers announced, “In case anyone is wondering, the leaders are about 45 minutes ahead of you.” WHAT?!?! I didn’t even know I’d been riding for 45 minutes already–it was hard to believe the leaders could be so far ahead already. Thomas Turner won that year, and I think he set a new course record. It took me a little over 8 hours to cover the 60ish-mile course with over 10,500ft of climbing–he finished in just over 4 hours, within a handful of minutes from being twice as fast as me.
Attending a race–especially one with pro riders in attendance–you’re guaranteed to get a HUGE slice of humble pie. Like Greg said, you’re just not that fast. But for me, it’s crazy-motivating! For one thing, I routinely get bested by guys several decades older than me. I want to be those guys when I grow up–it’s motivating to keep at it, keep pushing, keep trying to improve. Not only that, but having a big event on the calendar is a great motivator to ride as much as possible. You will get fitter. You will become a better bike handler. You will get faster.
You might still suck when compared to the guys who get paid to ride, but you’re better than before, and you’ll always know there’s lots of room for improvement.
Racing is awesome. It provides an opportunity to ride somewhere you might not get to otherwise, you get support so you don’t have to carry gallons of water and lots of food all day, and it’s a GREAT way to challenge and push yourself. You’ll learn things out on the course that will help you in all aspects of life–not just riding. Endurance racing in particular is a great for mental toughness training. Plus, convince some friends to race with you and you have a fun weekend away with your buddies.
That said, racing should absolutely not be the only reason you ride–if it is, it will take the fun out of mountain biking. But racing is a great way to compliment and improve your mountain biking life, and add some variety.