With spring in the air and many of us having recently completed the “30 Days of Biking Challenge,” you may be finding yourself racking up cycling miles in (gasp) non-mountain biking ways. Bike commuting to work is one way I try to put in more time in the saddle, and it gives me a reason dust off my road bike. Though commuting by bike is a great workout (all while saving the polar bears), it doesn’t typically satisfy the adrenaline junkie in me. Unless I find myself in a Cat 6 race.
I got my start in cycling as a roadie. I spent many weekends participating in shop rides, racing 50-year-old men on bikes with wheels worth more than my car. During the shop rides, we typically had three separate sections that were all-out races. They were supposed to just be “sprinting” sections, but it always developed into short races. People drafted and jockeyed for best position leading up to the sprint line in a vain effort to wear the “yellow jersey” of pride for the day. Those shop rides brought out my competitive nature, one that shines through occasionally on the road and trails even today.
USA Cycling has 5 categories for road races. Category 1 is for Pros and Category 5 is for amateur racers. And then there’s Cat 6. Technically, there is no such thing as “Cat 6,” except for among the road biking community. For the purest mountain bikers that only spend time on dirt, you may not have heard of Cat 6 racing. It’s often referred to as hipster racing or commuter racing, and its participants are your average commuters. There’s no start line or finish line. There are no rules. And racers may be adorned in anything from business casual attire all the way to faux team kits. I won’t deny that I participate in these races on almost every commute. However, Cat 6 racing on the trails is an entirely different beast. A more accurate term would be “Cat 4,” since the lowest category for USA Cycling competitions in mountain biking is Cat 3, but Cat 6 has a better ring. And there are t-shirts you can buy…
On the Trail
We’ve all been there. Your legs feel fresh, you had a big bowl of Wheaties for breakfast, and you even got a solid 8 hours of sleep the night before. As you hit that first climb of the day, your quads feel invincible as you turn the pedals over. Up ahead is a rider that appears to be going at a good click, but slightly slower than you.
So begins the game of cat and mouse.
As you close the gap and ride his back tire, you begin to slow your breathing to make it seem like you’re working only half as hard as you really are. You finally approach the widest spot on the trail were you can overtake him. And as you do, you smile, nod, and make mention of the beautiful weather and great condition of the trails, just so he knows that you can even carry on a conversation if you wanted, all while hammering it up a 15% grade.
This is where I typically find myself, as the mouse. Most days, all I’m trying to do is enjoy a casual afternoon ride while taking in some vitamin D. As a woman on the trail, I sometimes feel as though men think they need to catch and pass me. As though it’s a requirement of the man code not to be outdone by a woman. I get it, they have a fair amount more testosterone coursing through their veins. But as they pass me, a fire lights up. I may be decked out in pink, but I will make you earn your place by hugging your back tire (at least for as long as my legs and lungs will allow).
Showing off on a road bike is primarily limited to speed. Brute force and a blatant disregard for lactic acid is the beginning and end of the game. While these are components of mountain biking, there are several other variables that factor in, especially if your trails offer a technical component. You can be the fastest person on trails that are smooth as butter, but it won’t do you a lick of good once your knobbies hit a rock garden. There’s nothing worse (at least from an ego perspective) than blowing past someone on the Bunny Loop only to be shown up while struggling through a rock garden, looking like you should be sporting training wheels and wrist guards.
On the flip side, I think the technical sections are where a good portion of mountain bike Cat 6 racing is held. In my opinion, racing is largely about ego and ability to conquer. Conquering people, courses, and sometimes the weather. Hucking off gnarly boulders next to a shear drop-off while others stand around trying to evaluate potential lines and spouting excuses is the ultimate ego boost. It will also easily place you in the yellow jersey (if there was such a thing in mountain biking). Most of the time, if I know there is an audience, I tend to attempt more technical routes with more confidence and swagger… as if I always clear the 3 foot drop. When in reality, I’ve accomplished it twice, attempted it about 947 times, and walked it 2,598 times. But who’s counting?!
Roadies can have their lame races in between red lights on their Portlandia-style bikes and skinny jeans. I’ll stick to my knobby tires, plush suspension (pending I’m riding my full suspension bike), and unforgiving terrain. Besides, it’s much more fun to embarrass guys while destroying a rock garden than it is to beat them to the next red light.
Your Turn: Do you compete in Cat 6 racing on the trails?
Every group ride is a race.
Yes, yes it is.
CAT 6 racing on the trails is the best. If you aren’t cheating you aren’t trying. I’ve had friend do everything from pull my shorts down mid climb to throw my water bottle into the wood and take a head start.
That is some serious desire to win…and I respect that.
Maybe a little bit guilty.