Five things you wish you knew when you started

12 December 2014

I first started racing mountain bikes in 1989. The original line up of Guns N’ Roses was still together, singletrack hadn’t been invented yet, and even fluoro colours and purple anodising weren’t on the horizon. Between then and now you can imagine that a lot of things were learnt along the way, and even more than a few things were forgotten or discarded. Hopefully I can impart some key bits of wisdom that may help you out along the way.

Take more spares and nutrition than you think you need

You know how it is….you get a flat, then another one 20 minutes later. How are your walking skills? It would have been really nice to have 2 tubes or even a puncture repair kit. Ever busted a derailleur hanger out in the forest? Got a spare one in the kit? Or what about when the ride went for an hour longer than you thought it would and you only had food and drink for the original expected time. Stuff happens, you don’t need to pack the house, but having that extra gel or two, plus the right set of tools and spares to get you home so you don’t have to do the walk or call of shame can make your day one to remember for the right reasons!

Do a long ride pretty regularly

50 – 100km on a mountain bike is a pretty long ride. That’s a small understatement. But if you’re doing a 100km mountain bike race, that is the reality. Check the results of any race to see how long the fast guys and girls take. Then scan the results to see how long other people take. It’s a loooong time on the bike! The best bet is to do a long ride weekly or fortnightly. The long ride will build your endurance and also make you more efficient at utilising fuel. ‘Long’ means anything longer than what you would do daily – so anything from one hour upwards is recommended, depending on your fitness and goals.

Occasionally, get out for a decent ride on the bike

Sleep like a King

If you are investing hard earned dollars on the best equipment and devoting your hard-to-come-by hours on training rides, don’t compromise your potential fitness by getting sub-optimal sleep. Sleep is when the magic happens! Your body recovers and repairs itself from your previous activities. If you are travelling to a race and staying somewhere other than home, the sleep 2 nights before the race is the most important. You’ll probably be restless the night before and not get much quality sleep, but if the week leading up to the race was good, you should be ok on race day. Everyone is unique, but aim for around 8 hours a night.

Dehydration is the enemy

There is considerable science behind this one, but the bottom line is that your fluid requirements will increase significantly when cycling. Exhaled breath and sweating basically reduce your blood volume, which ultimately makes the heart work harder, and you’ll end up going slower, which sucks. By the time you feel thirsty you will already be dehydrated, so try to drink small, frequent quantities of water or a sports energy drink throughout the ride. If going for a ‘sports drink’ figure out in training which brand/type will work for you. Everyone responds differently to different types of drinks. Don’t be that guy who responds on race day! #vomit

Train with consistency and sustainability

Big words… but important words in order to have good days on the bike. The best way to be happy come race day is to have made sure the weeks and months leading up have been good. Consistency = Training/Riding with regular frequency. Getting out for an hour six days a week is probably going to serve you better than doing a single six hour ride once a week. Sustainability = making sure that you can repeat and hopefully build up each week. A good rule of thumb is not to increase any volume on the bike by more than 10% each week.

James Downing is an Elite racer with the Cannondale-Sugoi Factory Racing Team.

Residing in Canberra, he races his Cannondale F29er at as many races around the nation that he can. When not on the bike, he is thinking about being on the bike, and is more than likely listening to classic rock songs of the 80s!

Twitter: @jdowning26
Instagram: @james_downing26