Downhill mountain bike racing
Obviously, a downhill course ends up lower than the start, but there may also be small sections of flat or uphill track, and you need some initial momentum so you can't freewheel all the way! The courses are typically one to two minutes long in the UK, but on bigger hills (well, mountains actually) the course may take seven or eight minutes to get from top to bottom. Riders start individually with an interval of 30 seconds or a minute between them.
Since suspension was introduced, downhill mountain bikes have improved year after year
The courses vary considerably depending on the location and local geography of the race. Some courses use regular tracks, others involve man-made obstacles. Most downhills take place on one day. However some events may use a weekend with one timed run on each day. Downhill races are divided into categories. The standard categories are (also divided into men and women):
- Youth (under 16 years)
- Junior (under 19 years)
- Senior (19 to 29 years)
- Master (30 to 39 years)
- Veteran (40 + years)
- The senior category is also divided into ability groups, fun-novice, sport, expert and elite.
There are a number of different types of DH races: local races, race series, regional series, national series. You can find out about them in various places: TOD and other internet sites will have event listings, magazines have a calendar of events, local clubs and bike shops will know of events or visit the British Cycling Federation
The BCF is the governing body of mountain biking in the UK. They run a National Series and individual race organisers can also register their events with the BCF. If a race is BCF registered it should be of a high standard. To ride in a BCF sanctioned event you will need to have a BCF racing license. However, you can purchase a day license when you register.
Once you have found a race you can pre enter (usually 2 weeks in advance) or enter on the line. If you enter on the line there is the possibility that the race may be full, however this is unlikely. Their will be separate races through out the day, make sure you know your start time and arrive in plenty of time to sign on.
Over the past 10 years downhill bike technology has progressed at a rapid rate. In the early nineties downhill riders used standard XC bikes with a few simple modifications. Since suspension was introduced, downhill mountain bikes have improved year after year.
A specific downhill bike can now have 150-200mm of suspension travel (front and rear), large disc brakes, specific gearing and a specific riding position. In fact, a modern DH is now so specific it can be almost impossible to ride uphill! As the bikes have improved, the courses have become more difficult. To compete on the majority of downhills you now need a specific downhill bike.
If you decide to have a go and race your normal XC bike then you can make some modifications:
There is a large amount of specific downhill kit and clothing on the market but the essentials are:
- Lower the saddle by 50-75mm.
- Raise the stem by 50-75mm.
- Fit the widest tyres that your frame will allow.
- Fit front suspension forks.
- A helmet, a regular helmet is ok, but a full-face lid is preferable.
- Make sure your arms and legs are covered.
- Wear full-finger gloves.
- Protective body armour and pads.