A hard tail or dual suspension mountain bike is suitable for this discipline. Hard tail bikes have a front fork and no rear suspension, with fork travel ranging from 80mm – 100mm being adequate. Dual suspension bikes have a rear shock, and travel of 100mm is more than adequate. Tyres are lightweight and differ according to conditions and the course – either fast-rolling tyres, or mud tyres, etc. Personal preference will determine the type of bike you’ll ultimately purchase. A decent quality helmet is required – don’t scrimp on this purchase, as good quality is vital. For racing and easy maneuverability, it is advisable to wear lycra padded cycling shorts, and a lightweight cycling jersey (to combat heat) with pockets at the rear to assist in storing tools or an energy bar. Gloves are important to protect your hands, mostly in the event of taking a tumble – riders tend to put their hands out when they are falling. A water bottle will keep you hydrated! As you progress, cycling shoes with cleats and complimenting pedals will assist in saving energy.
Your local bike shop will assist you when purchasing your goods, and your local cycling club will encourage you to join their out rides so that you can gain more confidence and experience on the off road trails.
Due to the nature of the terrain that downhillers get their thrills on, a specific downhill bike is required. This should have a minimum of 8” of front and rear suspension travel, a strong yet light frame, and specialised tyres. The drive train is specialised with a single sprocket upfront and a chain guide to keep the chain in place through the big knocks. Powerful brakes will increase your confidence and ensure stopping at high speed through the finish line!
Protective body armour is recommended - these being chest plates, shin guards, knee and elbow guards, and a full-face helmet with goggles. Full-finger gloves with added knuckle protection are further recommended. Downhill riders and racers generally wear moto-cross riding pants and jerseys. Shoes with cleats and complimentary pedals assist in keeping your feet anchored to the pedals – the bumpy terrain can easily dislodge a rider from his bike without clipped pedals!
Be prepared for the long distances required to pedal in these races. There is no time limit, so depending on your fitness and the distance; you could be on the course for 7 hours at least!
XCO kit is required, and a dual suspension will make the longer distance a little more physically bearable, especially over grassy and bumpy terrain! A hydration pack is highly advisable; where you can carry anything from 1.5L to 3.0L of water with you, as well as store little things like sun block, rain jacket, an apple, energy supplements, tools and spares etc. Comfortable riding shorts can be lycra, or the ‘baggy’ style short with a padded inner.
The premier of mountain biking events! Marathon gear is suitable, but maybe not as much hydration. Adequate water tables will be dotted along the course offering hydration and maybe some sweets or potatoes! A 40km race is still quite a way and could take between 2 hours 30 minutes and 4 hours. Comfortable riding attire as above is applicable.
A huge start field encourages a great atmosphere, and whilst there will always be racing snakes at an event, each competitor is facing a personal challenge in completing a distance as well as riding with like-minded people on a great course!