Thinking of entering your first race? Have no idea what you’re doing and don’t know where to start? Great! I have learned a few things that may help you prepare and enter your first race.
The first step is gathering information on what you can expect. Second step is to get a dirt bike, third step is to learn to ride it really well so you don’t embarrass yourself,….At least, that’s what your probably thinking. I urge you to ignore step three, step one is a good idea and step two is kind on non-negotiable unless you want to make a statement by showing up at the line riding a pedal bike, though I think you may end up timing out and camping in the woods for the night. I just started riding dirt bikes last year and earlier this spring I went to my first Enduro race. I will tell you that entering a race is one of the best ways to up your game in very short amount of time. You may be confused on how it’s organized, you may fall, you may get beat by 12 year olds, you will have to get over yourself.
Once you have it in your mind that you would like to enter a race, you better get your body and bike race ready. There are a lot of youtube videos out there to show you some great exercises to get in shape, and riding itself is a great way to become physically prepared. If you are entering as a novice there is most likely a shortened course. The shortened course can be anywhere from 2-4 hours of riding. It’s a good idea to ride 4-5 hours each practice standing the whole time in preparation. I don’t want to get into too much detail on the physical and mechanical prep as there is a ton of info on Thumpertalk and various videos already. Very good idea! Make sure you bring gas, tools etc in case of last minute adjustments. Do not be that guy who sits there revving his engine in the prep area a hundred times to dial in the carb. Do this at home.
Next you have to figure out what race is right for you. There are many styles of racing, and I will not detail each one as there are plenty of resources out there doing just this. I will tell you to choose one close to home, because you will be sore for the drive home. It’s also a good idea to look on youtube, there are plenty of people who post their gopro footage of the race. This will give you an idea of what the terrain and course looks like. Also check out the area for camp sites, hotels or other places if you are spending the night. I spent the night in the prep area sleeping in the back of my car. I folded down the back seat and spend the rest of the night ensuring that I found every single metal bracket in the back of the seat with my back. Once I was sure I had the brackets fairly well mapped out I was able to get some sleep. In the morning a fellow racer told me he puts down a small piece of plywood in the back of his car for just this reason.
Once you get to the race location you must sign in/sign up. Bring cash! Some locations require extra money on site for various fees, entry sign ins, race monitoring devices etc. Not everywhere is covered with cell signal so bring cash in case their machines do not receive signal to accept debit/credit cards. Once you have signed in and got your transponders (in enduro) you then go to the noise check station. This would be the guy who looks like he’s checking out guy’s butts as they rev their engine. No he is not some moto perv, well actually, he may be, but he is also checking to make sure your bike isn’t too damned loud to be on the course. This person has an actual decimeter, and is not using a phone app. I have tested these phone apps and they can be way off, do not rely on them. After the noise check you then have a while to wait before the pre-start meeting. Quite a few guys do not gear fully up until after the pre-start meeting as it can be a few hours from the start of sign ins to the pre-start meeting. After the meeting where they thank sponsors and lay out the rules for the gas stops etc then they start lining up for the race. Do not line up too early and congest the start area, hold back a bit and talk to other riders to see what line they are in and adjust yourself accordingly.
There are a few things to take note of when starting the race. First is what position you want to start in. The lower the number the earlier you start. An earlier start can mean better trail conditions, however it also means that more people are behind you to pass you. It was my experience that I lost most of my time from moving out of the way to let other riders pass. The later the start the less people there are to pass you, however the track may not be in a very good condition. Remember when you looked for youtube videos from previous racers? See if they commented on what row they were and look at the track conditions. I started at row 30 out of 50 and found that to be perfect. Race pace is also very important, and there are a variety of resources online that speak about this as well. Basically you do not want to go too fast you burn yourself out.
When I was racing I had to move over quite a few times. If you practice your balance you will be able to ride slow on the side of the trail allowing others to pass. If you don’t have very good balance you may have to stop and put a foot down, loosing quite a bit of time.
In reality the first race will be a race against yourself. This is the time where you need to figure out the process of entry and dynamics of how the race structure works. Don’t be hard on yourself if you place last, just work on learning how to race and its an accomplishment just to finish. If you can, buddy up with someone when you get there who has done a few races and get them to show you the ropes. The guys we have in the off road community are usually great and don’t mind helping out someone new.
One of the most important things to remember is not to take yourself too seriously. If you are afraid to enter because you’re afraid to come last or look like you don’t know what you are doing, you’re missing out on a huge part of off road riding!