Ultimate guide to smashing your first Mountain Bike event

26th October 2020

So you reckon you are ready for your first Mountain Bike event?

Yes... then read on!

No... then read our guide on which Cycling Event is right for you.

This guide is going to prepare you for your first Mountain Bike event, whether it's an enduro, downhill or cross-country.

We are going to cover choosing an event (skip this if you already have), the kit you will need, training and nutrition.

So what are you waiting for, dive right in… oh and don’t forget to leave a comment at the end with your best tips for others tackling their first event.

Use the links below to skip sections:

 

Chapter 1

Choosing your first Mountain Bike event using the Goldilocks technique - not too short, not too long

Choosing your first Sportive

 

Goldilocks knew what she liked… not too hot, not too cold.

Let’s apply that same principle to choosing your first event.
 

 

But first, sit back, relax and have a think about why you are doing this… is it to challenge yourself, is it to prove a point or is it just to finish in one piece?

Choose your reason and get it focused in your mind and let's start our journey...

Firstly you need to be aware of the different sub-categories of Mountain Bike events:

  1. Enduro - a race consisting of multiple timed downhill stages interspersed with uphill "transfer" stages which are untimed
  2. Downhill - as the name suggests, a pure timed downhill event, more about technical ability than pure pedalling power
  3. Cross Country - a mix of technical downhill, flowing single track and tricky ascents, this is the perfect all-rounder event

You probably want it to be a bit of a challenge so the simple rule of thumb is to choose something a bit harder than you might normally do already.

Mountain Bike events can vary wildly from short and fast 25km rides through to 60km+ events with thousands of meters of climbing and descending.

Here are some key considerations:

  • Location - pick something close by as extra travel just adds another dimension of worry! 
     
  • Friends - why not try and get some friends to do it with you… all the training will be much easier if there is a group of you!
     
  • When is it / the weather - aim to choose something spring, summer or autumn where there is more chance of better weather. 


So how do you actually find something that meets all of the above criteria?

Easy - Wheelie Good Tours.

Our search feature allows you to look through more than 200 Cycling Events to find what’s right for you.

You can filter by date, location and route distance but unfortunately not the weather!

Here’s how:

  1. Visit https://www.wheeliegoodtours.com/cycling-events
  2. There are two main ways to search
    1. Use the map at the top and fly around looking at all the events near you
    2. Use the filters on the left-hand side to filter by date, route distance, bike type and more...

      Choosing a mountain bike event
       
  3. Click through to find out more details and sign up on the organisers website

 

Chapter 2

What equipment you absolutely must have and what’s a nice to have

Equipment for your first Sportive

 

This is a big topic, worthy of a full guide in it’s own right (good idea - coming soon).

However, here’s the lowdown on what you must have and what would be nice to have.

 

TIP: Click here to register for free in less than 2 minutes with WheelieGoodTours and get a downloadable checklist of this kit list!

 

Must Have

A Bike!

Goes without saying really, but which type of bike, that is the question!

It really depends on the sub-category you have chosen... an entry-level hardtail (a bike with suspension only on the front) will do you fine for cross-country riding and even enduro. However, a full-suspension bike will provide much more comfort on both these types of events if you can stretch to that.

For pure downhill events it is best to use a downhill specific bike which is typically heavier due to its focus on strength and durability and often smaller wheels giving more structural rigidity.

TIP: use the search filters on our events page to look by bike type to find an event that matches what bike you currently have, saving you money!

Equal to actually having a bike is having one that is road-worthy and well maintained. Check out the links below to give you some idea of the kinds of maintenance activity you should be doing on your bike.

Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £1000 for your first event

Useful further reading:

 

Helmet

Pretty much any event worth entering will require you to wear a helmet so please do! Some events will actually require you to wear a full face helmet (typically those with complex downhill sections).

Make sure it's tested to European CE EN1078 and bought from a reputable retailer.

Everyone has a differently shaped head so some helmets will feel comfier than others - worth going into a bike shop and trying some on!

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £60 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fb4LgOWlDHM

 

Shoes (to match your pedals)

There are two main types of shoe/pedal combinations to consider for your first mountain bike event:

  1. Flat pedals - as the name suggests, these pedals have a large flat surface area allowing good connection between you and the bike. One key benefit over clipless is the ease at which you can move your feet around should you need to dismount rapidly!
     
  2. Clipless pedals - as the name doesn't suggest, clipless pedals mean you are actually clipped into your pedals through cleats that are attached to your shoes. This in theory means you can transfer more power to the bike but also reduce the chance of slipping off the pedals on any tricky technical sections.

Cost: Anywhere from £60 to £100 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://guides.wiggle.co.uk/cycle-shoes-buying-guide

 

Baggy shorts (and lycra?) and long-sleeved top

By covering as much skin as possible you are protecting it from damage should you fall off.

Even though baggy shorts are the norm for mountain bikers, why not consider a good pair of bib-tights underneath for added comfort?

A long sleeved top will help protect your arms and give you the freedom to move into different positions on the bike.

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £80 for your first event

Useful further reading: https://guides.wiggle.co.uk/bib-shorts-buying-guide or https://off.road.cc/content/buying/10-essential-pieces-mountain-bike-clothing-for-beginners-797

 

Gloves

Another key contact point with the bike is your hands, and don’t think gloves are only useful for when the weather is cold.

A good pair of gloves will dampen the vibration from the trail reaching your arms, shoulders and neck as well as protect you in the event of a crash.

Fingerless or full-fingered will depend on your preference and the expected temperature.

Cost: Anywhere from £15 to £50 for your first event

 

A small rucksack

Particularly for Enduro or Cross-country events, a small pack is essential to carry your tools, snacks and hydration.

Having a hydration pack rather than bottles makes it easier to drink on the go and means you are less likely to get distracted from the trail in front of you.

Cost: Anywhere from £20 to £50 for your first event

 

Lightweight Rain Jacket

We said earlier on to try and pick an event where the weather should be nicer… but we know that nothing is guaranteed!

So, picking out a lightweight rain jacket that you can store in your jersey pocket at all times will give you piece of mind.

Cost: Anywhere from £30 to £80 for your first event

 

Sunglasses / Goggles

Protecting your eyes is crucial and especially so in the often muddy, stone-filled trails that frequent mountain bike events.

You will need something that fits nicely or go for some goggles with a strap around your head to avoid them coming off on fast descents and changes of direction.

Cost: Anywhere from £25 to £50 for your first event

 

Maintenance Tools

Knowing how to do basic maintenance on your bike is important as you don’t want to be waiting around for help when you can do these basic elements yourself in less than 10 minutes.

We think the two key skills you need to be able to do yourself are (see links below for how to actually do these):

  • Repair/replace a punctured tyre
  • Adjust various items on the bike including seatpost height


And to do that it’s key to have the following items stashed in your backpack:

  • Mini pump - make sure it has the appropriate attachments for the different tube valve types. Your inner tube will be either Presta or Schrader and the pumps are often able to service both meaning no adapter is required.
  • Spare inner tubes - make sure they match your tyre size. Easiest way to know what’s right is to look at the markings on the outside of the tyre where it will say something like “25-622” and/or “700x25c”. Match these codes up with the inner tube packaging and pack 2 of them!
  • Tyre levers - you will need these to get the tyre partially off the wheel before replacing a punctured inner tube. They come as a set of two and can often be found for free on the front of cycling magazines.
  • Multi-tool - like a swiss army knife for Cyclists this item contains miniature versions of the most regularly used bike tools including Allen Keys, screwdrivers and more.


Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £50 for your first event

Useful further reading:

 

Suncream

Hopefully you are blessed with sunshine all throughout your training and on the day of your event… if so, you will need suncream!

It’s important to choose a brand suitable for sport as you will be sweating a lot and need to ensure that the applied suncream doesn’t drip and run or get in your eyes… nothing worse than suncream in your eyes!

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £20 for your first event

 

Drinks and Food

We are going to talk more about nutrition shortly but the key thing is that whatever you decide, you bring it with you on the day!

For drinks, as we said earlier, a hydration pack is key and this can be filled with water or some kind of carbohydrate drink to replenish your energy stores as you go.

For food, we recommend carrying plenty of easily digestible snacks in the compartment of your hydration pack.

Cost: Anywhere from £5 to £20 for your first event

 

Protective Case for your mobile phone, money, car keys etc...

An easy one to forget, but we recommend you carry your keys, mobile phone and some cash and a bank card plus a form of ID with you on the event.

The other thing to remember is a way of showing emergency contact details in the event of an incident. The event organisers will already have this, but consider some basic piece of card with a contact name and phone number on.

It’s a good idea then to have some kind of case for these items to both keep them all together and also protect them from any rain!

Options range from a kids pencil case (yes really) through to dedicated waterproof pockets.

Also important to remember to store the appropriate contact numbers for the race organisers in your phone in case of emergency!

Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £5 for your first event

 

A change of clothes and some basic toiletries

Don’t forget that at the end of the event you will need to get home and whether thats in the car or on public transport, the last thing you want is to be sat in sweaty/wet/muddy cycling clothes for the journey.

Therefore you should bring along a change of clothes, a towel and some basic toiletries e.g. shower gel/soap and deodorant.

Even if there aren’t showers at the finish line (often there are), you can have a quick fresh up for the journey home.

Cost: Anywhere from £0 to £50 for your first event (but bring what you have already!)

 

Nice to Have

Protection

Some might argue that having knee or elbow protection is an optional feature but if you want to take this seriously then this is a strong recommendation to invest.

These items are so cheap now that it seems silly not to.

Find something that's going to give you good protection from a bump, whilst allowing you to move freely on the bike.

 

Chapter 3

How to train for your first Mountain Bike event (all whilst not quitting your job and leaving your family)

 

Training for your first Sportive

Most people have lots of other commitments and whilst I am sure you are committed to completing your first mountain bike event, you probably want a training plan that is actually realistic (like not spending 30 hours a week on the bike…).

 

 

So for your first event it’s important to consider:

  1. Getting buy-in from those other commitments - make sure to actually talk to your family (weird I know) and discuss what your actual time commitment to training will need to be
  2. Starting the training plan with plenty of time until the event - doing 3 rides a week for 10 weeks is better than 6 rides a week for 5 weeks as it allows you to build up slowly and avoid a higher risk of injury
  3. Using your time efficiently - can you commute to work/school/uni by bike and use that time as one of your training rides? 


And the key points that make a good training plan are:

  1. An understanding of where you are starting from and where you are going i.e. something that adjusts to your current level of fitness whilst still getting you in a good position to complete the event
     
    TIP: Rate of Perceived Exertion vs Power vs Heart Rate (see https://www.cyclingweekly.com/fitness/training/cycling-training-plans-153049)
     
  2. One that recognises rest and recovery are as important as training days
  3. One that is realistic with the time input required (see above points about other commitments). Some of the ones we list below allow you to choose whether you just wanted to complete your event or whether you want to challenge yourself for a good finishing time, and then adjust the timing to suit
  4. One that recognises you need to taper 1-2 weeks before the event i.e. reduce the intensity right down to let your body recover before the big day

 

Alongside training to build up your fitness, you will also need to possess a certain amount of skills for riding your first Mountain Bike event.

Now, some of these will come naturally through the hours you put in on the road and as you build up confidence.

However, one thing we recommend is to try and join a local cycling club where you will be able to learn from others as well as building your fitness. You can find a list of clubs on the British Cycling website.

Furthermore, the British Cycling Website has a really good set of guides and videos of the sorts of skills you will need: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/skills/mtb.

For the full detail on training for your Mountain Bike event, check out our guide to the best 16 tips on training for your Mountain Bike Event (+5 training plans compared) here.

 

Chapter 4

The importance of nutrition - drinking and eating your way to success

 

Nutrition for your first SportiveIt will be really easy to throw all of your training out the window if you don’t eat and drink right on the lead up to and day of the event.

It is however a bit of a minefield with hundreds of varieties of products promising you energy, performance and more.

Luckily we are here to help you with your first Mountain Bike event.

 

Firstly some key points to remember:

  1. Don’t change anything on the day - you should be practising your nutrition alongside your fitness training plan so that the two things work together come event day
  2. For Enduro and Cross Country events you should take your food and drink with you. For downhill events, keep the food and drink in your car for in between runs.


Now onto the science bit - carbohydrates and electrolytes - these are the key words you need to know about, so here’s our basic explanation of what they are and why they are important:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source when cycling and these carbs are stored in your muscles ready to use when needed. Sugar is a form of carbohydrate as are starch and fibre, and some combination of these items is found in almost every food.

Carbs can be classified by their Glycemic Index (GI) - a low GI carb is something like porridge which releases its energy slowly across many hours, whereas a high GI carb is something like a chocolate bar that releases a quick burst of energy.

Carbs can of course be found in normal foods, but there are also a range of cycling specific carbohydrate bars, gels and drinks.

These bars, gels and drinks are great because they have a sole purpose and that is to get carbs into your body - you wouldn’t want them as part of your normal daily diet, but used when cycling they are perfect.

In general, you want to do the following:

  • Before your ride - low GI food such as porridge and mid GI foods such as a banana to give you that long sustained and slow release energy
  • During the ride - high GI food such as carbohydrate gels, bars and drinks to give you a quick boost of energy, taken regularly
  • After the ride - low GI food to replenish your depleted carbohydrate stores


As a rule of thumb, you want to be looking to consume between 1g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight per hour of activity and spread this out, so you are eating something every 20-30 minutes.

Electrolytes (and fluids)

Electrolytes are things like salts and minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium and these are lost through sweat.

Your body needs water and electrolytes to carry out all sorts of tasks and you will soon notice if you don't have enough so keep drinking at regular intervals.

There are specific electrolyte fluid solutions you can buy but you can also get solutions which contain carbohydrates and electrolytes together, thus hitting both key things and reducing the amount you need to carry.

An example nutrition plan

So in summary, here is an example nutrition plan for the day of the event and the time leading up to it:

  • The week before - plenty of water and eat good solid normal meals with a mix of carbs, vegetables and protein
  • The morning - a big bowl of porridge and a banana plus usual coffee/tea. Drink 500ml of water about an hour before start time
  • During the ride
    • Fill your 1.5L hydration pack
    • Consume your recommended carbs through a combination of bars and gels 
  • After the ride - have a treat, you deserve it! But also look to consume a low GI meal within 2-3 hours to replenish all those used energy stores!


How to choose the right products?

Fortunately lots of companies who sell these energy products also offer taster packs which can be a great way to try before you invest. Remember that you should be testing these as part of your training, not on the day! So use the links below to find sample packs and try a few, but also consider the different flavours within a brand, some you will love and others you will hate!

Gels and Bars


Hydration

 

Chapter 5

What happens on the day of the event

 

Let’s take it step by step for what happens on the day event.On the day of your first Sportive

By knowing this in advance it will allow you to be better prepared, have reduced anxiety and nervousness about the unknown, and get you from morning wake up to riding your first event in no time.

 

Let's start by talking about the week leading up to the event first…

  1. Taper your training - the final week before the event should be relatively low in training hours to give your body chance to recover for the main event
  2. Eat, Sleep and Drink well - This ensures your body is in tip-top condition come event day
  3. Prepare your bike and carry out basic maintenance using your local bike shop for a tune-up or watching this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xglmDRfXDSk


So onto the day itself...

  1. Wake up but don’t do anything different to your normal routine - by now you will have practised your pre-ride nutrition and morning routine so stick to that. The last thing you want to do is change it now!
    1. Be mindful that if you are stopping in a hotel they might not have the same food you are used to, so either take your own or be flexible on what you train with
       
  2. Get everything ready - we recommend packing your kit neatly into a bag the night before but if like us you want to double and triple check everything, then use our checklist and unpack and repack everything you need to take with you (don’t forget the bike).

    We would also recommend getting changed into your cycling kit before you leave the house/hotel (bar the shoes, helmet and gloves) as this just saves time at the other end.

     
  3. Travel to the event leaving plenty of time for accidents and all the stuff in the steps below - make sure you have planned your travel route beforehand.

    You will need to leave time to complete the registration process (see below). 

     
  4. Think about security - large events like this are prime targets for thieves so at all times think about the security of your equipment, especially your bike.

    We recommend keeping your bike either locked inside your car or taking it with you for the registration process

     
  5. Complete the registration process - typically this will involve you showing some form of ID to the event organiser on-site who will then tick your name off the list.

    You will probably receive a goody bag and/or a timing chip (more on that in a second).

    This is a good time to ask any final questions to the event organisers.

     
  6. Add any timing chips / race numbers to you and your bike - following the organisers instructions, attach ALL of the race numbers and/or timing chips in their appropriate locations.

    These are the things that will make you recognisable and allow your ride time to be recorded.

     
  7. Get ready - Put on any more clothing e.g. shoes, gloves and helmet.

    Make sure your tools, nutrition and personal items (e.g. phone, money) are packed in your backpack.

    Get your bike setup and ready to ride.

    Read any final instructions from the organisers, make sure you know what route marking signs you are looking out for, often events have multiple routes with some sections the same and some different so make sure you know which you are following!



     
  8. Visualise your ride - maybe a little weird to some but we think its worth spending a few minutes thinking about all of the training you have done and what you will feel like when the event is complete.

    Also, take time to ponder on why you signed up to the event in the first place and think positively about your performance - it all helps!

     
  9. Use the toilet one last time - you will probably need it
     
  10. Get to the start line - follow the instructions and line up at the start line
     
  11. Have fun! Remember to eat and drink in line with your nutrition plan!
     
  12. Once complete, follow any previously given instructions or speak to a member of the organising team. You might have to return your timing chip or it might be single-use, you will have been told previously.

    Ensure you get your medal if one is available!

     
  13. Complete any post-ride nutrition routine as discussed earlier, get yourself changed and go home, basking in the glory of a complete event!
     
  14. Book another one...


 

Chapter 6

A collection of other useful tips & tricks we have collected along the way

Tips & Tricks for your first Sportive

 

Add yours in the comments so we can update the list!

 

 

  • Double check key details such as date, time, start location, registration details and route markings!
  • Ride at your own pace - be careful not to get sucked into a fast group or attempt technical routes outside of your comfort/skill zone
  • Enjoy the ride and the scenery!

 

Summary

Key points and your call to action...

 

So if you have to remember four things from our guide, then make sure it's these:

  • Choose the right event that’s local to you and a bit of a challenge
     
  • Choose a realistic training plan and stick to it
     
  • Train your nutrition as much as you train your legs
     
  • Prepare for what to do on the day and smash it!


A reminder that if you join Wheelie Good Tours for free you can get access to:

  1. A downloadable and printable kit checklist to make sure you don’t forget a thing
     
  2. Access to a simple list of all the products we recommended here to help you get on the road quicker and with less hassle
     
  3. Our regular inspirational newsletter showcasing the world’s best Cycling Events, sharing amazing Competitions and access to more tools, templates and checklists


Once registered, leave us a comment below, we would love to know how you got on with your first Mountain Bike event and please share any tips!

Comments

Be Inspired!

Inspiration for your next cycling holiday, tour, adventure or event plus competitions & more