What to Expect at Your First Race

On Your Mark, Get Set...

Southridge Winter Series 2018

Racing may not be part of the mountain bike experience for every rider, but we believe every rider should consider giving it a try, even if it’s just for fun and even if it’s just once. We’ve known many riders who were intimidated and nervous to start, but after being persuaded into doing it, they realized that they loved the experience. Moreover, many potential racers are completely unaware that racing doesn’t always have to be about crossing the finish line first. Most racers we know fall into what we would call the “recreational racer” category and couldn’t care less about earning a podium spot. Instead, they just want an excuse to go out and test their mettle against their friends, get a heck of a good workout and meet others who share their love for the sport.

We sat down with two race promoters, both of whom seek to provide a fun atmosphere for the riding community. These guys aren’t making their races for the people who are training for the Olympics. They’re doing it for the people who simply love to ride. This is what they had to say about why you should consider racing and what to expect the first time you line up at the starting gate.


Greg Flanagan is the founder and organizer of PedalFest in Los Angeles. PedalFest offers a series of weeknight cross-country races for riders of all ages and ability levels. The races are cheap, quick, fun and easy to sign up for.

Donny Jackson is the founder and organizer of the world-famous Southridge Winter Series in Fontana, California.

MBA: What are three things riders can gain from their first racing experience?

1. An overwhelming sense of accomplishment—no matter what the result.
2. Overcoming fear and anxiety.
3. Making lifelong friends.

1. The atmosphere is friendly. It’s family racing, which allows kids to get involved and learn how to race safely.
2. You can walk the course long before the race, so you know what you’re getting into. It’s good to simply practice and get into the racing when you feel comfortable.
3. A great opportunity to spend time with family, even if they’re rebels. It’s a cool way for parents to spend time with their youngsters.

Over the Hump racing in Orange County, California.

Who can benefit most from racing a local series?

PedalFest: Everyone can benefit from racing a local series. There is much less pressure than at a sanctioned event, and this works for pros and beginners alike!

Southridge: Many top pros have started their careers here. They still come out often. They started at the bottom of the totem pole, just like everyone else. At the end of the day, a beginner can get the most out of it. In fact, it could lead to a lifelong career—or at least lifelong memories. Just being able to snag a shuttle and share a start line with the likes of Aaron Gwin, the Athertons or Shaun Palmer is worth the price of the entry fee.

MBA: What are the main mistakes you see with first-time racers?

PedalFest: Common mistakes are showing up unprepared with a dry chain, no sealant in your tires, no food, etc. We have seen it all!

Southridge: Entering in the wrong category and trying to ride with more advanced friends is very common. Showing up late or forgetting helmets is certainly something we see, but we try to work with racers by changing start times or helping with loaner equipment when we can. Don’t count on it, but we’re willing to try to let everyone have a good time.

MBA: What are the best benefits (other than winning the race) of participating in local racing?

PedalFest: Some of the best benefits of participating in local racing are accomplishing goals (training for the race itself, finishing in the top 10 or simply finishing, etc.), bragging rights and the camaraderie that comes with banging bars with other racers of your skill level.

Southridge: Well, we have always paid prize money, which is 50 percent of the entry fees, and are five deep on the awards—and sometimes more. So, in addition to the sense of satisfaction, you might get enough back to pay for your entry, a little gas in your tank and a little food in your belly.

MBA: What is the skill level required for entering the event? Is it intimidating as a beginner? What tips can you offer for overcoming nerves if it’s the first race?

Over the Hump racing in Irvine Lake, California.


PedalFest: PedalFest has over 20 classes available, from first-time racer to elite and from ages 6 through 96, so there is something for everyone. You must have some basic fitness and bike-handing skills, but other than that, just get out there and race! Nerves aren’t necessarily a bad thing, either. Think of it as a fast-paced group ride with number plates!

Southridge: We do a sport and beginner course that’s totally different from the one that the pros and experts do. Our goal is to keep everyone safe, so we’re not going to throw inexperienced racers down crazy trails. We occasionally have people come out who have never ridden before and have been talked into racing. Those riders may have a terrible time or may have the best time of their lives. Bottom line: we’re trying our best to not put riders on trails that are over their heads.

MBA: How should a new racer choose a race category?

PedalFest: If possible, go to a race and check it out beforehand and gauge the course and racers themselves. Also, at your local trail, talk to and try to ride with as many people as possible. Ask them what class they race in and measure yourself against them. You may be surprised at how good you already are!

Southridge: Enter the beginner class to start with and work your way up. It’s easier to work your way up than to go down. If you’re at the top of the lower categories, we will help you find a better match for your skill set. We have beginner and sport riders who get miffed when an expert comes back into the lower categories. It looks like sandbagging. Start at the bottom, and if you want more of a challenge, move up at the next race.

MBA: What about gravity racing versus XC? Should it be determined by the type of bike the rider has? Can you race enduro on an XC bike or XC on an enduro bike and still have a good time?

PedalFest: You could certainly race XC on a gravity bike, but because of the extra weight and geometry of the bike, you would be working very hard compared to people on true XC bikes. Racing enduro on an XC bike could be a little scary and potentially dangerous, as an XC bike has from 0–120mm of suspension travel.

Southridge: Riders are becoming more and more segmented. If you are comfortable with the course on your bike, no matter what it is, you can race it. We have course marshals who may have to pull racers if they are in over their heads, but for the most part, run the bike you brought!

MBA: How difficult are the courses?

PedalFest: We keep our courses as simple as possible for the most part. If there is anything steep or technical, we route the beginners around it and merge them back onto the course when it is safe again. The most technical and/or challenging courses are not necessarily the best racecourses. We want the 50-year-old beginner to be as comfortable and have as much fun as the 20-year-old pro!

Southridge: Our courses are not “walk- groomed,” so they are more difficult than some. Our cross-country courses have some technical sections that simply can’t be dumbed down; however, we eliminate several of those sections for the beginner and sport classes. The courses get more difficult as you move up the categories. That’s by design. We want to be inclusive, but this is mountain biking. It should offer challenging terrain for the better riders.

MBA: How much does racing cost, both for a single race and if the rider wants to get more serious about racing?

PedalFest: Our race fees vary based on whether you sign up online or on-site and if you purchase a season pass, but you can expect to pay $300–$400 for the season if you race all of the races. We give out as much swag as anyone out there, and almost everyone should be able to walk away with something cool if they attend most of the races, but this should be a perk of racing, not the reason to race.


Southridge: Entry fees are $50 for beginners and experts and $60 for the pros. Our race series is six events, so you can do the math. Obviously, you have to factor in gas money, food, hotels, etc. if you come from far away. We do have free parking and camping at our events, so we often see families pull their campers in and stay the weekend to make an event of it and save money. It’s really up to the racers to determine how much they spend on a Southridge event. We’ve had people from all over the country, and even from Canada, at our events before, but most of our racers are locals.

MBA: And finally, if you could sum up the reason everybody should give racing a try in a few words, what would you say?

PedalFest: Racing a mountain bike is like nothing else! It is just you and the dirt. It is peaceful and ferocious at the same time!

Southridge USA: Downhill racing in Fontana, Ca.

Southridge: It’s a life experience that offers a great chance to enjoy a family-friendly environment with a sport that lends itself to camaraderie.


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