It's an exciting prospect starting your first mountain bike race. It can also be nerve frying to contemplate what you're about to do. Often no matter what people say you just can't help but imagine the worst. The good news is that racing is a fantastic experience full of plenty of well-versed riders. In preparing for an event these people are worth learning from - but it all takes time!
Speaking of experience, you will soon becoming a master of race packing, which is an honorary title to earn. This title means you know what to pack, how to pack it, and to never forget a thing. We will be covering all the things you need for a weekend away at a MTB or Road race later, but for now we will be covering the most important gear you should carry while you race out on the trails!
LOAD IT UP
Racing is all about conquering anything the course can throw at you - 90% of the time it's pretty straightforward. But there's that other 10% you need to be ready for. It could be anything, from running extremely low on food, breaking a chain or blowing a tire. Here's a list of stuff, plus their uses to you in these scenarios. This list is just the essentials, given that you don't want to carry a trailer full of gear around while you ride- It is racing after all!
These are very handy for longer events like point to point marathons or a 24hr race where you may want to ride a few laps before stopping. The smallest hydration packs carry about 2 litres, which is plenty considering you'll also be able to carry one or two bottles as well. The other benefit of a hydration pack: they offer a small amount of extra storage for the rest of your essential items. If you're doing XC racing, don't get a large hydration pack, it's just temptation to carry stuff you don't need, like a watermelon instead of just a banana.
TIP: For short track XC racing it is easier to have someone standing at the feed area with a fresh bottle every lap. Part of race preparation is identifying places you can grab a drink safely and without losing any speed or momentum.
FIRST AID KIT
A strange one, even for us as we write this - but more events around the world are making it compulsory to carry a small First Aid kit. If you don't carry one, you're disqualified. It's a good way to ensure maximum safety at the event and it also means everyone is in a position to help each other. Carry one, and strap it to the outside of your hydration pack (2 x gloves, 1 x sterile bandage, some elastic and antiseptic will cover most things). The rules specific to each race will say whether this is an essential item so read carefully. First aid kits are also very useful for a long weekend ride with friends. Just make sure one person in the group is carrying one.
Gels are great as an extra boost when you need it, but it should never be the only food you carry. To decide how many gels you should carry, base it on needing one every hour, plus an extra two on top of that. The extra two are for if you have a bad day, meet someone else in need, or simply find the chance to slam one down while on the course.
You'll need more than just gels, so consider other foods to eat. Soft, moist and tasty are key requirements when choosing what to carry. Bananas are great, so cut them in half with the skin still on. Pikelets with jam are a good treat, as are moist energy bars. Avoid muesli bars if you can, as they can be quite dry and present a choking hazard if you breathe crumbs in while you ride.
PRO TIP: Carry gels on both outer pockets of your top. But to look pro, you can also slide one gel up each leg under your cycling knicks. This means they're there, ready to go. Another place is taped to the top tube of your bike. When you're finished eating your gel, just slide the wrapper up your top. NOT into the bush!
It's probably got stuff you can't even use, but just carry it! A multi-tool has all the tools you would need on the trail, assuming you don't need to weld your frame together mid-ride. A multi-tool should always contain a chain breaker, allen keys, phillips driver and a flat head driver. If the multitool has other stuff on it, it's likely never to be used. If you do end up using these extra tools you're probably doing more harm than good. For example: can you really true a wheel mid race with a multitool, or is it best just to call it a day and take it to your local bike shop? (experienced mechanics excluded).
TUBES AND AIR
You can carry a spare tube however you like, but a clever way of never forgetting it or having to cram it into a pocket is to strap it to the rear of your seat post. Wrap the tube in plastic wrap, to keep it dirt free, then tape it on with electrical tape. Make sure it doesn't rub on your inner legs and you're set! To get the tube off in a hurry, grab a tire lever and just stab the tape to break it. As far as air goes, always carry a pump or CO2 canisters. If you do opt for a CO2 canister, go to your local bike shop and learn how to use it - it's a "one shot wonder" so don't stuff it up!
These are just some of the essentials you can carry when riding on the course. Obviously you can choose to carry other things, but this should cover most scenarios. As a safety precaution you could carry a mobile phone in case you get stuck or injured - some events have a direct number to call if help is needed. Have fun, ride safely and don't forget the tire levers!