Fancy trying something a bit different this summer? Alpine's sponsored rider Neil Wilson gives the lowdown on how to get started on mountain biking's fastest variation: downhill.
It’s a long time since I started racing. A friend of mine reckoned I should give it a go. I remember scaring myself silly on some steep, technical track at Innerleithen and thinking that my 'friend' was off the Christmas card list! It wasn’t until a couple of years later, with a wee bit more experience (and a full suspension bike) that I ventured back. I survived, and that was enough motivation for me to give racing a go. My first was just a local event and, although the speed was daunting, I got such a buzz from racing that I've been hooked ever since!
So if you're a bit of a speed junkie like me, then here's a few ways you can try downhill for yourself. Let us know your tips in the comments below and we'll add them to the blog!
There are mini DH series which are a great place to start. There’s not always uplift (to the top of the hill) but they’re usually well organised and relaxed so not intimidating to new racers. Find an event near you on the British Cycling website.
There are also a number of regional events north and south of the border. Scotland’s premier series is run by the Scottish Downhill Association, who stage events all over the country at venues from Dumfries in the south to Fort William in the north. The SDA series is renowned for being friendly and welcoming and, although the racing is taken seriously, fun is still a priority! There’s always a wide range of experience in the riders taking part, from complete beginners to experienced World Cup regulars.
An uplift day is a good way of trying out a DH track away from a race. Some of the locations where races are held are private but others will have days where you can pay for uplift to the top of the hill, so you can check out what’s been raced on. Race organisers will typically tape a course for a race slightly differently but you’ll be able to get a feel for the type of track that has already been shredded.
'Run what you brung' – you don’t need the latest bike as you start up. A full face helmet is essential. Body armour is mandatory for some categories but not all, although it is highly recommended. Events like the SDA series welcome trail bikes and have a separate category for them. Often there will be classes for hardtails too.
Have fun! I know it’s a bit nerve-wracking – I’ve been there, but you’ve paid your entry fee like everyone else so (with respect to the other riders) just go enjoy yourself. Look and learn - ask for help and advice from others and you’ll get plenty responses. It might not all work for you but your fellow competitors will be happy to share a viewpoint.
If you can, walk the track and try to work out what lines to take. They may not be the ones that everyone else is using – choose what suits you and your style of riding. If there is something you’re not sure about – be it a steep technical section or a big jump – then don’t waste all your practice time looking and worrying about it. Focus on what you CAN do and, if needs be, take the line around it if that suits you. Concentrate on getting a feel for the track and how quickly you can comfortably go in different sections.
Make sure you check your start time! Make sure you take your slot at the allotted moment. If you're late, you might not get the chance to race. And when it comes to the race, you may be seeded. Slower riders tend to go first but if you do get caught, just move over when you can and let the faster rider through. And once it's all over, make sure you check your results. They're usually posted quickly, so check how you did and use it as a marker for the next one. You are going to do another one, right? Welcome to downhilling!