Thursday, 3 May 2012

How To Do A 24 Hour Solo Mountain Bike Race - What You're Going To Need - Part 1

What do I need for a successful race?

So you've signed up for that race, but as a first time entrant your probably now buzzing with a million and one questions.  One that entered my head, and took some planning, was what I needed on race day.  If you've walked around a 24 hour race site you'll have some idea what the pit areas look like but I hope to break this all down into a list of things to remember and to pack before you get there.

I will say this though, unless you happen to be a seasoned camper or race goer, 24 hour racing is an expensive thing to take part in.  The entry fee is only the start, but cost of spare bike parts, lights, food, camping gear can all add up.  So if you are stuck for money (as I was) then grovel and beg to friends and family till you get everything you need.  You'll be surprised how supporting people can be for something like this so hopefully you shouldn't have too much difficulty!

The Bike


Yes this is obviously something you will need, but the big point here is that your bike needs to be in perfect working condition.  Clean your bike like you've never cleaned it before, polish it even and ensure that all bolts are torqued tight.  Get someone to check it over if you like, but make sure it is sound.  Remember, you're out riding for a lot longer than any training ride.  It'll be like riding 4 or five training rides back to back and if a problem does occur it could ruin your race or at least effect the outcome. Even on race day I rode my bike and discovered my gears had gone out a bit despite being checked the days before.  So it pays to double check.

Some way riders get over this is to have two bikes on the day.  If you're lucky enough to be in this position then take the spare, ensuring that is also in great working order.

Set Up

Bike set up is important.  I adjusted mine by raising the stack height of the stem meaning my back was under less strain.  I made this adjustment months before.  It is really important that if you must make changes to your bike in terms of saddle position or bar height that you do not do it a few weeks before, but more like months before to allow the muscles to adapt otherwise you are on a one way ticket to get an injury. And we don't want that now do we?  Also, don't buy new equipment to use for the day, use what you are used to for the same reasons.  New equipment could work great but has a very likely chance of not working just right first time.  Saddles for instance, need bedding in, wheels can if not made right loose a bit of trueness etc

The only thing that should be considered for change is your chain and cassette if worn, and brake pads so check these out a couple of weeks before race day.


GOBI XM BRAIDEDMake sure you have a sorry, great saddle.  One that is totally comfortable.  You should be able to ride on it for up to 5 hours without really noticing. A great saddle doesn't need to be over padded but be just the right shape and have some flex.  It's such a personal thing but I swear by my Fki'zi:k Gobi as do many others and it is rated best saddle in various magazines. Worth trying is also Charge Bikes - Spoon Saddle


If you can get the chance to pre ride the course before racing then do so.  On some courses you could be lucky that they are all weather and so you can choose a fast tyre.  Others sadly, suffer horribly over the hours of use from hundreds of tyres especially if it rains and the course gets wet.  If you can get a spare set of tyres then do so, particularly is they work well in most conditions.  They are also a good back up if your tyre gets shredded, hopefully something you will never have to experience.  I recommend something like Schwalbes Rocket Rons or Maxxis Ardent as great all rounders.

Night Lights

What to Buy

The light market is almost as daunting as buying a new bike.  There are so many company's offering the 'best' lights out there.  So what do you actually really need?  12 years ago when I was doing my first night racing I had two 10w lights that you just about pick out what was ahead.  One was a slight flood allowing you to see the width of the trail whilst the other was a spot which picked out the detail.  They were attached via a big thick cable to a big battery pack which was strapped to the frame.  They worked and you just get away with it but really weren't ideal at any speed or when the trail got technical.

Lights are very expensive, expect to pay around £200 for something half decent.  So first off see if you can borrow a set from a friend.  Ideally you should have a back up light too just in case one should fade.  It's worth checking with the race organisers if they have any lights to hire, some do and this can help with cost. However, if you've got the money as it is something worth owning.  You can always use them during the winter months and of course you'll be able to use them for training prior to the race. (something which is quite important and I'll cover that in training)

So when choosing your own obviously you will want something as bright as you can, something that not only gives a fairly food flood of the area but also picks out the detail ahead.  You should try and get something between 600 and 1800 lumens.  This isn't actually that difficult to find but you quickly run into a major problem that caused me no end of headaches.  Most lights at high brightness only last a few hours, which isn't ideal when your race could be between 6 and 10 hours of darkness.  Loads of light manufactures are terrible at telling you how long a battery will last at lower outputs or what lumens of light you will then get. This will leave you with the dilemma of not knowing whether you have to buy back up batteries and how many you will need.  Extra batteries just add up to the cost and are a pain to have to keep all charged and swap over when racing.

I would therefore like to highly recommend to you USE's Exposure Lights.  These lights are a bit bigger than some but are a self contained units so no battery packs needed.  I bought the Maxx D which give 1286lumens for three hours or 900 for 10 hours.  This was perfect.  It gives off a great amount of light ahead and would last all through the night without needing annoying changes.  Exposure are great and up front about burn times on their lights and they are a great solid well made light.  The only other light I know others recommend are Ay-Up lights which are beautiful small lights that are light but let off an amazing amount of power.

Helmet Light or Just Handlebar Light?

Most lights you buy like the one mentioned above fix onto your handle bars.  But what about helmet mounted lights.  I've done a lot of night riding without a helmet light and have to say that it is not totally necessary.  Most of the time the trail is flood lit enough to see where you need to be going.  However, there are times when in twisty single track with switch backs that you can loose sight.  You may be looking ahead but your bars are pointed the wrong way.  This is where a helmet light comes in.  It puts down a spot light where you are looking (with a bit of fiddling and setting up right!).  It eliminates those dark areas.  I hired one for my race and it was a good help to me but like I said before not crucial.  They are a bit cheaper than normal lights but they aren't as powerful on the whole so I wouldn't use it as my only light source but more as a secondary light.  Once again, Exposure do a great little helmet light.


What to Pack

It may depend on what time of year you race or the climate that you race in but pack for two eventualities.  Hot and cold.  The day time may be warm but come the night the temperature will drop and so just riding in shorts may no longer be possible.  Its amazing how quickly you can get cold if you have to repair an inner tube or mechanical out on the course.  In last years 24 hours of Exposure the race was held in May and yet a couple of people got hypothermia during the night as the result of stopping and cooling down fast.  It happens all to easily.  The worst time for getting cold is just before dawn breaks, so put on an extra layer before hand.

Arm warmers, leg warmers are great and versatile bits of clothing to own, as they are easy to pull on and off and pack in your back pocket.  Consider something like a sleeveless body warmer too.

Ensure you have a decent waterproof too if the weather turns nasty and wet.  One that breaths well to prevent building up with moisture on the inside.  I love my Gore pace-lite jacket, its almost like a windproof its so thin yet through years of use has still yet to let any water in. 

Should you change shorts during the race is a personal point.  Many say not to, as changing bib shorts when knackered is a challenge in itself.  There is no real need I found either but if its wet then it may be of some relief.  Just ensure before hand that whatever shorts you are going to wear have good padding and are pre prepped with chamois cream.

As a little tip I got from someone else, change your gloves half way through the race.  Trust me, it just feels nice!

If you wear cycling glasses then make sure you take some clear lenses.  Sunglasses in the dark are a bit over the top.  Interchangeable lens for glasses are great to own but can be a faff to swap around.  I just put my clear lenses in from the beginning but then again it was never sunny so you'll have to do what ever the weather is doing.


Socks.  Yes socks, not something you may think on too much but I bought a brand new pair to put on my feet and they felt lovely.  Its amazing how old socks get worn down and thin out so its a great little tip to keep your feet happy.  Remember to pack any water proof ones too if it gets wet on course.  Next is your shoes.  Don't buy anything new for the event, use a pair of shoes that are well bedded in, or a trainer style shoe, the last thing you want is for them to rub and for you to get blisters.  There maybe times during the race where you find yourself walking up hills and a tight rubbing shoe is only going to add to your misery.

Hydration packs or Water Bottle

Which to choose?  Both have their pros and cons.  Hydration packs can hold all your tools and water and so the bike remains light and rattle free.  Water is more accessible and there is less chance of running out whilst on the lap.  Yet these points can be detrimental to your race as well.  You are never totally sure whether you will run out of water, having a bottle you can see whether you are drinking enough and come your pit stop its a quick change over and off you go.  You can also do like I did and change the sort of drinks you take out on the lap with you.  This isn't so easy with a pack.  Also if you puncture you have to fiddle around getting your pack off finding your tube and pump and having to put it back on.  All crucial time eating into your race. Also, although with a pack your bike might be light, you aren't.  Having a pack on your back for many hours will only add strain to your back.   I notice that the majority of racers used bottles and I'd highly recommend the same.  Get a saddle pack for your tools and a good gripping water bottle cage for your bottles.  You will perhaps need to buy a few bottles so you're not having to change water at every pit.  I had four bottles but even that wasn't enough.

Back Up

Whilst racing its worth having a few extras at hand in your pits.  Take some spare inner tubes and patches.  Brake pads for front and rear, its amazing how fast they can wear in sloppy conditions. C02 Gas canisters and replacements for fast puncture repairs.  Mini tool to put in your saddle bag with a chain tool and some tyre levers. (really stuff you'd take with you on every ride)

In part two, I'll be going into this a bit more.  I will cover everything you will need to have in your pit area and how to make it efficient and ensure you won't get caught out.



Great Blog Jez, lots of interesting tips, think I might have to have a go at one of these in the next few years. Got a 6hour day/night enduro in the summer which should be a good laugh. Building up to the big 24 ;-)

Thanks for reading Tim! You really should do one but you know what don't feel that you have to do a 12 hour or six hour race to qualify for it. I'd only ever done a six hour race a few years before. I figured 12 hours I could do 24 was were the real challenge lay. That was more the unknown. Only one way to find out about an unknown tim......thats to just do it!

Awesome! I probably have more to say, but lack the time this morning. Well done though, Jez. I look forward to re-reading this post on vacation as well as what you have coming next!

Awesome! I can't wait to read part #2. You know I definitely need all the help I can get with arranging my pit area. Great blog!

Enjoy your holiday C.G, Hope you come back extra fit and ready for your half iron(woman!) Won't be long now! oh and does this mean you'll miss WIW (again)?

Hi Sandie, thanks for the comment and joining my blog :). I'm on wrting it at the moment so hopefully should be finished soonish and there maybe something that may help you!

I like your trick "Get a saddle pack for your tools and a good gripping water bottle cage for your bottles".

Preparing for a bike race is indeed very tedious. Great guide you've posted here on bike maintenance and gear- these will surely help out all cycling enthusiasts who are planning to join the next cycling race.

I have gone throw your article. thank's for sharing Outdoor safety tips for safe summer play. Thank you so much for sharing your story and tips . They can be helpful to those who are looking for good bike deals.

Thanks for sharing the tips for 24 hours mountain bike race. Hope it will help the beginner who want to join these type of bike racing.

I think you need a lot of exercise and stamina to cop with this 24 hours race. I like these type of races but don't have enough fitness to join these races.

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Thank you. I have been away from my blog too long now and perhaps it's time to share things again!

It's really hard for a biker to 24 hour mountain bike race. Actually, I am also felling hard about this type of race. But after reading this article I get some idea about 24 hour mountain biking.

Great post,I have been reading your posts regularly and thanks for sharing.

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If you want to join mountain bike race and get success you should train up for mountain biking before participate your competition.

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