Racing Tip 16 – Know Thy Course

Should you bother finding out what you can about the race course for your next mountain bike race?

Will knowing more about the race trails and the conditions in advance really improve your performance and enjoyment on race day?

Um, yes and yes.

Whether you’re a hardcore racer, a beginner mountain biker competing in your first race, or somewhere in between, every piece of info you can find out about the race will be to your advantage, in far more ways than you may currently realise.

And Here’s Why

Knowledge is power.  Power for your mind and power for your flow.  Power that will help you race with more confidence, because you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

The more knowledge you can gain about the race trails, special features of the terrain, expected weather conditions, and what to expect from the organisers, the more prepared you’ll be and the easier you’ll be able to overcome the challenges that the mountain bike race throws at you.

Sometimes you won’t be able to find out much and about the race, sometimes a lot.  Either way, knowing at least something about the course you’re going to ride will help you make better decisions, both leading up to the race and during the race itself.

Far Better Decisions

Knowing Thy Course can help you make better decisions about:

  • what tires to ride
  • what tire pressures to use
  • what suspension settings to use
  • which gear to shift to at critical points on the trail
  • what spares to carry
  • how much energy food and hydration drink to carry
  • where the big climbs and planning your energy spend for them
  • where food/drink stations are, if any
  • where the downhills or flatter sections are to take advantage of them or use them as recovery points for your legs
  • where favourable and faster lines are around particular obstacles or tricky sections of trail
  • where dangerous sections of trail are
  • what mountain biking clothes to wear
  • where singletrack sections start and end
  • how muddy, wet, hot, cold or windy the race might be (this tip could come in handy if it’s muddy)
  • approximate distances between certain points so you know how far you’ve gone/how far to go/ how far to the next big climb or food station.  Bicycle computers are very handy for this reason.  If you haven’t got one, get one!
  • where the best passing opportunities are (see MTB Racing Tip 19 – Passing Strategies here)

That’s a big list!  And what a difference it would make to your race if you knew the answers.  So why…


Leave it to Chance

It’s good to be casual and relaxed about things, that’s the mountain biking way.  But, don’t be slack or casual about knowing thy course.

Why should you leave so much to chance, when there’s a possibly that more information could be easily available?  Especially if you’ve travelled 4 hours and paid 100 bucks to enter.

Know Your game or Slash Your Sidewall

As an example, finding out that the race terrain is full of rough and sharp rocks is good information to know.  Having that knowledge could help you choose a more suitable tire that will get you to the finish with a smile on your face.  Not knowing could find you walking to the finish because of poor tire choice and a slashed sidewall!


Find Your Answers Here:

  • at the website for the actual mountain bike race, course descriptions, maps, elevation, videos
  • by emailing your questions to race organisers
  • through conversation with mountain bikers who have competed in that race previously (chat to local riders, or mountain bike forums)
  • by riding part or all of the course either on the morning of the race, or in the weeks leading up to the event
  • during race briefing
  • maps and other information displayed at race central

And, if the race is a lap course then…

You’re In Luck!

The beauty with lap courses is once you’ve done one lap you’ll know what to expect on every subsequent lap.  And because the lap is usually a short distance you can often ride a whole lap on the morning before the start of the race.

And once the race begins, each new lap is another opportunity for you to really fine-tune your mountain biking techniques more and more with each lap, improving your momentum and your ability to overcome trail obstacles.  So if it’s a lap course and you can’t sneak in a practice ride, you’re still in luck.


Because each lap is another chance at doing better on the same trail.  With each lap you’ll improve the lines you ride, your cornering speeds, gear timing and selection, and the list goes on.

But, getting back to the practice lap, just remember…

Don’t Waste Your Legs

Whether it’s a lap race or not, it is a good idea to ride at least some of the race course on the morning of the event, but…

it’s not a good idea to wear yourself out doing so.

If riding a whole lap or the entire course distance is too much of a warm up for you then as a minimum…

  • ride at least the first and last couple of kilometres, and
  • ride the sections of trail that interest you, your abilities and race strategy the most,


Above All…

don’t ride worried if you can’t answer every question in that big list.  Just use to your advantage whatever you do find out about the mountain bike race, and you’ll have more fun, and ride faster and smarter because of it.

Know Thy Course and enjoy the race!

Good luck.

Mountain Bike Racing Tip 15 <<< Tubeless Check

Mountain Bike Racing Tip 17 >>> MTB Racing Etiquette