As much as I love mountain biking, I never much loved racing. I did my first race in 1994, and didn’t stick with it. Bad attitudes and rampant sandbagging (riders competing in categories beneath their level to get a better result) ruined it for me. I remember “Beginner” class races being stocked with $4,000 bikes.
But I did like epic races with 12 and 24-hour formats, or long-distance rides like the Tour of the White Mountains . The vibe was always more relaxed, with more of a “we’re all in this together” flavor that I appreciated. That led me to completely forgo the typical local races.
On a whim in late November, I entered a non-endurance race. The Muscle Milk Dust Devil Series by DCB Extreme Adventures was wrapping up with Race #3 at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I had some time, and McDowell is my favorite local riding spot. I registered online to the tune of $45 for the Rock Crusher class.
Mountain Bike Racing Categories 101
Here’s a breakdown of classes in the Dust Devil series. Rock Crusher is for riders 200 pounds and heavier. I made the cut at 203! Other classes include Cat 1 (the most experienced), Cat 3 (the newest), singlespeed class (bikes with one gear only) and a marathon class (for ultra long-distance riders).
DCB started each class in waves based on category. All ages started at the same time. Organizers assigned different sections of the trail to each category. That put Cat 3 riders on the Sport Loop three times for about 9 miles. Rock Crushers rode about 13 miles by combining the Sport, Tech and Long portions of the popular McDowell Competitive Track. Cat 1 racers were in for more than 27 miles, with Marathon riders ready for 40. Traffic wasn’t very dense, and each class had a meaty challenge just right for their skill levels.
Signing Up and In
I registered online the Thursday before the race. I soon received an e-mail from DCB with a confirmation number. When I showed up to pick up my race number (and the cool t-shirt and water bottle included in the registration fee), I wasn’t on the list. My smartphone solved the situation, providing the e-mailed confirmation number. The friendly staff and volunteers soon had a number plate in my hands, and I was off to warm up.
The Competitive Track parking lot was awash with cyclists, cars, people walking their dogs and kids. It was far more low-key than I remember from the mid-90s mountain bike scene. Of course, that also meant fewer sponsors trailers and mountain bike companies giving stuff away. A worthy trade-off, in my opinion. I was enjoying myself, and the race hadn’t even started.
On the Course
All the courses were well-marked. The event staff had a quick word with each class to make sure they knew where to ride, and how many times. The only improvement I’d request is a big sign that says “This Way to the Finish” (or something similar) to clue us in. When you’re riding hard, you’re not always rational.
How did the other racers behave on the trail? Exemplary. The attitudes could not have been better. Other riders yielded when I wanted to pass. The rider who passed me (who must’ve been a Cat 1 because he was absolutely flying) was courteous. I did not see one example of bad behaviour anywhere – on the course or at the results area.
Odd & Ends
DCB also had a free kid’s race in addition to its “official” 14 and under race. This was a three-mile jaunt on the Sport Loop. Adult riders funnelled the kids in the right direction. That’s a brilliant idea for DCB. It gets kids out on the course without hitting parents in the wallet – and consequently relieves some pressure to compete. It just might work in getting some kids hooked on biking.
Muscle Milk also had cold bottles of protein drinks for finishers, which was a nice way to end the race (especially those of us who wanted to ride more after the race). There wasn’t much else in the way of an expo area, but that added a much more grassroots flavor to the event. It had all the organization you’d want from a race, with a lot less blatant commercialism. Maybe it’s a result of the soft economy bringing in less sponsorship dollars – but I really liked it this way.
Clearly, the mountain bike race scene has changed – at least for the Dust Devil series. Based on my experience, I won’t miss a Dust Devil race next year.
Looking for race results? Download them here .