I want to try my hand at mountain bike racing but there's something that makes me nervous. How do I handle passing? I know it would be easy to pass in grassy areas, but what about on the narrow trails? On the trails I ride, it's pretty tight and I can't imagine how someone could pass another racer. I've been riding for five years but I've never raced. I plan to do a Beginner level race this fall, so I think I'll end up passing some people. I'm also certain that there will be a lot of people passing me. How do I get around someone when the trail is narrow? Also, what if someone wants to pass me and I can't see a way to let them by without stopping? Should I stop?
Racer in Raleigh
Dear Racer in Raleigh,
I take it that you live in North Carolina. That's good because that means we'll probably never race each other. After all, if we were direct competitors, I would have to give you advice that would ultimately allow me to beat you soundly, to crush you like grape, to take away every vestige of self-esteem you have... Basically, I'd tell you to yield to any woman who comes up from behind you, by not just slowing down and pulling to the side, but by stopping and getting off your bike. In fact, after getting off your bike, I'd tell you that you should take a moment to stretch your legs before getting back on the bike. But we're not competitors, so I will impart some hard earned advice to you.
Read on as I impart it.
Mountain bikers are pretty cool people. Almost everyone tends to be pretty respectful and cooperative when it comes to passing. They realize that often, the person behind them could be in a different age group and therefore, not even their direct competitor. When it comes to being passed, it's better to just let someone by if they're faster than you. If it's tight, you can wait for a safe spot and then tell them to pass left. Pull a little closer to the right side of the trial and lean you bike away from them as they come past you.
There will be an occasional jerk-off, but mountain bide courses always have spots where you can eke out a pass, even on single track. If someone isn't playing fair, the trick is to ride about a bike length off their wheel, and watch for your chance. When you see a wider area on the trail, speed up with strong intent. As your wheel begins to come past their's, call "passing left" and continue to go hard. You might have to go into the leaf litter on the edge of the woods a little. The trick is to surprise them and leave them little time to respond with a counter attack. If it doesn't work, just keep trying. There will eventually be a wider spot. When you pass them, be sure to remind them that they're racing for a fifty-cent medal.
Oh, and if you ever race in the NJ/PA/MD area (where I live), remember what I said bout getting off your bike for a stretch. It's for your benefit really. The Bikinator just wants to make sure that you're nice and relaxed when she blows past you on the trail.