Sunday, November 7, 2010

24 hour Solo MTB Racing - What You Need To Know

Just what do you need to know about the dark and disturbing world of 24 hour Solo Mountain Bike Racing?

If you don’t really care about the answer but just want to get involved then this beginner’s guide should help you get the wheels in motion and hopefully keep them in motion for at least 24 hours or until such a time as you can come up with an acceptable reason for stopping, getting off your your bike and contemplating what you have or haven’t achieved in embarking on the non-stop thrill ride that is 24 hour Solo Mountain Biking.

Support Crew

At the conclusion of any 24 hour Solo MTB Race, the podium placegetters will go on at length about the tireless work of their support crew. And it’s no secret how important a capable, motivated and well-drilled support team is to the success of the individual rider. The last thing you want after 18 hours on the bike is to have to scratch your own balls (or whatever bits ladies have that get itchy). I like to assign dedicated support roles to each of the crew members in order to keep things simple – a  mechanic for the repairs, a dietician for the nutrition plan, a bike washer for the cleaning, a fluffer for the, er, fluffing.

If you have a friend in the final year of an interior design course, I recommend enlisting their help in pit-row too – nothing says “I’m here to win” like a functional, modern, yet fashionably understated pit tent.


Once you have the support crew drilled and ready it’s time to start thinking about equipment. If you’re serious (or want to look like you are) then you’ll need two bikes – one to ride during the race and one to use as a psychological weapon against your opponents:
“Hey, nice bike.”
“What, this? This is just my spare bike.” Game over.
They say that competitive cycling is 85% mental so psychological tools such as these can really improve your race performance.

Unless you are racing north of the Arctic Circle during the Summer Solstice, it’s most likely that you’ll need lights for the night time portion of the race. Although you’re sure to come across some crusty old mountain biker who claims to have done dozens of night rides with a Dolphin torch strapped to his helmet, in reality this probably won’t cut it. While any basic torch would probably be sufficient to illuminate the trail once your night vision has kicked in, the reality that the lighting companies have come to realise is that if your lights aren’t of a similar or greater intensity to other riders, then you risk being blinded by your own shadow when another rider is behind you. This reality acts as a kind of perpetual fuel source for the lighting industry because manufacturers know that the only reason people need to purchase brighter lights is to make sure that they have something equally or more bright than everybody else. I see this phenomenon evolving with one of two possible outcomes:

  1. Light intensities continue to increase until the UCI (or whichever governing body chooses to recognise 24 hour MTBing as a legitimate sport) is forced to mandate a maximum light output due to burns inflicted on riders or bushfires igniting during night racing.
  2. Riders realise that it would actually be cheaper to pool their money and communally fund stadium-style illumination of the single-track rather than continue investing in expensive personal lighting systems.

Either way, in the not-too-distant future, it’s certain that the ’24 hours of Greenland’ won’t be the only race where you need to apply sunscreen for the night laps.
 “A good quality lighting system turns night in to day at the 24 hours of Greenland (mid-June)”


While there have been countless (pseudo-) scientific papers written about proper sports nutrition, I tend to follow a couple of simple of rules when it comes to race food.
If it looks good and tastes good then it’s probably fine to eat - unless it’s a mushroom.

While these may look tempting out on the trail, try and resist the urge as they may be dangerous. The only way to be sure that a mushroom is edible and non-poisonous is to make sure that it comes packaged like this:

While hydration is also important for an endurance event, it is critical not to overdo it. Remember – you can’t make up for time lost urinating so unless you are able to facilitate this process while pedalling then it’s probably best to go easy on the fluids and get them replaced intravenously in the first aid tent at the conclusion of the race – assuming that you are still conscious, that is.


The final and most important aspect of your 24 hour racing preparation is to arrive with a solid mental focus and a reasonable set of expectations. Don’t expect it to be easy, even if you have the latest lightweight equipment, low-chafe chamois and over-enthusiastic support crew. There probably aren’t too many things that you could contemplate doing for 24 hours straight, in fact, being in a coma or in jail are the only two that spring to mind. So you need to accept the fact that riding a mountain bike for this long is going to cause you some grief, pain, emotional awakening or psychosis.

Make sure you have prepared a strategy to help deal with these feelings as they arise throughout the race. A friend of mine used supportive cue cards prepared by her friends and read one per lap. Shame can also be used as a great motivator – just set a number of small goals during the race: I must catch that person in the baggy shorts/with the beard/on the single-speed/and the hairy legs (apologies to Brett Bellchambers).

If your mental tools aren’t working and you find yourself in a deep hole during the middle of the night then, as a last resort, it can be good to unload some unreasonable demands on to your support crew. I call this “Shifting the Blame”:

  • I can’t pedal up the hills, can you please add 3psi to my rear tyre.
  • I’ve lost traction in the corners, can you please take 2psi out of my front tyre.
  • My bottom bracket is creaking, please fix it.
  • The double-caffeine gels aren’t working. Find me some with triple-caffeine.
  • My chamois crème has dried up, please reapply…and warm it up first.

So, what are you waiting for?

Now that you’ve got the tools, got the hired help, got the nutrition plan and the right mental attitude, there’s nothing holding you back. Your first 24 hour Solo is waiting to be conquered. Make it happen – hopefully you won’t end up in hospital.

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