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How I Became a First Quarter Mountain Bike Racer in Two Year

Have you considered mountain bike racing as a sport for health and fitness? It’s a great way to motivate yourself to exercise.

You know how it is when you go to work. School sports are over. People you meet at work want to go out to eat or watch movies. Then you feel tired and gravitate toward the couch, books, music, videos, maybe snacks or beer, at the end of the day. If you were the athletic type in school, maybe in one year, definitely in two, you’ll start to feel those days without a good workout adding up. I did: smaller biceps, bigger waistline, more boredom with life in general. At a routine checkup the doctor suggested I take up an individual sport for physical and mental health.

I was lucky. For $500, I got a brand-new Diamondback Overdrive Hard Tail mountain bike from Bicycle Guider. These days this Diamondback is hard to find new under $500, but back then that was a typical price.

There are some super cheap Diamondbacks out there as well. They’re well rated for weekend riders and children; they’re just not up to racing standards. The names and marketing for these models are giveaways. There’s the Tess for teens, the Mini Viper for tots, the Serene Comfort for Mama to breeze along beside the kids, and more. That type of bike was not for me. With a racing bike you can always dawdle beside the “fun riders” if you want to.

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On the heavy side for racing, the Hard Tail was good enough to qualify for races. My new bike filled me with motivation. I wanted to start while I was still fairly fit, finish well enough to motivate me to keep training, and improve with practice.

The Presta Pump  it needed didn’t add much to the overall cost. Neither did my first pair of bike shoes. I invested in a well reviewed helmet right away. Before riding in my first race, I learned that bike shorts are more than just a fashion look. For racing you need good ones. However, Diamondback installs relatively comfortable bike saddles, which helps.

The Diamondback doesn’t need as many repairs as some other cheap bikes do. The main repair and maintenance item you have to have, no substitutes, is the Presta Pump. You do need to do some assembly and maintenance, which takes some basic tools available probably everywhere.

It worked. Lots of other guys had been racing and training longer than I had, at first. My best places for the first six months were in the top two thirds. Still, every time I got better results and therefore better starting positions. That helped with motivation and also with finishing times. I got back down to the waist size I wore in college, and discovered a whole new level of leg muscle definition.

After one year I knew mountain bike racing was for me. I invested in a $1,500 mountain bike. Full suspension is way better for racing, because you can sit down. The suspension applies enough weight to keep you moving fast while taking a load off your feet. Need I say more? Well, yes, this bike has only nine speeds, which is plenty for most races and makes a lighter bike, especially with the SRAM shifter. Fewer moving parts is better for weight and maintenance purposes. I also appreciate the wider handlebars on a Diamondback.

After one year with the serious racing model I was in the top quarter with my results. I was beating guys who had wanted similar results for much more than just two years. I was comfortable racing on mixed terrain for long distances.

I was beating more expensive bikes, even those Specialized S-Works Epic Pro models, which cost about $5,000.  I’m not saying the Epic Pro is less than a great mountain bike. Some winning racers ride them, after all. The twelve-speed SRAM shifter is still light enough to make this model a serious contender. But the Atroz that’s carrying the guy with practice, discipline, and motivation is capable of edging past the Epic Pro that’s carrying the guy with a little bit less practice, discipline, and motivation. For now, that’s enough for me.

I keep training, practicing,  and working out. I’ve learned a few things from experience. Like, you don’t want to skip on those stretches, even on the arm exercises (I want to maintain arm muscle definition anyway). If you’re one of those people with what the coaches and doctors call the “broken thirst response,” you want to remember how much water you need to remain hydrated, and drink it before you start to poop out…because if you dry out, you will poop out.

Nutrition is more important than a lot of also-ran mountain bikers think. Calcium is what you feel when you first start a workout and notice feeling tired or stiff. If you take calcium supplements, or if you just like cheese and ice cream better than you like yogurt, nuts, and salad, it is possible to overdo the calcium. If you do need calcium supplements, it’s important to balance calcium, magnesium, and zinc to maintain solid bones without getting calcium deposits in muscle tissue, which are otherwise known as cramps. Though total vegans tend to be weekend athletes, sometimes you’ll see vegans beat carnivores because those nuts and greens naturally contain that balance of minerals. Not that I am a vegan, or plan to be one, but I naturally appreciate magnesium-loaded almonds, and I am  cultivating a taste for salad greens.

I think my secret for steady progress is daily workouts, though. I ride all year, even in winter. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with training indoors. If I lived in London I’d probably want an indoor training bike. Since you don’t get perfect weather every day during a long race, though, you can also build an edge by “winterizing” a relatively economical bike. Add-ons add a little weight, yes. For me, since that added weight builds a little added strength, the trade-off is a good bargain.

Because you can use it every day, I’d recommend a good, cheap mountain bike like the  hardtail if you’re more interested in exercise than serious sport, and want to stay motivated to work out daily just for health and fitness purposes. You can always upgrade.

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