Introduction to Mountain Bike Racing

Firecrest MTB – Young Rider Development Programme – DeVo
Introduction to Mountain Bike Racing

Mountain biking has many different sub-disciplines, styles and formats. One such sub-category of mountain biking is racing, which offers a fun way to compete against others, challenge yourself and get more out of your riding.

This guide focusses on three of the racing disciplines for mountain bikes: – Cross-country, Downhill and Enduro. Giving you an insight into the sport of mountain biking, the disciplines, the equipment, the races on offer, how to get started and the right races for you.

The Disciplines

Each of the mountain bike race disciplines’ tests different aspects of a rider fitness, strength and riding skills. Specific mountain bikes have been developed to meet the requirements of each of the race disciplines. Cross-country bikes are designed to be ridden at high speeds over long distances, downhill bikes are designed to take on the challenges of steep and technical terrain and enduro bikes are designed to tackle a range of technical terrain both uphill and downhill at speed. With the boom in Enduro racing creating a new genera of mountain bike and mountain bike races and events that have appealed to a broad range of riders of all ages and experience due to the mix of skills required and the fun format of the races combining the elements of Cross-Country and Downhill Racing.

Cross-Country (XC) Mountain Bike Racing

Cross-country mountain bike racing is a mass start event and is raced around a taped circuit. The circuits are normally 4-6km in length, including uphill, downhill, technical features, jumps, drops and singletrack. The age and experienced based category system determines the number of laps that you’ll race.

Cross-country is an exciting race discipline as you are bar-to-bar with competitors fighting for position. It’s also a good test of fitness and bike handling skills. It’s also the only mountain bike discipline to be raced at the Olympics.

Cross-Country Race Bikes

The ideal cross-country race bike is either a hardtail or short-travel full-suspension bike. The bikes are geared to handle the climbs and the bikes have tyres that offer decent traction but roll quickly. Weight is key and the modern XC bikes are the lightest and strongest they’ve been.

Clothing and Equipment

Most XC racers will wear Lycra shorts and a jersey, you don’t need to worry about body armour because the trails are not overly technical, and cooling and freedom of movement are key. A well-ventilated open faced mountain bike helmet is ideal, too.

Mountain Bike Downhill Racing

Downhill racing is a timed run from the top to the bottom of a downhill track. Riders compete individually on a fully taped course with the fastest time in each category winning.

Depending on the location and size of the event, courses will vary in difficulty, but most especially local and regional events will offer safer secondary routes around highly technical obstacles and sections.

The downhill racing scene is friendly, thanks in part to riders competing against the clock rather than against one another on a track. The format usually sees the fastest rider going down the hill last, making for an exciting culmination to the category and the days racing as that riders does their best to hold onto the fastest time in their category or on the day to take the win.

Due to the nature of the tracks and the features they include, downhill requires skill, commitment and confidence, this results in some spectacular riding making it great for spectators.

To compete at the highest level, you need to be fit, but downhill is more about skills, strength and power compared to cross-country. So, if you prefer to practise corners and jumps rather than hammering out the miles, downhill is probably the discipline for you.

Downhill Race Bikes

If you’re racing on shorter tracks at a local or regional level, a hardtail bike with a suspension fork and disc brakes should be fine. Bigger races (and tracks) are more suited to dedicated downhill mountain bikes or full-suspension bikes with specialist tyres and tougher components. Expect to see dual-crown forks, narrow gear ranges, lots of suspension and big disc rotors.

Clothing and Equipment

For safety, a full-face helmet is mandatory when racing, and it’s wise to use body armour, including knee pads, elbow pads and back protectors.

Mountain Bike Enduro Racing

Enduro racing consists of multiple timed stages (mostly downhill) with liaison sections in-between, joining them all together. In more serious races, you’ll need to complete the liaison stages within a time limit. While you can ride with your mates between the timed stages, you race the stages against the clock individually. Think Rallying but on Mountain Bikes!

The appeal for many of Enduro is that it offers loads of bike time compared to racing downhill. Similarly, to downhill, it’s a great test of skill, but the fitness element means it’s not totally dissimilar to cross-country either. Overall, it’s very sociable and quite relaxed making it great for riders of all ages and abilities.

This type of racing is for people looking to challenge their bike-handling skills and fitness levels together. It’s also ideal for those looking to spend a day out on the bike with plenty of racing.

Enduro Race Bikes

To compete in enduro races, you’ll need anything from a hardtail with a suspension fork to a longer-travel trail bike or a dedicated enduro bike. There’s not much difference between the two but the enduro bike will be dialled in for a day’s racing.

Clothing and Equipment

It’s worth getting a lighter-weight full-face helmet, which will offer the necessary protection without making you overheat on the transitions between stages and the pedalling sections of the races.

The Governing Bodies

Mountain Bike Racing is recognised and sanctioned globally by the Union Cyclist International (UCI) the sport’s International Governing Body and the rights holder for the World Championships and the World Cup Series which along with the Olympic Cross-Country Race are the premier global competitions in mountain biking.

The UCI recognise the governing bodies of cycle sport in each country, in the UK that’s British Cycling. British Cycling are responsible for all cycle sport across the UK. They sanction the various National Championships (awarding the National Champions Jerseys) National Series, regional and in some cases the local races. With reponsibilty for selecting the British Team for the World Championships and World Cup events.

British Cycling oversee the National Rankings which are used to move riders through the ability-based categories within mountain biking and for priority entry into the National Series. Many races are sanction by British Cycling which means they will award ranking points, but some organisers have their own event insurance in place and in these instances, there are no ranking points awarded.

Enduro has its first National Championships in 2024 which is a big step up in recognition. It also means the winners will be crowned National Champions and awarded a National Jersey for the first time.

For more information on the Governing Bodies, you can visit their website here: –


British Cycling –

The Race Categories

Mountain Bike Race Categories are based on age and ability. The age category system can be confusing at first as it’s based on the year of your birthday rather than your age in that year.

So, for example if you’re aged between 12-14 years of age you’ll be in the Juvenile category. However, you will move into the Youth category in the year of your 15th birthday. So, if you’re 14 in January you can ride for the majority of the year that your 14 years of age. Whereas if your birthday is in December then you’ll only have a matter of days in the category at the age of 14 before moving up to the Youth category as one of the youngest riders in the category. There are all sorts of arguments for and against this system and of course for the younger riders you could as “is it fair”? Of course, it’s hard to know how to make this system any farer but it’s important to remember that it’s the year of your birthday not your age in that year when it comes to entering the right age group category. Once you’re out of the younger age group categories then your birthday really has little bearing on when you move up and ironically you move up into the Masters (30-39), Vets (40-49) and Grand Vets (49-59) in the year of your birthday.

The Junior Category is for riders in the years from their sixteenth to eighteenth birthdays. This is also the age that riders are eligible to compete at World Cups in a dedicated Junior Category. When a rider is out of the year of their 18th Birthday, they move into the Senior Category for riders aged 19-29. There’s also the option to be promoted into one of the ability categories either straight from Junior if you are riding at the appropriate level or from senior as you score ranking points at the races. From the Senior Category you’re promoted into the Expert Category and then from there you’re promoted into the Elite Category also known as the Pro/Elite category as this is the level where riders will be competing professionally.

When a rider turn 29 they can move back into the age categories which starts with Masters for riders from 29-39 years of age, then Veterans for riders from 40 – 49 years of age, then Grand Vets for riders from 50-59 and Super Vets for riders from 60 – 69.

British Cycling have a page explaining the Mountain Bike Category System here: –

British Cycling Category System

The Races

It may surprise you to know that for a country with very few mountains we have dominated the mountain bike racing on the World stage over the years. Much of that is due to our fantastic domestic mountain bike race scene with races for riders of all ages and abilities across all the mountain bike disciplines. From local grassroots races which are ideal for those starting out and looking to race on their local trails through to Regional Series for riders looking to develop their craft and National Series that use some of the most demanding tracks in the world there is truly something for everyone.

Here are our favourites and links to their websites for details on their current races and race series.

Cross Country

British Cycling National Cross-Country Series

The National Series is jewel in the Cross-Country Racings Crown. With a 5-race series and a stand-alone National Championships.

British Cycling – National Cross-Country Series

Southern XC

The regional series for the South of England. Great venues and a relaxed racing vibe make the Southern XC a must for riders looking to go head to head with the best racers in the South of England.

Southern XC Series

Gorrick XC

The Gorrick races have been around since the dawn of the sport. Based in the South of England these are a great way to give XC racing a go and ideal for the seasoned XC racer to stretch their legs.


British Cycling National Downhill Series

The National Series is jewel in the Downhill Racings Crown. With a 5-race series and a stand-alone National Championships in 2024. For this season they’ve reintroduced the rule that gives riders with 150 National Ranking Points priority entry to the series. That proirty period expires at the beginning of February when riders without points can enter on a first come first served basis. The thinking behind the reintroduction of this rule is that it will ensure the riders competing at the National Races have the right level of experience to compete at this level. If you’re looking to start racing at this level, then start with the British Cycling ranked regional events and build up your experience and the points required to enter the Nationals.

British Cycling – National Downhill Series

Pearce Cycles

What the Pearce Cycles team don’t know about running downhill races isn’t worth knowing. The team has years of experience, and they know how to put on a great event. Billed as a regional series but for many as good if not better than the Nationals these races are the perfect stepping stone between the regional and the National events. The courses are great a step up from the regional races at many venues but there are always B-lines for the technical sections. The hardest part of the Pearce Downhills is getting an entry as these races are extremely popular and sell out quickly when race entries go live. A converted race plate and the opportunity to race their events means you’ve already won. Joking aside if you’re looking for a series of event to target in a season the Peace Cycles Races are the ones to choose.

Mini Downhill

There are a number of downhill race organisers that have jumped on the Mini Downhill bandwagon running their own version of the ‘Mini Downhill’ but these are the originals. With some of their most popular downhill races taking place over the winter months in the Forest of Dean they run events throughout the year. The Minidownhills are a great way to get into downhill racing. The tracks are technical enough to test your skills and fitness with optional b-lines on the more technical sections. Check their website for the latest events.

Racers Guild Racing

Running their events out of the popular Style Cop Mountain Bike Trails in Cannock Chase  the Racers Guild offer a great way to get into downhill racing and the opportunity for seasoned racers to test their skills and fitness against the clock.

The Racers Guild – Facebook Group

Gravity Events UK

Another organiser with a packed calendar of downhill events is Gravity Events UK. Running local, regional and National Events. Keep an eye on their website and Facebook Page as they update their calendar.

MIJ Downhill

With events from regionals to Nationals MIJ have something for everyone. Running a packed calendar of races. Keep an eye on their Facebook Page as they update their calendar.

Danny Harts Descend Bike Park

If you’re looking to get started and live in the North East of England (or are prepared to travel) then the races at Danny Harts Bike Park are great. With a choice of trails the races are aimed at all levels of rider looking to put their skills to the test between the tapes.

Crickley Flyers

Great grassroots events run at the Fly Up 417 Bike Park in Gloucestershire. These are a great place to get started in downhill racing. These Go-Ride Events are aimed at young riders and first time downhill racers. Great tracks and a fantastic atmosphere make for a great introduction to downhill racing.


National Enduro Series

The National Series is put together by a consortium of Enduro Race Organisers under the British National Enduro Series banner. Bringing together the best venues and organisers across the UK to put together the National Series.

British National Enduro Series

Southern Enduro

One of the UK’s leading Regional Series a great stepping stone to the Nationals. Racing across the South of England with some amazing venues and a great days racing.

Mini Enduro

The Mini Enduro events are another one to go to if you’re looking for that stepping stone from Regional to National Level racing. Great venues, a highly experienced organising team and a great days racing.


A great way to get into Enduro Racing and equally popular with seasoned racers. The Pedalhounds races are run in the South of England at some great venues. A great day out on trails that are designed to challenge your skills but at the same time not be overly technical.

Hope PMBA Enduro Series

With events in England, Scotland and Wales it would be easy to argue that this is a National Series. The Hope PMBA Enduro Series blurs that line in many ways but with the events focussed on having fun there’s something for everyone. The tracks are challenging and the days are often quite long but if that’s what you’re looking for then this is the series for you.