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5 Science Hacks to Help You Race Mountain Bikes Faster

Science has taught us a lot about performing better in XC, enduro and DH racing. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a scientist to use these training and racing tips to go faster!

Learn your limit

Going out too hard in mountain biking is common, and I’ve written about how to pace in enduro mtb racing and XC racing, both of which are important. When I work with my athletes, we use the critical power concept so that we know how hard they can go before they have nothing left in the tank.

We found that the critical power level can predict XC MTB racing too, which means that to perform better, we need to improve this level…and also to be careful in spending too much time above it!

field testing w

Will with the portable gas analyzer. On that day we were measuring his efficiency on the uphills and downhills

Look for free speed

One of the early research studies I did looked at the comparison of coasting and pedalling down a MTB descent. After a practice run, each person either coasted or pedalled at race pace down our 1km descent. Then they switched. While everyone had higher heart rate and VO2 when pedalling, they didn’t go faster than when they coasted (even though they all ‘felt’ super slow). They were literally wasting energy with all those pedalling efforts!

We can find free speed out on the trails, which means that we can save on pedalling and recover faster. If we recover faster, we can get to the next pedal section with more left in the tank so we can really capitalize on our abilities. Free speed can come in many ways, ranging from getting in the draft on open sections to looking ahead and anticipating what’s coming.

mtb 29er

Part of your training regime should be to head to the trails and find free speed. This is can be from braking before the corners or taking faster lines.

Dial in your tire pressure

Thanks to the rise in tubeless tire technology, we can run much lower pressures than before tubeless. Back in the day riders used really high pressures just so they didn’t get pinchflats, but that really made the ride a lot rougher. High tire pressures increase the amount of vibrations translated from the riding surface, which means that the body needs to use musculature to dampen these vibrations so our brains don’t rattle! While these vibrations are tiny, there are lots of them every second, and they are costly.

We found that high-volume, low-pressure tires were best at damping vibrations, and that low-volume, high-pressure tires were the worst. We start at 0.34 psi/kg of body weight using our handy, reliable pressure gauge, and add or subtract from there. If we find a tire pressure that keeps the tire on the rim and doesn’t snake-bite, we stick with that to save energy in the races.

Avoid braking in corners

This one has yet to be published, so I can’t say too much about it yet. But what I can say is that one of the early studies we did with the brake power meter really showed us a lot of the things beginners do with their brakes differently than pros. Cornering is usually the time when we have the least contact with the ground since the bike is being leaned. If we brake at this point we risk losing traction with the tires, which could mean a crash! At the same time, heavy braking changes the geometry of the bike, which further changes how it handles.

MTB PhD kit

It looks cool when you ride on the limit of control, but it isn’t always faster.

Braking before the corners is a sure way to ride faster and safer. Races can be won or lost in the corners, so it’s worth practicing.

Worry about things you can control

This is maybe a little bit less about a scientific study, but important nonetheless. A lot of XC racers are constantly worried about increasing their watts/kg and spend lots of money saving a few grams on their bike. Sure, W/kg are important, but you might be able to save more weight and spend less money on a diet plan from a sports nutritionist? It’s the same for the gravity riders: they might spend lots of time trying to dial in their suspension on a race weekend, which means they get less time to practice the track at speed. There are suspension experts out there who can help you dial in your suspension.

If you liked this, check out these before your next ride: Stay up-to-date with the developments of the brake power meter

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