Okay, so you’ve got your dog(s) covered…now on to you. Let’s start by bursting the bubble…you can’t impress anyone, but you can make everyone laugh. That phrase is something I’ve picked up from motor-racing circles, but you know what, it’s just so true here.
I believe many, before they start out, have wonderful dreams about them and their dogs being a natural, being fast from day one, and causing an upset among the well initiated. I’m sorry to tell you now, you can’t. You may well be a damn-sight better than people expect, but that’s the very best you can expect.
Mentally, you need to leave your ego at the door. This is a sport where everything and nothing is in your control all at the same time. If you’ve got great bike handling skills, brilliant, you’ll feel like you’re rarely using them. Got no notable mountain biking experience? Damn, you’ll wish you had. It’s a perplexing field where the only way to succeed, is to have fun.
Ignore that stop watch, put down that GPS tracker and just take your dog out for 5 minutes.
That’s all you need to do. Everything else, distance, speed, time, skills…they can all come later. Just take it steady and make it fun. There is nothing more to starting out.
Sorry, there’s a bit of a rant there…but it’s for a good purpose. All of the videos you’ll likely have seen online so far are from high-level championship races and from extensively well trained teams – no-one ever shares their painful first year(s) footage. Where every run seems to go not-quite-right, and self consciousness takes over. Here’s a tip – hardly anyone ever gets a perfect run. For perfection to occur in a situation like this you need yourself, your dog, your bike, the weather, the surrounding wildlife and the dirt below you, all to behave. Let’s just go from the outset with the opinion that, it just won’t happen.
Now, hopefully, you’re mentally prepared for this journey, and with that refreshed view, let’s look at your physical attributes to preparedness.
You need to be able to ride a bicycle, and understand how the brakes work. You need to know instinctively what commands to call out, and put in place some contingency plans in case it all goes wrong.
And finally, you need a few bits of kit for yourself:
This is the most important. Yes you know how to ride a bike, and you even rode down that really steep hill once without dying. But…why risk it? Seriously. Any insurance policy or race organisation will deem it mandatory, and should something happen to you, who’s gonna look after your pooch? Regular or full-face lid is your choice. I like to mix it up between the two depending on the conditions. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for them. Lids’ up folks.
Not absolutely mandatory but strongly recommended. Especially in loose conditions, not only will the front tire be throwing dirt up in to your face, but the dogs will be flicking dirt up-and-at-you too. A bit of stray dog-poo in the eye is not fun people! Goggles look awesome along with a full-face helmet.
Totally personal preference, but hands are likely to take the brunt of a fall, and help a great deal against those pesky trail-side nettles.
- Knee and Elbow Pads
It’s difficult to justify this to some people, you’ll never want to wear pads right up until you come off properly for the first time. Then it’s a world of regret. Think wisely.
- Appropriate Clothing
You don’t need to go all-out looking like a Tour De France winner, or a Downhill MTB superstar. But comfortable, hard-wearing clothing is your friend. Flat footwear is preferable, as it gives better traction on your pedals.
That’s it…you are prepared. (Assuming the other core elements are also up-to-scratch; check here).