After the first NICA high School race my son Samuel and I had a conversation that lasted a better part of the drive from Prescott back to Tucson. He felt that he could have done better in the race, but that he was unable to pass riders. He mentioned riders not yielding, weaving to prevent passing and riders off the bike on hills who made it impossible to ride past them. Sam, who is a considerate young man, (yes, I might be biased in my opinion) wanted to know how to pass without being over aggressive.
I have never thought of the proper etiquette when it comes to race day even though I’ve been in many races. The only “circuit” mountain bike race I’ve done is the 24 hours in the Old Pueblo. Since I have been more in participation than race mode, I’m always quick to relinquish the trail and patient to pass. In longer races like the Tour of the White Mountains or The Whiskey I’ve found the start is thought out with enough road or jeep trail to allow the racers to find the spot they naturally belong in. There just is not that much passing to be an issue.
When we returned home I asked this question on facebook “I’m writing an article about passing etiquette during mountain bike races. Also, skills for passing.” I also sent notes to Olympian Todd Wells, Krista Parks, Chloe Woodruff and Coach Jason Tullous asking their opinion on the subject. The following are the responses.
Todd Wells said : Hi Damion, Thanks for the note. Passing is a big problem. I can imagine in NICA races it is a really big issue with such large fields and different ranges in ability. I think one of the rules for a NICA course is it has to be a certain percentage of double track or fire road to facilitate passing. When ever there is a wide range of abilities passing is always an issue. I find it also difficult when I am racing on a course with multiple categories and they aren’t pulling riders so we don’t’ have a clear track. At a World Cup race riders will fight you tooth and nail for every position and there is no courtesy, if you can take the position you do and if you can avoid giving it up at any cost you do as well. In less competitive races there is a more civil way of doing things. Generally the slower rider yields to the faster rider. That is not to say they jump off the trail but they move slightly to the side to allow the faster rider to pass with the least amount of resistance to their own speed. Most times this works. There are always riders that won’t get out of the way and no matter how nicely you ask they just don’t get it. In those instances it up to the rider, they can take the position forcefully or wait until the trail opens up to pass. If the race is low key I will usually try to accommodate the slower rider and wait to pass. If it is a big race or a lot of prize money on the line I will take the position however I can.
I like to yell long before I get to the person so they have time to look for a spot to pull off.
Krista Parks said: Hey Damion! yep it’s a tough one… it has to come from the top that blocking is not allowed, not even for a second. If that instruction is not clear and enforced the faster rider will end up being the bad guy. I try to keep talking, “rider back”, “when you get a chance”, “on your left” (like it or not 🙂 ). Once I lost patience with a guy on a downhill after 5 minutes of trying to get by on the rolling section and said, “wow you are really slow”. that worked and I thanked him nicely as I passed. Obviously being nice is better than winning a race, you make way more friends that way. It is much easier to come up behind a new friend, use their name and ask for a pass than to make enemies then try to get them to let you by…
Jason Tullous said: Simply, the rules are you must yield to the faster rider and that’s something the Conference director should bring to the Coaches attention and then on down to the riders. Most of the athletes are new to the sport and may not understand. Of course that typically does not solve the problem. You will have to get more aggressive. This should mostly happen at the start. In the course pre ride, you have to determine how hard you will need to start to position yourself well. When you do get stuck behind a slower rider, first be patient and know the passing lanes. Save your energy to pass at that moment. Be sure to have your elbows out just in case. 🙂
If they will not move, you’ll need to be aggressive in looking for unique passing opportunities and pester the rider in front of you by continually asking to pass, stating the rules, rubbing their tire, etc… I think the best solution are the rules and your pre ride giving you a race strategy.
I followed up the question with Coach Tullous and asked for techniques to pass
“Be in an easier gear. This allows you to accelerate quicker. MTBers are typically bad at this but they are always faster for it. Practice cadence.”
The comments on Facebook are below. Some were more joking, but I left them in as they were humorous.
Lindsey Cooper: So, yelling “move it, b*%&$!” isn’t correct?????
Ryan Floden: Be sure to include common remarks such as yelling “STRAVA” or “On your left”
Kyle Akin: how about something for the trail corker that won’t get out of the way when you’re trying to win a race?
Damion Alexander: Kyle, that is what I’m looking for. Thoughts on what is appropriate when you are timed and trying to do your best regardless of if that is for a podium finish or simply to finish in the best time you can. The reason I’m on this is after the first NICA race I had a long conversation with Sam about this
John Mertes: You should pass like people do during the 24 hour race, if there is no room, run the slower person into a bush…thats always fun, especially when you are the slow person.
Ma Fin: What Mertes said! Be sure to fire a snot rocket at them as you are passing and riding them into a cactus
Liane Ehrich: How about passers should be respectful of the person that they are passing? If you are passing you are strong enough to wait a few seconds for a safe place to pass and then take the bad line. Those being passed should look for a safe place and call out the direction they want the passer to go. If the place is too short, the passer waits until a longer line presents itself. Communication and respect should be two ways
Lauren Denise Gowan DeLillo: I think you’re getting a lot of great material for a really funny book or at least a magazine article.
Julia Strange: I admit to being one of those slower people and really can say it stinks when you are trying to get over but there are cactus (or rocks or a cliff) and the faster person passes anyway knocking you into the said cactus. I always get over as quickly as I can, even stepping off the trail if I have to … But I refuse to ride intentionally into a cholla so that someone can get 10 extra seconds of time
Daryll McKenzie: Lately there has been much of the load to pass put on the passer and very little on the person being passed. Racing on single track esp. with the wide bar craze makes for some sketchy passing. Too many times I hear at race meetings to be nice when passing and if you get out of line it’s a penalty or DQ. This has now sent the message to those being passed they have little responsibility and even empowers them to stay in the middle of the trail giving less room to pass. It takes both racers to give some to make it work. Just on our squad last race we had 3 sprint finishes for a podium placing that were decided by 1 second. Putting in hard work to distance a competitor and then giving it all back sitting behind a lapper is frustrating, watching a competitor ride away from you while you are stuck behind a lapper even more frustrating. MTB racing is one of those sports were you have to have a certain etiquette as you said Damion. The race rules and meetings should put as much emphasis on the person being passed (they really control the trail and pass situation)as they do the passer.
Richard Biocca: what we have here is not a passing problem. It is an entitlement issue. Daryll McKenzie is right on the money. I have the been passed and have passed and it is important that people respect each other. I always try to be nice and ask to passee and exchange some kind words when trying to perform a pass. I am also guilty of giving up on my relationship with said passee after they become difficult and get attitudes etc. I then hammer down and leave them behind and hope their day improves. When being passed I do my best to get the f out of the way cuz I know I am not the fastest out there and want to give the respect that we should all expect and not be a speedbump. I would never yell Strava either.
Ira Getraer: If you are going to get off your bike get clear of the trail and wait until no one is coming up behind you before you walk over the section you didn’t want to ride. After walking over the section look back and be sure no one is about to come off that section before you get back on.
Jimmy Bees: Rubbing is racing
Elliot DuMont: Better yet why don’t people just exercise kindness and common sense. If you’re passing someone chances are you are the better rider and should give the passee noticeable heads up before arriving on their wheel, the passee should wait for the closest time they can allow the passer to move over, the paser should move as far to the opposite end of the trail making the passee feel as safe as possible, then when the passer passes they say, “hey thanks, have a kick ass ride” or “hey thanks, you’re doing great!” AND LEAVE THEM IN THE DUST!
Jolly Rogers: I call passes on singletrack, bike paths, roadways and in the bar. The passing person also needs not to be yelling 1/8th of a mile back “rider up” but rather approach the individual and make verbal contact without yelling like a douchebag and expect the person to instantly clear for you. You are over taking or passing someone so you are are responsible for a safe pass on BOTH parties and some portions o f trail only allow for one rider at a time.
Elliot DuMont: I’ve always been impressed with the pros and how kind and patient they are on the trail. I got passed as most of you have by Karl Dekkker at 24 hop and he was ridiculously patient and kind.
Kit Plummer: This is not a suggestion, but something from another sport with similar issues. In professional motocross/supercross – lappees are waved with a special flag by workers around the track, to let them know that leaders are coming up behind – and they are to give way. For NICA one of the issues is that four categories (and unlimited breadth in each) make up the ridership on the trails. The lap/distrance differentials allow the varsity and JV categories to finish the races with out having the interference. But, it creates an opportunity for all racers to “use” the lap/slower traffic. Just based on the experience of the V/JV versus Soph/Frosh groups I could see where it would be beneficial to both to separate the actual races. Until something changes, I believe respect between passer and passee must baseline whatever the protocol is.
Alex Paterson: I have been asked a few times when I am trying to pass someone what my hurry is….well it may not be a race to them but it is to me. I am a slow climber but I make up for it on the descents. I know when someone is behind me on a climb and I do my best to let them by ASAP. I will take the rough blown out route to get around people on the decent and yell on your left as I pass someone . In a race like the Whiskey passing is a real problem and congestion is a bigger problem.
Alex Paterson: A race like the 24 Hours is another perfect example of passing making a huge difference to your overall time. If you have spend and xtra 2 to 5 minutes passing slower traffic each lap you can really loose some time. It may only seem like 10 seconds to the person being passed but it seems like time is standing still to the person doing the passing.
Alisa Payne Neave: Shoving someone into a cholla – not good manners! Someone with a loud voice (like a certain youth cycling coach) got my attention at 24HOP to move on over
Jimmy Bees: Motorcross also uses hip check or posting them in a corner. A tailwhip seals the deal
Mike Perr< y Kit Plummer, et al. If the league continues to grow at its current rate, in 2015 we will likely split teams into D1 and D2 (based on size). When that occurs we’ll increase from two start waves to three (with each category separate by 5 minute start intervals): Girls – V / JV / S / F, Boys – S1 / S2 / F1 / F2 and Boys – Varsity / JV1 / JV2. This will help alleviate some of the congestion created by lapped riders, but it’ll also result in longer race days and the V and JV boys racing in hotter temperatures (even when we start the season in northern AZ).
Craig Boydell: Having a bell makes a big difference. It can be hard to sound nice when you’re anaerobic but a bell always sounds polite. Plus, you can ding it a couple of times from a ways back and it gives the rider more notice, especially if there’s a big speed difference. Once you get closer you can then “I’ll pass if I can”. This combination seemed to work great at the 24, thanks to Bryan Little handing out bells to the Hosie Cows crew.
Ben Elias: Craig Boydell has a good technical solution that is easy to implement and compliments respectful attitudes whilst passing or yielding
Richard Biocca: Another great idea is to only ride at night (my strategy) as your lights will give the passee proper warning. If you approach fast enough they will get scared and jump off course fearing an alien abduction
Kyle Akin:first of all, this is why there is a mad dash to the single track in MBAA races… Passing slows you down.. and that really sucks if you’re really suffering while leading a race with chasers behind you. Ideally, as you’re approaching a slower rider, you ring your bell, or let them know you’re coming and say “when you get a chance”.. be clear about the side you will be passing. The slower rider SHOULD give priority to the passer and if need be, pull off to the side and stop. You must be very careful not to clip the rider you’re passing.
Kyle Helmke: Passing is a game of ethics, If you’re caught by someone please yield ASAP
Krista Park: I remember reading UCI cross-country rules stating that blocking was forbidden and could earn that rider a DQ. In enduro it is more obvious who is faster, if you are caught you are 30 seconds slower, almost everyone is amazing at getting out of the way. If not, other racers will talk about the one or two people who are known blockers. If you are caught, get over right away, if you can’t get over, ride off the trail and stop. I have done that twice; yes, it messed up my time but that’s how it works, over-taking riders have the right-of-way.
Damion Alexander : Great conversation. Thanks for all the comments. Mike Perry, Thanks for the picture of what might come as the league grows. At the same time, the question I’m trying to get at is not just about having to many riders on the course. It is about the riders in your category who are not willing to yield when they should. For example, on some of the wider sections with ample room to pass, athletes were weaving from side to side to prevent passing. Riders were also unable to make some of the climbs and were walking with their bikes in the middle of the path. With El Grupo and especially Samuel, we hammer over and over the importance of being respectful. I’d rather see no podiums and good kids than those who have a win at all cost attitude. I also get that these are young adults who are still trying to figure out what is right and wrong and sometimes those lines are hard to be clear of. Especially at times we see adults who set a bad example.
I do want to give you and John Shumaker props for having this conversation prior to the race. I hope that at the next coaches meeting you will bring it up again. Perhaps even mentioning some of the great points my friends have made here.
Mike Perry: As we remind at every race, passing can define the day for both riders involved, positively or negatively. Besides the coaches meeting, it’s covered with each group in staging and I addressed it in two news letters leading up to Race #1, too. Whether racing or JRA, passing happens. Be a role model. https://madmimi.com/p/ca6645 https://madmimi.com/p/b40835
Mike Ingram: at 24 HOP I have noticed that the really fast people were excellent passers, they let you know, were polite, and passed when it made sense — then there were those clowns who did a dangerous pass/cut-off 20 feet before the doubletrack and who then proceeded to slow down going up the bloody hill ( fighting for number 1991 vs 1992 nd place I guess )
Patrick Fraher: The NICA & Arizona models are about sportsmanship on both parties accounts. I advise my kids to be safe whether passing or being passed. If there is no reasonable place to pull over then the passer will have to wait. If someone rams them, grabs their bars or causes injury to them, then we as coaches need to evaluate what we are teaching & correct it. Not every kid out there has racing experience going into these events & I really appreciate the league doing their best to emphasize safety. I don’t want my freshman girl getting run off the trail & quitting the team because of the unsportsmanlike attitude of a few. Nobody is earning a check yet & I’d rather they kept cycling the rest of their life instead of hating it. It is an ALL INCLUSIVE league, not just for the elite racer
Kristin Élise Hillman Fukuchi: I don’t know the rules about which side to pass on but a rider came up on me during a Mtn bike race and asked to pass so I pulled left because it was the safest spot for my riding ability and then he got mad that I didn’t pull right (off a pretty good cliff mind you). It’s not a road race, right? At least I pulled over and was trying to be nice. He still managed to get around but I think he lost 2 seconds of time.
Dave Sewell: My experiences at races have almost always been positive, while passing, or more often being passed. Most people are kind and patient. Communication is the key.
Intentionally blocking a faster rider should be grounds for a flogging, it is unsportsmanlike childish. Being an ass when you are passing deserves the same treatment. Passing and being passed is something that should be coached, and practiced (on both ends) by racers. Faster riders cannot expect you to give up the good line if you are a passee, it is up to them to take the rough ride around line. But like Nicole said, there could be times where you need to just pull over and let the by. There are exceptions to every rule. Anyone off their bike or stopped should be off the good line, and like someone said above, make sure it is clear before trying to get back onto it.
Mark Flint: course design/modification can also help. I just finished designing a new course, and we’re going to put in passing lanes wherever it’s feasible (i.e. whenever the side slope grade is low enough to make a wider track or a passing lane. The start has about a quarter mile of uphill that is wide, gradually tapering to singletrack. But as others have said, basic rules of courtesy and respect should (unfortunately don’t always) eliminate negative experiences.
Donald Lewis: It’s Mt Biking, there is no etiquette!
If you read through all of this, what do you think the take away is? If you were a race director, how would you structure your rules?