Alongside an excuse to drink cold beers with good friends, there are loads of benefits to watching professional downhill, cross-country, and enduro races. I have never been much of a sports fan myself and didn’t follow any games or events prior to being hooked by live streaming mountain bike races online. I’d generally prefer to do something rather than watch other people do it. Since Red Bull TV began broadcasting live World Cup races several years back, I have noted numerous benefits to watching the best riders in the world battle with gravity, traction, and fitness.
Body and bike mechanics
A lot of books and studies that focus on how humans learn and hone physical skills have told the tale of visualized body mechanics. The Inner Game of Tennis is a classic piece wherein author W. Timothy Gallwey lays out the ways our bodies can learn to do things better by watching perfected techniques and then imagining ourselves doing the same. In short, by watching how the fastest folks in the world maneuver obstacles and angle their bodies for optimal traction, we can have a better understanding of how to improve our own skills. Better performance on the bike directly translates into more fun, and this improvement method is both free and enjoyable.
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If we pay close attention to racers’ posture we can gain a better idea of how and where the skills we often read about are most advantageous. You have likely heard that it’s helpful to “bend your elbows” and “drop your heels.” If you watch the pros closely you can see where they follow those suggestions, and what else they do to maneuver the demanding tracks that fill your screen.
Watching the pros not only allows us to envision and mimic their dialed body position, but it’s also a direct demonstration of what’s possible on bikes and trails just like ours. With few exceptions (mainly suspension), most professional racers are riding the same components and frames that any of us can bolt together. Watching how hard pro racers push their gear offers a more clear idea of what our bikes and bodies can truly do when they’re pushed to the breaking point. We don’t need to expect the same performance from ourselves, nor the bikes we paid retail for, but knowing where the limits truly lie will help quiet the “I can’t” monster when we’re learning something new or pushing past our own comfort bubble.
Depending on where you live, and at what hour you like to shred, weekend World Cups and EWS events can likely fit around your riding schedule. During the World Cup season, It can be good fun to gather up some friends pre- or post-ride to watch the race together. This gives you a chance to hang with your trail pals when you’re not breathing hard and provides another subject to fill the space between your own epic ride tales. If you’re lucky, your local bike shop or bar might be willing to put the race on the screen and you can invite folks from all around to share in the action.
In addition to watching the races online, there is a great deal of community building potential and fun to be had by going to the events in person. You can meet new people to ride with, and you might rub elbows with some of the fast folks who fly across the computer monitor every weekend. Barring a few athletes, professional mountain bike racers are just as chill as the folks you ride with. They will be out walking around before and after the event, eager to answer questions and share beers with other riders and fans.
Support brands that support the sport
The most innovative shifts in mountain biking are tested on the race track and most brands that can afford to sponsor professional teams do. Some World Cup teams run over one million dollar budgets annually, which is no meager investment. With what seems like an absence of bad bikes these days, racing can be another factor to help you select the bike brands you want to support. When you’re faced with the ever difficult decision of which frame to buy next, or which fork to choose, you could pick the company that pays your favorite athlete’s salary, the one that supports the most female athletes, or the brand that brings the most juniors to the races. Of the leading brands, race team and event sponsors are the ones truly putting their money toward the future of our sport.
I’ll close with the most obvious advantage of watching talented athletes do the thing you love to do: inspiration. When I watch a DH, enduro, or XC race, all I want to do is go ride my bike. I don’t need to huck road gaps like Myriam Nicole, or drag my grips through the apex of a turn like Jesse Melamed, but I get pumped to go enjoy riding after watching all of the excitement and tension of racing. Their adrenaline rush feeds mine, and I can use that as motivation to get out and ride — maybe a nib faster or farther than before.
We will be bringing race coverage from a wide variety of events throughout 2020, and encourage you to watch a race or two while enjoying a snack with friends.
How has watching pro mountain bikers affected your trail game?