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The Art of Passing and Being Passed

I’ve been racing mountain bikes since 2003. Obviously, I’ve had to pass other racers and based on my general lack of speed, I’ve been passed many, many times. Unlike many other disciplines of bicycle racing, passing and being passed during a mountain bike race can be stressful, generally because of the nature of the course. Single track typically is only wide enough for one bicycle so here’s a few things to remember that will make the passing/being passed experience safer and less stressful.

First of all, unless you are a very rare and talented racer, there will always be somebody at the race that is faster than you. You will get passed so leave the attitude at home and be mentally prepared to be passed. If you aren’t getting passed during one of the WNYMBA races, I suspect you probably have your sights set on bigger and better races.

So you’re racing along and you hear or happen to see another racer coming up behind you. Personally, I am usually motivated to go a little faster and “race”. As the lead rider, I have the right of way on the trail and it’s up to the passing rider to overtake safely. That doesn’t mean it’s okayfor me to block the other racer or otherwise hold them up unnecessarily. This is especially true if the overtaking rider has announced their intention to pass. I’ve been racing long enough that I can usually sense when I’m holding somebody up even if they haven’t announced their intention to pass. I will typically call back “do you want to get by?” If they respond affirmatively, I will immediately slow slightly and at the first safe spot in the trail call back “go on the left/right”. Unless the trail is really technical and narrow, it’s not necessary to stop and yield the trail completely.

So what happens when the following rider has announced their intention to pass and you ignore them or take a really long time to move over? Most of the fast racers in WNY are courteous and will be patient but don’t be surprised if they get aggressive in an effort to get around you. The aggressive pass is more dangerous for both riders for several reasons. The rider being passed doesn’t know when or from which side the passer will attempt the pass. This increases the chances of the slower rider moving into the path of the passing rider. It’s been my experience that the slower rider usually loses out if the bikes come together. I’ve seen slower riders crash or run off the trail after contact with a faster rider and both situations could have been avoided.

One of the more ridiculous statements I’ve heard from racers about to be passed is “what class, expert or sport?” It doesn’t matter what class they’ve entered if they are faster and you are holding them up. My advice is let them pass safely at the first opportunity. Afterwards, if you realize that they are in your class and the pass was for position, hopefully your physical condition will allow you to go faster and return the favor of a clean pass before you reach the finish line.

Speaking of different classes, let’s talk about different genders. There are some fast female mountain bike racers out there. As a male racer, your response to a fellow racer asking to pass should be consistent, even if the faster rider has a female voice. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve been passed by female racers before. Yes, it’s a considerable blow to my fragile male ego but please refer to paragraph two of this article.  Seriously, what’s more motivating to train harder and ride faster than being passed at a mountain bike race by a fast female racer!

For the faster racers out there, please remember to be courteous and patient. You likely won’t be the next world champion if you win a WNYMBA mountain bike race. Blasting somebody off the trail with a high speed, potentially dangerous pass isn’t cool and it does nothing to advance our sport. Announce your intentions, give the slower rider a few seconds to yield and look for a safe place to pass. And last but not least, when your pass is complete be polite and say thanks.

See you at the races in 2013!



Our insurance company has "strongly suggested" that we tell you that Mountain Biking can be dangerous. If you're visiting this site it's very likely that you're already aware that if you insist on having a good time by riding your mountain bike, eventually you will almost certainly fall down and collect any number of boo-boos, dings and injuries, serious or otherwise, but we have to tell you anyway.

Mountain Biking is a potentially hazardous activity carrying a significant risk of bodily injury and even death. Mountain biking should only be undertaken if you have a complete awareness of these risks. You can reduce the level of risk by wearing a helmet and by riding within your own skill level.