Gravity mountain biking has been an interest of mine for some time. But not many cross-country mountain bike riders understand what is involved in Gravity competitions. The skills are different, the gear is different, and even the bikes can be different. The transition from Cross-Country (XC) to Downhill (DH) involves more than just being crazy enough to literally throw yourself off the top of a mountain. However, if you are serious about moving into this sport, your knowledge of Gravity competitions can be overcome by first understanding which Gravity event you want to transition into.
Pulling Serious G’s
The trill of speeding down a hill at Mach-3 with your hair on fire has all the elements of danger, excitement, and madness that we like. The beauty behind Gravity XC is in its diversity of challenges. You can race Han-style (solo) in the Downhill (DH) that just has you roll off the top of a mountain, descend along a twisting strip of singletrack, and rocket out 500-1,000 feet below your start in less than 3-minutes. Too fast for you? Then work a little cross-country mountain biking into your Downhill event in the Supper Downhill (Super-D) that makes you work the decent in a little more gradual way; that is unless you are on one of those Super-D courses that emulates a roller-coaster in which you ride some singletrack for a few miles THEN ride off the cliff on an e-ticket to the bottom.
If solo Gravity events are not exciting enough for you, then maybe it’s time to find some friends. You and a racing buddy can work a shorter version of the DH by riding side-by-side in a speed-infested grudge match called the Dual Slalom (DS). All your Downhill skills are put to the test in the Dual Slalom, but with the added pressure of a competitor in the next lane combined with a need to control your bike enough to move back-and-fourth through a series of gates, moguls, and berms. This high-speed duel can be further expanding by adding two more riders in the Four Cross (4X). The 4X is the Dual Slalom with a longer course, bigger moguls, and four riders working a wide DH course while peddling at full speed. This way you and three of your closest friends can really fly down a hill at break-neck speed without any of that pesky uphill stuff to wear you out. Yet, if the DS or 4X is just not enough companionship, you can have a whole gaggle of your buddy’s go off the cliff with with you in Avalanche (AV)! With roughly 200 riders working a decent at one time, this mass start Downhill chaos (invented by the Australians) often sees all sorts of face plants and wipe outs within the first minute; and that is only the heats! In Avalanche, riders attempt to beat a pack of mountain bikers down a steep mountain slope in what could only be called “vertical short track” style downhill riding. The goal is to be the first rider down so that your fastest time wins you a front-row position in the final event: another Avalanche, but with the fastest riders now positioned all around you. The secret to Avalanche? Peddle to the metal straight down the mountain until the first turn. If you can make it that far without crashing or getting caught in the pack, you have a good chance of making good time. Heaven help you if you and the pack make the first turn at the same time! What’s not to like?
Mountain Biking’s Future
To make your Gravity XC education complete, you must embrace what has become the King of Gravity mountain biking: The Enduro (EN). The Enduro (short for Endurance) is a Gravity competition that combines all the best parts of Downhill racing into a multi-day event, requiring racers to complete 5 to 8 stage races to win. An Enduro is by far the most exciting event in mountain biking right now considering how it does not require riders to exhaust themselves with one of the primary parts of XC mountain biking: climbing hills; that is unless you have an Enduro that includes a Uphill (UH) race along side the Downhill race. Formats for Enduros vary, but most national competitions replace the need to grind up a mean set of near vertical switchbacks in favor of the quite power found in a gentle ski lift ride to the top. However, not having to ride hardcore XC in an Enduro does not make it any less daunting. What it lacks in hill climbs it makes up for in multiple Downhill rides, usually over a weekend where Gravity jockeys ride down the hillside over and over again. Some events even require riders to remove their chain in a “chainless” ride down the hill, with only pure gravity and skill to get them to the bottom. Other Enduros take all the rider’s best times over the multi-day event, rank them, add the time differences up, and then make the final race Pursuit-style XC/Super-D event (surprise — there IS cross-country in the Enduro) where each rider gets a head-start based on their times in the previous stages. These “winner take all” Enduros try to combine all the skills of mountain biking into one event by requiring riders to be more well-rounded. The end result is an event that gives riders the best of both worlds while leveling the playing field.
Begin at the Top
The key to Gravity is learning how to move down the face of a mountain without killing yourself. Doing this sport safely and fast is something that could take someone years before they developed the skills and results to be competitive. Of all the Gravity events, XC riders are probably most compatible with Enduro racing. By combining the endurance of XC with the technique of DH riding, a cross-country mountain bike rider could find the Enduro format a perfect entry point into a Gravity riding future.