This will come as good news to those of you who like to buy stuff. If you want to compete in an XTERRA, you're going to have to get a new bike, specifically a mountain bike. Yes, it's got two wheels and a seat, but there are big differences between the mountain bike and your road cycle. For starters, the tires are thick and covered with knobs for extra traction. Your mountain bike also comes with suspension because of all the bumps you will experience out on the trail. Without the suspension, you would be bouncing all over the forest. Mountain bikes without rear suspension are called “hard tails.”
The mountain bike is not sleek or graceful. It is heavy and sturdy, made to take a pounding on an uneven surface. Out on the trail, aerodynamics is not an issue. You want a machine that will get you from point A to point B without shaking your teeth loose or falling apart.
Besides having funny-looking tires, the mountain bike has more gears than a road bike. A regular machine has two front rings for the chains. Your new mountain bike has three rings. The smallest of the rings is the “easy” gear, often called the “granny” gear because it's so easy to turn that your granny could do it. You often need this gear to get through the mud and sand, and for steep climbs.
Your mountain bike gets very dirty, with lots of grit getting into the gears and on the chain. This kind of bicycle requires more service than a road bike. Your gears will wear out a lot sooner from trail riding.
As described in Chapter 9, fit is very important with a road bike. Fit still matters with a mountain bike, but not as much because the ride is bumpy and you may be standing up on the bike or hopping off periodically.
How much should I expect to spend on my new mountain bike?
An entry-level mountain bike can be had for $500 to $700. As you might expect, fancier versions are available for a lot more money.
Need to Push
To go along with your mountain bike, you will need a pair of special shoes designed for trail racing. Mountain bike shoes are similar to road bike shoes in that they attach to the pedals, but they have a thick, aggressive tread with lugs in case you have to get off your machine and push it. Regular bike shoes are slick on the bottom and would not work well on a muddy trail.
Because of the rough terrain, you are more likely to have a flat as you make your way along the uneven trail. Most experienced XTERRA competitors carry two extra tubes as insurance.
Don't start your XTERRA mountain bike without gloves. You must maintain a solid grip on the handlebars as you ride. Out in the heat and humidity, a likely scenario, perspiration will make your hands very slippery. One good bump on a rock or tree root could cause you to lose control. If that happens, you know there's a tree with your name on it.
There are running shoes designed for trails. Most come with lugs for better traction. Trail shoes would probably be useful for your XTERRA adventure, but you could get by with regular running shoes. Actually, a pair of gaiters, coverings for your shoes to keep the rocks out, might be more useful than trail running shoes if the terrain calls for it and the run is long.
While you are riding and running in the XTERRA, bright sunlight may not be a concern on the trail, but you still need glasses for your race. You will be flying along with all kinds of branches and leaves hitting your face, and the bikers in front of you will be kicking up rocks and gravel, so protection for your eyes is a must.
In a regular triathlon, it's not unusual to see competitors, men and women, biking in their swim trunks and swimsuits. It's quicker than putting on something else. In an XTERRA, you need more cover than that because of all the branches and other vegetation that will be encountered on the trail when riding and running.
Invest in a triathlon suit with shorts, enough to cover the thighs. If you wear that for your swim, you won't have to worry about adding any clothing in your transition.
On your bicycle ride in a regular triathlon, your machine has a cage for your water bottle. It's easy to reach down as you go, pull out the bottle, and take a swig. No problem putting it back. Just one hand needed.
In the XTERRA, you should not be riding with only one hand on the bars for as long as it would take to drink. Hit a rock with just one hand on the front and you could find yourself face down in the dirt or driving into the brush.
You still need water, of course, so what can you do to drink while you ride without risking a wreck? Help is there in the form of a hydration pack that looks like a backpack, and you can get one designed for bikers. The backpack has a plastic reservoir, more or less a large bladder, for the water and a tube that goes over your shoulder to draw the fluid from the pack. It takes just one quick motion to pull the tube to your mouth whenever you need a drink.
The tube is made so that water won't leak out. The packs come in several sizes and can hold a lot of water, up to 100 ounces or more. That's probably more than you need for a short XTERRA, but there are many choices. You can put ice in it before the race starts so that you don't have to drink warm water on your ride.