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 thrill of speeding down a hill at Mach-3 with your hair on fire has all the elements of danger, excitement, and madness that I like.
Yet, the beauty behind Gravity XC is in its diversity of challenges.
You can race Han-style (solo) in the Downhill (DH) and just roll off the top of a mountain.
This includes a labyrinth of descents along a twisting strip of singletrack only to rocket off the bottom of the mountain 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 with the Supper Downhill (Super-D) that makes you work the decent in a little more gradual way.
Super-D is now mostly for collegiate events, but you can find one here and there.
The Super-D is like a downhill race, only it attempts to emulate a roller-coaster.
If you think of the slow ascent to the top of the coaster similar to the singletrack you get to ride.
Only the drop off the cliff after riding for a few miles is where you cash in your 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.
Combine that with a need to control your bike through some technical back-and-forth series of gates, moguls, and berms, and you have yourself an exciting race.
This high-speed duel can be further expanding by adding two more riders in the Four Cross (4X).
The four cross is a dual slalom with a longer course, bigger moguls, and four riders working a wide downhill course while pedaling 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.
Go Big or Go Home
If dual slalom or four cross is not enough competition for you, you can have a whole gaggle of your buddy’s go literally off the cliff with the Avalanche (AV)!
Invented by the Australians, roughly 200 riders race in a mass start downhill event that is akin to total chaos.
These races often see all sorts of face plants and wipeouts within the first minutes, with consecutive heats set up to determine the winner.
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.
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 heat!
The secret to Avalanche?
Peddle-to-the-metal straight down the mountain until you hit 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 a good time.
Heaven help you if you and the pack make the first turn at the same time.
What’s not to like about a massive crash on a downward slope at 25 mph?
Oh, those silly Aussies!
Mountain Biking’s Future
To make your Gravity mountain biking 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.
The goal is to have the fastest overall time between either one day or multiple days of events.
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 climbing hills.
Most Enduro events include 5 to 8 downhill races, where the uphill parts are used as a prelude.
Racers can get a drink, take a nap, or even walk to the summit of their next downhill stage of the race.
Because that made Enduro riders seem lazy, some race promoters decided to have an Enduro that made the Uphill (UH) parts a race right alongside the downhill parts.
For every world championship format of Enduro is four other formats that mix it up to include just about anything.
Since formats for Enduros vary, most national competitions replace the need to grind up hills in favor of a gentle ski lift ride to the top.
However, not having to ride uphill does not make it any less daunting.
What Enduro lacks in hill climbs it makes up for in multiple downhill rides, usually over a weekend where riders ride downhill trails 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.
Most Enduros take all the rider’s best times over the multiple events, rank them, add the time differences up.
When the final numbers are tallied, they make the final race a pursuit-style cross country or Super-D race.
This is where each rider gets a head-start based on their times in the previous stages and makes the competition a “winner take all” race to the final finish line.
The end result of this format is an event that forces riders into a level the playing field.
While Enduros try to combine all the skills of mountain biking into one event by requiring riders to be more well-rounded, the international competition is still centered mostly around downhill riding.
Begin at the Top
The key to Gravity is learning how to move down the face of a mountain without killing yourself.
Being fast at this sport while doing it safely is still something that could take you years to perfect.
Without an intense level of courage — or madness — needed to become good, many will never develop the skills to be competitive in this sport.
The drive to stay alive still trumps the desire to drop off a mountain on two wheels for most would be Gravity riders.
Unfortunately, overcoming that drive is the only way to excel in this sport.
And now you know.