Breaking Tape When Downhill Mountain Biking And What It Means

Author: Alex Bristol

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Ever noticed a rider in a race breaking the tape when downhill mountain biking, having to go back and wondered what it means?

Well, you’re at the right place.

In competitive races, a continuous course is defined by a strip of tape on each side; riders have a single or double attempt to reach that finish line as quickly as possible without breaking the two lines of tape that holds the course.

So what does it mean when someone breaks the tape?

It essentially means that they have gone past that line of the designated course, and if broken, they must return to the course at the point of exit.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

So what does breaking the tape mean in downhill mountain biking?

Breaking the tape in downhill mountain biking is when mountain bikers break or cross the tape, which indicates the course.

Downhill racers choose their line by deciding the shorted route possible when traveling at high speeds without going past the designated line.

If the rider breaks or crosses this line, they have to return to the course at the exit point (this can cause them to lose some time). In some cases, racers don’t gain a time advantage from crossing the tape, and they can continue with the race.

What the race is like:

Depending on the race format, riders have a single or double attempt to reach the finish line as fast as possible without breaking the two tapes beside them that designate the course.

Downhill racers start at intervals, often scattered from slowest to fastest, and the courses only tend to take two to five minutes to complete with a winning margin.

Riders are often using similar equipment to skiers to protect them from falling or crashing.

What is downhill racing?

Downhill mountain biking is essentially defined as which rider can reach the bottom of the mountain in the fastest time possible. The course is often rugged and filled with obstacles and risks as these racers rocket down the mountain at insane amounts of speed.

This is one of the many reasons why it is such a thrill to watch these riders tackle extreme terrains like this and make it almost look easy. The adrenaline rush is like no other, even if you’re a fan of the sport or not.

Downhill bikes are one of the heaviest bikes you can find in the cycling market; they’re heavier and stronger than any other mountain bike and feature both front and rear suspension to help them tackle rocks and tree roots.

They also have a stupendous pair of brakes designed to stop the rider and bike at the fastest speed achieved in this sport. They also offer high gearing, which is perfect for riding up rocky, steep, dangerous hills.

So it isn’t as easy as going from A to B?

Well, yes and no. Downhill racing is a sport that relies on gravity, it puts riders on the clock on an extreme mountain course filled with obstacles, plus you need to keep between the two tapes.

Despite it being only 3-5 minutes long, it is flat out three minutes of total racing and focus.

Just like in skiing, riders pelt their way down the course while their times being recorded from start to finish; once everyone has completed, the fastest time is the winner (it’s sometimes even just a millisecond difference!)

Every second counts, on a course as intense as this one, the insanely difficult courses take years to conquer, but the adrenaline rush is why these extreme riders love this victory.

What is the downhill race track like?

These extreme race tracks are often very steep and filled with all kinds of obstacles, such as tree roots, tree stumps, rocks, gravel, uneven bits of terrain– you name it!

Riders can reach up to insane speeds like 70kmph while weaving in and out of slippery roots, big jumps, potholes, boulders, and courses that are so steep that you’d start to stumble trying to walk up to them.

The mountain is one of the most unpredictable, uneven terrain that you can find, and having that on top of finding the biggest hill to ride down; there will be some consequences if you catch your back wheel the wrong way.

You will most likely know the race as the UCI MTB Worl Cup or Premier Race Series, which brings riders from all over the world to compete in extreme races like this.

This also means that races need to adapt to different conditions, such as hot and humid, to rain-soaked and muddy terrains from countries all over the world.

A person in full cycling gear riding a mountain bike downhill

 How to get into downhill mountain bike racing:

If you’re an adrenaline junkie like I am then you’re probably dying to know how to get into downhill mountain biking or even racing.

Firstly, if you’re completely new to the sport I would recommend getting yourself a downhill bike or full suspension mountain bike and getting used to riding it on the mountainous terrain before you tackle the hills.

A full-face helmet and body armor (such as a chest protector) are absolutely essential in your kit.

Make sure you walk the route before you ride it, have a look at the lines you might take, practice makes perfect in this. If you don’t walk the route beforehand you have no idea what’s coming at you.

Most importantly…

Have some fun on the trails, if you enter yourself into an entry-level mountain bike racing tournament then 9 times out of 10 those people are in the same boat, they just want to enjoy themselves.

Happy biking guys!

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