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4x MTB racing; what it is and how to start

Jumps, berms, turns and tactics, not to mention skill and agility – the MTB discipline of Four Cross (or 4X) racing has it all. It makes for exciting viewing, and it’s even more thrilling to compete.

What you might be surprised to learn is that not only does 4X have an accessible race format, it’s also incredibly good fun.

Clare in action at the last race of the season in Royal Leamington Spa. Image copyright Trevor Davies Photography

What is 4X racing?

4X is a head-to-head style of racing, with 4 riders on the track together, racing down a short, technical course. It’s definitely a game of tactics as well as speed and skill; each track has a variety of lines riders can take depending on their ability, or as opportunities present themselves during the race.

A typical 4X course has big banked berms, jumps, step ups and downs, rock gardens and loose/rocky/sandy surfaces, all navigated at high speed. Each round of a series is held in a different location.

The British 4X Series, sponsored by Schwalbe (of tyre manufacturing fame), came to a close on the 1st September after 6 spectacular rounds. The series kicked off in Afan (Wales) in March, travelled around the British Isles, with locations such as Bridgnorth in July – where the 4X National Championships were held – before concluding in Royal Leamington Spa.

The tracks at each round have their own individual style and features, making each different and favouring different racers throughout the season. Riders compete in 3 knock-out races or ‘motos’ which decide who moves through into the ¼ finals, and from there you need to place 1st or 2nd to move into the semi finals, and a guaranteed place in one of the finals.

If you finish first or second in the semi final rounds, you move to the A final race, with those placing third and fourth making up the B final.

Getting more women involved

Clare Curtis embarked upon her first full season of 4X racing this year, and has been encouraging more and more women to get involved. 

As with the majority of races, women have generally been outnumbered by men – but over the season the number of women taking part has risen steadily.

British Cycling, the governing body that regulate 4X in the UK, state that there must be 17 or more riders to run a ¼ final round, and so far the season has seen us go from 11 female riders at round 1 to 16 at Harthill. This was mainly because there was a European round ahead of the Pro Tour at Fort William, so there was an influx of Female Elite riders, but still the 17+ number remained elusive.

That is, until Royal Leamington Spa, and the final round of the season. 18 female riders registered, meaning that the first ¼ final round of the year would go ahead! Of those 18 women, 8 were total newbies to 4X, in many cases never having ridden a 4X course before. Six others were having a go at their first season, and one was the only true elite rider (and National 4X Champion) Katy Curd.

As this was my first full season of 4X, I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for women who wanted to have a go at the discipline to join in, get some coaching, and experience the support of other riders.

I spoke with Chris Roberts & Scott Beaumont, who organise the series, and they were really encouraging and up for seeing more riders coming into the sport. Katy Curd was the next port of call for that all-important coaching, something to help give women an introduction to the discipline, and as ever she jumped at the chance to be involved.

Coaching sessions for new riders

For each round we had a session on the track with Katy, looking at a range of general riding techniques like pumping, gate practice, cornering, tackling rock gardens, and rolling jumps. The rest of the racers have been brilliant all year, allowing us some space on different sections of the track so that we could get our coaching in and they could practice other sections.

This allowed each of us to work towards a full race run of the track, and to then go and perfect that, work on other lines and help each other out with sections once we had got to grips with the track. It was also a great way to make new friends and push each others riding.

As with all things, if the chemistry works, it’s usually worth having another go – so the numbers stayed steady and we got a few new faces at each round.

The race

We had a great mix of racers in each moto. With a strong BMX presence there was some good racing was had straight out of the gate.

For the long-anticipated quarter-finals, there is a definite sense of pressure; knowing you need either first or second to continue is hard especially when there’s such a range of riders.

Four quarter-final motos followed. Moto 1 saw Katy Curd and Clare Curtis (ME!) go through, 2 looked as though it would be Jess Greaves and Megan Wherry but they took each other out in the first berm leaving Mabel Mundy and Seren Mahon to progress to the Semi finals. 3 was Renee Diwell and Michelle Eaton, and 4 saw Elizabeth Fowler and Lana Redgewell go through.

Semi finals guarantee you a place in a final, its just a matter of battling through to the A final! The Schwalbe British 4X Series provide a podium spot for the top 5, so that’s all of your A finalists and the winner of the B final – there is still something to play for.

Semi’s saw Katy, Elizabeth, Renee and Lana go through to the A, and Michelle, Clare, Mabel and Seren to the B final.

The racers in action. Copyright L.E.O. Photography

The racing is surprisingly fierce throughout, and at this point in the season we are also battling for the overall series points too, so Renee and Elizabeth were battling for 4th and 5th place overall as well as a potential win in the A final. Of course, there is always Katy Curd to worry about.

The finals – the exciting conclusion to a weekend of coaching and racing. In the B final, Clare Curtis and Mabel Mundy had a fight for 6th and 7th place behind Michelle Eaton who took the lead after a good start, and flew down the first straight. Seren Mahon (14yrs old I think) completed her first 4X round this season to take 8th place.

In the A Final, Katy was ahead by a huge gap, clearing everything down the first straight along, and sailing through the rest of the track. Elizabeth and Renee fought hard for what ended as 2nd and 3rd place respectively, followed by Lana who certainly held her own on bigger wheels than her usual BMX.

And of course, it’s always nice to be congratulated by the rest of the female riders at the bottom of the track who have been cheering you all on too!

Having so many new faces at the final round made racing really exciting as you never know how each girl was going to do. Clare worked super hard to make sure we had a big attendance at the final round, and it certainly paid off. Hopefully the new faces will be back next season to carry on racing!

Claire Pollard

Get involved!

4X is really simple to get into; you need a full-face helmet to race (and I’d always recommend for practice too!) but that’s it. Body armour (knee pads, elbow pads etc) is certainly advised, as is a small-framed hardtail, but any bike will do. We’ve had ladies racing weekend on everything from XC bikes to a short travel full suspension models.

Races can be pre-entered via British Cycling or you can sign up on the day. If you want to collect race points, to count towards the season overall, you’ll need a Race License which you can get from British Cycling. If you just fancy having a go for the experience, there are the Fun Categories too – especially good once you’ve been along for the Coaching Session and have the track dialed for the following day!

Headline image copyright Trevor Davies Photography

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