AMCT Tips: Passing Racers on Singletrack

Patrick BarrettSo it’s time for a new season and lots of new riders/racers! A friend of mine asked me the other day how to pass properly on trails during races. Sure it’s hard because Texas mt. bike racing is all narrow windy trails. But don’t let slow poke mcgee prevent you from the glory you deserve. Follow my tips and then you’ll have a good base to expand on. Also, these tips will help you not get a crowbar to the back of the head for being “that guy who wouldn’t let anybody pass.” Of course, if you can just take a crowbar to the back of the head you might as well be capable of jumping into open hotel atriums a la Jason Bourne which means you don’t need any of this advise!

BE VOCAL. Don’t assume anything. Say what you want. Speaking in girlfriend language does not work in bike racing.

  • Approaching someone going slightly slower than you in your race: If you’re coming up on somebody, let them know you are there but also let them know you’d like to pass. For example “hey, when you get a chance I’d like to get by,” or “Just sitting behind somebody means nothing. 9/10 times the person will respond to you with an “OK!” or “yea, in just a minute” to which you can respond “sure, just let me know.” Usually you’ll be granted a pass in under 10 seconds by the rider saying left or right and pulling over. Sometimes they’ll simply pick up their speed and not let you by, because they’re now going super fast. Just hang on!
  • Approaching someone going slightly slower than you in a different race/category: Same as above but you can say your category out and they’ll realize they’re impeding your race and not racing you so they should let you by. Ex. when the category that started 2 minutes after you catches you, you’ll hear “leader S5” or something like that so they’re basically telling you “let me by! you’re impeding my dominance!”
  • Approaching someone going much slower than you: Just say “RIDER!” from far away and they’ll usually get out of the way before you get there. If you’re stuck behind somebody going much slower than what you want to go, you’ll need to tell them when you’re passing and CALL IT OUT. I went over the Lake Bryan levee cause some jerk didn’t call out that he was passing on the inside of a switchback. You’ll need to make the pass aggressive and quick and probably get off into the grass. Just say “on your right” and then GO.
  • Above all, be friendly. Usually everybody gets along. The only time I see problems with this is if you get macho man who believes he WILL win and to him winning means winning the whole race. Remember, it’s about who crosses the line first not who’s where when. If you do ride up on macho man syndrome and he/she is not responding to your inquiries, ask him or her. “Are you going to let me pass?” “Do I need to call it out for you?” “My guy is getting away.” Just please, don’t simply get mad because you’re trying to pass someone for the sake of passing. If there is a line of 5 riders and you just want to slowly leapfrog up the line simply to move up the line: just wait. Something is going to happen and open up opportunities. Nobody’s going to let you pass when they’re in the exact same situation at you so there’s no need to get huffy.


  • This isn’t road racing so you don’t have any advantage to putting your wheel 1″ behind another rider (unless he’s your friend and you like rubbing tires). Infact, you’re at a disadvantage! If he crashes, you crash! Stay a couple feet behind for a few reasons.
    • Watch their line
    • Can avoid crashes
    • Can use the above two reasons to make passes! If you’re going up a climb (climbs usually are wider than windy single track) you can see which side they go up and if you’re feeling strong, go up another side! If you’re a really strong technical rider, prove it by passing them while they take the ‘cupcake’ route. Also, let them make mistakes, not you. If they take a turn to hard and washout/fishtail, this is the perfect opportunity to squeeze by at the same level of effort you were already giving!
  • I like to sit on people if they’re setting a good pace and I want some company or if I’m not moving quite fast enough to warrant a pass…yet. Also, after a few races or years, you start to pick up on what your competition rides like. For example, those who remember *** from *** knows that you did NOT sit on his wheel, he crashes alot. On the contrary, I raced a guy this past spring who was technically excellent and a powerful/consistent climber, though I was a bit faster then him. I rarely would decide to pass him because he would show me the lines to get through things.


  • Not everybody can win but everybody needs to fight for a win! So if somebody begins to catch you, make them earn it. And by that I mean let them tell you they want to pass or let them call out “on your right” or “on your left” and then let them put in the effort to pass you. My rule of thumb is, if they don’t tell me they’d like to pass, I stay at the same speed because it apparently is alright to them. If they don’t ask me if I’d help them pass but instead tell me they’re passing, I assume they’ve figured out what they need to do to pass me (aka they yell “on the right” and then they put the pedals down and pass me in the grass). This does not, by any means, mean I am trying to impede their progress, simply making them earn it. If somebody stays on my wheel for a while and doesn’t make a move or say anything, I’m friendly and will say “hey! do you want to get around me or are you ok?” I’ve many times heard “naw dude, you’re setting a good pace,” even though they caught me or I had passed them 5 minutes earlier and they stayed on my wheel.
  • The fast guys or train of riders barrelling down on you: If all of a sudden some guys are rocking and rolling and dwarf me in speed/skill, I have frequently been known to get the hell out of the way! I’ll pull off into the woods real quick, let them go by (to which you get alot of compliments), and then jump back on my bike. This is just me.
  • You’re exhausted: Let people pass you. Get off the bike and let them go by. Slam a goo, slam some water and bring yourself together. If you passed them once, you can pass them again. Concede the immediate and go for the long term glory.

Hope this helps some of you knew folks with questions. Have a great time learning the fun of Mt. Bike racing!

– Patrick Barrett

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