How to know when to cat up?

Tough decision right? I just won another race… this is 2/2 in category 2 mountain biking. I won by over 3 minutes on a 13 mile course. I know it varies by region, but based on lap times, I would have placed 2nd in cat 1 open and 3rd overall. That said, that is just this small series. I beat 16 other cat 2 guys this time, and my strava segments are pretty good. That said, if i was in a different area that could have been off the podium for cat 2.

Who races cat 1? These are experts and also Pros, right? Cat 1 is as high as it goes?

These MTB races arent USA Cycling races, so I won’t get upgrade points, etc.

I don’t want to sandbag. I want to be challenged. But I also question whether or not I belong against these guys.

What do you all think?

BuDu Racing 360 Park | Ride | Strava

Strava activity linked so you can see my level.

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It’s time to cat up.

Mountain is pretty vastly different from road, but my thought process for catting up on road is that you don’t go from 4 to 3 until you’re competitive for the podium at 4, at the least. I don’t care if you get your 20 starts in. You need to be competing to win races.

3 to 2, well, you have to have results to do that anyway… but I’d like to see guys on the podium a couple of times, rather than 8th placing their way to 30 points over the course of 3 years.

Of course, there’s some differences if you’re a masters racer. In a lot of places, 3 or 2, doesn’t matter; you’re racing the same field either way in Masters. But if you’re 25 and rushing to get to Cat 2, it’s a different story… much more inclined to take your time lest you get spit out the back.

Since MTB is voluntary, and you’re racing 2 and winning by large margins, you should cat up IMO. You’re not going to get much better until you start getting pushed.

Do you belong with those guys? Only one way to find out.


Thanks Kurt. That kind of follows along with my thinking. Following a cat 1 guy today, I learned a lot about bike handling that I have not been able to gain riding a trainer indoors. I think pushing myself to keep up with these guys will only make me stronger. That said, I probably would have to forget about the podium sometimes… haha

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Unless I’m mistaken, when I was racing, this was not possible. IIRC, I had to earn my points w/in a single season or maybe calendar year :thinking: when I moved up the CAT system (USA).

I wasn’t in the master’s field, but a large majority of them were often in the Pro/1/2 field w/me. And those guys were typically racing twice on Sat and twice on Sun (masters and pro/1/2).

@varmstrong Agree w/Kurt, time to cat up! Jump into the deep end, sink or swim! It’ll be good for you!

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The USAC road cat rules changed significantly in 2020. 30 points in 3 years for voluntary to 2; 40 in one year for mando. 40 in 3 years to Cat 1, but Masters can only score 10 of those in Masters fields.

Around here, most Masters fields are 1-4 or 1-3 anyway. Varies by regions, hell I did a masters state championship as a 5 a couple of years ago when you still had to do ten races as a 5 to get to 4.

Word has it they might change the Novice to 4 upgrade back to something closer to what it used to be. Which would be good, IMO.

Always cat up. Cats are great. Your local rescue will help.


In our state it goes Cat 3 / Beginner, Cat 2 / Sport, Cat 1 / Expert, and Elite/Pro at the top. Also there is Elite Masters (40+).

I have progressed over the past 5 years from mid pack Cat 3 to podiums in Cat 1. After taking 2nd overall last year in our Point Series I’ve moved up to Elite this year where I expect to be crushed, lol.

There is a lot to be learned moving up through the categories. Before you move up you should know race strategies and how to win against your current competition. You’ve done that and your learning at Cat 2 is over. It’s time to challenge yourself and progress in your ability. This won’t happen if you’re crushing the competition. So Cat up and keep improving.


Thanks guys. You’re right, it’s the only way to really get faster and crush myself.

Looking back over the race, I would have podiumed in cat 1 at the pace I was running. The cat 1 guys did 3 laps versus our 2 laps, so perhaps I would have faded on the last lap but I dont think so. I still felt strong at the end of my two laps and that was with me taking it a little easier on the second lap.

I really need to work on my bike handling skills. Thats where these guys are definitely faster than me. The fitness is there more or less… I’m at approximately 4.3w/kg at the moment. But these guys can whip through the singletrack a lot smoother than me and burning less matches where I just add power when I can.

I suppose getting off the trainer and onto the trails will help.


:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:


Decide to cat up :open_mouth: You learn something everyday. I’ve never actually raced in the UK (other than in open TTs) but I don’t think British Cycling allows you to decide.

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Man, this would be a lot easier if it was just done by rules. Then I wouldn’t have to make the decision. This was my second race and second win. For the first race, when I asked a local facebook group familiar with that series which category I should go in I was told that cat 2 is absolutely the highest I should go, line up near the back, don’t mess up anyone else’s race, and expect to get crushed.

Bottom line if you win in any category except the very top you’re at risk of being a sandbagger I guess :laughing:

Looking forward to road racing where I don’t have to worry about that.

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  • Unless you gave them a ton of info or got feedback from someone that knew you and your abilities, this is pretty decent advice. Without knowing more about your fitness and skills, it’s the “safe” recommendation and I’d agree with it in general.
  • Yeah… kinda… but more so if you happen to do that in your very first outing (and then back it with a 2nd).

Yeah I get that. And you’re right, it is decent blanket advice and I’d say the same.

Oh well, I just need to train harder and do what I can in cat 1!

Good times.

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  • Turn that frown upside down :slight_smile:

Seriously, this is a GOOD thing unless you are aiming to shoot fish in a barrel. Do you race for easy wins, or do you want a challenge regardless of the finish?

I know motivation and goals vary, and I don’t mean to down play the feeling of a win, but if you are getting the cake walks I see described, they victories are somewhat hollow. I’d rather a hard fought 5th in a field of matched races vs stomping on a group of lower level riders, but that’s me.

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USA Cycling rules:

Mountain Biking

Mountain bikers start in Cat. 3 and may move to Cat. 2 as quickly as they wish to. However, they must move to Cat. 2 if they place in the top five in five qualifying races.

Cat. 2 riders may move up to Cat. 1 if they compile two top-5 finishes and present an upgrade request and resume to USA Cycling. They are required to move to Cat. 1 if they place in the top 5 in five races.


Didn’t take it as a bad thing and no frown here!

Definitely wasn’t a cakewalk (maybe the results, but I raced and pushed as if they were right behind me) and i’m confident I did the right thing: First race win, second race win confirmation that the first wasn’t a fluke, and then upgrade.

A question: are categories pretty consistent as far as rider ability? For instance, is a cat 2 race with a field of 20 pretty comparable with other series or does it vary so much that categories don’t mean much? Obviously its pretty subjective.

At the race before this one, we had a national cyclocross champ win cat 1 open. Jack Spranger’s European Racing Campaign Has Prepared… | USA Cycling

This is some serious competition!

So thats the thing right? If I enter a USA Cycling sanctioned race, I’d have to start cat 2 regardless. And these non sanctioned results surely dont count.

From my more limited exposure in my area, Cats can sure vary a bit. But that is part of the difference in MTB with only 3 Cats vs 4/5 in Road. Not to mention the “modifier” that comes in the form of skills on the MTB side. It’s all a bit less clear when compared to the road side from what I see.

It does make Cat 1 harder with the reality that it is a more “broad” group that includes those upper-crusters, so I get where you are coming from. Might be worth seeking more info from locals around you to really lock it down in that sense.

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MTB is really self selected CATs. Unless you are competing in USAC cycling events and around me most aren’t.

Your w/kg is what set’s you apart. Most sport racers are not 4.3 w/kg in mountain biking. But, they may be technically better skilled than you.

Anyway if I were you I would CAT up. Better to be behind the experts seeing their lines / etc then out in front by minutes in Sport.


I think this is mostly good advice. I don’t agree w/the parts about expecting to get crushed and messing up other peoples races. Who tries to mess up someone else’s race? Anyway, first time in a new cat, it’s not a bad idea to start at the back and find your own level w/everyone to chase in front of you.