So you have been riding for a while now and have started doing some local group rides. You now want to try your hand at racing but where do you begin? You already have the thought in your mind about racing so you probably already have the skills to ride safely in a group, corner, as well as have a bit of fitness to keep up with those around you. You should have these attributes before trying your hand at racing but once you do give it a go. Being smart about choosing your first race will not only make sure that you have a good time but that you come back for more.
Choosing the Discipline
The first thing in choosing a race is what type of race you want to do. You probably already know what type of riding you want to do whether it be road, mountain, or cyclocross, but you need to choose what type of event within those categories. For mountain biking there are a number of different events such as short track, marathon, downhill, and enduro, but cross country is the best starting point as it is generally not too technical and not too long. For cyclocross, there will only be one race that you can do unless you fall into a junior or master’s category in which case you can race your age group as well as your category.
For road, there are three categories in which to choose from. They are time trials, road races, and criteriums. Time trials are a good place to start if you are not yet comfortable riding in a group but they are harder to come by and don’t offer the same type of racing as road racing and criteriums as they are solo against the clock. Criteriums are short, less than a mile, technical circuits that you do many laps on. They are fast and technical and are not the best place to get your feet wet racing. Road racing on the other hand gives you a more wide open road with longer loops and less turns allowing you to focus on the race and other riders.
The beginner races are called Category 5 races of which go up to Cat. 1 and then Professional. These are not overly long and are against other riders in a similar boat that you are; just starting out and even if they have raced before it won’t be more than ten times. These types of races will challenge you but also allow you to still compete and learn as you go and not be too over your head.
Which Race Close to Home to Do
Your first race should be one that is close to home and doesn’t take too much effort to get to and do. Your challenges need to be the race itself and not the getting there. If you are lucky enough to live in an area that has weeknight races they can be the best way to learn how to race as they are generally smaller races allowing you to learn from other riders who are more willing to give you pointers. If weekend races are the only thing available that’s okay as that’s what you are going to be building toward anyway; it will just be a bit steeper of a learning curve.
You will want to choose one of the races relatively close that has a course that somewhat suits your ability. Some races have a lot of climbing, some a lot of technical trails, and others that are more advantageous to beginners. This will allow you to more easily stay with other riders within your race so you don’t find yourself out the back just riding along on your own. It’s not quite as enjoyable if you get your butt kicked and then you’re not as likely to come back.
Websites to Find the Races
The easiest way to find races and the details about them is through online websites that are dedicated to listing bike races. It depends upon where you live for which ones are the most prevalent but some quick searching will give you a list of the races around.
–USA Cycling (https://www.usacycling.org/events/): Lists events all over the country that are USA Cycling events which is the majority unless you live in a state such as Oregon or Colorado which also has their own governing body.
–Oregon (http://obra.org/): Oregon events.
–Colorado (http://www.coloradocycling.org/): Colorado events.
–Bike Reg (https://www.bikereg.com/): One of the most popular bike race listing sites, particularly on the east coast.
Getting into bike racing can open the door to a whole new world of riding, friends, experiences, and thrill. Part of the appeal is everything that is involved with it such as the closed circuits just for you, the speed, the equipment, and the fact that not just anyone can show up and do one. You have to have the knowhow and skills not only to do well but just to compete. It’s more than your local 5k. Do your homework and know what to expect at the race and come prepared. If you do you’ll be hooked after your first race and will be an expert in no time.