Have you caught the racing bug, too?
Ever since the Tour started, we’ve been watching the action, following our favorite cyclists, and enjoying the stories coming out of it. There’s just something electrifying about watching the riders fly by for a sprint finish, handle technical terrain, and having to stop for nail-biting maintenance… how long will switching out their wheel take??
If watching the Tour de France has catapulted your ambition for racing to new heights, we have a few ideas to help get you from behind the TV screen and into road racing.
Give up procrastinating and throw intimidation to the wind
Many professionals started where you are right now with just aspirations, so go for it!
Discover your local racing scene
The odds are bike racing happens near where you live – and the internet is your friend! For our hometown of Chapel Hill, NC, we refer to ChapelHillCycling.com for information about coordinated group rides, local races, and more.
Discover USA Cycling
USA Cycling is the governing body for bicycle racing in the United States. USA Cycling sanctions bike racing events held across the country and their website is a great information tool for beginners. USA Cycling sanctioned events require a racing license, but it’s easy for first-time racers to compete as the beginner category riders can purchase a temporary, one-day license on site. As one progresses out of the beginner category, then a license is purchased to cover an entire year of racing.
Set goals and keep up with them
Pick a local race and create a training plan to help you prepare for it. You don’t have to train like a pro for your first few races, but practicing things such as climbing, cornering, drafting, sprinting, and attacking can help you keep up when the day of the race arrives.
Join group rides
Here you’ll find a mentor, someone you can ask questions about racing lingo, how they train, what they carry with them to a race, etc. Finding group rides through your local cycling clubs is an excellent way to get a feel for how to ride efficiently in a peloton. Also, don’t feel as if you need to be in the front of the group on your first set of rides. Hang back towards the back of the group, watch, and take notes.
Do trial and error with your on-the-bike hydration and nutrition
It doesn’t take long to realize that you’ll need to keep up with your liquid and calorie intake while you’re on your bike. This is a great opportunity to become familiar with things such as how many water bottles you go through in XX miles, how to eat a meal replacement bar while riding, at what distance do you run out of energy if you don’t eat while riding, and how many grams of protein and calories do you need to finish your regular route?
Watch and read about road racing
Immerse yourself in the details, grandeur, and thrill of road racing by making it what you read about before falling asleep, what you watch videos of during your lunch hour, and what updates you see when you check your email.
Strengthen these must-have bike handling skills
- Cornering at high speeds
- Smooth, efficient shifting
- How to ride in a pace line
- Smoothly and safely move about within the peloton
- Quickly clipping in to your pedals from a standstill
- How to handle your bike when you bump another cyclist (we suggest trying this with another cyclist in a grassy area)
- How to sprint
Choose which kind of road race you want to be a part of
Time Trials (TT), Road Races, and Criteriums (Crits).
- Time Trials are a great way to start racing as it’s just you against the clock without the worry of riding in a pack. They involve cyclists starting individually at set intervals (typically 30 seconds or 1 minute apart), they’re typically not very long distances (maybe 10 miles on flat roads or 3 miles up hills), they don’t allow drafting, and can be done throughout the season to help gauge your fitness level.
- Criteriums involve a mass start and riding in packs, unlike Time Trials. In these races, cornering and bike handling skills are put to the test as cyclists race around a short, 1km to 2km loop (such as a city block) multiple times.
- Road Races also involve a mass start, but unlike Criteriums, Road Races have a much longer circuit (perhaps in the 10 to 20 mile range for multi-lap events) and a greater variety of terrain. While Criteriums are typically flat, Road Races very often involve hills, so climbing and descending skills come in to play as well.
Train for a race by racing
You can read about road racing, you can talk to experienced racers about road racing, you can train to be a road racer, and you can watch road racing, but you won’t fully understand road racing until you race. Your first road race doesn’t have to be a long or a popular one, unless you’re committed to participating in that kind of race. And, your first few races will give you a better idea of how the event and the racers operate.
Upgrade or tune your equipment for road racing
One common racing mantra is, “A clean bike is a happy bike, and a happy bike is a fast bike”. You don’t need to spend a small fortune in upgrading your bike to get into road racing. Race what you’ve got for now. Before a race, we do suggest cleaning up your bike (the drivetrain in particular). If you do feel the need to upgrade something on your bike, start with the tires and then the wheels; you’ll see the biggest difference for money spent in upgrading those.
We’re certain that if you follow our suggestions, you’ll be pedaling towards cycling greatness by the time the Tour de France rolls around next year.