Some clubs are geared to junior riders, some to masters and others on Category 1 to 5 riders. If you find two or more clubs that seem meet your needs, make your choice using the following criteria:
1. A good racing club provides qualified coaching. This may mean the coach is certified by USA Cycling (the governing body of U.S. bike racing), but there are many fine coaches that don't have formal certification.
Good coaches have time to work with young or inexperienced cyclists. They have the patience to bring beginning cyclists along slowly and let them develop at their own rate without feeling pressure.
Good coaches aren't slaves to one coaching system. They don't blindly follow formulas, but instead devise training and racing strategies based on the individual.
2. A good racing club has a comprehensive year-round program. In the winter, riders meet for weight training and stationary bike work. They train together in the early season and complete long base-building rides. They also practice team tactics and use them in races. They travel to events together, and are sometimes in a team van.
3. A good racing club promotes races. There's usually a local time trial series and a weekly evening criterium to you're your skills for races on the weekend. These practice races are a good measuring stick for the club. Look for events that start on time, are well organized and take place on safe-but-challenging courses.
Cycling is a relatively expensive sport, so good clubs work hard to secure sponsorships from non-cycling companies as well as from the industry and bike shops. These sponsorships help cover the cost of clothing, equipment and travel. Shops also may offer parts and service discounts to club members.
4. A good racing club offers a friendly, supportive environment despite the emphasis on competition.
Team members encourage each other with advice and consolation. (One sure sign of a poor club is people yelling at each other on training rides, dispensing criticism instead of support.) Training rides should be designed to help everyone improve. Race strategy should be based on teamwork rather than on showcasing star athletes.