Bike Racing 101

You are strong and want to try racing this year, but don't know where to start.

Racing can be a very exciting and fulfilling activity. You will develop better bike handling skills and confidence on a bike. You will find new friends, new places and experiences. But there are some things you should know before standing at the start line.

The Basics: The following assumes you have an appropriate road bike that is in good mechanical condition, free from packs, fenders and for mass start road races must have a brake on both wheels. The handlebar ends must be solidly plugged. Aero bars or other attachments that extend forward or upward or that provide support for other than the rider's hands are only permitted in time trials. Riders are responsible to insure that their bike is in good condition, adequate and safe for use in competition.

 There are different types of road races: Road, stage, criterium and time trial. 

Road Race: A road race mass start where all the riders start from the same place and at the same time for a designated distance. The distance of each lap should be at least 5 kilometers.

Criterium (crit): A criterium is like a road race but on a small course usually closed to traffic. The distance of each lap is between 800 meters and 5 kilometers. The minimum width of the course should be 7 meters.

Stage Race: Stage races are run on consecutive days with a variety of races (criterium, time trial and road). Overall results are determined by cumulative time or points. The Tour de France is a stage race.  Riders must successfully complete each stage to be eligible for the next stage.

Time Trials: Time trials can be individual or team. Courses may be out and back, around a circuit or one way.  Starting order is determined and each person or team is given a start time. Racers must report to the start before the designated time to ensure an on-time start. If you miss the start time, you usually will not be given a new start; you can either ride, knowing you are at a disadvantage or forfeit. Starters usually will be held to start. If a racer catches another racer, drafting is not permitted.

USA Cycling (USAC) issues annual licenses which are used as an identity document indicating name, license number, gender, state, birth date, racing age (based on December 31 of that year), category and USAC club and team. You must take this license with you to all races, without it you may not be permitted to race. One day licenses are available for non-licensed racers who want to enter men's category 5 or women's category 4 races.

To test your ability, find a local training race. It is a good place to get the feel for how races work. You can purchase a one day license for $10.00, which if you choose to continue racing, can be applied to the full cost of a license later.

Categories are ability-based designations given to all USA Cycling racers. All riders are assigned to one of the following categories where smaller numbers represent an increasing rider proficiency and ability. Road and track categories for men are 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and for women: 4, 3, 2, 1. 

Classes are age-based designations, such as junior, elite or master. The following terms refer to specific age groups for road racing.

 Racing Age
 Class

 Under 10

 Youth
 10-18  Junior
 19-22  Under 23
 23-29  Elite (ie senior)
 30+  Master

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