Bike Racing 101

To compete in a USAC race, (excerpts from USAC rule book) riders must complete a race registration and present a valid racing license. A rider may race in a category for which s/he has earned entry.

  • Category 5 men can only race in category 5 or open races and they cannot race in master's races.
  • All other categories may race in their designated category or in master races.
  • Masters may compete in any races for their age or younger subject to category restrictions but may not enter under-23 or junior races.
  • Youth riders may only enter youth races.
  • Under-23 or Juniors may compete in any race for their age or older subject to category restrictions, but may not race in masters races and are subject to gear restrictions no matter what race class they are racing.
  • Juniors with a racing age of 14 or younger may compete in youth road events if there is no race for their specific age.
  • Women may enter any men's race for which they are eligible by age, category or any performance requirements.
  • Women may enter categorized races for men that are up to one category lower than their women's category.
  • Category 3 and 4 women who are 35 or older may compete in Masters races for all riders up to 20 years greater than their racing age.

Race fees can add up. Read the race flyer completely. Some promoters assess a late fee for day of registration or a fee for an unattached rider. Unattached means that you are not affiliated with a club or team. Some races do not have day-of registration.

Races vary in their length depending on your category or class. Once you have committed to racing you will be concerned with upgrading to higher categories. To do so, you will need to complete qualifying races. To upgrade from a category 5 to a 4, you must complete 10 mass start races. Qualifying road races for Cat 5 must be a minimum of 15 miles and 10 miles for a crit. Refer to the USA Cycling rule book for more information about qualifying races.

All racers must wear a race number. The number should not be folded or mutilated in any way including crumbling. It must be visible to the cycling officials; therefore it must be placed properly, hair cannot cover the number. Check with the promoter which side the number must be placed. A good way to ensure the number is placed in the appropriate place is to stretch your jersey over the steering wheel of your car.  With the bottom edge of the number placed at the seam of the jersey and above the pocket, pin the number at each corner and each side.

You must wear an approved helmet and a jersey that covers your shoulders. If you belong to a club/team and that club/team has a jersey you must wear that jersey. Gloves are recommended for mass start races to protect the hands in crashes and when bumped. 

No race may be started before the time stated in the official race flyer except when all registered riders are at the start line and consent to an earlier start. It is the rider's responsibility to report at the appointed time and for junior and youth riders to have their bikes "rolled out" prior to the start of their race. The maximum gear ratio for junior riders is 26 feet or a 53x14. The gear limit is to protect growing bones and muscles.

At the start, the chief referee or designee will give you race instructions and announcements, then will use a gun or whistle to start the race. All competitors will finish on the same lap as the winner of the race. The chief referee or designee may request that lapped riders retire from the race, if you are requested to do so, please do it, even if you don't want to.

A bell will be rung to announce sprint laps or the last lap of the race. The chief judge is responsible for determining finish order. Once results are posted, there is a 15-minute protest period. It is the rider's responsibility to review the results.  If you have a protest, approach the chief judge calmly and intelligently to explain what you believe is the issue. Always be kind to your race officials and listen to them.  Remember, no profanity!

Keep your expectations low. Racing is not easy even if you are fit. The learning curve is steep. Take advice from riders who are more experienced. Doing so can make your first experience more fun.

Relax. Warm up. Breathe calmly, don't pant. Good luck and have fun.

Active logoGive racing a try. Find a cycling event.


Lehigh Valley Cycling Examiner Sallie Urffer is a master competitive cyclist, bicycle race official, bike shop sales associate, cycling advocate and volunteer.

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