Racing bikes is as rewarding as it is difficult. And like so many things in life, attention to detail will increase your chances of success.
If you're just beginning to participate in events this year, here are some tips to smooth out your landing at the start line.
Whether you live for tight technical forests or wide open roads, there is an event that will satisfy you. All over the country there are people who also love your favorite discipline enough to organize a race. Cruise the Web and find the right event for your skill set and competitive goals.
Getting a License to Ride
Once you've decided on your race or series of races, investigate what sanctioning body it falls under. You might need a USA Cycling license, which is the national governing body. Maybe you'll need a license provided by a state governing body, or a regional association.
If you decide on a smattering of races that fall under one governing body, then one license might work out nicely. But if you are traveling all over, you'll need to do your homework to figure out the most economical solution: four one-day licenses in four different regions, or an annual license for a 10-race series under one sanctioning body.
Also be aware that there are some races that are unsanctioned. For these events, make sure you read the fine print before you register, so that you don't needlessly buy a license. Whether you plan on entering an off-the-wall stage race or a big-time event, make sure you have the right license for the event.
Find a Race or Ride and Sign Up
The majority of events can be found on third-party online registration sites; BikeReg.com, SportsBaseOnline.com and Active.com are a few of the major clearinghouses where you can find just about any genre of event.
Since event organizers might choose one third-party registration site over another, a hunt through each site might yield the perfect event. Remember that your chosen event might run its own registration, so you might have to deal with race administrators instead of a third-party registration service.
In any case, pre-registration is always suggested as day-of registration comes with an extra fee and extra stress.
Before you leave the house, make sure you know whether the event will have neutral support or if you'll have to bring your own spare wheels. If you're carpooling with four friends, with all their bikes and gear, space might be at a premium, so plan accordingly.
Make sure you know how to get to the start line and where to park once you're there. Downtown crits are likely to have either ample municipal parking or parking garages nearby. However, mountain bike races in the middle of nowhere might require you to hire a stout local and his pack mule to get to the start, so be aware.
If you need lodging, you have a few options. Big races in cities might have an official race hotel that provides discounts to racers, or a host-housing list where you can sign up to stay at the house of a gracious local. Don't forget campgrounds, couch surfing or sharing a condo with fellow racers.
And whether you are camping or staying in a swanky downtown hotel, make sure you know how you're getting to the race start; and in some cases, back to your car from a race finish that might not be the same as the start.
Start times can vary depending on your category; the beginners usually go first, which means getting up with the roosters. Check the official event website for detailed information on when registration opens, and more importantly, when it closes.
Don't arrive at the venue 10 minutes before your race only to find that you missed check-in by 20 minutes. To make things as smooth as possible, print out and complete the release forms in advance. At the very least, bring a pen, your checkbook, your racing license and photo identification. Lastly, make sure you know which side of your jersey to pin your number on.
Assemble a "Race Bag" With Everything You Need:
- Spare tubes/tires
- Race apparel
- Street clothes
- Tools (pedal wrench, Allen keys, etc.)
- First Aid kit
- Racing license
- Photo I.D.
- Insurance card
- Food (pre-, during and post-race) and drinks
Attention cycling fans: Subscribe to VeloNews—the Journal of Competitive Cycling—and receive 15 huge issues filled with behind-the-scenes race coverage, news analysis, action photos, rider interviews, expert training advice, unbiased product reviews and more.