Bicycle racing is an exciting and dynamic sport, one that requires racers to spend thousands of hours in the saddle to train their bodies and minds for a season of racing. If you're serious about the sport, and you want to make it part of your future, becoming a member of a bike team is the next step. With all of that much time invested, it's helpful to spend your time with a group of like-minded individuals who enjoy each other's company. But how do you find a team that fits your style?
Where to Start
Nearly every state has some form of bicycle racing organization. Most major metropolitan areas have multiple racing teams devoted to all aspects of bicycle racing. Some devote their efforts to road or track, while others attract members of the mountain biking or cyclocross communities.
Some teams might invite women only, and others were formed specifically for juniors or novice cyclers. Still, certain teams cater to older men and women who remain interested in racing well into their 50s and 60s. No matter your age, gender or experience, there's a team for you.
The best way to discover cycling teams in your area is to check the list of all racing clubs on the USA Cycling website: https://www.usacycling.org/clubs/. This national organization handles bicycle racing in the U.S., and it forms the Olympic team. The website includes a contact list with emails and phone numbers for each team certified by USA Cycling.
If you haven't spent much time racing or riding with people from a local team, you'll want to try them out to discover which one fits you best. Find out where and when they train by contacting the team and asking if you can drop-in for a training ride. The team's response will set a tone and give you a better understanding of the type of team you're looking at. When you first contact the team, be sure to share your age and cycling background. Remember, they too want to know if you're the right fit for their team.
What to Look For
As you research teams, there are a number of things to consider. Are you looking for a team with volunteer mentors who can guide you on your path in cycling? Or are you looking to step up into a team with full-time coaches? Some teams, for example, are invitation-only and require a personal race history or resume for consideration. Others won't care about your experience but will want to know you're serious and committed. Also, most teams charge fees and dues. Fees can run from $50 to more than $100 per year. So, it's important to consider the hit this venture might take on your wallet.
Some teams require a minimum amount of volunteer time and/or team mission contribution. Such charitable efforts might come in the form of a team-sponsored race or other community effort. Other teams may help reduce the cost of racing by providing logistical or financial support through sponsorships. Sponsorships for amateur teams grant riders reduced costs for services or parts. For example, a local bike shop might sponsor a team and offer its members a 20-30 percent store discount. A parts manufacturer might offer the team a discount with direct factory orders in exchange for advertising space on the team kit. Ask your prospective team the benefits they offer, and decide whether they are important to you.
Other Issues to Consider
What is the teams' racing creed? During a race, is it every man for himself, or is there a designated 'winner' for whom you must work? How and where does the team train? Does the team have a volunteer or designated coach? Some teams require a monthly or annual fee for the retention of the team coach. Other teams provide on-the-bike coaching and tips from volunteers or more experienced members.
Junior and women's teams often have additional considerations. For women, a female coach or mentor might be best for a first-time racer. This could be someone on the team who has raced before and knows the ins and outs of women's competitive cycling. It's an exciting time for women's bike racing. With more amateur and professional women's teams forming all over the country, the opportunity for female cyclists has never been better.
For junior teams (racers younger than 18), coaches and mentors should be certified to perform first-aid and possess a Level 3 USAC coaching license. You might also consider performing a security background check through a certified agency. Also, it's important to ensure other team members are of a similar age, so the cyclist has someone to relate to both on and off the bike.
Taking It to the Next Level
If you plan on making bike racing more than a hobby, there are many opportunities to advance your cycling career. Once you acquire your USAC racing license, the United States Olympic Committee now considers you Olympics-eligible. It's exciting to know that someone racing beside you this year might become an Olympic champion a few years down the road. From online clinics to in-person training camps that cover the gamut of bicycle racing, USA Cycling provides a variety of resources for the serious cyclist. If this kind of racing is your ultimate goal, seek out a team willing to support you with the necessary contacts and coaching. Other examples of advanced support include dedicated support vehicles and significant discounts on the latest framesets and components from brand-name frame builders.
Whether you're racing for the first time or wishing to upgrade to a new team, cycling teams offer the opportunities for networking, experience and comradery necessary to make bicycle racing an enjoyable and rewarding sport.Search for a cycling event.