So you like cycling. Now what?
From fun rides to hard-core competition, plenty of options span cycling or bike racing, and it’s easy to start with this how-to guide.
- Choose one or more types of cycling: Road cycling, mountain biking, cyclocross, track cycling, multi-sport or triathlons
- Get competitive: Find a coach, do training and/or group rides, join a team, create a race calendar and register for USA Cycling-sanctioned races – all on Clipped In.
- …or don’t: Find casual group rides or ideas for routes on your own and maybe even register for a non-USA Cycling race just to test your limits or get fit.
Either way, you can find it all on Clipped In.
P.S. Take a pull and learn the lingo.
Get competitive and start bike racing
USA Cycling is the national governing body for cycling in the United States. If you want to get competitive and start bike racing, it’s time for you to sign up for a USA Cycling license.
That means you’ll be able to compete in cycling races in the United States. If you have aspirations to go to the Tour de France, get an adrenaline kick or just see how you compare with some other competitively-minded and fun people, you’ll need to start bike racing.
You can also choose to compete in competitive events that are not USAC-sanctioned; one of the main differences is that you won’t receive upgrade points for unsanctioned races, but more on that later.
Categories: As a beginner, you will start out in the lowest category possible. In road cycling, for example, men’s categories span 1 to 5, while women’s are 1 to 4. These are all sometimes labeled as “senior,” but that does not refer to age.
The lowest category for a senior man is “Cat” 5 and the lowest for a senior woman is Cat 4. In order to move up in categories, you have to earn points from placing in races. You can also compete at the collegiate level or at the masters level, a race category based solely on age group. Younger riders can compete in a juniors classification.
Depending on how you place, you may win cash or other prizes.
Races: Just about every state or region has its own local association that determines the racing calendar for that area. For example, the Arizona Bicycle Racing Association is the USA Cycling local race association in Arizona for road racing. ABRA creates and decides the official USA Cycling racing calendar for Arizona each year. These are the races that count for category upgrade points. California and every other state has a local association as well.
There are four main types of bike races for road cycling:
- Criterium: A mass-start race of less than a mile loop, closed to traffic, around which a group of cyclists race for an allotted period of time. The first cyclist to cross the finish line wins.
- Circuit race: A mass-start race very similar to a crit of more than a mile loop.
- Road race: A mass-start, long-distance race that may or may not be closed to traffic.
- Time trial: A race in which each rider goes solo against the clock over a certain distance. The rider with the best time wins. Most riders have aero bars and aero helmets for this type of race.
Points: If you keep earning points, you can eventually go semi-pro or pro (if a sponsor picks you up). Points are based on how many riders are in your field and what place you get in the race. Only criterium races, circuit races and road races count for points. Time trials do not count for points; see your local association’s rules for upgrade criteria.
See also: USA Cycling Rule Book
Join a team: The best way of gaining real-world racing experience is by joining a team. You can request to join a team by contacting the team president or captain and you may even get sponsored.
Mountain bike and BMX racing
Competitive mountain bike and BMX racing is similar to road racing in that a local organization, Mountain Bike Association of Arizona, for example, sets the annual calendar of races sanctioned by USA Cycling. Categories range from 1 to 3 for women and men, masters (based on age group) and juniors (younger kids). You can earn points in order to upgrade in a similar way as road racing.
Cyclocross racing consists of many short laps on a course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount.
Photo by AZisPhotography
Non-competitive cycling, fun rides and group rides
Want to test yourself, get a good workout and feel a sense of accomplishment without having to be competitive? No need to sign up for a USA Cycling license. You can sign up for all sorts of touring road rides and races.
Mass-start races, rides and gran fondos: Various road rides/races such as the Tour de Scottsdale, Palm Springs Century, Rag Brai and others are great mass-start races that may shut down roads and time your ride.
However, they do not count toward points in USA Cycling. But if you’re not in it for that, who cares? These are usually epic rides that take you through some beautiful scenery and get a great workout with some great people.
Group rides: Many bike shops and cycling clubs host group road rides on various days and times of the week.
Training rides: Want to go solo or ride with a friend?