Don’t be intimidated.
Don’t worry about entering a race wearing a plain jersey and riding a well-used road bike. There is surprising little correlation between a cyclist’s ability and his or her appearance, physical or otherwise. Everyone of all ages is out to just have fun and challenge themselves.
If you’re holding out until you feel exceptionally fit, or until you can go buy that speedy new race bike, or until there’s a long break in your busy schedule, keep in mind that there’s no time like the present.
Join a club or team.
Cycling is as much a team sport off the bike as it is on the bike. Joining a club such at the COBRAS is great way to learn about the sport, share resources, carpool to events, and, above all, make friends and have fun. That’s what this sport is about in the first place.
What types of road races are there?
TIME TRIAL: Europeans call the time trial the “Race of Truth” as it is a race in which the individual or team races against the clock. Racers often ride aerodynamic bikes with aerodynamic equipment, and don aerodynamic clothing to make themselves faster, but this type of equipment is not mandatory. Racers are separated by gender and age group or often there is a “Retro” division in which no special aerodynamic equipment is allowed. The course length and terrain varies. State and National Championship time trial distance is 40 kilometers (just under 25 miles).
CRITERIUM: A criterium or “crit,” is the most common form of mass-start racing in the United States. The criterium takes place on a closed course one mile or less in length. The loop is repeated, and the race tends to last 30-90 minutes, depending on the skill level of the riders. These races usually have a faster overall speed than other races and are popular with spectators because the riders come by every couple of minutes.
ROAD RACE: Road bicycle racing is a bicycle racing sport held on paved roads. The term “road racing” is usually applied to events where competing riders start simultaneously (unless riding a handicap event) with the winner being the first to the line at the end of the course.
CIRCUIT RACE: A Circuit Race is essentially a Road Race on a shorter course, repeated several times. These are mass start, one-day events.
STAGE RACE: A stage race can last a few days or as long as three weeks. Each day, the racers ride a different course; the races that make up a stage race may include road races, criteriums, and time trials. The courses may be long or short, flat or hilly, or a combination. The athlete with the greatest overall ability to sprint, climb, and just persevere, will fare the best in a stage race. The US Pro Cycling Challenge and the Tour de France are stage races.
How do I get started?
Bicycle racing is open to all levels of ability.
If you’re going to race on the road, you need a road bike. Mountain or hybrid bikes are too heavy. If you are shopping for a new bicycle, know the difference between “sizing” a bike to the rider and “fitting” the bike. Most bike shops will start with “sizing” the frame – having you stand over the bike to establish clearance. Having the bike “custom fit” typically involves substantial extra time and cost, but the resulting comfort level is worth it.
Once you have your bike and helmet that fit well, start training. Plan to train at least 100 miles a week; most beginners to intermediate racers train 150-250 miles a week.
Don’t worry about aero bars, TT bikes, and other special equipment to start out with. Enter a few races and decide for your self what type of racing you enjoy best and what you are willing to invest to gain a few seconds during the race. Racing does not have to be expensive nor require a lot of special equipment to have fun.
Learn from more experienced racers. Find a club that fits you.
Finding a cycling club is a great way to prepare you for the next step. If you’re not already a member of a club, consider joining one such as the COBRAS and take part in the group rides and other learning opportunities that we offer to our members. Email us so we can call you and discuss your level of cycling and what your interests are, just to make sure it’s a good fit for you.
Get thee to the start line. Choose your first race.
There are dozens of race events in the Denver area. USA Cycling and Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (BRAC) are a great place to look for races. Their web sites are http://www.usacycling.org or http://www.coloradocycling.org. If you join a club such as the COBRAS, we can help you find the right first race for you and mentor you through the process of that first race!
The Karen Hornbostel Memorial Time Trial Series at Cherry Creek State Park (run by the COBRAS) offers a First Timer program that provides mentoring and you can participate in your first race for only $20. Click here for details.
Are you licensed to race?
Most bicycle races in the Denver area require that you have a USA Cycling license, plus a BRAC membership. You can get more information at http://www.usacycling.org and Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado (BRAC) http://www.coloradocycling.org. Some races allow you to purchase a one-day license. When you select a race, read the promoters or sponsoring clubs web site or flyer in detail to determine what you need to have to race. If you belong to a club such as the COBRAS, call or ask any member and they can help you.
Should I train with a group?
Group rides will help you learn different skills than you pick up on your own, such as how to follow a rider closely and safely, how to expend less energy, how to accelerate with explosive speed, and how to turn a corner with speed.
COBRAS offer weekly group rides and you are welcome to join us without paying dues and use this time to help see if you and the club are a good match.
What should I bring to a race?
- A helmet is required to race
- Unless you are riding for a club and have one of their jerseys, wear one of your own
- Padded shorts
- Cycling shoes that clip into your pedals
- Gloves to protect your hands
- Sunglasses to protect your eyes
- Water bottles
- Food and water (with protein and carbohydrates) for after your race
- A friend to cheer for you is always nice