FAQs to get you started
What types of road races are there?
How do I get started?
Road 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. Before getting a road bike, make sure you get a bike fit done at a shop that serves racers; if the shop you go to tells you to just stand over the bike, pick another shop. While a bike fit may cost you as much as $60, it is absolutely worth it. You are almost sure to not enjoy racing if your bicycle does not fit you. Plus, it will save you from having to replace ill-fitting equipment later. Make sure to get a relatively light helmet that fits by asking for assistance at the bike shop.
Once you have a road bike and helmet that fit well, start training. Plan to train at least 100 miles a week; most beginner to intermediate racers train 150-250 miles a week.
Well-planned out hours in the saddle are what you need to develop endurance and hone skills and techniques needed to be both a competitive and safe racer. Contrary to the title of Lance Armstrong's first book, sometimes it is about the bike. Though it is optimal to train outside, balance skills can be enhanced on indoor rollers. Spinning classes can nicely supplement riding hours spent outdoors. A healthy diet as well as cross-training will help with training and injury prevention.
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Where can I train?
Where can't you train is the question. Even your daily commute to work can help you train. In San Francisco, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio are fantastic options. The Peninsula, North Bay and East Bay offer some alternatives to riding in town. Many club websites have recommended routes that include detailed information on mileage and elevation.
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.
Find a local cycling club that has a racing orientation. Usually, you can join a club for a few training rides without paying dues and use this time to see if you and the club are a good match. Different clubs offer different benefits, including training camps, guidance on fitness, and discounts on gear and coaches; it is also important to find a group of people you like since you will train together. Ideally, the club you choose will have a beginner group, so there are other people at your level.
What groups or clubs can I train with?
Know of a group not listed here who should be? Tell us about it!
Do the races have limited participation (field limits)?
For safety reasons, races open only to category 5 men or category 4 women have field limits of 50 riders. Races for other categories have higher field limits (generally 100 riders). Given the field limits, pre-register for races you really want to do.
What are racing categories?
Categories exist to assist you to race with others at your level. Beginners will be assigned to a novice category (cat): cat 5 for men and cat 4 for women; based on number of races and/or performance, racers upgrade by descending in category from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1. The categories are further defined by one of three age groups: Juniors (riders 18 and under), Elite (19-29), and Masters (30+).
Will I be racing against professional riders?
You don't have to. If you are male, beginners race with beginner (category 5) racers. If you are female, most events have a beginner (category 4) race. Sometimes all the categories are lumped together; these races are often quite challenging for new racers.
What should I bring to a race?
Racing do's and don't's
During a race, only draft off (ride directly behind) riders who start in your group and are in your category. Know the number range assigned to your group and if in doubt, don't draft.
If you get a flat in a crit, you can usually take a lap. This means that you have one lap to come to the designated pit, work on your bike and get back into the race the next time the group you were riding with comes by the pit. You don't get a free lap if you are within 1 km of the end of the race.
Officials may pull you out of a crit if the pack laps you (drops you from their group, comes around again, and passes you). Unless you are instructed to pull out of the race, stay in and try to get back onto the back of the pack. The more time you can race with a group, the more experience you will gain.
After your race, make sure you eat some protein and carbohydrates and drink some water immediately after your race.
Make sure the judges got your number. It is sometimes challenging for officials to note your number if several people are coming by at once. Once results are posted, you have 15 minutes to protest their validity with the officials.
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