Thinking about bike racing next season? It can seem like a daunting step. Here’s ten pieces of advice from James Lewis, a ScarletFire reader who kindly offered to share his insights about what he wishes he’d known before taking to the start line for the first time in 2016.
Top 10 bike racing tips.
1) Fitness isn’t everything.
Ok, you do need to be reasonably well trained in order to compete, more on this later. Bike races, however are rarely won on the basis of strength alone. If you have good bike handling skills and are tactically astute, you have a good chance of doing well especially at 4th Cat level. Don’t get too hung up on the numbers, I’ve been beaten many times by less powerful rivals.
2) You don’t need (or always want) the best equipment.
Contrary to what manufacturers would have you believe, equipment only makes a small difference when compared to improvements in your fitness and tactical ability. Unless you are riding a 12kg steel tourer, your bike is unlikely to be holding you back significantly. I’ve seen just as many people win races on old alloy machines as on 5k superbikes, if not more. Think twice before taking your best equipment to a race, especially early on – if you crash, it will be very costly to replace.
3) It will get easier.
If you get dropped in your first couple of races, don’t be discouraged – it happens to almost everyone. The guys driving the pace at the front are probably just the ones who stuck with it. It won’t take long for your fitness and race skills to improve. That first good result is one of the most rewarding experiences the sport can offer, keep on working and it will come.
4) You don’t need to train long – just hard.
It’s a common misconception that in order to improve you need to train at high volume. In reality, intensity is much more important – if you are short on time just be sure to make each session count. Most 3rd and 4th Cats I know train for around 6-8 hours a week, this should easily be enough to get your fitness to the required level.
5) It will make you safer.
Bike racing involves riding in very close proximity to other riders, usually at high speed. You’ll soon notice improved spatial awareness, bike handling skills and use of peripheral vision. Personally, I’ve had far fewer near misses out on the road since starting to race.
6) Events are easy to find – if you know where to look.
This may sound obvious, but if you are not part of a race-orientated club it can be tricky to find races taking place near you. Just go to the British Cycling website, search in the events section and apply the relevant filters. During the competitive season there are many mid-week closed circuit races, often forming part of a series. I’d wager there is at least one close to where you live. Note that in some areas, races take place under the control of a different governing body.
7) It doesn’t cost the Earth.
Races are far cheaper to enter than the majority of sportives. Closed circuit events usually cost around £15, you should get at least 40 minutes of action. Road races do tend to be more (about £25 give or take), but will offer a longer time in the saddle – two hours at the very least. In short, it’s good value for money.
8) Yes – it will hurt.
No getting around this one – racing is hard, very hard. You’ll need to dig deep. Initially it will be about trying to stay with the bunch. As you progress, it’s likely you will have to go with or initiate an attack in order to get a good result. Replicating the intensity in training is difficult, speaking from experience the best way to get fit for racing is simply to ride lots of races.
9) You will crash at some point.
If you race often, it’s inevitable that you will fall. It takes time to develop better bike handling skills. We have all taken a corner too fast at some point – it’s all part of the experience. Sadly, there will always be riders who are inconsiderate or simply not very skilled – you’ll soon learn to spot them and to steer clear. It goes without saying that most crashes aren’t severe, it’s likely that a bruised ego and a few scrapes is the worst you will come away with.
10) You should try it at least once.
Bike racing won’t be for everyone, and I’ll admit to not enjoying every single outing over the course of the season. If you are naturally competitive and like an adrenaline rush you should feel at home. If it isn’t to your liking don’t despair, there are other options in terms of competition, such as Time Trialling. If you don’t give it a try, you’ll never know. Getting dropped or having a crash is the worst that can happen, neither of which will be the end of the world.
Hopefully, you will have found the above useful. A few months back I was in a difficult position, with many unanswered questions about what racing would hold. I decided to write this article to offer help to anyone in a similar situation. My final word is this – If I can do it then anyone can.
About the author
James Lewis, Sports Science Student and amateur cyclist.
3rd Category racer, trying to turn myself into a decent time triallist. Like writing about my various misadventures, refusing to take myself too seriously in the process. Live for long rides in the Countryside – preferably with a café stop.
Read my blog at https://beginnerbikeracing.wordpress.com/