How to Start Racing on the Road


By Alison Tetrick

The women's 50-54 peloton jostling for position on course

What Is Road Cycling?

Welcome to road racing! You may have done some group rides or a century, and now you want to test yourself against others of your ability and age. Road racing is the place for you. There are different categories that you can enter based on your age and experience level. We all start at the beginner level (category 4 for women, category 5 for men) and work our way up from there.

Sometimes several categories are raced together, but scored separately. Regardless of your age or ability, there is a place for you to challenge yourself and compete! There are several different types of road races, but don’t let that intimidate you.

3 Basic Types of Road Racing

Criteriums are short, closed circuit races, usually under one mile in length and consist of many laps. These races usually last from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the skill level of the competitors. Imagine it like a NASCAR race on bicycles, where you are always close to the spectators and fans as you race around the circuit. There is a neutral pit in these courses that you can go to just in case you have a flat tire or mishap. Challenging, fun, and you usually don’t have to venture that far from your car!

Road races typically consist of longer circuits, or a loop. You may do a couple of loops, or just one big loop. These races can be from 35 miles to up to 80 miles. The courses may be long or short, flat or hilly, or a combination. Make sure you bring nutrition and water, and get ready for a long, good day in the saddle.

Carmen Small won the women's time trial

Time trials are just you against the clock. Unlike criteriums and road races, this is not a mass start race, but can be done individually or with a team. There is a set course and distance, and each rider starts alone (or as a team) and gets timed according to the duration it takes them to complete the course and the fastest time wins. You don’t have to have a time trial bike to compete! Some people use aerodynamic equipment for these races, but it is not a requirement.

Stage races combine these events over several consecutive days. The stage race may include road races, criteriums, a time trial, or a circuit race (which is basically somewhere between a road race and a criterium). Each day, the time it takes you to complete that stage is recorded, and the rider with the lowest total time over the duration of the race wins. This favors the rider with the best all-around ability, but you can always shine on the stages that suit your skills and talent!

What to Bring

  • Road bike (with no aerobars, unless you are doing a time trial)
  • Helmet
  • Cycling shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Smile and ready for a challenge!
  • USA Cycling license, or you can purchase a one-day license
  • Water bottles (at least two) and nutrition, including an electrolyte drink
  • Spare tubes/tires and a pump
  • Money for entry fees
  • Food and water for after the race! Recovery starts with some carbohydrates and protein immediately following intense exercise
Courtney Comer and Samantha Schneider glance during the juniors women 13-14 race

What to Wear

  • Chamois (shorts or bibs is your call, but those padded shorts are a necessity!)
  • Sleeved jersey (sleeveless jerseys are only allowed in time trials)
  • Socks
  • Cycling shoes that clip into your pedals are preferred but not required
  • Sunglasses: Good for eye protection
  • Helmet (even if you aren’t racing, every time you are on your bike you are required to wear a helmet)
  • Gloves: Great for hand protection

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This Article Updated April 11, 2014 @ 06:04 PM For more information contact: