Tips for Becoming a Bike Racer – Making the Transition from Rider to Racer

Beginning racers make their way around a course.If you have been riding for a while and enjoy going fast or sprinting with your buddies for landmarks or racing to the tops of climbs, a race may be in your future. Here are some tips for making a successful transition from recreational rider to racer.

  •  Join a club or racing team and participate in group rides  – You’ll enjoy riding and competing with friends and riders that can help support and motivate you to do your best. Teammates can share rides to races, train together and work together during races.
  •  Practice going fast through corners – In races, riders may stop pedaling for a 90 degree corner but the good ones usually don’t hit the brakes. It is important that you learn to do the same. Learning when and how to brake properly and when not to use your brakes, can conserve energy, make the race experience smoother and keep you and the riders behind you much safer. For help with cornering, consider a skills clinic taught by a local coach or experienced racers. They’ll help you overcome fears and add speed to your cornering. Read more about cornering and descending skills here
  • Learn group riding etiquette and racing rules – Riders who are comfortable riding in a group make more confident, safer racers. Join local group rides and ask questions about how the group works. Many but not all of the guidelines you learn in a group ride will apply to riders moving around in a race pack. You can read the rule book for racing in the US at the USA Cycling website.
  •  Practice eating and drinking on the bike in motion – In a race you will be expending a lot of energy, and losing water with your breath and sweat. It is important to stay hydrated and maintain your energy levels; otherwise your performance will suffer. Eat and drink early and often in a race. Practice your eating and drinking routines in group rides in practice for racing, making sure that what you eat and drink will work for you when you are riding hard for several hours. Get used to digging in jersey pockets and opening wrappers while riding. Carry more water than you think you’ll need.
  •  Ask other racers questions to learn about racing – If you have never participated in a race, you can get a better idea of what to expect by asking experienced racers. Most are happy to share. For example, an experienced racer can help you preview a race course and figure out a warm-up, or help you figure out what to bring with you.
  •  Develop a warm-up routine – You’ll need a good warm-up before a race because it will probably start out very fast, as opposed to a group ride which may actually warm-up for a while before the pace picks up. You can read more about warm-ups here
  •  Learn to dress properly based on weather and the effort you expect – On a cool day you may tend to dress to keep warm on an easy training ride. For the same conditions on a group ride you may wear a little less knowing that you will be producing more body heat. When you are racing you should under-dress compared to the solo or group ride since you will be producing even more body heat. If it is cold, wear arm or leg warmers or items that can easily be removed and do not take up much space in your pockets.
  •  Have six good hard efforts in your legs – It’s been estimated that you need to be capable of six good, hard 3-5 minute efforts above your threshold to be competitive in a road race. Test yourself in solo rides to know you are ready to race. When you race, save your efforts for when you really need them. Do not waste them by dangling off the back of the pack, facing the wind, or braking or attacking more than necessary. Also know that it takes racing to get better at racing. Don’t put off your first race fearing that you don’t have enough training. The only way to find out is to try!
  • Know that it takes about five years to find out how good you can become – That seems to be the magic number for training and when you start your career. Initially the fitness gains come big and fast but then get smaller and require harder work to achieve. After five years of dedicated training and racing you will be near your potential, especially if you have a coach and train intelligently. (The five-year rule assumes that you are an adult.)
  • Read up on training techniques and tactics – You can learn a lot about the way cyclists think by reading periodicals and books about bicycle racing, as well as by watching the pros race. They don’t call it chess on wheels for nothing.  Also you can learn about training techniques and skills by reading and then applying them on the road. One good resource is Bike Racing 101, by Head Coaches Kendra Wenzel and Scott Saifer of Wenzel Coaching.
  • Hire a coach to help you get the most out of your training – It is difficult to coach yourself even if you know a lot about training. For example, even as a coach, when I can’t decide whether to take a day off because I am feeling beat, my wife will ask me what I would tell a client that spoke those exact words to me! Often we know what we should do but don’t do it or vice versa. Having a coach gives you a more objective look at what you are doing and where you are and lets you focus on training rather than planning your training rides and deciding what to do. All you have to worry about is doing the work. Let your coach worry about the rest. Find your coach here

Coach Steve Berkowitz of Texas works with all levels of riders and racers.