Cycling has increased its popularity and presence in the community with bicycles out selling cars for more than a decade. Bikes are a great transport option for many, an endless source of fun and rite of passage for kids, and more and more these days they are used to race on the weekends for a source of entertainment, competition and fitness.
There are over 210 registered cycling clubs in Australia and over 3,000 state and club run events. It can be a bit daunting taking the leap from riding your bike recreationally to riding it for racing, but speaking from experience, it’s one of the best decisions you will ever make. We step you through the reasons why you should get involved with your local cycling club and start racing.
Thanks Di Howden for the great photo.
It’s for everyone
Regardless of your fitness levels, age, experience or equipment, there is an option for you. Most clubs will have junior, senior and veterans races available for guys and girls. There is also a grading system, so you don’t have to stress about lining up alongside the next Cadel Evans. Most clubs will also have development rides for newbies. During the summer season, there will typically be a race that is under control of one of the club’s experienced riders, keeping the pace easy and talking the participants through the course, corners and how to ride in a group. This will normally make up the first half of the race, and then the race will be opened up for people to try out the new skills they have learnt. A great introduction to club riding.
Have you every rocked up to a running race or another type of event and been blown away by some super fit athlete in the first few minutes? Cycling races are designed to put people of similar ability up against each other, ensuring fair and even racing. Most club races will have multiple grades of racing to cater for the serious rider who wants to test themselves against others, right down to the first timer. Clubs will also have criteria for each grade, moving people up or down dependent upon their performances. This ensures that someone can’t sit in a lower grade and win every single race. It also ensures if you are struggling in a higher grade you can drop down to a more appropriate level.
Senior crit race at Geelong Club Champs - Thanks Dan Wilson of GCC.
Cycling is one of the most social sports in which you can participate. You can chat during the event, and enjoy a coffee afterwards. Being a part of a club enables you to meet like-minded individuals who share a passion for the bike. There’s nothing like the hilarious banter after a race. In my experience, people at the clubs are always ready to lend a hand, answer your questions or go the extra mile to ensure you have a positive experience. In my first race I dropped my chain, but before I could even get off my bike a fellow rider was one step ahead and gave me a push while I was getting my gearing right to jump the chain back on.
Fitness is a great by-product of riding your bike, and nothing will get you fitter then racing. Anyone who watches football will always hear players and coaches say there’s nothing like ‘match’ fitness. No amount of training can simulate the intensity of racing and that little bit of extra effort you give towards the finish line, or to hang on to the wheel in front. It will get you fit, fast!
This is the number one difference I found from riding recreationally compared to racing. The development of your skills is enormous and will make you a much better rider. Learning how to ride in a bunch, judge wind conditions and roll turns are all things that will improve straight away. Individual skills such as cornering and descending will improve over time as you work your way up.
And then there are the riding smarts. These take time to develop but the best way to describe this evolution is like a series of light bulbs going off in your head constantly. You soon learn when to work, when to conserve your energy and when to attack. You learn to read other riders, sense who’s strong and judge your own status. It’s a beautiful thing, and when it starts to click for you, it will change your world!
Thanks Hamilton Pine Rivers Wheelers Bike Club for the great photo.
Rock up and race
Coming from a triathlon background this aspect of cycling really hit home for me. A lot of other events require you to sign up months in advance. Club cycling is not like that at all. Most entries can be done the week of the event, sometimes even on the day. If you are not feeling great, or the weather is not favourable, then you don’t race. No lost entry fee or disappointment, as there will be another race next weekend.
Most club calendars are also very full, giving you many opportunities to race. Between the two local clubs in my area, I can race every single week of the year.
Money money money & winner winner chicken dinner
Entry fee to most races is very cheap, ranging from $10-$25. I figured out I could enter 18 club run cycling races for the same price as one long course triathlon. And don’t think because the entry fee is low that you miss out on any of the experience of an event you would pay more for.
The clubs are run by passionate people who give a lot of time to ensure the success of the clubs and enjoyment of the riders. Every race will still have Marshalls, officials, supporters, sponsors and a finish line. This is not really a reason to join a club but it definitely it is a perk… there is Prize Money!
The majority of clubs will have prizes for podium finishes, which can be in the form of money, products, medals and / or trophies. And going back to the grading system, you are more than likely to find yourself on the podium at one stage or another!
Thanks Hamilton Pine River Wheelers Bike Club for the great photo.
Riding in a club race will be the safest ride you could ever be a part of. There are Marshalls on course, cars with lights and banners attached will normally follow the bunches to ensure their safety and let them know if vehicles are coming, First Aiders are always on hand, a traffic management system is applied and there are plenty of people available to help with flats or mechanical issues.
Lights are now compulsory for racing, and all officials will have radios on them at all times.
Different styles of racing to suit everyone
In no particular order some of the options available to you as a rider include a scratch race, criterium, kermesse, handicap, individual time trial, team time trial, road race, off road race, track, multiple stage race… the list goes on and on.
Add to that each race will have a different profile, distance and weather conditions with which to contend. Races are also scattered with start times and days. Racing can occur weekend mornings and afternoons, or - in summer months - evenings during the week.
So regardless of your work or family situation there is something on offer to fit in with your schedule.
Thanks SKCC for the great podium photo.
For those competitive types out there, cycling can certainly nourish your competitive side. There’s a finish line and other people involved so naturally there is a winner. If this is a motivating factor for you, big tick.
It doesn’t have to take over your life
It always baffles me that some activities will be all-consuming and slowly embed themselves into every aspect of your life. They can take away your week nights and most of your weekend. Cycling can certainly do that, but it doesn’t have to.
Training for cycling can be as simple as commuting to work. And any training you do doesn’t have to be structured. Every race will be different, very rarely ever playing out the same way. And as far as the race itself goes, depending on distance it could involve less than an hour. Most crits run through summer are between 30mins and 60mins, very rarely going beyond the hour mark.
A typical Sunday in summer could involve a 45min crit race at 9am then the rest of the day to spend however you like. Perfect scenario for families or anyone with a busy social calendar.
Thanks SKCC for the great action shot.
You don’t need all the gear – bike, shoes, kit and helmet.
If you are cycling already you will surely have the necessities and as long as you have a bike, shoes, kit, helmet and some lights, you are good to go. You don’t need all the bells and whistles, or to go out and spend thousands on an expensive bike. As Cadel says, there’s no need for a $5,000 bike with $50 legs. You will also very quickly notice how different everyone’s bike is regardless of the grade or level at which they ride. And being on the best bike does not guarantee a victory. Read this road bike buyer's guide for more information on choosing the right bike for you.
For all of those reasons and many more I would encourage you to give it a go, my guess is you’re going to love it.
Thanks Hamilton Pine Rivers Bike Club for the super cover shot.