With cycling increasing in popularity and presence within the community it should come as no surprise to know that bikes have been outselling cars for more than a decade. With more and more riders on the roads, bikes are becoming more than just a transport option. So if you’re an enthusiast seeking a little more fitness and competition than the commuter cup each morning provides, read on.
With over 210 registered cycling clubs in Australia and over 3,000 state and club run events, there’s no shortage of safe havens around for riders to unleash their competitive side, or meet other like minded individuals. 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 your bike.
Unsure on where to begin?
Looking to branch out into club cycling but don’t know where to begin? You’re not alone, thankfully as we transform more and more into a digital society, finding information on local clubs, rides and events near you is becoming far easier. Sites like Bicycle Network are forever updating their list of registered cycling clubs and the filtering function allows you to find your nearest club or user group with ease.
Once you’ve found a club, regardless of your fitness level, age, experience or equipment, there is an activity option for you. For those not wanting to dive head first into racing, most clubs will offer development rides for new riders wanting to hone their skills in the bunch.
Introductory races, typically run in the summer months, are a fantastic place to begin. Typically kept under control by of one of the club’s more experienced riders, they keep the pace easy and talk participants through the course and provide insight as to how to ride in a group. These introductory sessions will normally make up the first half of the race, with the second half opening up, allowing riders to try out their newfound skill set.
There’s a Grading System
Ever showed up to a “fun” run, Parkrun or another type of event and been blown away by a bunch of super fit athletes in the first few minutes? We’ve all been there, don’t worry. Thankfully, 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 helps out if you are struggling in a higher grade you can drop down to a more appropriate level.
Moving up a grade depends not only on your strength and fitness as a cyclist but also your skills and confidence racing shoulder to shoulder with other riders. This is a skill that takes time, so clubs will not move you up until they are comfortable with your racing finesse. The idea is that less skilled riders, not matter how strong, won't threaten to ride dangerously (due to inexperience) in a higher grade.
It’ll Benefit You Beyond Fitness Gains!
Cycling is one of the most social sports that you can participate in. Being a part of a club enables you to meet like-minded individuals who share a passion for everything bike. Beyond the camaraderie, the associated members are always ready to lend a hand, answer your questions or go the extra mile to ensure you have a positive experience.
The development of your skills is also enormous and will make you a much better rider. Learning how to ride in a bunch, cornering, descending, judge wind conditions and roll turns are all skills that are likely to see a dramatic improvement straight away. Bolstering your skillset has benefits beyond racing your bike, making you a more confident rider and thus more likely to keep the rubber side down when riding socially on less than ideal roads, or busy traffic.
In addition to becoming a more skilled rider, racing also allows cyclists to become “smarter” when it comes to understanding and applying tactics to racing. Race smarts and are best described as your senses when out on the bike, or 'reading the race'. This sense is best developed by getting out there and being amongst the race, watching more advanced riders, and observing and trying new things when on the race track.
These riding smarts include how to read others in the bunch, predict who is riding strong, know when to attack and how judge your own capabilities and physical limits. It’s a beautiful thing, and just like when you first got on two wheels as a kid, when it starts to click, it will surely change your perception of bicycles altogether!
Much like racing a car, or a motorbike, racing your bicycle requires you to hold a licence. Whilst there is an annual fee ($332 for an annual open race licence at time of publishing) it’s worth mentioning that this includes third party insurance that extends from in event incidents to training accidents and third party property damage.
A lot of other events such as triathlons, running events or spartan style challenge events often require you to sign up months in advance, refreshingly, 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 always another race or event around the corner. Most club calendars are also very full, giving you many opportunities to race throughout the entire calendar year.
Entry fee to most races is very cheap, ranging from $10-$25. So if you frequent the fun run, or gran fondo scene, 18 club run cycling races will cost you roughly the same amount as entering a long course triathlon or well known sportif. 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. 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!
You’re in Safe Hands
Riding in a club race will likely 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. In addition to this, First Aiders are always on hand, a traffic management system is applied where necessary and there are plenty of people available to help with flats or mechanical issues.
There are a number of race options available to you as a rider including one day road races, road stage races, kermesse's and criterium’s; which are all races typically held on an outdoor circuit on either purpose built (ie race track, cycling track) or closed public roads. Formats can vary, including handicap, where riders start in a handicapped order based on their ability, to team and individual time trials, where riders race against the clock and try to get the fastest time over their competitors.
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 you never get bored!
Got a Bike, Kit and a Helmet? You’re all set...
Sure you might get hit with some serious bike envy checking out other rides in the peloton, but gear snobbery counts for nothing once the racing begins. 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 to go out and spend thousands on an expensive bike and have a race kit to match. Being on the best bike does not guarantee a victory, you will notice very quickly how different everyone’s bike is regardless of the grade or level at which they ride. The only thing to note is the importance of maintaining your bike with regular servicing. If your equipment has been neglected or if you are aware of a niggling mechanical - opt out of the race until it gets fixed.
You might be able to tolerate a dropped chain or mystery creak, but other riders will find it unsettling and rightly so, a mechanical issue at high speed becomes dangerous for everyone involved. Bottom line - make sure your bicycle is working!
It always baffles me that some sporting activities are treated as all-consuming, slowly embedding themselves into every aspect of your life. Don’t get me wrong cycling can certainly do that, but let’s face it, we’re not riding our bikes to make a living or racing in the World Tour.
Training for cycling can be as simple as commuting to work and any additional training you do doesn’t have to be structured or mandated by a coach.
It’s important to remember that every race will be different, rarely ever playing out the same way. As far as the racing itself goes, it could take as little as 45 minutes, or spread across multiple days, so regardless of your work or family situation there is something on offer to fit in with your schedule.
Did you know you can know race on disc brakes at club level? You can find a wide range of disc brake road bikes for sale from leading retailers and private sellers across the country right here, on BikeExchange