So, how do you know when you’re ready to line up for your first ever road bike race?

c race start line

There are two ways to look at it.

The short answer is, just do it.

The best way to get better at racing is to race more, so the sooner you get started, the better. Your first race is just going to be a learning experience anyway, so don’t overthink it!

But the long answer is a more detailed process. If you’re a perfectionist, here’s the step-by-step process I recommend:

Step 1: Watch a Race

If there’s a local race downtown, like an evening criterium, take a ride down there and spectate. Watch what happens at various parts of the course. If the races are further away, watch the pros on TV or find something on Youtube.

It certainly wouldn’t hurt to read Racing Tactics for Cyclists to help you understand what you’re seeing.

Step 2: Attain Basic Skills

Now that you know what the basic skills are (cornering, drafting, etc.,) practice them until you are competent. You can spend a lot of time in an empty parking lot doing drills or riding the same corner over and over again until you master it.

While you’re at it, make sure you’re familiar with the common hand signals used in group rides and races.

Step 3: The Group Ride

Jump in the local group ride. (Some are mellow while others match the intensity level of a race!)

For your first time, just stay near the back of the pack and observe. (You’ll probably get dropped; that’s OK, you just need the experience.)

Step 4: Repeat!

Repeat step 3 until you can finish the ride with the group. Then move on to step 5…

Step 5: Group Ride, For Real.

Now get back in the group ride, but this time, rotate through the paceline so you spend time at the front. You don’t even need to pull if you don’t feel strong, just rotate through. You’re not showing off, you’re just getting accustomed to the motions.

Step 6: Dominate The Group Ride.

Now, figure out how to stay at the front of the pack on this group ride and go with any attacks, town line sprints, etc. You’ll need to combine your previous group ride experience with all the skills and techniques you studied in steps 1 and 2.

If you can comfortably complete a group ride (in the pack, where the action is,) you’re ready to race!

Step 7: Get Licensed.

Sign up with USA Cycling and wait for your racing license to arrive in the mail.

Step 8: Enter Race.

This is self-explanatory – just enter the race and show up at the start!

Keep in mind, not all those steps are absolutely mandatory. But you do want to have your bike handling skills at a competent level for your own safety, as well as the safety of everyone else on the road with you.

If you’re not keen on the whole pack-riding aspect, you could start out with a Time Trial (TT.) This is the safest type of race – you won’t be involved in a pile-up since you shouldn’t be drafting behind anyone. The dangers are the same as on a solo road ride or perhaps even less, depending on the course marshals and/or if the course is closed to traffic.

The TT is a good way to witness the race atmosphere and figure out your pre-race morning rituals, including the little things like pinning your number on. The results will also give you a good idea of where you are at fitness-wise. (Which will probably be a great confidence booster or a harsh reality check!)

Photo credit: Clara S.

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