Getting started with bike racing can be intimidating. It’s easy to overthink it, and convince yourself you’re getting in over your head. But in reality, your first few races are some of the most exciting experiences you’ll have as a cyclist. If you approach these events with an open mind and a sense of curiosity, you can lay the foundation for a long and successful future in the sport. These are our top 10 tips for your first season racing bikes.
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10. There’s no bad first race
Lots of first-timers worry about choosing the perfect event. You might worry your event is too hard, too long, too technical, or just not suited to your abilities. In reality, any event that motivates you to line up and compete is a perfect one to start with. You’ll get to see strategies play out in real time, feel what it’s like to move in a pack, and very likely surprise yourself somewhere along the way. No matter the end result, your first race is a foundation on which to build and improve.
9. Try New Things Every Race
There are endless ways to approach a bike race, and your first few events are your chance to try them out and see what sticks. Choose a few tactical objectives, and see how you can use them to your advantage. For example, you might prioritize getting into breakaways on one day, and sit in and go for the sprint on another. Other techniques to focus on include sag climbing, tailgunning, and good cornering. Learning these skills early helps you be a faster, more efficient racer from the very start.
8. Learn and Iterate
From when to move within the pack, to when you choose to conserve and expend energy, every minute of a bike race is a decision, and every decision has consequences. This is your chance to learn and grow. After every race, reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Next time you line up, apply what you learned and go from there. Small, iterative improvements lead to big things when applied consistently and intentionally over time.
7. Set Goals That Aren’t the Podium
Every racer naturally hopes to win. The problem is, winning is the end result of a long series of events, only some of which are in your control. By focusing on process goals instead of outcomes, you can set measurable benchmarks for success that don’t rely on luck or the actions of others. Pick one or two practical goals for each event, such as positioning, making it over a specific climb with the group, or sheltering in the pack until a certain point. Celebrate these victories when you achieve them, because they are meaningful signs of progress and powerful motivational tools.
6. Fuel Yourself
Speaking of process goals, the number one most impactful and easily-controllable factor in any bike race is fueling. It’s easy to forget to eat and drink amidst the cognitive load of a race, and adrenaline might even make you think you don’t need to eat at all. Well, let’s be clear on one thing- you do!
Experiment with different carbohydrate and hydration options in training, and apply the lessons you learn on race day. Make fueling your primary objective for every event, and set a timer to remind yourself to eat something every 30-45 minutes, no matter how hungry you feel in the moment. It could easily mean the difference between first and last place.
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5. Plan Ahead
Too many racers take a long-term approach with training, but leave event logistics and equipment maintenance for the last minute. Don’t let this be you! Plan ahead for your event’s technical requirements and take care of bike maintenance well in advance. Pack a race kit of clothes, nutrition, and spare parts, and figure out the best route and schedule for getting to your race at least a few days prior. Last minute preparations can keep you up late the night before your event, so have everything ready to go and get a good night’s sleep.
4. Race Often
Mastery of anything takes repetition, and skills fade over time without practice. Bike racing is no different. The more you race, the more confident you’ll become, and the more accustomed you’ll get to the cognitive load of the peloton. For this reason, the best way to get better at racing is to race frequently, especially when you’re just starting out.
Stage races are an excellent option, packing multiple events into a short time frame for lots of useful experience. Weekly practice criteriums and even competitive group rides can also do the trick, offering a race-like experience in a slightly less formal setting. However you do it, do it often.
3. Be a Student of Racing
Much of racing comes down to intuition and split-second decisions. This winning instinct takes time to learn, but there are a host of ways to develop your knowledge of the ins and outs of race craft. TrainerRoad’s race analysis videos are a great place to begin. In addition, watching pro races on TV, YouTube channels such as Norcal Cycling, and conversations with more experienced friends can offer a host of useful knowledge.
2. Control The Things You Can (and Accept What You Can’t)
No matter how experienced you are, how a race plays out is largely out of your control. You might get a flat tire, blocked by another rider in a sprint, or even get stuck in a crash. C’est la vie. Surprises happen, and while they can lead to disappointment, sometimes they work in your favor, too. By accepting what you can’t change, you free yourself to focus on the things you can, such as your fitness, preparedness, and strategy. You’ll be ready when luck goes your way (and ok with it when it doesn’t).
1. Have Fun
There’s one piece of advice that stands above all others when it comes to bike racing, and that’s to have fun. Sure, it will be hard, and there’s a good chance it will occasionally be frustrating or disappointing. But that shouldn’t distract from one truth: whether it’s your first season of competition or you’ve been racing for decades, you do this for fun. Take a quick moment during every event to take it all in, and be aware of just how incredible an experience bike racing really is – there’s truly nothing else like it. No matter how you finish in the end, if you have fun, you win.