Crit / racing safety

A teammate broke his collarbone this season, then posited that he might not continue racing due to the risks and asked what could be done to make racing safer. Surprising to me, there seemed to be little to no appetite for talking about safety. This got me thinking. And since then, another teammate broke several bones and now I too am sitting here nursing a broken collarbone, so I have even more time to think about it (and have likely gained some bias).

TL;DR: Do you think there is anything that can or should be done to potentially make crit racing (or racing in general) safer?

My thoughts: I started my “racing” hobbies in 2006 with autocross/solo–the silly motorsport where you drive around in a parking lot trying to go fast and not hit cones. It’s a one-car-at-a-time proposition, not wheel to wheel, so it is inherently pretty safe. Nevertheless, for autocross, every driver at each event must wear a relatively new helmet, have their vehicle inspected, and attend a safety meeting during which the phrase “safety is our number one priority” is consistently used. There are extensive course design requirements for safety purposes, and there must be at least one person who took the safety course designated to be in charge of safety at all times. Novice “schools” are offered regularly. And if someone is acting like they don’t know what they’re doing, someone will be on their way to talk to them and/or ride with them to give instruction. To me, at least, none of this emphasis on safety has ever made the sport less fun.

Contrast this with my season of bike races: sign in. Maybe there’s some “please don’t crash–we don’t like paperwork” type talk at the start line? But that’s about it. One stage race had an optional mentorship program for new (offered to women only) racers, which included a skills class but did not really emphasize safety. I witnessed at least two crashes this season that I think could be attributed to poor course design. I was hit by someone who couldn’t hold a straight line for anything–no race officials talked to her until over a week later when they finally looked at the video.

I know nothing will stop all crashes. There may not even be a way to stop a significant number of crashes. And I’m probably deluding myself that just talking more openly about safety would make anything better. But I remain surprised at the “/shrug – that’s racing” mentality, and I think it keeps a lot of people from enjoying the sport. Lost cause? Are things different where you all race?


Pretty much the same where I’m at, and my thoughts on it are the same as yours. This is the number one reason I havent gotten seriously into crit racing.


There are many things that can be done to make racing safer in terms of safer course layout and safer barriers. But this does not seem like a high priority for race organizer. Or from the sound of it, many riders. Unless that somehow changes, nothing is going to happen.


Nothing is going to make wheel to wheel bike racing inherently safer, I’ve been racing most genres of bike racing for almost 20 years now.

When I started bike racing I was taught race tactics/procedures and safety was drilled into my head. We were even taught “how to crash safely” I.E mitigating the damage to our bodies for when a crash does happen. A lot of this was taught at a USAC center with certified coach’s.

That being said, I make mistakes to this day, conditions cause mistakes and when you are punching that black-out line, mistakes will happen. It is the nature of the sport unfortunately, the only way to really avoid it is to just not race. You can be “that” person calling/yelling out unsafe situations or riders while racing, scream at them and they will get it or just think you are an A-hole and it might reduce the risk some.

If you are in a high enough category or staying at the front of the group IMO its just luck and that really sucks but I cant think of any other way to discuss “wheel to wheel” bike racing.


Riding bikes at high speeds close together is inherently dangerous. Like downhill skiing is inherently dangerous.
I used to race and go 50mph down a descent without think twice about it. Now I have 2 kids and a desk job, so racing anything besides cyclocross doesn’t sound appealing because I don’t want to break a bone or get skinned up in a crash.

Sure, course design can help, but riding on asphalt in spandex at 25-30mph with 20-100 people fighting for position just isn’t getting much safer.


Don’t know if this is a thing (I am a mountain biker) but there could be a “low stakes” practice crit requirement for new riders teaching basic skills and going over safety. But of course how do you enforce it?

Well it’s basically the USAC category system. In the past, you progressed from cat 5 to 4 through participation in 10 mass start races (regardless of placing). The category system in principle separates less experienced riders from more experienced riders. Obv fitness and ability matter for getting into high cats, but it still has the general effect at the entry levels


This question, or some variation of it, has been asked for as long as I have been involved in the sport (now over 30 years).

That should tell you everything you need to know about the ability to make crit racing “safer”. Hell, it was one of the driving reasons why Cat 5’s were introduced in the first place (That’s right…back in my day, you started out as a 4 automatically…you damn whippersnappers!)

The reality is that there is not much you can really do to make it safer and even less appetite to do the things that would be required to make it happen.

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More skills clinics would be nice. When I was getting into racing there were some about but I haven’t seen very many locally in the past few years (except for cyclocross). It wouldn’t prevent all crashes by any means but it’d maybe prevent a few. Also, it would give some control (some of which would be illusory) to people who are more concerned with safety. And to some extent, being worried about crashing is itself a risk factor for crashing (on bikes, or skis, or likely other things, too).


Maybe this is the elephant in the room, but I see a tremendous amount of effort put into building power and very little into “skills.” New cyclists are inundated with opportunities and programs to build power, gain watts, and get faster. However, there’s very little in terms of organized resources to improve bike handling and bike skills.

This shocked me as I first entered the realm of cycling, with a previous background in team sports. In team sports, there is heavy emphasis on skills of the trade, and you did the work to improve ability on your own. It’s almost as though cycling is the opposite. I joined my first local team, hoping to find a mentor to teach me what to do with all these watts I was gaining on the trainer. I got crickets. I started racing, having absolutely NO idea what I was doing. This is where I realized so many folks are in this boat. They one day decided to go out and buy a bike, do a few group rides, and now they’re a “bike racer.”

Cycling as a sport, isn’t set up with the same organizational structure as other team sports, and we lose the pivotal teaching/mentorship that comes in those realms. I’ve had to ask friends, local pros who I respect greatly, and a ton of individual work derived from online resources to do my own handling work. And I’ll be the first to admit that bike handling is my weakest facet of riding. I’ve committed to adding 1 session per week of handling drills, and it’s helping me immensely. But that’s the point - I have had to be responsible for my own growth in that skillset and take responsibility for my own improvement in hopes of being safer for myself and others.

I believe the solution is set up with barriers - cycling needs the formalized instructional training that other team sports have. We have amazing training programs out there (Like TR) but lack the same infrastructure when it comes to handling and safety. As I understand it, USAC as placed some serious barriers to instructional clinics because of liability, etc. (I’m an attorney and definitely appreciate and understand this). BUT I think there are plenty of folks who would pay a race entry fee for guided skills classes, should there be coaches out there who want to deal with the red tape of USAC. In fact, it’s part of my master plan to someday become a certified coach so that I might help newer riders overcome some of these obstacles in a formalized way (and give back to the cycling community).

What good is power when you can’t control it?


Echo what everyone says here. I think some of it is a numbers game and field limits could help.
Small field sizes sucks for the promoter because they can’t make their money and/or have to have more fields to even it out. Sucks for racer because fields fill up fast. But I’ve found that in crit racing large fields = danger.
Its all really course dependent and i think USAC could use some really easy metrics to determine a safe field size (ie xx-ft width of a road, xx-many corners, X-many 190, 90, 45 degree corners, xx-average speed, Category (cat 1-s can handle a bigger field) punch it into the field limit calculator and bam, - a safe number of people on a course gets spit out. A promoter could submit those metrics ahead of time and USAC could determine a safe field size…just an idea.
Clinics, group rides, race-mentors, instruction all work (training races are the best but people go down in those as well) but nothing beats experience in crit racing and even then sh#$ happens but with smaller fields its less likely IMHO.
Curious how other countries handle it (Australia, what’s your crit safety scene like)

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I got out of road racing/crits for the same reason. Too many friends with broken bones, concussions, etc. I have a job and a mortgage to pay. I can still hurt myself mountain biking and racing gravel, but the incidence of dumb crashes seems to be WAY lower.

As for making them safer… Local clubs/teams should be offering more training series, weeknight skills clinics, etc. There is basically zero training before dumping racers into crits. Nothing required to show they can handle a bike at 30mph, no training on how to ride in a pack, etc.

Beginner races should have mentors/judges… bring in some of the Cat1/2/3 racers and have them watch the race from various vantage points. Bring the “racers” in every 3 laps or so and tell them what they’re doing well or screwing up. Or, if not live, require video review or something/anything to get feedback to the new racers.

I used to race cars. A racing license required 2 weekend-long training events. These involved frequent feedback and classroom sessions. Something similar for bicycle racing wouldn’t be terrible.


You’re not wrong. That said…I think what my MMA coach told me when grappling vs some bigger guys applies “weight(power) fucking matters.”

There’s no way around it…fitness is THE most important thing. You can have the best skills in the world, but if you get off the couch and go against a guy with a 350 watt ftp, you’re losing.

That’s not to say skills dont matter…they do. But there’s a reason it’s called an endurance sport.

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General thoughts:

A Beginner Race Program (example CBR series in SoCal) mentored by seasoned racers to give riders a general idea of pack riding etiquette/do’s & don’ts etc…available at every criterium should be a thing. The instruction is applicable to basically any mass start race. Criterium venues are just the perfect place to hold these clinics. USAC should help promotors sponsor them on race day.

I continue to believe it was a mistake for USAC to drop club requirements to promote a race.

I wish USAC had the power/money to help clubs navigate permitting events.

The most dangerous events are those that mix wide ranges of fitness, age and experience. There is a reason road events (just picking on road) have junior, 1,2,3,4,5 and masters categories.

Small fields are not more or less safe than larger fields.

Technical courses are not less safe than non-technical courses.

Teams not aligned with local shops is hurting our numbers (I think). We have legions of free lance peeps but, no real club affiliation. Less face to face social time but, too much virtual time. People learn from the experienced passing down how to ride to the newer riders. I don’t see this as being as prevalent as 20-30 years ago. Hard to learn to ride in a pack for real on zwift etc…

Power meters for the masses are really not what the sport needs.

More real social time…TR should lead by example and sponsor an event: Clinic, small expo, gran fondo, post ride social perhaps. I often read things from some of you and wonder what you’re really like? What type of rider you really are? It would be fun and interesting to pedal rathe rather than type. Talk rather than read words on glass.


To some extent I’d argue that the technical courses are safer. At least anecdotally most of the bad race crashes I can remember were on relatively simple courses (and, generally, not in corners). It’s hard to take out half the field on an 8 corner crit where it’s perpetually strung out (plus, if you’re trying to evade the crash, the projectile physics of the crashee is more predictable).

I’m somewhat curious what effect dropping the 10 race minimum to upgrade to 4’s has had. It occasionally resulted in silly races (case in point, watching a cat 1 trackie in a cat 4/5 crit, nobody was happy and she lapped the field, twice), but the experience was nice and it gave more motivation to find clinics.

Infeel like I am right in the wheelhouse for this…

I am an inexperienced crit racer, but have raced a handful of crits.

My personal experience, is that there is not anything obviously dangerous people are doing; it’s just a dangerous sport. I’m sure it could be made safer…but is it worth the effort to enforce whatever rules you would make to make that happen? I dont see thst happening with, essentially, a few volunteers running things.

People just like to assign blame. If there’s a crash…somebody wants it to be somebody’s fault.

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To a point, this rings true in bike racing. To a point.

Once you’re out of the 3/4s here in the UK, 350 watts in a crit ‘might’ get you points. In the E/1/2s you will find that riders really can perform as a unit and 350 watts won’t get you down the road and out of sight.

For context, my FTP has never been 350 or anywhere close. Yet I could regularly contest the E/1/2 sprint. Bike riding and handling skills really did play a part. Not only in me scoring points, but keeping myself and other riders around me as safe as possible.

I learned to navigate the pack, make myself a known ‘safe wheel’ and how to corner. None of this silly ‘Hold your line!!’ shouting rubbish. How to carry speed safely both into and out of a corner in the wet and the dry.

Last year, after almost twelve years, I walked away from competitive racing and I can say without fear of repercussion that I never crashed. No broken bones or trips down the road sans bike. Say what you want but the notion of ‘you ain’t racing unless you’re crashing!’ is a nonsense to me.

Yes, a 350 watt FTP is impressive at the coffee shop. When you have a field of 49 other riders with similar attributes, who have probably spent at least 2-3 years racing regularly to reach the E/1/2 field, a lack of riding and handling skills will find you out rapidly.


I don’t know what it is about the Cat 3s at Hillingdon but there seem to be a lot more crashes compared to the Cat4 there (career Cat4 here). This year I’ve been getting more bumping practice there than previous times though

Weird that you don’t see as many crashes at the MK Bowl though and that has E123 and 3/4 racing at the same time. There seem to be a few that have smashed through Cat4 in two races and haven’t had a chance to pick up those bunch skills quite as much possibly

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Abingdon is a totally mixed bag. Early in the season, it can be a flint chip puncture-fest. Throw in the wind speeds that can literally stand you and your bike back upright as you enter the corner onto the long straight, and those plastic cones on the straight, which get blown all over the place.

Having raced the three different course options at Abingdon, I love the little triangle course in the centre.

For me, town centre series crits are where you test yourself. Barriers, crowds, cobbled sections and the courses often have numerous corners to negotiate.

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