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What to know before your first bike race


Bicycle racing is an exhilarating sport open to all ages, genders and skill levels. Although a rider can read and hear a lot about bike racing from others, a rider can gain experience only by doing it.

One of the best ways to learn about and prepare for bike racing is to ride with and join a bicycle racing club. Club members can provide essential information and tips that will assist a new racer to maximize enjoyment of his or her early racing experiences. Racing clubs within the United States are listed on the USA Cycling website. 

The following summary is intended to give an overview of what you need know to enter your first bike race.

  1. What is a criterium?

  2. What kind of equipment do I need?

  3. Will I need a racing license?

  4. What are the categories and classes in bike racing?

  5. How do I learn more about junior racing?

  6. Where do I find the rules of racing?

  7. How do I register for my first race? 

  8. Ten things to know before your first bike race. 

What is a criterium?

A criterium, or crit, is a bike race consisting of several laps around a closed circuit. The length of each lap on the Indy Crit is about .95 miles. The riders will circuit this course every 2-3 minutes.


The length of each category's race is determined by a pre-set total time which varies for the different rider skill levels. The total number of remaining laps is calculated as the race progresses based on the speed of the peloton, the main body of riders. The winner is the first rider to cross the finish line on the final lap without having been "lapped". 

See the Road Cycling: Criteriums on the USA Cycling website for more information.

What kind of equipment do I need?

For your first bike race you will need a bicycle appropriate for criterium racing, in good working order, presenting no hazards to you or others. You will be required to wear a modern bike helmet. Please visit your local friendly bike shop for assistance when choosing the appropriate gear and equipment for racing.

Will I need a racing license?

A racing license is mandatory for each racer who enters any event sanctioned by USA Cycling, Inc., the national organization governing bike racing. Among other USA Cycling Member Benefits, a racing license provides minimum insurance for the racer. You can acquire either a “one-day” license or an “annual license.” A “one-day” license is a good purchase option if you are uncertain whether you will enjoy bike racing. However, if you believe you will enter more than a handful of races during the year, it's more economical to purchase an annual license.  You can purchase an annual license online from USA Cycling or you can buy either an annual license or a “one-day” license at the race venue.

What are the categories and classes in bike racing?

USA Cycling classifies each amateur racer in accord with that person’s experience, past performance and age. Race Classes are comprised of Juniors (age 9-18), Elite racers (age 19+), and Masters (30+ within five- or ten-year groupings).

Categories for amateur Road racers are based on experience and successful past performance. These range from the beginning racer (Novice) through to the top racer Category 1. To learn more about upgrading, see the Upgrades Page.

How do I learn about junior racing? 

Please see our dedicated Junior's Racing page. NOTE: When Juniors register at a race event they must provide a release form signed by a parent or legal guardian.

Where do I find the rules of racing? 

Before your first race, it is a good idea to review the USA Cycling Rules of Bike Racing applicable to the event you enter. After you have selected the race event you intend to enter, read the race flyer. Race flyers declare which individual races USA Cycling has permitted to be held at the race event. 

How do I register for my first race? 

When you arrive at the race venue you will register for your event. Registration includes presenting or purchasing your license, signing the event Release, paying the entry fee and receiving your race number(s). Event Releases and other forms can be reviewed here.


NOTE: Many race events provide for or require advance, online registration. Racers are still required to show or purchase their USA Cycling license on the day of the event.

Ten things to know before your first bike race. 
  1. Come to the line on time, ready to race. This is 100% your responsibility. Plan to arrive at the race venue at least an hour before registration closes.

  2. Be sure your equipment is in safe condition, properly adjusted, and conforms to USA Cycling rules.

  3. Pin your numbers on correctly. You must wear all the numbers you are given. You may not fold or cut down your numbers.

  4. Be a good citizen. Use designated toilet facilities, pick up litter, and park legally.

  5. Obey the “rules of the road” when warming up.

  6. Listen to the starting instructions. Ask questions if you don't understand.

  7. Ride so as to make it a safe race for everyone.

  8. Be courteous to the folks you meet on race day. Organizers, registrars, officials, corner marshals, other riders; all are doing their best to make this a good race and are volunteering their services to enable you to race. Say thank you to corner marshals when you are warming up or cooling down. It's a small gesture that you can give to show your appreciation that they gave up a day to help you race.

  9. Understand the results process. The judges post the results as soon as possible after the end of each race. The results become final 15 minutes after they are posted. If you have not checked the results within the 15 minutes of posting, don't ask for any changes to be made.

  10. Enjoy your race. It's supposed to be fun!


Will I need a racing license?
What is a criterium?
What kind of equipment do I need?
What are the categories and classes in bike racing?
How do I learn about junior racing and gearing requirements?
Where do I find the rules of racing?
How do I register for my first race? 
Ten things to know before your first bike race. 
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