A guest post by Robert George
I started racing in 2003 when I learned about about local mountain bike races from a friend. I stripped the failing derailleurs off of my Schwinn mountain bike, turned it into a singlespeed and raced a local Wednesday night race. Instantly I was hooked! Racing let me push myself until I thought my heart might leap out of my chest and my legs might give out and yet still had a great time doing it. It was suffering like I had never experienced; it was fantastic.
If racing is so much suffering and so at odds with the stated aim of Velo Orange, then why race? For me, it's the excitement and adrenaline of competition. Toeing the start line with butterflies in your stomach before riding all-out as hard as you can for an hour (or two, or four, or many more) is about as fun as it can get. Racing pushes me to levels I didn't know I could go; legs and lungs burning I forget all the stress in my life and think only about how this is the hardest race yet and how I can push just a little bit harder to overtake the next rider. Today I race road, mountain and cyclocross to keep the calendar full for most of the year.
If you want to give racing a try there are lots of different disciplines within the sport. Probably best known are mountain and road racing, but you shouldn't overlook cyclocross or track racing. Once you dive into the world of racing you will find that there are additional subcategories within each discipline. Here is a quick rundown:
Mountain biking (MTB): Popular, fun and technically challenging, MTB encompasses lots of different types of riding and racing including the cross country, various downhill disciplines and the currently popular endurance events.
Road racing: If you like skinny tires and high speeds then road racing is for you. Seemingly less technical than mountain biking, it really isn't. Road racing isn't just raw speed either; strategy and tactics are the name of the game, having a great team to race with helps a lot too.
Cyclocross: My personal favorite, cyclocross combines many of the best aspects of road and mountain biking into a fun and spectator friendly sport. Cyclocross is characterized by mud, nasty fall weather and truly enthusiastic fans ringing cowbells. With such a welcoming crowd 'cross is a great place to start racing, not to mention that crashing in the mud doesn't hurt as much as asphalt.
Track: The discipline I have the least personal experience with is track racing. This is due to sad fact that there are not many velodromes in the United States, which is a shame as track racing is fast and and fun for both participants and spectators. A variety of race formats keep things interesting as well, from short sprints to six day races.
The majority of road, cyclocross and track racing in the United States is governed by the sanctioning body USA Cycling, with other similar organizations in other countries. USA Cycling handles the rulebook, race officials, rankings, licensing and other details. If you want to race road, 'cross or track in the United States it will benefit you to get a license from the USAC. For an extra fee many events allow one day license purchases, but registration for popular events often fills before race day. Additionally, you don't have sign up for many races in a season before you break even on the $60 annual license fee from USAC, and you won't be able to advance through race categories without a license.
If you decide you want to get your feet wet and race, there are lots of places to find out about races, but I would start with bikereg.com. Bikereg is by far the easiest way to find and register for all types of cycling events. If you need further race recommendations you can ask your local bike shop, local teams and any friends that race.
Velo Orange is not about racing so it may seem like an oxymoron for us to post about racing and why you should do it, but we don't think so. Racing certainly isn't for everyone, but it isn't mutually exclusive to the relaxed touring, rando and city riding we stand for. I'm thrilled to race one weekend and go bike camping the next. Two VO staff members race and it is simply another aspect of the sport of cycling that we love. If you love something then why not involve yourself in as many ways as possible, have some fun, and maybe meet some new friends? That is why we cycle: fun and friends.
Photo 1 by JoeMallis.com, photo 2 by Jen Linko