Quick Parents Guide
Competitive Cycling for Kids & Teens

Quick Parent's Guide to Junior Bike Racing

By: Jim Rutberg  June 01, 2022

Many of cycling’s top personalities and champions began their cycling careers racing in Youth and Junior events. Many more lifelong cycling enthusiasts discovered their passion for the sport during those same ages. Racing as a Junior can be fun and challenging, and offers great opportunities to develop confidence, resilience, and lasting relationships. If you are a parent or kid who is new to the sport, you may be unfamiliar with how bike racing works for Juniors and how to get started. We’re here to help, with both a quick guide for now and extensive resources for later.

Before we get to the quick guide, a note about where to find deeper knowledge. USA Cycling has the Learn to Race section of the website, including the Junior Rider and Racer Guide to help young athletes and their parents get started with bike racing. For a book on Junior cycling from one of USA Cycling’s top coaching experts, try Bike Racing for Juniors: A Guide for Riders, Parents, and Coaches by USA Cycling Level 1 Coach Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD.

Look, we know you’re going to read the more extensive materials at some point, but as a busy parent you just need a quick breakdown of what you need to know and what you need to do. So, let’s get to it.

Racing Age vs. Chronological Age

Chronologically, your son or daughter may be 14 years old right now, but their ‘racing age’ could be 15. How does that work? USA Cycling defines a rider’s racing age as the age they will be on December 31 of the current calendar year. So, if your child turns 15 at any point during this year, their racing age for the entire calendar year is 15. The one exception to the rule is cyclocross because the season extends from September through February — beyond the calendar year. For cyclocross, a rider’s racing age is the age the rider is the year the season ends (in other words, a year older).

Racing Licenses and Teams

Unlike a lot of stick-and-ball sports, Junior cyclists can compete without joining a league, club, or team. You can choose a bike race, register online or onsite, purchase a one-day USA Cycling racing license, pin on a number and go race (annual licenses are also available). Although that can be a quick and convenient way to jump in and give it a try, we encourage Juniors to join a USA Cycling-affiliated Junior cycling club (find a club) or school-based cycling team. These programs offer camaraderie and develop lasting relationships. And as a parent, it’s important to know that athletes receive instruction and support from licensed USA Cycling Coaches (find a coach). These coaches go through background checks, are trained in SafeSport, and are continuously staying educated. Most are even CPR and First Aid trained.

Race-Ready Equipment

There are many disciplines within bike racing, from mountain bike to track and road to BMX. Discipline-specific bikes are required for racing. Juniors don’t need expensive gear to start racing bikes, but it does need to be safe and in good working order. Parents are encouraged to have a junior rider’s bike serviced by professional mechanics before entering a competition. A helmet is mandatory. Eye protection and cycling gloves are highly recommended.

Rain or Shine?

Generally speaking, races are held rain or shine. Races may be stopped, delayed, or cancelled due to severe weather when race officials deem conditions too dangerous to continue.

Junior Gearing

Juniors competing on the track must comply with gear restrictions. The main purpose of Junior gear restrictions is to help young riders develop a good pedal cadence and to avoid injury. There are no Junior gear restrictions for road, cyclocross or mountain bike races, but Juniors are not allowed to race single-speed mountain bikes in high school leagues.

For track events, the following gear restrictions apply:

  • Ages 17-18: Unrestricted
  • Ages 15-16: 6.93 meters (22'9")(50x15)
  • Ages 13-14: 6.45 meters (21'2")(50x16)
  • Ages 10-12: 6.05 meters (19’8”)(52x17)

The Role of Parents

So, once your junior cyclist starts racing, what’s your role as a cycling parent? There is great advice on this in the Junior Rider and Racer Guide (p. 20-22) and in this article from Mary Topping. Briefly, we encourage parents to:

  • Be good role models: When it comes to sportsmanship and fair play, kids take cues from adults. Cheer for your racer and encourage all competitors. Use supporting language instead of criticism.
  • Maintain perspective: Bike racing can have an enormously positive influence on a kid’s journey to adulthood, but the ultimate goal is to raise a good adult, not just a good bike racer.
  • Encourage diverse activities: Support your child’s enthusiasm and passion for cycling but encourage them to participate in other sports throughout the year. Variety is good for overall athletic, cognitive, and social-emotional development.
  • Celebrate and Commiserate: Celebrate your child’s accomplishments – in and out of cycling – and support them through their disappointments. When they have a bad race, acknowledge their feelings as valid. It’s okay to feel disappointed or sad or frustrated. Then try teaching them to redirect their thoughts to be less about outcomes and more about the progress they are making through the process of practice and training.
  • Keep it fun: Rushing into high-mileage or highly structured training is generally unnecessary and unproductive for young junior cyclists. This is why most junior cycling programs focus on skill development, loosely structured rides, and games. As older juniors mature physically and emotionally, they may add more structured workouts as they prepare to move up a competition level into the Under-23 and Senior ranks.