First Time Racer Guide

First Time Racer Guide

If you love riding your bike and have a competitive spirit, bike racing is for you!

No formal training is needed to enter a race for the first time. Simply find a race near you, sign up, and follow the tips outlined below to ensure it’s a success.

Choosing the Right Race

Most USA Cycling events are listed on To get started, visit and find a USA Cycling event near you. You can search by event type and region using the Event Finder.

Look for the USA Cycling logo when selecting your event. This icon indicates that the event is sanctioned by USA Cycling and is part of our competitive pipeline.

It’s important to make sure that you are registering for a sanctioned event. National Governing Bodies like USA Cycling govern and manage all aspects of their respective sports and nominate athletes for the Olympic team. A sanctioned event with the USA Cycling icon means that the event follows USA Cycling’s rules and is part of the official competition structure.

If you dream of winning a state title, having an impressive national ranking, or competing in the Olympics, sanctioned events are an essential part of your racing journey!

Understanding Event Types:

Gravel Grinder: Gravel races, usually a mixed surface.

Off Road: Cross-country mountain bike events

Road Race: Events on paved roads. Criteriums are often dubbed “NASCAR on bikes” and feature several laps on a short, closed-circuit course. Road Races are longer races with packs of riders and are usually in the form of a large circuit or point-to-point course.

Recreational: Mass participation rides on the road. Charity rides often fall into this category.

Gran Fondo: Mass participation road events similar to recreational rides. These are timed and sometimes considered a race.

Cyclocross: Closed course, multi-lap event with obstacles including barriers, stairs, and sand pits. Riders are expected to hop on and off the bike as they encounter obstacles, and mud is a common occurrence. Typically done in a park, the course is often comprised of dirt, sand, grass, gravel, and pavement.

Other Events: Time Trial (individual rider against the clock), Track (single speed bike on a velodrome), Hill Climb (typically a mass participation event up a mountain climb).


In most events you’ll race with individuals of your same age, gender, and skill level. USA Cycling’s skill levels are referred to as categories.

In every discipline, you start as a Novice and work your way up to a Category 1. Once you join USA Cycling as an annual member, points earned in races help you move up to the next category.

Road, Track, and Cyclocross events have five categories:

  • Category 5/Novice (Beginner)
  • Category 4 (Amateur)
  • Category 3 (Experienced)
  • Category 2 (Advanced)
  • Category 1 (Elite)

Mountain bike events have three categories:

  • Category 3/Novice (Beginner)
  • Category 2 (Amateur)
  • Category 1 (Elite)

Junior events are often grouped by age rather than category, so junior riders can expect to race against peers within a 2-year age range.

Prepare for Race Day

No matter the discipline, make sure your bike and equipment are in good working order. During the summer months, bike shops are busy with repairs and tune-ups. If you need to bring your bike into the shop ensure you leave ample time before the event.

Stick with foods and nutrition your body is used to. Don’t try anything new on race day. Your first race will put your body under stress, and a sense of normalcy will work to your advantage. Try not to over-think it!

Lay out all of your cycling gear before the night of the event and walk through everything you need to do a ride of a similar time and distance. Although not required, organization will allow less stress when heading to the event and will (hopefully) prevent you from forgetting important gear. It’s never a good feeling to show up at a race without your helmet or cycling shoes!

Arrive Early, Scout the Course, Ask Questions

Arriving early will also help reduce stress. Before you get your bike ready and cycling clothes on, seek out the registration tent. This is where you will check-in and receive your racing number. For road and cyclocross events you’ll receive a “bib” number and mountain bike events you’ll receive a number plate.

Feel free to ask the individuals at check-in any questions you may have, and don’t be shy. It’s normal to ask where the start is, how to get to the restrooms, and where the bib number should go.

If doing a road race, you must know which side to pin your bib on because this bib number gives you credit for your bike race. The placement of your race bib differs from race to race. Sometimes the officials and camera are to your left, and other times, they are to your right.

Pinning your bib correctly is very important. You want to avoid a bib that turns into a sail. Pin all four corners. Then, use a pin between each corner pin to secure the bib firmly to your jersey.

If you have lingering questions the event staff can’t answer, find a USA Cycling official. They will be able to assist with any questions or concerned. If an official isn’t available, look around and speak to someone who just finished a race or is dressed and ready to go. You’ll be amazed at how welcoming the cycling community is. There will be someone on-site to help you every step of the way!

You may notice riders warming up on a stationary trainer. This equipment isn’t necessary, but be sure to ride around and spin your legs out in an easy gear before heading to the start line.


For your first race, focus on factors you can control, not race results. Instead of going for the win, stay in the moment, enjoy the race experience, and most importantly, have fun!

We’re not joking. Your first race should be about watching, learning, and gaining experience that can help you win a future race.

In the event of an injury or accident, don’t worry. All USA Cycling memberships include medical coverage, and the 1 Day License protects you on race day. If you were to get injured during the race, you’d file an incident report with your event organizer and a claim with USA Cycling.


Re-hydrate and have a snack to replenish your energy stores.

If possible, hang out and watch the other races. Now that you have experience with race dynamics, everything will make sense from a spectator point of view!

Race Again and Track Your Progress

Now that you’ve got one race under your belt, your second race will be a breeze.

If you’re hoping to move up to a more advanced category at some point, we recommend joining USA Cycling as a racing member instead of racing under a 1 Day License. This allows you to earn upgrade points with each race and track your state and national ranking with our rankings platform!

Annual memberships are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase and come with an unlimited domestic racing license that is valid at 1,500+ events nationwide.

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