I don’t even own a bike, what do I do? Borrow, or shop for a bike.
Check around on the website, most teams are sponsored by a local bike shop (LBS). These shops are reputable and can give you more information on what kind of bike to get for the type of racing you’re interested in. You could also seek to join one of the SWICA teams. Other racers might be upgrading their bike and would sell you their old bike. If you offer enough beer, some riders might let you borrow that extra bike in the garage. And, of course, there is always Craigslist (ask a teammate for help on a good choice if you’re unsure).
How do I join a team?
Review the team bios on the SWICA website. We have several fun and competitive teams in the valley, and many friendships across all the teams. When considering a team keep in mind where most of the riders live, and who sponsors their team. It is important to live near a few other riders if you’re not willing to drive or ride to their usual group ride meeting place. If you bought a bike from shop X, it is proper etiquette to continue to support that shop by riding for shop X’s team. Something else to keep in mind is the ethos of the team. Do you agree with the team’s values? Do the team’s values matter much to you? Does the team support the kinds of things you want to support?
In the team bios on the SWICA page, you will find contact info. You can also find most teams on Facebook. Contact a team and join them for a group ride. Ask questions, learn group-ride etiquette, suffer, be humble, be respectful, be excited!
Do I need to join a team in order to race? No!
Certainly not, however, most teams will have multiple riders in a race and it can become tactically very difficult to succeed if you’re alone. Joining a team is a great way to grow in your skill, and help the team out. It is possible to form an alliance with another rider not on a team, but be careful, racing is competitive and sometimes that deal goes sour.
Team or no team, what next? Buy a race license.
Go to the usacycling.org website and sign up. From there, you need to purchase a USAC race license in order to race in USAC sanctioned events. There are some events which are not sanctioned by USAC, these events might not require a license. Once you have a license, you have permission to race in USAC sanctioned events. Use the SWICA calendar or the USAC event finder, click on an event and follow the links to register. In addition to purchasing your race license, you will need to pay the race registration fee. Be prepared to pay $30-$50 for a race, sometimes more for big races. If you’re not sure which race to do, ask around to find one that is suitable for a beginner! Have fun!
What about training? Not in shape to race? No problem. Just sign up for a race!
Not to worry. You don’t need to be in perfect shape to do your first race. The winner of the Tour de France might not even stand on a podium all season until the end of the Tour. Training is a process. The team you choose to race with will point you towards very helpful resources. Many riders have explored the myriad of methods to get their legs and lungs ready for a season of racing. Some teams use coaches to build training programs, some riders do research and build their own training plans, others use virtual training software like Zwift or TrainerRoad.
What do I bring to my first race? Um, your bike…
There are obvious things like YOU, your helmet (not allowed to race without it), and your bike. Oh, and your kit. You’ll need plenty of water before, during, and after your race. A hydrated athlete is a successful athlete. Most riders will bring a pump to change tire pressure depending on the conditions of the race. Basic bike tools (at least a bike multitool) should come with you to the race, you never know what last-minute changes you’ll have to make. Don’t forget food. An adequate breakfast, pre-race snack, in-race snack (for longer races), and post-race snack are a few basic recommendations.
What are the basic “Dos” and “Don’ts” of racing?
FIRST AND FOREMOST, DO: have a good attitude. Be grateful that you get to race, be stoked! Nothing in bike racing is entitled to the rider except the safety of all riders. Beyond that, it is up to you to make the experience positive and enjoyable. We race because we enjoy it. Bring a good attitude with you, and you’ll go far.
DO: ride safely. Be aggressive, but first, be smart. Do not put you or other riders at risk just to move up a couple spots in the peloton.
DON’T: overestimate your capabilities. This can either lead to unsafe situations like dehydration, crashes, or bonking, or it could make you look like a fool. Or, both. Push your limits, but do so with a healthy perspective.
DO: talk to other riders. Be vocal (but not rude) if someone is encroaching on your space or line. This can prevent crashes.
DON’T: be a jerk. No one wants to race with or against someone who can’t play nice with others. Be aggressive, but first, be respectful. You’ll earn more respect that way.
DO: thank the race organizer, politely make suggestions, or kindly notify him/her of potentially dangerous situations on course. He or she has put countless hours into this race, and their reputation is on the line. Even if you didn’t enjoy your race, be kind and say “thank you,” and, be constructive when suggesting changes or additions.
There are many other things to learn about racing, but, hey! you just have to get out there and do it!