How fit do I need to be to try bike racing? Am I fit enough?
Every single person that has raced their bike has had a first race and every one of those people asked themselves before that first race, “Am I fit enough to be here?” “Am I going to get dropped immediately?” “Do I even know what I’m doing?” And every single one of those people did their first bike race anyways, probably got dropped, but lived to race another day.
The question isn’t really are you fit enough to race your bike. The question should be, “Should I race my bike?” and the answer to that is, of course, yes!
Before we go on, we cannot strongly enough vote our support for not racing also. Everyone has their own reasons for cycling, and some have no interest in racing. That’s great! However you ride your bike, is the right way. Just enjoy it. We think you’re awesome.
But if you do decide you’d like to try racing...
When you’re first starting out, the concept of “race fitness” should be thrown out the window. Most likely, you’ve been riding for some decent amount of time and you’ve progressed to a level where you enjoy going fast, putting in hard efforts and testing yourself against others. That’s all you actually need to start racing. You don’t need a certain level of fitness. There’s no threshold for how fit or how in shape you need to be before you can sign up to race.
The fact is, the most fit person doesn’t even win each race. There are just so many factors that can determine an outcome. Winners are a combination of fit, efficient, smart and skilled. Are there people who have deep endurance backgrounds who are going to show up and win their first five races and upgrade to the next category? Sure. But that’s probably 1% of cyclists. The rest of us should expect to show up, get beat, show up again, get beat some more and slowly learn what we’re doing wrong. It’s just like learning anything else worth knowing - it’s going to take time.
Now, we’ve disqualified fitness as an excuse for not racing. But are there other criteria to consider before signing up? Yes. For example, if you have a bike designed to cruise around town and carry groceries with flat pedals, it’s probably best to upgrade a bit before racing. You won’t see anybody racing road bikes with flat pedals. Unless you’re racing downhill or enduro, you’ll see very few people racing mountain bike cross-country (XCO) on flat pedals either. This gets tricky because, of course, we’re not saying you need a high end race bike to do your first race. But, there is an undeniable difference between a single speed cruiser bike meant for beach boardwalks and the kind of bike that will let you shift gears properly, brake reliably, be efficient enough and handle well enough to cruise around the criterium course.
Now you might be thinking “OK, if I don’t need a certain level of fitness to race, how can I benchmark myself against the competition that I’ll likely face? That’s a fair question. The best way you can prepare yourself for what’s coming is to understand the types of efforts you are going to need to make. We’ll go over what to expect in specific race formats in other blog posts, but for now let’s keep it simple.
Each race format is going to require different types of efforts. If you’re doing a long mountain bike race, the way that you use your energy and the intensity will be different than a 30 minute crit. In the crit you’ll be sprinting out of corners, you’ll be jumping to attack and potentially kicking in a bunch sprint. In a much longer distance race, whether it be on dirt or on the road you’re gonna want a much more consistent power profile. You’re not going to want to surge in the same way you would during the crit. Once you understand the specific races and the efforts they require, you can find a safe place, whether it be inside or outside, to work on these efforts. Your training, as you get closer to the race, should revolve more and more around these very specific efforts.
Prior to these specific efforts though you want to have built a good aerobic base what do you mean by good? That’s totally relative and not our expertise. Everybody’s body is different and therefore the physiology required to be successful in bike racing is going to be different.
If you’re trying to research your way into feeling confident about your first bike race, you may come up lacking. It’s an intimidating activity, at first. The speed, the cornering, all the other riders so close to you, it’s can be overwhelming at first. But it’s so worth it.
So go race, have fun, and keep at it!