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Introduction to Road, Track & Off-Road Bicycle Racing - On the Internet

Bike racing is an exciting and challenging discipline, incorporating strength, fitness, coordination, strategy, precision, endurance and guts.  The sport divides roughly into three categories; road races, track races and off-road races.  There are a number of different events within each category. Events/races are also divided by age and ability; age categories are usually Juniors (A - age 17-18, B - age 15-16, C - age 13-14 and D - age 12 and under), Seniors, and Masters (30 and over).  Seniors race in ability categories.  Category 1 is reserved for elite riders, with national caliber experience.  Category 5 for men and Category 4 for women are the beginner categories. Masters events can also be divided by age and ability.

Road Events

Road events take place on paved roads.  They can be urban or rural setting, or a combination of both.  The topography can range from flat to mountainous, creating events with a wide variety of character.  This is classic bike racing and events are held on every continent.

  • Road Race - These are mass-start events held on open roads. Racers ride in groups or ‘pelotons’, corner at high speeds, take turns ‘pulling’ at the front of pace lines, and pick tactical spots to try to break away.  The first rider across the finish line is the winner.  The course may be from point to point, from town to town, or on a circuit (the start and finish are in the same place.)  Usually the course is closed to traffic in the area of the race.  Road races can be up to a couple hundred kilometers long (over 100 miles.)
  • Criterium - A criterium is a short road race on a circuit – usually city streets – closed to traffic.  The distance per lap may vary from 1/2km to 3km (1/3 mile to 2 miles).  Races are of varying numbers of laps.  The mass start, high-speed cornering and sprinting make criterium exciting for participants and spectators alike.  Because criterium pass the same point each lap they are better spectator events than road races.
  • Hill Climb - During a hill climb, riders race towards a finish line that is higher than the starting line.  These events may be individual (time trial) or mass start.
  • Time Trail - A time trial is an individual or team race over a fixed distance against the clock.  Rider start individually at timed intervals and the rider with the fastest time wins.  Distances raced vary from 1km to 100km.  The course may be from point to point, from town to town, or on a circuit (the start and finish are in the same place.)  The course is closed to traffic in the area of the race.
  • Stage Race - A stage race is a combination of some or all of the road events; road race, criterium, and time trial. They are held over two to fourteen days.  Each cyclist’s time for all the individual events is totaled and the overall winner is the rider with the lowest cumulative time.  There are also winners for each individual event and sometimes for groups of events.  These are particular popular in Europe (i.e. Tour de France) and Africa (i.e. Tour de Faso, Tour de Senegal).

Track Events

Track racing takes place on a banked facility called a velodrome.  The track is 200-400 meters in circumference.  The turns are very steeply banked and the speeds can be very fast.  It is a particularly exciting racing for riders and spectators alike, and demands speed, skill, concentration and strategy.  A simple bicycle with a fixed gear (one-speed, no-coasting and no brakes) is used.  Because of the special venue opportunities for track racing are dispersed.  Track racing has a variety of events with a near infinite number of variations.

  • Madison relay - A Madison is the tag-team relay of track racing.  Teams use a sling-shot technique to switch positions.  The event involves burst of speed, dangerous maneuvering, and a high level of endurance.  It was invented at Madison Square Garden early in the last century and in 2000 became an Olympic event.
  • Points Race - A group of riders start together and sprint against each other on specified laps throughout the race.  Depending on their placing at the end of these laps, the riders earn points.  Unless a rider laps the field, the winner is the racer who has accumulated the most points.
  • Olympic Sprint - Two teams of three riders each start on opposite sides of the track.  At the start, the first rider of each team leads his team around the track.  At the end of the first lap he pulls off the track and the second rider leads his teammate for a lap.  At the end of the second lap he pulls of the track.  The third rider complete the final lap of the race by himself.  The winning team is the one with the fastest time.  This is a fast paces and exciting event that relies on careful team selection and planning.
  • Pursuit - In the pursuit event, two riders or two four-person teams start from a standing start at opposite sides of the track.  The winner is the first rider or team to cover the specified distance or toe catch the other rider or team.  Distance vary from 2km to 4km.
  • Sprint - In the sprint, 2 to 4 competitors cover 1000 meters.  It is not all at high speed, in fact, sometimes it is at a near standstill.  This race demands more technical skill than any other bicycle race – riders jockey for position as they try to outwit each other before the final dash to the line.  The final meters of a match sprint can be some of the most intense in cycling.
  • Time Trial - Track time trials are 1km long.  The cyclist starts from a standing start and races alone against the clock.  For elite riders, the event requires maximum effort for 60 to 90 seconds.  The competitor with the fastest time wins.

Off-Road Racing Events

As the name implies, these are races that aren’t on paved roads.  There are a wide variety of events that are conducted over various lengths, surfaces and or difficulties to suit all ability and experience levels.  It offers many ways to have fun while setting and meeting personal challenges.

  • BMX - Standing for bicycle motocross, is raced on a closed dirt circuit featuring a lot of jumps.
  • Cross-Country - These events are held on a circuit comprised of single and double-track trails, often with some wider gravel road sections that create better opportunities for passing.  There generally aren’t too many obstacles (logs, rocks, mud holes, etc.) on a cross-country course.  Riders compete against other racers in their age and ability category.  The races are for a set number of laps on the course – distances vary from 8 km to 80 km (5 miles to 50 miles.)  They may have individual or mass start events.  Depending on the type of start, either the rider with the fastest time or the rider across the finish line first wins.
  • Cyclocross - This event has a long history as off-season training for road racers.  More recently it has attracted the attention to off-road racers as well. The combination of high-speeds, obstacles that require running dismounts and slippery sections builds fitness and bike-handling skills. A typical cyclocross race lasts for an hour, and is conducted on a short course with a variety of terrain. A cyclocross bike resembles a modified road bike, with rugged tubing and wider tires. Mountain bikes are welcomed at many events, although a well constructed course will definitely favor the cyclocross bike.
  • Dirt Criterium - A dirt criterium is a short off-road race on a circuit.  The distance per lap may vary from 1/2km to 3km (1/3 mile to 2 miles).  Races are of varying numbers of laps.  The mass start, high-speed cornering and sprinting make them exciting for participants and spectators alike.
  • Downhill - Downhill races are individual timed events.  Competitors start and timed intervals (e.g. 30 seconds.)  The rider with the fastest time wins.  As the name implies, the finish line is lower than the starting line.  Some courses are very steep.
  • Dual Slalom - In the dual slalom, two competitors race head-to-head down parallel slalom courses.  Riders race each other twice, once on each side of the course.  The slower rider is eliminated and the rider with the fastest combined time advances to the next round.
  • Dual - The dual is a variation on the dual slalom.  The two competitors start on parallel slalom course.  In the middle the courses merge and the racers battle wheel-to-wheel on the same course until the finish line.  The winners advance and the losers are eliminated.
  • Hill Climb - During a hill climb, riders race towards a finish line that is higher than the starting line.  These events may be individual or mass start.
  • Observed Trails - Trails are conducted over challenging courses of natural and man-made obstacles, including logs, rocks, water, etc.  Course are very short.  The rider attempts to negotiate the course without putting down a foot (dabbing.)  Each dab adds points to the rider’s score.  The rider with the lowest score wins.
  • Point to Point - A point to point race starts at one point and ends at another.  It is usually a greater distance than a cross-country race.
  • Speed Trails - Speed trails take place on a short course containing obstacles such as logs, rocks or water.  These are raced as individuals against the clock, or head-to-head in heats, until there is one winner.
  • Time Trials - A time trial is an individual or team race over a fixed distance against the clock.  Rider start individually at timed intervals and the rider with the fastest time wins.  Distances raced vary from 1km to 100km.  The course may be from point to point, or on a circuit (the start and finish are in the same place.)
  • Stage Races - A stage race is a combination of some or all of the off-road events; cross-country, dirt criterium, and downhill race. They are held over one or more days.  Each cyclist’s time or points for all the individual events is totaled and the overall winner is the rider with the lowest cumulative time or most point.  There are also winners for each individual event.

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