Bike Racing 101

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Okay, here’s my short list of basic knowledge that it takes to race bikes. There are a ton of things that should come naturally to you when you’re racing a bike. Hopefully you’ve ridden a bike long enough to have most of the skills necessary to control the bike. I’m not going to go into simple things like outside pedal down, weight off your seat in a corner, etc. This is more of a basic race tactic list. And this list is off the top of my head, just the tip of the iceberg of knowledge that you need to be more competitive. There are thousands of more things, which I’m sure I’ll hear about soon.

1) Never be in the front pulling for no reason.

2) Always know which direction that the wind is coming from.

3) Know the course, at least in your mind, before the start and picture where the strategic points, hills and wind direction will occur.

4) Constantly ask yourself if you’re in the right position. If you’re not, get there.

5) Know when to do single pace line and when to ride double echelon.

6) Don’t be shouting at other riders telling them what to do. It just pisses them off and makes them want you not to do well.

7) Nearly never look back for what’s going on behind you. If you really need to know, drift back through the field subtly.

8) Don’t try to show off in races. Races are judged by who crosses the line first.

9) Always observe and rate the guys your racing against. Watching how they pedal, climb, corner, etc.

10) Make sure you know where the finish line is and where you plan to sprint from.

Like I stated above, this is just .1% of the stuff that needs to be going through your mind during a bicycle race. And it needs to be there at all times. Decisions in cycling need to be made instantaneously. And even good decisions can go south on you down the road. But you need to file all those good decisions that went bad away and use them later to make better good decisions. That is one of the things that is so great about the sport, it is a complete morphing, fluid activity at all times. No two races will ever be the same and no outcomes will ever repeat themselves.

If you really want to read about race tactics, I’m sure that this book, written by one of my old Wheaties/Schwinn team mates, Thomas Prehn, has most everything you need to know. I don’t own it, but Thomas is a smart rider, and good writer too, so it is most likely pretty comprehensive. That being said, there is no substitute for on the bike learning through racing.

12 thoughts on “Bike Racing 101

  1. Veloloser

    Line up near the front at the start if you want to make the early break. Moving up in a big field with centerline rule can take a long time.

    In the main field “if you are not moving up you are moving back”

  2. Jed Schneider

    People do what they believe is in their self interest. Thats the best tactical advice you can get. For bike racing, poker, chess, you name it.

  3. Not about the bike...

    Newbie tip: if someone is yelling at you to do something, it usually means you should do the opposite.

  4. cl

    One of the most vivid memories I have of any race was a show off punk in a Cat 4 Superweek race who spent the first ten miles of the race yelling at other riders and then on a fast down hill, mid-pack, he sat up, hands off the bars turned around and looked back at the rest of the peleton for what seemed like an eternity. And he was wearing white booties in July. I really wanted to smack him so hard.

  5. CM

    @Not about the bike…

    I used to think that but it isn’t true. Like, if someone is yelling at you to work in the break, sometimes you can shut them up and get them to keep selling themselves out just by pulling a little but pretending to be tired. If you don’t do that, they might think you are fresh and foxing and then they stop working too and the break goes nowhere. It is always a judgment call. Someone yelling at you is not information, it is not a reason to work, but neither is it a reason to do the opposite. That said, I understand where you’re coming from as a rule of thumb and I don’t think you should take doing the opposite off the table when considering your options. Just don’t limit yourself to that.

    Also the opposite is normally pretty narrow… work or don’t work. There are heaps of options. Work hard, work soft, roll through too quick to hurt the other’s legs (then act apologetic). Miss every second turn. Pull but pretend to hurt heaps. Pull but pretend not to hurt at all. Etc etc. Very much depends on the dynamic of the race and who you are with.

  6. H Luce

    “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

    and this:
    “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.”
    both by Satchel Paige

  7. Ted

    Also, shave your legs. Not because you will be faster or it is better for getting a massage or cleaning in case of road rash. But if you do not, you will be pushed into the ditch by other riders. The same applies to having the stem the wrong way. It makes you look like an amateur and other riders will be afraid of being behind you in the peleton!


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