Racing bikes is hard. Everybody knows that. It’s fun, though. So much fun.
Getting into bike racing is really hard, too. It shouldn’t be. It is, though. From what forms to fill out, to how to find races, a lot of people who want to race bikes, never make it to the start line. It’s not unusual for years to pass between when somebody decides they would like to give it a try, until they toe the line. Sadly, a great many folks line up for that first race and have a bad experience. This is normal… but not fun. Many people race once and never come back.
Bicycle Heaven, a team with a (perhaps) unfortunate reputation of appealing to the hard-core race nuts is going out of its way this year to try to make entry to the sport easier. From informational talks prior to computrainer classes, to group rides aimed at being productive for a range of abilities, we are encouraging anybody who thinks they might want to race in the next year to come on out and give it a try. You will have fun, learn a lot, and see why bike racing is as addictive as crack.
In the summer of 2010, two inexperienced brothers who had been thinking about racing wandered into the Bicycle Heaven shop. It didn’t take much for these two, now dubbed “The Spanishes” to start riding with guys on the team. At 6’4″ and well over 200 pounds, “Jim Spanish” was hardly what you’d picture as a “bike racer”. Yet, he stuck with it. He’s now barely over 200, and going to hit the Cat 4 races ready to wreak havoc.
About to go into his second road season, and loving his bike more now than ever, Jim Spanish reflected on what it was like getting into bike racing:
So one year, we’ll call it 2005, I decided to race bikes. I got a bike and some spandex pants and rode everyday. I rode up hills and in the rain. I thought I was a real hard ass. I told myself I would find a race at the end of the summer and go Lance Armstrong on everyone’s ass. As fall quickly approached I realized I was missing a few things. 1. While I had been riding a lot, I always rode alone. Never in a big group. This made me nervous. 2. I had no idea how to find a race and what the protocol was to enter said race. Ultimately I was too intimidated or too unsure of myself to ask. So, I pussed out. I hung up the bike for the winter. Sad story, right?
Fast forward 5 years and 50 pounds. Shut up. Beer and pizza are delicious.
In the summer of 2010 my brother and I decided we were going to race bikes. I don’t exactly remember why. I don’t exactly remember how we ended up at Bicycle Heaven, but I’m glad we did. Turns out riding with people who love to ride beats the hell out of riding by yourself. And that’s what Team Bicycle Heaven is, people who love to ride their bikes. So I rode. A lot. Ask Matt. I’ve done a few races now, and I’ve picked up a few things that I’d like to share with you guys;
1. Might sound pretty obvious, but the best way to get better at riding your bike is by riding your bike. So ride it. We are really fortunate in Geneva to have so many bike paths. Use them. Want some insight on a good route? Post to the message board. Want someone to ride with? Post to the message board. I guarantee you’ll find someone with a sweet route and someone who wants to ride it with you.
2. Check out the Pella practice crits. These are held Wednesday evenings in the summer and are by far the easiest way to get into racing. Really laid back and lots of fun. You’ll learn a lot. $10 for 3 races. You’re also going to need an ABR license, which is $25/ year. You can buy this at the race. (Bring cash. This is a small operation) Bonus – they usually have beer and baked goods.
3. Try the BH group ride. I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. You’re probably going to get dropped and left for dead. The good news is you won’t be the only one. Post to the message board and find some other newer riders to stick with. When you get dropped, stay together. You can still get a good ride in and practice riding in a group. Each time try to hang a little longer. Don’t give up.
4. Have fun. Remember, that’s what this is about.
Couple other things to check out
www.chicagobikeracing.com. It isn’t updated regularly anymore, but it is full of good information for new racers. Read all the tips.
www.usacycling.com. Most races are sanctioned by USAC. This is separate from ABR, which I mentioned earlier. You need a USAC license to race these events. This site also has a list of races and a database of race results. If you have a question about a particular race, just shoot a message to the group. You can bet someone on the team has done it before.