Whether it’s a century ride or a non-competitive charity event, signing up for an organized ride can be a great way to have fun, meet new people, cover new ground and test your fitness.
To help you sort through the long list of options, here are a six tips to choose the right organized bike ride for you:
One of the most overlooked aspects of any cycling event is its level of organization. When choosing an event, you’ll want to make sure the race is well-organized in order to provide you with the best experience.
Here’s a list of what to look for before signing up:
- Safety: Are there police escorts until you get out of town? Are there road closures so you can ride safely without having to deal with traffic? Is there medical support available on course should something happen? These are all considerations a top-level event should have sorted out.
- Parking/Transportation: Depending on where the race is, getting to the start line with your bike might be a bigger hassle than you realize. Make sure there are shuttle services and plenty of parking options prior to showing up on race day to avoid a big headache.
- Support Staff: It can be frustrating when you need help and no one is around. A good race will have plenty of support near the start and finish lines as well as on-course support. A broom wagon, which is the vehicle that picks up participants who need to call it quits during the race for any variety of reasons, is a big plus for first-timers testing their limits.
- On–course Aid Stations: It can be hard to carry all the supplies you need on the bike — particularly if it’s a long ride, like a century. On-course aid stations are there for you to stock up on food and drinks and, in some instances, help you if you have a mechanical issue. It’s always good to check where and how many aid stations will be available to you on the course before signing up.
LEVEL OF COMPETITION
Not all cycling events are the same. Some events will be very competitive, while others might be closer to your leisurely weekend group ride. Make sure you choose an event where the goals and mindset of the other competitors closely resembles your own so you can have the most fun possible.
- Cycling Races: This includes events that break racers up into categories such as Cat 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Time trials, multi-day stage events, criteriums and some road races are examples.
- Semi-competitive Timed Events: Century rides and Gran Fondos are usually a mix of serious racers and more casual competitors. Timed-sections and awards for top finishers are common and the races are usually suitable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness.
- Fun Rides/Tours: These are usually non-competitive and are organized as a way to tour local areas in a fun, relaxed environment similar to a group ride with your friends.
- Charity Rides: These are non-competitive events used to raise money for a good cause. Most events ask participants to cover a certain distance and pledges are made per mile.
Not looking over the course route prior to deciding on an event can be a big mistake. Altitude, climbing elevation and location (beach vs. wide-open plains, etc.) can make a big difference in how difficult it will be for you to reach the finish line.
It’s also a good idea to make sure the terrain fits with how you train. Some races include gravel sections, are all on dirt or stick solely to the road. Make sure there aren’t any surprises to ensure you’re prepared and have the right gear out on the road.
Challenging yourself to ride further than you ever have before is always a good thing, and signing up for a cycling event is one way to test your limits. However, for your first event, it’s important to make sure you stay within a reasonable distance of your longest solo daily ride.
Keep in mind that if you currently draft off others during your long training rides this takes considerably less effort than riding solo. If you plan to ride your event together with friends, great. If not, keep this in mind when choosing your distance and plan to ride no more than 10–20% further than your longest solo ride just to be safe.
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The cost of signing up for a cycling event can be as little as $20 or more than $200. While it might seem like common sense to go for the cheaper entry fee if you’re deciding between a few different events, remember entry fees go toward organization, overall race safety and support. This helps to make for a more enjoyable race experience.
Entry fees also go toward more goodies like finisher’s medals, T-shirts or jerseys, better food at aid stations and post-ride food. So before you balk at the price, make sure you know what the cost includes, or doesn’t include, then make your decision.
A cycling event isn’t only about the ride. Celebrating your accomplishments is a big part of it, and a big post-ride party following your ride can be a great way to cap a memorable day on the bike.
Look for an event that has music, good food, drinks and plenty of other festivities that allow you to relax and enjoy the rest of your day with family and friends. You’re just as likely to remember the great people you meet and the conversations you have as you are the ride itself.