Road racing is the oldest form of cycle sport, dating back to the very beginnings of the bike.
Today its combination of a long, rich heritage, high speed, hi-tech and a great social scene make it one of cycling’s most enduring disciplines. From time trialling to stage racing, there’s a type of road racing to suit everyone.
Road racing demands great endurance, bike handling, skill and tactical know-how. At the very top, it’s often a rider’s ability to read a race and follow the right move that gives them win. There’s a type of road racing to suit many kinds of rider – from circuit racing for punchy, powerful riders to multi-day stage racing for the ultra endurance athlete. There are racing categories from youth to senior for both men and women, with a category system from 4th category to elite ensuring that there’s suitable competition for riders of varying standards.
Road racing bikes are all about speed. Ultra lightweight frames made of steel, aluminium or carbon fibre. Bikes have narrow 700c (622mm diameter) wheels, with slick tyres around 23mm wide for low rolling resistance and light weight. Bikes have drop handlebars and multiple gears with up to 22 different gear ratios to cope with varying terrain.
Road racing takes place on a variety of different courses. The majority of traditional road racing takes place on the open road, with vehicular marshalls marking the nose and the tail of a race. Circuit racing takes place on closed-road circuits, either purpose built for cycling or repurposed motor racing circuits. Time trialling also takes place on the open road on one of a number of pre-determined time trial courses. British Cycling campaigns to keep racing on the roads whilst investing in a supporting the development of a network of closed-road, traffic-free facilities.
Road races – These are bunch events that take place on the open road over a pre-determined lap or laps. Riders sign on at a HQ before the race begins in a ‘neutralised’ form – allowing the peloton to group-up before racing commences. Races can either be stand-alone events of part of a league or series.
Closed-road circuit races – These take place on traffic-free facilities, either purpose built for cycling or repurposed motor racing circuits or airfields. Races begin from a standing start and are shorter than road races, often only lasting for an hour for senior riders. Closed road circuits often have demanding corners with lots of braking, accelerating and cornering, demanding power and riding skill. Often called ‘criterium’ (or crit for short), these races are most often part of a league that lasts all season, allowing riders to compete for overall victory.
Time trialling – A specialist branch of road racing, time trialling pits the riders, one-by-one, against a course of a predetermined length in an against-the-clock test. Time trials come in a number of standard lengths; 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles, with ultra-endurance 12 or 24 hour events, where riders try to complete the longest distance in the prescribed time.
British Cycling's Racesmart programme shows new riders the techniques, skills and etiquette of road racing, with practical video guides on all aspects of the sport. Find out more about Racesmart.
Many clubs offer coaching for riders who wish to improve their road racing fitness and bunch riding skills. Go-Ride clubs in particular offer structured training for young riders, with age and ability-related competition opportunities to allow riders to progress through the sport. Many of these Go-Ride clubs have hire or loan bikes for club members, allowing riders to give the sport a try without major financial commitment.
Road racing is mainly a spring and summer sport, although a number of regions run autumn and winter leagues. There are categories for riders from under 12 to adult for men and women, ensuring that there’s a category to suit everyone.
From going to support your local closed-circuit to watching the Tour of Britain or Tour de France, road racing has always been an exciting and free-to-watch spectacle. The Tour de France is the biggest spectator event in the world, drawing millions out of their home to cheer the race through. However, you’ll have a great time watching your friends and family compete at your local league, so why not show your support?
Support the sport by volunteering your time and skills at your local road racing event. There are opportunities for a variety of roles including timekeepers, judges, and scrutineers. British Cycling has a range of volunteer education courses to support your development.