New to racing? Here's a list of hints and tips and advice for getting started. But first off, please see our FAQ page for some common questions about our league.
Racing is like nothing you've done before (unless you've done roller derby!) It's fast, chaotic, unpredictable and at least a little bit dangerous. Not for the faint at heart! But it's also exciting, challenging, and a ton of fun. If you want it to be more fun than fear, then you need to learn to ride safely in a bunch. The best way to do this is to join a club. See our list of affiliated clubs, or have a look at British Cycling's club finder to find one near you.
You can be fit and powerful on your solo rides, but it's riding well in a group that will help you achieve success in cycle racing. Riding with a club is the best way to do this, with the added benefit that you'll meet other cyclists, potential teammates, training partners, and mentors. You don't HAVE to join a club to race but it is HIGHLY recommended.
Once you've mastered the skills needed to ride in a group safely and competently -- feeling comfortable in close quarters near others' wheels, spotting and calling out potential hazards, learning how to stay out of the wind and draft behind others -- then it's time to assess your fitness. The base fitness required to compete even at the entry level is quite high these days, requiring at least a few hours of dedicated training per week.
If you commute daily, or ride regularly with a club on weekends, you likely have what it takes to try racing. But don't be surprised if you find that you need to get fitter to be competitive! That's all part of the challenge, and if you're new to cycling you will find you improve quickly at first. Keep plugging away and the fitness will come.
In order to race, you need a racing license. If you're new to racing, you will start as a 4th category or beginner-level racer. Gaining points at races (by finishing in the top 10 or top 15) is how you move up categories. 4th cat racers can only compete in close circuit events in our league. Open road races are only for 3rd cat riders and above.
There are several ways to get a license:
1. Purchase a day license at closed circuit races, which is a £10 fee paid on top of the race entry fee. This day license will cover your insurance for the day. You will NOT gain any points with a day license, even if you win the race. This is best for anyone who wants to try a single race with minimal financial commitment.
2. Join British Cycling (Bronze, Silver or Gold membership level) to get a provisional race license. Bronze level means the day license fee is only £5 per race; Silver or Gold level means the day license fee is waived completely for closed circuit races. If you join a British Cycling affiliated club, you can get free Bronze membership for your first year with BC. See their website for more details. You will NOT gain any points with a day license, even if you win the race. This is best for anyone who wants BC membership benefits (third party insurance, etc.) and also wants to give racing a try without much financial commitment.
3. Join British Cycling membership at the Silver or Gold level, and purchase a full racing license too. This is the only way you can gain points to move up to another category. With a full license, you only need to pay the race entry fee, but you MUST remember to bring your license with you! This is best for anyone who is committed to racing.
The number one rule for racing is RIDE PREDICTABLY. This means...
-- Always always hold your line. It's like driving on the M25, four lanes of traffic in rush hour moving at a good speed, you do not want to suddenly start changing lanes without making sure it's clear first, or you will cause a pile-up! This includes going around corners, you can't take the "racing line" that you would if you were riding solo, you have to follow your line (lane). Also if someone beside you starts sprinting to get ahead of you, you can't suddenly move over to jump on their wheel unless you know it's clear. Don't be afraid to use your voice to let people know where you are or what you're doing.
-- Don't make any sudden movements like sitting up and stopping pedalling, braking suddenly, swerving, etc. (with the exception of sprinting, you're allowed to suddenly sprint off down the road!) If you get a puncture, just put your arm in the air to let others know (call out "puncture!") and keep pedalling in a straight line, wait for the bunch to go past you, then you can pull off safely to the side.
-- Be careful not to let your front wheel overlap with the wheels ahead, unless the people ahead of you are in the middle of the bunch too (and thus can't move side to side very much). Ride either behind people completely, or far enough up beside them that they know you are there. If you're in their blind spot with your wheel overlapping theirs and they decide to move to the side you're on, their back wheel will hit your front and you will crash.
Ride safely, ride competently, realise that everyone in the race is responsible for everyone else's health and safety. Don't make an already risky sport more dangerous by silly behaviour. Crashes hurt!
Where to race and how it works
These days, there is a good variety in races around London and the southeast. The British Cycling calendar is the best place to see what's on offer. Women's-only closed circuit races run on weekday evenings from April to August at Hillingdon, Crystal Palace, and Hog Hill. Cyclopark, Hillingdon and Hog Hill often have weekend races too. Most races are open to all categories, though some are for 3rd and 4th cats only. Closed circuit races are usually entered on the day, at the venue.
Open road races are a step up from closed circuits, with bigger fields and longer laps and race duration. Generally you will need to be 3rd cat or higher to race these. Most of these can be entered in advance, though often they are not full and can also be entered on the day.
On race day, get there early to give yourself enough time to line up and sign-on (don't forget your license!), pin on your number, get a good warm-up, visit the toilet (a few times...), and find the start line. If you're a 4th cat, you can wear any kit that's not pro kit; once you are 3rd cat then you must wear your club's kit, or plain kit if you aren't a member of a club. Helmets are mandatory, and don't forget to remove your saddlebag, mudguards or lights if you have them.
Listen to the commissaire's briefing at the start of the race, and pay attention to the lap board as you're racing. Once the race is over, clear the track quickly and safely as there will often be other races running concurrently. If you think you finished in the top 10, then double-check with the judges or organiser to make sure. BC will have the results up usually within a few days. All LWCR events will have FULL results within a few days, so check back on our site.
Tactics and strategy are topics that could be written about for pages and pages, more than we have time for here. But let it be said that you really need to race to understand how it works. And the more you race, the better you will get at knowing where to ride, who to follow, when to spend energy and when to save it, how to sprint, how to help a teammate, what you're capable of and how to win.
Race lots, race often, learn from every race. Don't make it a habit to DNF, try to finish every race if only for the training. Note your weaknesses and work on them; note your strengths and think about how to put them to your advantage. Work with others when it makes sense to, don't work needlessly when you don't have to. Have respect for the sport, the officials, your fellow riders, your teammates and yourself. Be an ambassador for women's cycle racing and if you find yourself in the position to help out a newbie some day, then repay the favours that others have done for you!
Above all, have fun!