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PSU Cycling 101: Intro to bike races
Hello and welcome back to PSU Cycling 101! In this edition we'll be covering some of most common types of bike races that the Cycling Club at University Park competes in. To begin with there are four major disciplines in collegiate cycling: ROAD, CYCLO-CROSS, MOUNTAIN, and TRACK.
A criterium is one of the most common forms of competitive
cycling in the United States. Designed for spectators, criteriums are races
held on short, typically urban circuits, between 800 meters to five kilometers.
These fast-paced events are usually 10-60 miles and last between 30 minutes and
two hours. The relatively short, closed course features several corners and
gives spectators the opportunity to view the majority of the course and see
competitors many times throughout the race. Primes, pronounced “preems” are
sprints within a race for all riders in the main field including breakaway riders
who have lapped the field. Riders who win the prime are awarded prizes even if
they do not win the overall race. Primes are used to create excitement in the
middle of the race. A circuit race is a general term used for any road races
that are contested over a course that is more than three miles and has at least
Road races typically
take place on public roads and can be point-to-point races or multiple circuits
of a loop generally from 5-25 miles in length. Road races are team-oriented,
mass start events.They can be either
one-day, or multiple-day stage races.The American road season usually begins around March and reaches its
peak around late July. Road races can be held on closed, partially closed, or
open roads with or without controlled traffic safety measures in place as
determined by local authorities.
Although the road race is the staple of international
events, it can be less spectator friendly than other types of races depending
on the course route. Cyclists may not pass the same point for long periods of
time and spectators looking for a particular cyclist may miss them if they are
in the middle of the race pack (called a peloton).
A time trial is a timed event completed by an individual or
a team. The individual time trial is often called “the race of truth,” as it
pits individuals against the clock with riders starting one by-one at specific
intervals, usually one minute apart. It’s the most basic form of competitive
cycling and the rules are simple: the athlete with the fastest time over a
given distance is the winner. Like road races, the time trial usually takes
place on public roads and can be a point-to-point, out and back, or a circuit
The team time trial is like the individual time trial, but
with one slight difference, teams race one at a time and work together to
complete the course in the fastest possible time.Most stage races begin with some form of time
trial; this is called “The prelude”.
Cyclo-cross is a unique, non-Olympic discipline of cycling
that can best be described as a cross between road cycling, mountain biking,
and steeplechase. Cyclo-cross races generally take place on a closed circuit
between 2.5 km and 3.5 km in a park or other open land with competitors racing
multiple laps for a set amount of time. Since the cyclo-cross season
traditionally takes place from September to February, races are often
challenged by adverse weather conditions such as snow, rain, wind, and mud.
Riders begin in mass start fashion and must navigate through both paved and
off-road terrain, often times dismounting their bikes to hurdle barriers, climb
steep hills or stairs, or traverse other man-made obstacles. These events can
take place on a closed circuit in an area as small as a moderately sized city
park and they are very spectator friendly.
Cyclo-cross is the fastest growing discipline in cycling and
because of its festival like atmosphere it is considered by some to also be the
most fun.Because of the season in which
cyclo-cross events are held and the cyclists multiple laps per race the course
may require maintenance following the event.Most cyclocross eventsalso allow
for a “pit” where cyclists can pass off a dirty bike to team members who will
wash it down and make adjustments to the bike.Watching the team mechanics can sometimes be half the fun as the try to
find the perfect tire pressure or tread to give their riders the advantage.
While disciplines like cyclo-cross, road, and track can all
trace their lineage back to Mediterranean Europe, mountain biking began in the
hills of California. In 19++ a small group of tinkerers from San Fransisco
equipped old cruiser bikes with knobby tires and pieces from used motor bikes
to create the flat handled, and mud flinging two wheelers that we know today as
MOUNTAIN BIKES!In the early 70's all
mountain bike races were downhill events that were often referred to as
"repack"This is because the
bearings in the hubs would become so hot that the grease would actually boil
away and need re-packed.It is said that
the first official mountain bike race took place in 1976 and was won by the
only rider who didn't crash.It was soon
after in 1983 that one in twenty of all bikes in the US were mountain
bikes.In 1993 nearly 90% of new bikes
sold in the US were mountain bikes.
Mountain bike racing is often happens in one of three
disciplines, either Cross Country(XC), Downhill, or Enduro. Cross Country
racing is the most popular mountain biking discipline and also the least
extreme of the three. XC racing is also an Olympic discipline which involves
competitors racing from point-to-point through defined trail sections in the
fastest time possible. XC trails can range from open fire roads to winding
narrow single-tracks that will test the rider’s endurance and technical
handling skills.Downhill races are for
more advanced riders whose love for speed brings them blazing down the roughest
descents and root sections. Downhill races are very intense and exciting to watch,
with either one or more races competing at the same time. Enduro (sometimes
known as all-mountain) are more technical than XC and can involve even bigger
drops and jump sections to fuel the riders adrenaline thirst. Enduro
competitions tend to be staged races that can involve steep climbs and timed
Although it may be more popular outside of the US, many of
worlds greatest cyclists got their start on the track. Track is one of the
oldest disciplines in cycling, taking place in a special type of arena known as
a velodrome. Velodromes feature steeply banked oval tracks, consisting of two
180-degree circular bends connected by two straights. The straights transition
to the circular turn through a moderate easement curve.Although some older velodromes use pine boards
for the race surface, many modern outdoor tracks have moved to cement.One of the oldest arenas in the entire US,
Madison Square Gardens, actually got its start as a velodrome. The nearest
velodrome to State College is the Valley Preffered Cycling Center outside of
Allentown Pennsylvania.Bicycles for velodromes have no brakes. They employ a
single fixed rear gear, or cog, that does not freewheel. This helps maximize
speed, reduces weight, and avoids sudden braking while nevertheless allowing
the rider to slow by pushing back against the pedals. Track cyclists tend to be
very specialized in their discipline even though nearly all forms of track
racing cover a course even shorter than that of a criterium.There are a ton of different race formats is
track cycling.Below are listed some of
the most common types of races.
*A scratch race is
a mass start event in which riders compete over a specified distance and the
order of finish determines the winners.
another mass start race which removes the last place rider from each lap until
only two riders remain. The final standings are then determined by a sprint
over the last two laps.
(sound familiar?) are team events in which pairs of riders compete in a sort of
tag-team format. Riders "sling" their teammate forward to facilitate
alternating sprints that keep the pace very high during typically long races.
involve pacing 6 to 9 riders with a motorcycle known as a Derny. The Derny
gradually accelerates until the last lap and a half when it pulls off the track
and a sprint for the finish determines the winner.
Alright everyone.... that's more than enough from me. Please feel free to comment below with anything I may have missed and remember: The Penn State Cycling Club meets Wednesday nights at 8:30 in Willard Building.