Bike Race Definitions

Photo Credit: Green Curry
The Road Race

Find a gathering of bike racers and before you know it, you'll be hearing crazy terms like, "TT's, Crits, SW-blah-blah-blah's, the track", and many more things that will leave you feeling dazed and confused. Here are some quick definitions to help you out. Then you can at least bluff your way through espresso at the local bike/coffee shop.

Road Race: Everyone starts at the same time and the first person across the finish line wins.

  • Drafting is permitted amongst your own racing category.
  • Distances vary.
  • Paved roads (most of the times).

Individual time trial (ITT): a type of road race in which cyclists race alone against the clock (in French: contre la montre – literally "against the watch".

  • ITT's are also referred to as "the race of truth", as winning depends only on each rider's strength and endurance, and not on help provided by team-mates and others riding ahead and creating a slipstream.
  • Starting times are at equal intervals, usually one or two minutes apart. The starting sequence is usually based on the finishing times in preceding races (or preceding stages in the case of a multi-stage race) with the highest ranked cyclist starting last. Starting later gives the racer the advantage of knowing what time they need to beat (and also makes the event more interesting to spectators). Competitors are not permitted to draft (ride in the slipstream) behind each other. Any help between riders is forbidden. The rider with the fastest time is declared the winner.

Photo Credit: Sporif Images
The Time Trial

Team time trial (TTT): Same type of race as the ITT, (often held on the same course), but with a team.

  • Teams start at equal intervals, usually two, three or four minutes apart. Starting sequences will usually be based on individuals' times in previous events, but in TTTs conducted as part of a multi-stage road race (such as the Tour de France) again, the highest ranked teams will normally start later
  • Unlike individual time trials where competitors are not permitted to behind each other, in team time trials, riders in each team employ this as their main tactic, each member taking a turn at the front while team-mates 'sit in' behind. After their turn, the lead rider will swing over, allowing the next rider to take the lead, while the leader goes to the back of the team.
  • Should one team overtake another, the overtaken team would be expected to drop back.

Photo Credit: Sportif Images
The Criterium

Criterium or "crits": a bike race held on a short course often held on blocked-off city streets. The course is short (usually less than 5 km), and is a closed circuit, where riders complete multiple laps.

  • Riders typically race for a given length of time, then complete a specified number of laps. An example would be a race of 45 minutes plus or minus a few laps depending on how the pace of the race is going, or when/what category is racing next.
  • In addition to the typical method of determining a winner -- first rider across the finish line -- many crits have prizes that can be won while the race is in progress. Called primes (pronounced "preems"), these are given for winning specific laps along the way and are frequently cash prizes or merchandise, like socks, massages or beer.
  • Criteriums are especially nice for watching in-person as the riders wreck mean the racers pass by a given point many times over the course of a race.
  • Some say that crits are the most dangerous form of racing. To these people I say, "Ha." But it does help to have mad cornering skills and you must be completely comfortable riding at fast speeds in a large pack.

Photo Credit: Sportif Images
The Track

Track racing: Think of track racing like the Indianapolis 500 of bike racing...only no one's car has brakes. That's right. No brakes. Track racing is usually held on specially built banked tracks or velodromes (but many events are held at older velodromes where the track banking is relatively shallow) using track bicycles.

Track Cycling events fit into two broad categories, Sprint races and Endurance races. Riders will typically fall into one category and not compete in the other. Riders with good all round ability in the junior ranks will decide to focus on one area or another before moving up to the senior ranks.

Sprint races are generally between 8 and 10 laps in length and focus on raw sprinting power and race tactics over a small number of laps to defeat opponents. Sprint riders will train specifically to compete in races of this length and will not compete in longer endurance races.

Main Sprint Events

  • Sprint
  • Team sprint
  • Keirin
  • Track time trial

Endurance races are held over much longer distances. While these primarily test the riders endurance abilities, the ability to sprint effectively is also required in the Madison, Points Race and Scratch Race. The length of these races varies from 12–16 laps for the Individual and Team Pursuit races, up to 200 laps for a full length Madison race in World Championships or Olympic Games.

Main Endurance Events

  • Individual Pursuit
  • Team pursuit
  • Scratch Race
  • Points race
  • Madison
  • Omnium
  • Handicap or Hare and Hounds
  • Miss and Out, elimination or 'Devil Take the Hindmost'

Track riding is something you should try at least once. Take a class. In my humble opinion, once I did this, riding near people in all other forms of cycling (with brakes) seemed like a breeze. Plus, it's quite a rush. Very Top Gun in a "I feel the need. The need for speed" type of way.

Photo Credit: Sportif Images

Cross racing, or "cross": is a whole different artery in the heart that we call racing. So much so that it deserves its own page. Please grab a cowbell, get ready to get muddy and click the link below.

Racing Licenses/Classifications

Riders are classified based on two things, your age and your skill level (category).

The racing age groups are as follows:

  • Pre-J - Riders age 6,7,8) non competitive event, free entry, awards for participants, not scored, no placings.
  • Juniors - Riders 10-18 years of age
  • Senior Racing- Riders 19-34 years of age
  • Master - riders 35 years of age and over

Junior and Master races can have additional age sub-groups so you may see races listed as "Junior 15 and under" which would be a race for riders 10-15 years old or "Master 35+" which would be a race for riders 35 years and older. The Elite races can be considered an open age group since Juniors and Under 23 riders can ride up in age and enter an Elite race and Masters can ride down in age and ride in an Elite race.

The Skill groups or categories are:

  • Cat 5 - Entry level racers with less than 10 mass start races worth of experience
  • Cat 4 - Local level racers
  • Cat 3 - Regional level racers
  • Cat 2 - National level racers
  • Cat 1 - International level racers
  • Pros - Cat 1 riders who have a contract with a registered Pro team.

The races you can enter are based on the combination of your age group and your category. A race listed as a Masters 35+ 4/5 race is open to any rider who is 35 years or older and has a category of 4 or 5. A Masters 35+ 1/2/3 race is for a rider who is 35 or older and has a category of 1, 2 or 3. A Seniors 4 race can be entered by a rider from any age group who is category 4. Note that Cat 5's may not enter a race just for Cat 4's and Cat 1,2 or 3's may not enter a race open only to Cat 4's.

You may only enter a race where the advertised category restrictions match the category listed on your license. If you enter a race that doesn’t match the category or age group listed on your license you may be subject to a 30 day suspension. Plus, if you do this, you're just viewed as a moron. No one wants that. It's a BIKE RACE! Not rocket science. Just check and double check when you register. It's obviously your responsibility to make sure you have entered the proper race.

Back to 303's Ultimate Race Guide.