Dirty Wknd member Amy Marks decided to take the leap into crit racing in March 2018, and quickly caught the bug. Through coached 'intro to racing' sessions, hard work and racing as much as she could, she has had a brilliant first season, even gaining her cat 2 licence. However, if 'crits', 'categories' and 'licences' are all alien to you, her tips on how to get started below should help you on your racing journey.
For me, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of racing your bike, and in London the large range of races and competitions offer an atmosphere quite unlike any other. However, for new racers it can also be a pretty intimidating and daunting, especially if you don’t have much of an idea of how it works.
I started racing in March this year and was immediately struck with how supportive and encouraging the community is. Having now raced for 6 months I am able to call some of my competitors my closest friends.
But... getting started was a bit challenging! Hopefully this blog will give some insight and answer a few of the questions that might be stopping you taking the leap. If you are interested in racing I would say go for it. It's not as scary as it seems from the outside - I know because I was there just a few months ago!
Getting your race license
Before racing competitively anywhere in the UK you must register with British Cycling for a race license . This can be a very confusing process and one I did wrong myself initially.
Firstly, you must purchase a silver or gold British Cycling membership, and then combine that with a race license. This will provide insurance for you and your bike in case of any accidents. Once you have got this you will be able to compete regularly, gain points and get category upgrades.
Click this link for the British Cycling registration process and follow the steps. It costs roughly £70 for the year in total.
Categories & points
Understanding the categories and points system might seem confusing from the outset, but it's not really something you need to worry about. All you need to know at the start is that everyone starts as Cat 4.
So when you're ready to sign up for a race (see below) the best option is to sign up for Cat 4 only races, so that you're amongst other racers who are pretty new to it. Weirdly, you can take some comfort in that.
You'll hear lots of jokes about being Cat 4 ("chopper", "4th cat tat" etc) but these will come from (mostly guys) who have only recently moved up from 4th cat and are showing off, or from people who have never even raced in the first place! Just ignore them and focus on yourself. Everyone starts as 4th cat, and it's remarkable how quickly they forget it!
Once you've done a few races you can start thinking about points, but until then don't worry about it. As a rough guide, you get 10 points for winning a crit race, 8 for 2nd, 7 for 3rd etc. When you have amassed 12 points you move from cat 4 to cat 3 and can no longer enter into cat 4 races. When you get 40 more points, you move up to cat 2, and so on. Told you it wasn't worth thinking about yet!
Join a club or group
Alongside getting your race license it’s also good to be part of a club. This way you will have a supportive community and teammates to go to races with making it more enjoyable and sociable.
Dirty Wknd is an affiliated British Cycling club and has a social race team of male and female members who want to take part in races. Any members can join, so if you feel like you want to give racing a go, get involved with the group and gain some strength in numbers!
Picking your race
There is a lot of choice when picking races in London. Throughout the year regular "crits" (closed circuit races) are held at Lea Valley (East), Hillingdon (West) and Hog Hill in Essex. Crits tend to be under an hour on a 1-2 mile circuit. You race laps of the circuit for the given time (30-50 mins). Different clubs and groups will run these and offer races of different abilities for men and women.
For those starting racing the CCL 'Hog with the Occasional Hill' at Hog Hill is a great event. Offering a 4th cat only men and women’s race, with race training beforehand with Ian Watson, they allow riders to become familiar with the course and riding in a tight group. The Full Gas Series also offer handicapped E1234 women’s races giving 4th cats the chance to race with more advanced riders.
There is also the amazing London Women’s Racing League that offers a series of races aimed at getting more women into racing. Dirty Wknd is affiliated to the league and members can sign up for races through their website. I participated this year and really enjoyed the races and the community around the league. I would highly recommend it.
Alongside crits there is also the opportunity to take part in road races & time trials. Road Races are over longer distances with rolling road closures and are usually held outside of London.
Time Trials are also usually outside of London but on shorter courses. This is just you vs the clock (no riding closely in a bunch) so are often a great place to get started. Listings of both events can be found on the British Cycling website through the calendar.
Hopefully this has answered some of the initial questions that are present before beginning racing. I think having a group or club who can provide support and advice both on race day and in training is a huge help and the support at races from the Dirty Wknd crew has been amazing!
Dirty Wknd member Helena Knightley (above, with me) began racing this year and said of her experience, “I’ve loved racing this year! It’s a bit of a love/hate relationship, I often stand on the start line wondering what I’m doing but once I start and after I love it. I’d always ridden with social groups until I started racing and the riding community is incredible I had this thought that in racing it would different and exclusive! I was so wrong; the girls I’ve met through racing are amazing and have now become some close friends who I ride with socially and race with!”
Racing isn't for everyone and that's totally fine. But if you fancy giving it a go then I'd say go for it! If you have any questions about racing, club membership or anything else you can comment below this post or email me :) Also, if you see me at a race or ride please come and say hi!