What you need to know for your first cycling event

What you need to know for your first cycling event

By Molly Hurford

Whether you’re showing up for your first race, group ride, or clinic, a little bit of pre-event preparation can make your day go much smoother, guaranteeing that you’ll feel less stressed as your ride starts. While every event is a little different, some things will remain the same. Here’s what to remember, and what to prepare for, to ensure you make the most out of every event!


Read up on the event

Even club-based group rides typically have information listed on the website about the route, the estimated speed and time, and what you should bring with you. Read the info on the website and any information sent via email carefully, especially right now when most events will have a host of COVID-specific protocols that you should know about.


Email the organizer with questions

Not sure about something? Email the organizer! They’d much rather answer a question about your race or what snacks will be provided at the clinic ahead of time, rather than having you show up confused on the event day. This is particularly true of clinics and club rides, where the organizers want to make sure you have a good time and aren’t in over your head. This isn’t just a beginner issue: For cyclists switching disciplines and going from road riding to mountain biking, for instance, an intermediate MTB ride might be challenging for a fit road rider due to the terrain.


Pack extras

Driving to the event? Pack extras, from a change of clothes and a towel to a jug of water and plenty of spare snacks. You never know exactly what you’ll want post-ride or race. If you’re new to cycling, having a checklist of “ride necessities” that can work for a ride or a race is a good idea to ensure you never show up at a start line without a helmet.


Show up early

When it comes to cycling events, being “on time” usually means that you’re running behind. If a ride’s start time is 9AM, for example, make sure that you’re in the parking lot, on your bike and prepared to pedal for 8:55. You don’t want to be pulling in at 9, still needing to unload your bike, put on your shoes and helmet, et cetera. In a gear-heavy sport like cycling, being a few minutes early offers you the chance to get your gear on, check your tire pressure, adjust your saddle, sip some water, and actually say hello to people without panicking that you’re not ready to go.


Ask for advice at the start of the event

When Zoey Bourgeois showed up to her first criterium race as a competitive canoe-er turned cyclist, she had no idea what she was doing. So, she asked. “I showed up to the race, and I was talking to the person who was working at registration, and I said I was looking for a coach. She pointed out the coach who works with development athletes in the province, and I went over and talked to him. I had no idea how to race a crit, and he helped me figure it out, and he’s still my coach now!”


Seriously, go to a clinic

Most clubs put on low-key skills clinics throughout the season, and many coaching companies and even the SCA will offer clinics for many different disciplines. It’s possible to learn techniques like drafting on the road bike or navigating obstacles on the mountain bike without specific skills instruction, but it’s much easier to learn these skills in a relaxed environment with other new riders. “Once you learn how to draft on the road, it’s not scary at all,” says former triathlete Sarah Honeysett, the Executive Director at the Saskatchewan Cycling Association. “But it can be really intimidating at first!”

Build that skills foundation

“You’re not going to get faster if you don’t have a good foundation,” says Laurie Ewan, who runs women’s programming (and much more!) with the Moose Jaw Pavers. And most of us can only get that foundation with some help from others. “Even if you’ve been riding for a while, if you’re struggling with something like hills, try to adopt a beginner mindset and ask an expert for help—it can make a big difference!”


Don’t worry if you are “slow”

In cycling, there’s a huge disparity in skill level, and what seems slow to you will seem speedy to someone else, and your idea of the fastest ride ever might be another cyclist’s “easy day.” Everyone has a different pace and is at a different time in their cycling journey. “I can’t stress this enough, so many women—myself included—feel so down when we lose a race, or feel like we aren’t doing enough, or aren’t getting faster quick enough.  But you being out there is already better than you were before!” says Saskatchewan-based mountain biker Shea Stevenson.


Remember, no one is watching you

Well, no one is watching you unless you’re at a clinic and a coach is supposed to be watching you to offer advice. But often, in group rides or racers or even clinics, we get worried about how other people are perceiving us and what they think about our riding skills (or lack thereof). But here’s the thing: All the other riders and racers are much more concerned with their own riding and skills than they are about assessing yours. “Honest to God, nobody cares what you look like, because everybody’s worried about how they look,” Ewan laughs. So stop stressing about your pedal stroke, your log hop, your jersey fit, or anything else—and start enjoying the time on bike instead!

About the writer:

Molly Hurford is a journalist in love with all things cycling, running, nutrition and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside and healthy habits of athletes and interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete podcast and website, and most recently launched the book ‘Becoming A Consummate Athlete.‘ She’s the author of multiple books including the Shred Girls, a young adult fiction series and online community focused on getting girls excited about bikes. Molly is a little obsessed with getting people psyched on adventure and being outside, and she regularly hosts talks and runs clinics for cyclists and teaches yoga online and IRL… And in her spare time, the former Ironman triathlete now spends time tackling long runs and rides on trails or can be found out hiking with her mini-dachshund DW and husband, cycling coach and kinesiologist Peter Glassford.