Q: Why should I join a racing club?
A: Joining a racing club might seem like an unnecessary step to get into bike racing but it's actually highly recommended. Through a racing club, you'll meet experienced racers who will help you develop the good habits and skills necessary to race safe and in control.
By being part of a club, you'll be aware of the club activites such as: group rides, clinics and races. As an unattached rider, you don't have those options, or it's more hit and miss.
There is usually a small cost to join a racing club, for a membership fee and a jersey. However, since most clubs also provide discounts on merchandise and services, the discounts can offset the costs.
Q: How do I find a club to join?
A: Most new racers find a racing club by talking with their bike riding friends and acquaintances. Check the NCNCA member clubs web page at www.ncnca.org/ncncapage/clubs  and see if there are any racing clubs that interest you. Also, check with your local bike shop, they may have contact information for a racing club.
Q: How do I join a club or change clubs?
A: Officially you are not recognized as a member of a club (or new club) until this new information is recorded in your record in the USA Cycling database. You can change clubs online using your USA Cycling web site account. Use the edit club link under your USAC license information to change your currrent club or add a club to your USAC record. You can also contact the person in charge for upgrades for your area and they can contact USA Cycling to make your club change and send you a C sticker to put on your license to indicate your club status has changed from what is printed on your license.
General Race Information:
Q: What types of races are there?
A: There are four primary disciplines to bike racing: road, mountain, track and cyclocross. A detailed description of the differences is provided by USA Cycling at their Cycling 101  web page.
Q: How can I learn the rules of the various races?
A: You can download the current rule books for USAC or NORBA races from the USA Cycling web site at www.usacycling.org/news/user/story.php?id=369 .
Skills and Training:
Q: What are the skills I need to know before racing?
A: Most bike racing clinics start with basic bike riding drills such as pacelining and cornering. These may sound simple but there are always nuances to be found from experienced racers. For racing, it's necessary to be safe and comfortable while riding in a pack of racers.
In the beginning of the year there is a set of Early Bird races held each Sunday in January. This event begins with a clinic consisting of discussion and on-road exercises with mentors riding along during the exercises. Mentors also ride with the racers once the races get underway. These are excellent sessions, tailor-made for new racers.
Throughout the year, area coaches will host clinics and advertise them through the NCNCA mailing list or on the website at www.ncnca.org/event  (once there, filter by "CLINICS"). And finally, most bike clubs take it upon themselves to ensure their members are skilled racers by hosting their own internal clinics.
Q: Are there some basic training guidelines?
A: USA Cycling maintains a database of licensed coaches. You can search the USA Cycling coaches database at www.usacycling.org/coaches/search.php . Many clubs have experienced riders who may not be licensed as a coach yet can still offer basic training gidelines. Before joining a club you might want to ask about coaching help the club can provide.
The racing age groups are as follows:
Youth - Riders under 10 years of age
Juniors - Riders 10-18 years of age
Under 23 - Riders 19-22 years of age
Elite - Riders 23-29 years of age
Master - riders 30 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. In Northern California and Nevada most Master races are for riders either 35 and over, 45 and over or 55 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. An Elite 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 macth 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. It is the rider’s responsibility to make sure you have entered the proper race.
Q: How do I go about buying a license?
A: A USA Cycling license can be purchased online or at most events. It's much less hectic for your pre-race routine to purchase the license online at www.usacycling.org . All licenses are valid for a calendar year and expire on December 31st.
Choosing a Race:
Q: Where do I find race information?
A: There are three main sources for race information. Information for almost all Road, Track, Mountain bike and Cyclocross races for the Northern California/Nevada region can be found on the NCNCA web site at www.ncnca.org 
Information about races in Southern California/Nevada can be found at the SCNCA web site at www.scnca.org 
For information about races in other parts of the country you can go to the USA Cycling web site and look up any race that has been issued a permit by USAC. Go to the USA Cycling search event page at www.usacycling.org/events  and either click on a state or enter the name of a race you are interested in. If the race has been issued a race permit then you should find it.
Q: How do I register for a race?
A: Registering for a race is the process of paying your race entry fees and turning in a properly filled out and signed standard liability release form. You can find a copy of the required liability release form at the USA Cycling web site at www.usacycling.org/forms/waiver.php?url=rider_release.pdf . If you will be racing a lot you can fill in your name and address information on a release and make several photocopies. Note that a release form is not valid unless it is signed in ink. Photocopied signatures are not acceptable.
You can either pre-register for races or wait until race day to enter. In the official race Ads that you find on the NCNCA web site, there will be information about pre-registering for each race. Some races offer the ability to register online only for the race. Other races offer a combination of online entry or the old fashioned mail option. A few races only offer mail in pre-registration. The advantages to pre-registering is that you normally get a reduced entry fee (pre-registering usually saves you from $5 to $10) and you stand a better change of getting into the race before it fills up. For safety reasons all races have field limits. Many races will reach their field limits during the pre-registration period. This means that riders who wait until race day to enter will be put on a waiting list and may not be able to participate in the race. Note that if you pre-register for a race using an online service you will still need to fill out and sign a liability release form and turn it in on race day.
On race day if you have pre-registered for your race all you need to do is check-in at the registration table. You will need your USAC license so the registration people can verify you have a license and you have entered the proper race category. Remember, if you pre-registered online you will also need to turn in a signed liability release form. Once you have checked in at the registration table and the registration person has verified your license then you will be given a race number. The registration person should tell you which side of your jersey to pin your number to. If you haven’t pre-registered then you need to fill out a liability release form at a table near registration. Then you need to go to the registration table and find out if there is still room in your desired race. If there is then you turn in your liability release form, pay your entry fees, show your license and get your race number.
When registering for a race, you can only enter races that match your racing category and age group as listed on your license. If you are a Category (Cat) 5 rider you can only enter races for Cat 5's only, or Cat 4 and 5 riders or open race (open to all category numbers). As a Cat 5 you can not enter a race open only to Cat 4 riders. If you are 37 years old you can enter an Elite race or a race for Masters 30+ or Masters 35+. You can’t enter a junior race or a masters 45+ race. The number after the word "Masters" refers to the minimum age that can enter that race. A Masters 35+ race is open to riders 35 years and older.
Q: What should I do for pre-race preparation on race day?
A: Your pre-race preparation should really start the day before your race. The day before your race you should put all the things you will need for your race together in a race bag. In your race bag you should pack all the items you will need on race day. Some of the items should be your jersey, shorts and cycling shoes (nothing worse than getting to the race and realizing you left your shoes at home). You should also have your racing license, helmet, water bottles, and food you might want to eat before, during or after your race. You should also have a copy of the directions to the race and any map information needed to get to the race. You also need a signed liability release form (unless you mailed in a pre-entry), money if you haven’t pre-registered and any other items you might need.
Once you have arrived at the race site your first order of business is to check into the race at the registration table. If you have pre-registered there might be a special line just for pre-registered riders, otherwise you will be in a single line for your race. When you get your number be sure to ask which side to pin your number to. Since the proper placement of your number is critical in making sure you get placed in the results be sure to review the information at 22.214.171.124/docs/badnumbers.html  about how you should pin your number (and see examples of how you shouldn’t pin you number also).
Once you have checked in you probably want to get dressed and ready to ride. You really can't do a good job of pinning on your number by yourself. It is best if you find a friend to help put your number on once you have your jersey on. Once you are dressed and ready to ride you should check out the course if possible. For criteriums you can’t be on the course during another race. This means you need to wait for the period between races to grab a quick practice lap or two on the course. Be sure to keep an eye out for any pot holes, broken pavement, cracks in the road or any other obstructions on the course.
After pre-riding the course you might want to start your warm-up, depending on how much time you have before your race. For most criteriums there isn’t a really good spot you can do a proper warm-up. For this reason many racers now bring their own stationary trainer to races so they can warm-up on their trainer. If you don't have a trainer then you are stuck warming up as best you can on the city streets. Remember to obey all traffic laws since we don’’t want to upset the local residents and run the risk of losing the race course in the future. During your warm-up it's a good time to talk to teammates and hammer out a race strategy. It is also a good time to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while. About 15 minutes before your race starts you probably want to go back to your car, take off any excess clothes, take a final drink and take anything off your bike you don’t need in the race (like a pump or saddle bag). If the officials allow it, you probably want to grab a final practice lap around the race course before you line up for the start. You should plan on being on the start line 3 to 5 minutes before your race begins, so you can hear the final race instructions from the officials.
Q: What should I do after the race?
A: Immediately after you cross the finish line you want to make note of who finished around you. Try to remember the race number of one or two riders you finished near. If you can't get a race number then take note of the type of jersey(s) of those racers. This information could help you if there is a problem with the race results.
Most riders take a cool down lap after their race (in a criterium). When coming back to the finish line be careful since the next race may be lining up and the road may be blocked by riders waiting to start their race. You will want to check out the tentative results when they are posted. Results are normally posted somewhere near the registration area. For criteriums, it normally takes 10 to 15 minutes for the tentative results to be posted. In a road race, it may take 30 minutes up to two hours for the results to be posted. Once the results are posted there is a 15 minute protest period. If you feel a mistake has been made in the results, you must call any errors to the attention of the Chief Judge during the protest period. Mistakes in the results are most often due to your race number not being placed in the proper position where it can be seen by the finishing video camera, or another rider next to you obscured your race number from the camera. The Chief Judge can be found near the finish line area and is the official responsible for determining the race results. You can go to the officials area at the finish line and ask to speak to the Chief Judge if you feel a mistake has been made in your results. The Chief Judge will do their best to correct any mistakes that are made in the results during the protest period.
Once the results protest period has passed the results are final and prizes can be handed out. Again, award ceremonies usually take place near the registration area. Note, once the protest period has passed under USAC rules the results are final and no additions or corrections can be made. In general, most officials will make corrections to the results as long as the place in question doesn’t affect the prize positions. Once the race day is over and everyone has gone home no additions or corrections to results can be made since the officials no longer have access to the video camera and other notes they would need to change the results.
The race officials in the NCNCA territory always try to place all finishers in races. There are several problems that can come up that can prevent all riders from being placed. Some problems are failures with our finish line video camera, missing race numbers, unreadable race numbers, riders obscured from the camera by other riders and emergency situations that require the attention of the officials.
If you can't remain after your race to check your results at the race, then you can normally find results posted online at either the race web site or on the NCNCA road results page at 126.96.36.199/road  (NOTE: This link will take you to results through 2010. We're in the process of determining how to convert those results and bring them over to the new site.) If the results are available on the NCNCA road page then the current year under the race name will be a clickable link that will take you to the results. Remember, if you discover an error in the results once they have been posted online it is to late to make any corrections or additions except for misspelled names or where the wrong name is associated with the indicated race number. For this type of error you should contact the race promoter.
Q: What are some things I should watch out for in my early races?
A: It's important in your early races to refine your prerace routine. So give yourself extra time before the race begins so you won't be rushed. This process actually begins the night before the race, when you set aside all the gear and equipment necessary for the next day's event. Plan for time to meet with your teammates to discuss your team goals for the race.
During the race - relax, ride safely, be smooth and use your racing skills. Don't be afraid to communicate with the riders around you.
After the race, catch up with your teammates and discuss what went wrong and what went right.
Q: Why aren't my results in my account at usacycling.com?
A: Each race promoter is responsible for submitting race results to USA Cycling for inclusion in the USAC national ranking program. If some of your race results are missing from your USA Cycling account this indicates that the promoter for the missing race hasn’t submitted the results yet. You might want to contact the promoter of the missing race to see if they plan on submitting the results to USA Cycling. Unfortunately some promoters never get around to submitting their results. This is why you should keep your own log of your race results, so you can be sure to have a resource with all your races when it comes time to upgrade.
For additional reasons as to why your results may not be appearing, see the Results and Rankings FAQ at www.usacycling.org/myusac/index.php?pagename=rankfaq .
Results and Upgrading:
Q: How do I upgrade to the next higher category?
A: Upgrading is the process by which a rider advances to the next highest ability level. Riders qualify to be upgraded by meeting certain experience requirements, or earning enough upgrade points. Upgrade points are earned by placing in the top 6 in races that meet minimum distance and field size requirements. See the NCNCA upgrade page at www.ncnca.org/content/upgrade-requirements  for more details about upgrade requirements.
You should keep a log of every race you do. In your log you should note the race name, date, the race distance, your finish placing and field size. All of this information will be helpful when it comes time for you to upgrade.
Q: How are the USAC National Rankings calculated?
A: For the long and complicated explanation see the USAC Rankings Program Technical Description at www.usacycling.org/results/results_rankings_technical_USAC.pdf .