We recommend cyclists first participate in local club rides, where you will get experience riding with other cyclists around you. Once you become fit and comfortable riding in a pack, you may be ready to race by following the guidelines below:
- Do not make any sudden sideways movements within the pack. This is one of the most common reasons beginner racers cause crashes.
- Do not brake suddenly unless absolutely necessary. It is easier to soft-pedal, sit up and slow down with a gentle touch of the brakes.
- Go with the pack, moving as one group like a school of fish.
- Hold your line through the corners; in other words if there are 2 riders inside of you give them room to get through the turn.
- Keep your hands where you can reach your brakes quickly. Ideally you should be in the drops, where you have better control, and keep one or two fingers covering your brake levers.
- Relax your arms and upper body, bending the elbows slightly.
Finally, there is one very important guideline: DO NOT over-lap your front wheel with the rear wheel of another rider. This is also known as "protecting your front wheel". You will need to constantly be aware of surrounding riders and make minor adjustments to continue protecting your front wheel throughout a race. It will become easier with practice. See the illustration below for clarification:
- This is not safe; the right-rear rider is overlapping wheels:
- He or she should back off so there is no wheel overlap:
- Or, the same rider could move up so he or she is shoulder to shoulder with the other rider, which is even better:
We often get asked the following two questions about racing safely.
Q: How close do you follow behind the racer directly in front of you?
A: The general rule is if you have to stare at the wheel directly in front of you to be comfortable, you are too close. Back off a little so you can look up the road to where you are going. That's the best way to be aware of your surroundings while racing. We all have our own comfort level while drafting behind another wheel. Find the level that is comfortable for you.
Q: Can I avoid crashing if my front wheel touches the rear wheel of another cyclist?
A: Yes, you can avoid crashing. Obviously the best thing to do is avoid overlapping wheels in the first place. If touching wheels seems inevitable, lean your bike away from the back tire of the other bicycle. If that doesn't work out and your wheel is within an inch of the other rider's rear wheel, turn your front wheel INTO the back wheel of the rider in front of you. The laws of physics will help you regain an upright position away from the other rider's wheel.
We recommend you take a Basic Skills Clinic (also known as a Bike Handling Clinic) as the coach/instructor often demonstrates each skill and has you practice them as well. You can check for upcoming clinics by checking the calendar and filtering by "CLINICS" - you'll find the calendar here: www.ncnca.org/event .
Another place to learn good bike handling skills is the Hellyer Park Velodrome  located in San Jose. You can rent a track bike and ride in a structured clinic environment at 8:30 AM on Saturdays. Bring your helmet and bike gear INCLUDING your pedals (or simply bring your road bike so they can transfer your pedals). For more information please go to www.ridethetrack.com .
Keep in mind The NCNCA and Velo Promo , a bike racing promoter, sponsor a bike training and racing series called the Early Bird Criteriums on Sundays in January and early February in Fremont. See the NCNCA Calendar  in mid to late December through early February for more details.
Good luck and we hope to see you racing on the road soon.
The NCNCA Mentors