About Bike Racing

What is Bike Racing?

What is bike racing, as opposed to other recreational bike riding events?  Why should a person choose to participate in a bike race?

Bike races are events with a start line, a finish line, and sometimes a clock. They’re events where participants are working to be the first one across the line, to have the best performance on the day, or to improve upon their own past performance.  Bike racing of all kinds combines technical skills with endurance and both physical and mental strength.  They’re a fantastic way to push one's limits and discover how far you can go physically.


What is MBRA?

The Michigan Bicycle Racing Association is USA Cycling’s Local Association for bike racing in Michigan.  We handle primarily road, cyclocross, and track racing. Most mountain bike races are handled by another organization here in Michigan, the Michigan Mountain Biking Association.  Most other events are independent or only loosely associated with other organizations.

Races that USAC and MBRA sanction are on one big event calendar and all riders who take out annual racing licenses are ranked based on their placings to categorize riders so that races can provide competitive events for races of all levels of experience and skill.


What is a Racing License?

Racing licenses are provided by USAC and provide a system of ranking according to results to categorize riders and help promoters provide competitive events for racers of all skill and experience levels.

Those who are looking to race at the introductory level or in open events can get a one-day license when registering online or in person at the event.


If You Sanction Mostly Road, ‘Cross and Track Races, Why Are All These Gravel, Mountain, And Fondo Events Listed?

Because cycling is a community.  Riding a bike is something that can be enjoyed in many different ways.  Event promoters all over the state know that and put on a fantastic range of events for every kind of rider.  The locations and terrain of Michigan allows for events from downtown criteriums to long range road and gravel races to point-to-point cross-country mountain bike races.


What is Road Racing?

Road racing in Michigan largely consists of three sub-disciplines: road races, criteriums and time-trials. Some road events feature all three disciplines in what is known as an omnium or a stage race. The following descriptions of each are adapted from USA Cycling’s EnCYCLINGpedia, which is an excellent resource for more information.

Road Races

Road races are draft legal, team-oriented, mass-start events. Road races generally take place on public roads and can be point-to-point races or multiple circuits of a loop anywhere from 5 to 25 miles in length. In Illinois, road races are always on a loop, not point to point.

During a road race, team members generally work together to gain an advantage over other riders, usually designating one person as team leader. The team leader is determined prior to the race and can be based on several factors including the course’s terrain, a rider’s fitness level and the competition.

Road races are a great way to try out racing as they are not as corner intensive as crits and because they are longer keeping the speed a little lower. You can think of them as a fast paced group ride, without the halfway stop at the coffee shop, of course.


Criteriums, often referred to as just crits, are fast-paced events, usually 15-50 miles in length which last between thirty minutes and two hours. The short, closed circuit course features several corners and gives spectators the opportunity to view most of the race.

Although not an internationally-recognized discipline, criterium racing is purely American and one of the most common forms of competitive cycling in the United States. Designed for spectators, criteriums are races held on short circuits, typically in an urban setting.

In criteriums, the pace is fast from the gun as riders can average up to 30 miles per hour for the duration of the race. Quick acceleration and keen bike handling skills are paramount to success in a criterium.

Time Trials

Time Trials or TTs pit individuals against the clock instead of each other. It’s the most basic form of competitive cycling and the rules are simple: the athlete with the fastest time over a given distance is the winner.

Like road races, the time trial usually takes place on public roads and can be a point-to-point race or multiple laps of a circuit. In a race against the clock, results are often determined by fractions of a second. Some time-trial racers choose to use very aerodynamic equipment, such as specially shaped aerodynamic helmets, one-piece skinsuits and special handlebars which allow a rider to get into a more aerodynamic position.


What is Cyclocross?

Cyclocross (or ‘cross or CX) is a fall/winter discipline of bike racing where a closed-loop course runs over a mix of terrain including grass, pavement, and dirt. To add to the fun, ‘cross courses include barriers–which racers must dismount to hop over (or bunnyhop)–as well as other obstacles like stairs and flyovers. It’s a very spectator-friendly sport, with races drawing large crowds of cheering fans. For more on what Cyclocross is, checkout this video from Global Cycling Network.


What is Track Racing?

Track cycling takes place on a velodrome, which is a closed, banked oval. Velodromes vary widely in total distance, shape and degree of banking, giving each velodrome its own personality. In the U.S., there are roughly 29 velodromes and in Michigan we're lucky to have two of them!  Track racing requires a special fixed gear bicycle and if you were to show up at a velodrome there might be some funny sounding races like the: Keirin, Pursuit, Scratch Race, Madison, etc.  To learn more about the different kinds of track racing checkout USA Cycling's Encyclingpedia.


What is Gravel Racing?

Gravel racing is nothing new, but it is experiencing a huge surge in popularity here in the US and Michigan in particular! We have more than 30,000 miles of unpaved rural roads here in Michigan and the surface of these roads varies greatly—from hardpacked dirt to fist-sized gravel and everything in between. Dirt, crushed limestone, sand, they’re all very different to ride on. Perhaps it’s the variety of substrates that makes defining what exactly a “gravel race” is so difficult. Depending on where you live, the unpaved roads may be as smooth as asphalt, or more treacherous than your local trails.  Really, the best definition we can come up with is to say that gravel racing is a lot like endurance racing, but with a little extra dose of adventure built in.


What is a Fondo?

The term "Fondo" usually encompasses a mass start endurance races, with riders taking the challenge on as a personal battle against their own limitations, and ultimately that of the clock. While riders do still ride in packs, these are formed along the way and not divided by license category. These events are designed to provide both competitive and experiential elements for both professional and recreational cyclists and so they're usually in stunning locations with great routes. Participation numbers can range from several hundred to several thousand riders!

We group other kinds of recreational road rides here as well. Many road rides won't have a single, mass start, but will have riders registering and heading out on to the route over the course of a few hours.  Usually maps and cue-sheets are provided, and often, along the way are stops with water and food to rest up and refuel.