Guide to youth road racing

With the Tour de France coming to it’s epic finale on the Champs-Élysées, now is the time when cycling and particularly road racing captures the public’s attention. It’s not only adults who find themselves inspired by the Tour and La Course, it also acts as the catalyst for dreams of cycling glory for thousands of young riders’ across Britain. So if your junior Armistead, Cav, or Froomey have been bitten by the Tour bug, here’s our complete guide to road racing for youngsters.

What is youth road racing?

Youth road racing events are generally held on smooth asphalt but traffic-free circuits and the requirement for drop-bar road bikes depends on the event and the age of competitors. Certainly for riders new to road racing, most events would allow participants to use flat-bar bikes.

The racing itself is simple to understand: the riders line up at the start, the flag is dropped, and they have to complete a certain number of laps of the circuit. Open youth circuit races are often up to 20 kilometres in length but distances in Go-Ride races, a junior grassroots cycling scheme operated by British Cycling are much shorter. All children with an interest in cycle racing under 16 can go along to a Go-Ride club with age categories starting at under 8s and then splitting into under 10s, under 12s, under 14s and under 16s.

What is cyclo-cross?

Why try youth road racing?

There are some very tangible benefits in terms of health and bike skills. Road racing tests a rider in a variety of ways. The cut and thrust of attacks, counter attacks and chasing down breakaways really challenges a rider’s fitness and stamina. More than that, it also teaches a rider to learn to conserve energy when they can. That leads on to the tactical elements of road racing, it might not be quite so obvious for very young racers, but as they grow they learn to read a race and even work as part of a team.

However, possibly the most worthwhile and easily transferable benefit gained through road racing comes in terms of bike handling and control. Riding closely in a bunch alongside a large number of other cyclists teaches calm and accurate bike control. It also helps young riders feel comfortable and calm when riding very close to others. Combined, these benefits help the rider to be more confident and secure in day-to-day riding, not just racing.

Finally for young cyclists especially it’s also worth thinking about that ‘Tour inspiration’ factor mentioned above. Nothing makes a cyclist feel like a ‘real’ bike racer than taking part in a mass-start race on tarmac and the very experience of taking part is both hugely exciting and rewarding in itself. Essentially youth road racing is just good fun!

First steps

The club cycling scene in Britain has traditionally been most cyclists’ entry into the world of bike racing. Today that link is stronger than ever with the introduction of British Cycling’s Go-Ride scheme. This superb programme teaches youngsters all the elements needed for cycle sport, from basic handling skills all the way up to tactical awareness.

To experience Go-Ride you must find a Go-Ride accredited club. The easiest way to do this is to use British Cycling’s club finder web page.

When choosing a club, do check to see if it has Clubmark accreditation from Sport England. Clubmark is the universally acknowledged cross-sport accreditation scheme for community sports clubs. An accredited club is recognised as a safe, rewarding and fulfilling place for participants of all ages, and it allows parents and carers to have confidence their children are with a suitable organisation.

Once you have found a local club with a Go-Ride provision, a rider can visit for a taster session. The young rider will be able to take part in some of the games and challenges that Go-Ride training provides. To begin with these typically involve fun tests of general bike control, particularly in a bunch, although most training sessions will also have a race of some sort. The Go-Ride scheme aims to encourage all genres of cycle sport including track racing, mountain bike, cyclo-cross and road racing but as a rider develops, he or she can focus on the specific discipline or disciplines that excites them most.

The Islabikes guide to youth road racing

Road racing equipment

The bike

Your local Go-Ride club will advise you about bike requirements, although young riders are initially welcome to start with whatever bike they own, as long as it is ride-worthy. The Go-Ride coach will check this and also make sure the bike fits the rider correctly.

As a rider grows and becomes more serious about his or her racing, especially if they are interested in road racing, their choice of bike may become more specialised. They will eventually need a lightweight bike with drop handlebars and narrow, slick tyres, such as an Islabikes Luath.

One thing it is very important to understand is the need that all junior road racing bikes are fitted with the correct gears. In the old days, cyclists used to talk about ‘schoolboy racing blocks’, which were cassettes that offered low gearing options that wouldn’t damage a young racer’s knees. These days, not only are such gears still recommended for young rider’s leg health but they’re actually enforced by British Cycling restrictions.

Other kit

In addition to the bike, there are other items of equipment that are either required or advisable.

Helmets – To take part in Go-Ride events or any organised racing, riders require a suitable cycle helmet. More important than any specific design, it must conform to EN regulations and must be fitted correctly on the rider.

Track mitts – A small but vital accessory, a pair of track mitts will help protect a rider’s palms if they fall off.

Lycra cycle clothing – To begin with a young racer may happily compete in normal shorts and t-shirt. As they become more serious, the benefits of Lycra cycling clothing such as its better sweat wicking, heat regulation and ease of movement qualities, will be needed.

Clipless pedals with cycling shoes – Clipless pedals and stiff-soled cycling shoes offer a far more efficient pedaling experience than using trainers and flat pedals. Again, this will be a good and timely upgrade as a young rider improves. See our guide here.

British Cycling racing licence – A British Cycling racing license isn’t needed for Go-Ride events, but as a young rider moves up into youth road racing, a racing licence and the chance to progress up through the rankings will signal the start of their career as a ‘real’ road racer.

Road racing events and venues

The term ‘road racing’ can make some parents worry that their children will be taking to competing on public roads. In fact, under British Cycling regulations all under-16 races must take place on traffic-free roads or a closed-road circuit. This is often referred to as ‘circuit racing’ or ‘crit racing’.

As well as closed-road courses, crit racing can also be held at purpose-built cycling venues or even motor racing courses. However, riders can’t just turn up at a circuit racing venue on any given day and expect to compete. Race meetings only happen on specific days according to the calendar of whichever club is hosting them. As with all our advice here, your local Go-Ride accredited cycling club is the first place to seek information.

Although this is not an exhaustive list, here are some popular circuit racing venues across the UK.

Purpose-built cycling facilities

Cyclopark, Gravesend, Kent

Hillingdon Cycle Circuit, West London

Lea Valley VeloPark, London

Litherland Sports Park, Liverpool

Maindy Cycle Track, Cardiff

Redbridge Cycling Centre, Ilford, North-East London

Stourport Sports Club, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire

Tameside Cycle Circuit, Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester

Torbay Velopark, Paignton, Devon

York Sport Cycle Circuit, York


Motor racing tracks with regular road racing events

Angmering Motorsport Centre, West Sussex

Castle Combe Circuit, Chippenham, Wiltshire

Ford Dunton Test Track, Bedfordshire

Goodwood Circuit, Chichester, Hampshire

Mallory Park Circuit, Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire

Rockingham Motor Speedway, Corby, Northamptonshire

Thruxton Circuit, Andover, Hampshire


Other venues with regular road racing events

Abingdon Airfield, Oxford

Betteshanger Country Park, Deal, Kent

Crystal Palace, South London

Dunsfold Park, Cranleigh, Surrey

Harvey Hadden Sports Village, Nottingham

Henstridge Airfield, Somerset

Westpoint Centre, Exeter, Devon

Milton Keynes Bowl, Buckinghamshire

Trinity Park Showground, Ipswich, Suffolk

The Islabikes guide to youth road racing

What riders can expect to do as they become more experienced

The racing at Go-Ride level can involve six different cycling disciplines: grasstrack, cycle speedway, bmx, mountain bike, road-style circuit racing and cyclo-cross. To begin with, depending on the facilities available, many clubs may give new young riders a taste of competition with grasstrack racing. Cyclo-cross is another favourite for new riders. Then, as their skills develop they will be introduced to other events. In terms of road racing-specific competition, events may then be further broken up to include not just circuit racing but also time trials, scratch races, paced devil and team pursuits.

Competitors themselves will race against other riders of broadly similar ages. Racing categories are split into under 8s, under 10s, under 12s, under 14s and then under 16s. For Go-Ride events, participants do not need a British Cycling racing licence, however riders that do decide to take out a Youth category racing licence can start accruing points with any racing successes they have. Once riders pass the age of 16 they join the Junior racing ranks, where a British Cycling racing licence is needed and racing categories are based on ability rather than age.

Glossary of useful terms

Bidon — A drinking bottle.

Cadence — The speed at which a rider spins their legs and turns the pedals.

Crit — Short for ‘criterium’, it refers to a cycle race held on a closed circuit.

Peloton — The main body of riders in a road race.

Through and off — The ‘conveyor-belt’ process of taking turns setting the pace at the front of a pack of riders, then dropping back to shelter out of the wind.

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