What is Cycling?
Cycling in the sports sense is the term used to refer to racing with bicycles. There are several different types of competitive cycling including road racing, track cycling, BMX, and mountain biking. Cycling is an Olympic sport, and is also one of the world’s most popular sports. The Tour de France, the premier cycling event, brings in 12-15 million spectators every year, and is the largest sporting event worldwide.
The world of cycling is vast and fascinating, so keep reading for more information on everything from the history of the sport to biographies on the best cyclists today.
Bicycles were first invented and popularized in the early 19th century, and the first recorded bike race was held in 1868, in Paris. This race was 1.2 kilometers in distance, and when you compare that to the Tour de France which is over 3,000 kilometers long (more than 2,000 miles), the first ever road race was barely more than a sprint! The sport of cycling, particularly road racing, became internationally popular very quickly. In 1903, a promotional race for the French magazine L’Auto was held in six stages across all of France. This race would eventually become what we know as the Tour de France. Cycling has also been held at the summer Olympics since the modern games began in 1896.
Types of Cycling
There are many different categories of cycling, and each is contested on its own unique surface. There are dozens of formal and informal race types. They can be broken down into three major categories: road, off-road, and track cycling.
Road Racing, as the name suggests, takes place on roads and streets. The most famous road event in the world is the Tour de France. Many road races are in the form of “stage races,” where the race is held in multiple stages over the course of several days. Road races can be quite long (over a hundred miles), although there are some races that are under 25 miles, called sprints.
Off-road events include BMX, motocross, cross country and mountain bike racing. Mountain biking and BMX are both included in the Olympics. These events are contested on rough and uneven terrain, including grass, gravel, mud, dirt, trails, and even sometimes over rocks! BMX racing in particular is very technical, for BMX courses often include jumps and steep banks that disrupt the rider’s rhythm.
Track cycling events take place in velodromes. Velodromes are large, fully enclosed arenas not dissimilar to indoor tracks or fields. The actual racing track is a small loop, usually just over an eight of a mile in length, made of wooden panels with steep banks that force the riders onto the inside of the track.
Cycling can be an expensive sport. While accessories like water bottles and sunglasses might come cheap, your bike, shoes and helmet sure won’t! Depending on how far and where you’re riding, you might need different amounts of food, liquids, or clothing. There are a few essentials that every biker should have:
- Water Bottle
- Sunglasses or Goggles
Each cycling event plays out in incredibly different ways. For example, because time trials are contested by a single team or racer against the clock, competitors must learn to pace themselves and get the most out of their bodies without the help of competition. Time trials are amazing efforts of individual will and speed.
Most cycling races have “mass starts,” where over hundreds of competitors take off from the starting line at once. Starts usually consist of mad sprints to gain position, because if you don’t get out well enough, you could get tangled up before the race has barely started! The longer races can play out almost like chess games, with different teams and racers making huge surges up hills or on descents in order to break away from the “peloton,” the mass of cyclists that follow behind the leader, and then easing up again in order to save their strength for the rest of the race. Most road races end up coming down to the wire, with multiple cyclists sprinting as fast as they can as the finish line approaches to gain a split-second advantage and grab the victory.
Positioning in the Peloton and Team Pursuit
The two events where racers have the most responsibilities to their teammates is in road races and track team pursuit.
In road racing, teams usually consist of one incredibly talented rider (the captain) and a bunch of secondary riders called domestiques., The domestiques usually sit around the captain for protection and to break the wind. The domestiques will sacrifice their own performance to ensure that the team captain wins. The whole team of riders will work to give the team captain the best chance to win.
In team pursuit, squads of four bikers race against their opponents. Drafting is of huge importance in this event, because the riders are moving so quickly and there is little room for error. Team members will switch off the lead, with the leader swinging wide at the end of one lap and drifting towards the back as the second place rider takes over the lead. By doing this, the whole team saves energy.
Rules and Regulations
Most of the rules of cycling are pretty obvious and self-explanatory. For instance, in general, the first person to cross the finish line wins, and you’re not allowed to knock over your opponents or interfere with their bikes. However, there are some quirky rules that have definitely come up in the past. For example, while it may be obvious to most that you must bike on your own, it wasn’t always so clear! Some people have actually tried to “bike” while holding on to a car driving on the side of the road to help them along. Odd cases like these have resulted in the official professional cycling rulebook being 17 pages long!
Referees and Officials
In cycling, officials are called commissaires. They are usually volunteers whose main jobs are to ensure that there is no foul play and to make sure that all riders are safe. Commissaires are involved with races before they begin, even being involved in the planning phases and working with local police to control traffic during the race.
Lingo and Terminology
Cycling is rife with odd terms, a lot of which are in French, due to the popularity of the Tour de France. Here are some essentials:
Attack: An attack is when one or multiple cyclists make a hard surge to the front of the race, and begin to push the pace at break-neck speeds. Attacks are useful for creating separation between the leaders and the rest of the racers.
Captain/Leader: The captain or leader is usually the best cyclist on a team. They are the person that the team will rally around in an effort to get the win. Famous team captains include riders like Lance Armstrong.
Climbing and Climbing Categories: Riding up a steep hill or mountain is called climbing. In major races, famous climbs are assigned categories to reflect their difficulties, with “category 4” climbs being easiest and harder ones belonging to “category 1.” A few climbs are so difficult, they are considered “Hors Catégorie,” or “above category.”
Domestique: Domestiques are the “supporting” teammates. Their goal is to help their captain win, from letting the captain draft off them, to blocking opponents, to helping the captain get needed food and water.
Drafting: When a rider gets right onto the tail of another rider, it is called drafting. A drafting rider has the advantage over their opponent because they don’t have to deal with the wind, which is a major factor in cycling.
The Yellow Jersey: The yellow jersey (or “maillot jaune” in French) is the jersey awarded to the overall winner of the Tour de France. Wearing the yellow jersey is considered to be the highest achievement in the sport by many.
Peloton: The peloton is the pack of riders that sit behind the leader. Most riders in big races spend the majority of their time in the Peloton, because the large group of people breaks the wind for each other and it can be strategically dangerous to go out in front on your own.
Skills and Techniques
Perhaps the most important skill for any cyclist to master is drafting. Drafting effectively is about 27% easier than riding out front on your own, because you don’t have to pedal against intense winds. To properly draft, you want to get as close as you possibly can to the rider in front of you. The closer you are, the greater benefit you’ll get from the decreased wind resistance.
Climbing (going uphill) is also a skill that takes developing. Some riders are naturally better climbers than others, but everybody can hone their climbing technique. Many people look down at their wheels when exerting a lot of effort, but keeping your eyes up and your elbows in front of your pedals pushes your energy forward, and will be more efficient on those tough climbs. You should also use a small gear when going up climbs. You need to be able to keep pedaling when you start your climb, and you don’t want to topple over because there’s too much resistance.
A cycling coach has immense responsibilities. Not only must the coach deal with the team as a whole, teaching members how to work together and assigning each rider their own specific roles, they must also have extensive scientific knowledge in order to improve their athletes’ performances.
Below are a few coaches who are renowned for their long records of success.
Gary and Shane Sutton: These two brothers have been at the forefront of Welsh, British, American and Australian cycling for many years now. Shane has also coached Team Sky, one of the premier teams in the world.
Dave Brailsford: Team Sky; Team Ineos. Brailsford coached athletes to six Tour de France wins between 2012 and 2018.
Chris Carmichael: Team USA, Lance Armstrong
Cycling, like running or swimming, is a sport in which performance is predominantly based upon the athlete’s conditioning. While technical skills and a mind for strategy are important, a rider still needs to have the raw endurance and strength to grapple with the leaders. For this reason, coaches tend to be most concerned with improving things like aerobic capacity and power output in their athletes. It is very difficult to become a top-flight coach, and the world’s best coaches aren’t just former cyclists themselves, but often certified exercise scientists and researchers.,
In major road races, teams of eight riders (all sponsored by the same companies) work together to propel one of their members, called the captain or leader, to victory. Strategy is crucial to the team’s success, which is ultimately measured by how highly their best rider finishes. The domestiques ride in front of the leader, protecting and breaking the wind, while the leader enjoys a ride that is between 20% and 40% easier than that of their teammates.
Teams can also attack together. For example, if the leader is a really good climber, then the domestiques might start sprinting when they go up a difficult hill so that the entire race must speed up to maintain contact. Even though the domestiques might end up fading away by the end of the race, the leader will have benefited from the increased pace up the climb, while not having to do any of the really hard work of leading.
An effective team strategy can ultimately be the difference maker between coming away with a victory, and suffering a humiliating defeat.
Biking may be an outdoor sport, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be practiced when winds top 30 miles an hour and the temperature dips below freezing! When conditions are poor, many cyclists head indoors and work on a stationary bike. Here are some nice workouts that you can try if you can’t get outside:
Single Leg Spinning: In this exercise, unclip one of your feet from the pedal, and practice cycling with only one foot for up to one minute at a time. Make sure to switch feet, so that you work both legs an equal amount. This exercise will improve your pedaling efficiency, which will save you big energy on long rides. You can do this in the middle of your main ride or at the very end.
High Cadence Spinning: In this workout, the goal is to work on increasing your cadence, or how many times your legs revolve each minute. Typically, a quicker cadence indicates greater efficiency. In repetitions of 5 minute intervals, pedal between 15 and 20 rotations per minute faster than you normally would, then return to your normal cadence for a few minutes.
Ladder Sprints: These sprints are all about increasing your maximum power output, which will in turn improve your long-term power output. After warming up, try sprinting as fast as you can for thirty seconds, standing up in your seat and working as hard as possible. After the thirty seconds are up, take a few minutes to recover with some easy pedaling, then do it all again, but this time sprint for a full minute. Work your way up to two minutes of sprinting, and then work your way back down to thirty seconds. Finish your ride with a nice and easy cooldown.
Cycling has been contested at the Olympic games since the modern games were founded in 1896. At the 1896 Olympics, there was only one road race and five track events. In 1996, Mountain Bike Racing was added to the program, and BMX was added in 2008. Today, there are 11 cycling events for men and women.
Although cycling has been in the Olympics since its beginning, the first women’s cycling event was not added until 1984, and it wasn’t until 1988 that track events were added for women as well. The 2012 Olympics were the first to have the same number of events for women as for men.
Players and Athletes
Here are a few famous road cyclists:
|Lance Armstrong (retired 2005, 2011)||United States||Motorola, Cofidis, USPS|
|Greg Lemond (retired 1994)||United States||Renault, La Vie Claire, PDM|
|Bernard Hinault (retired 1986)||France||Gitane, Renault, La Vie Claire|
|Eddy Merckx (retired 1978)||Belgium||Michelin, Faema, Molteni|
Here are some of today’s best cyclists, as ranked by the UCI (union cycliste internationale):
Cycling is one of the few internationally-popular sports that does not have a single dominating league. In fact, there happen to be very few leagues overall. This is due largely to the popularity of stage races, which can take up to a month to complete, like the Tour de France. The huge time requirements of these most popular races leave little time for an organized league to take place.
Still, there are a select number of leagues and tours that some of the top riders choose to compete in every year. They include:
- UCI World Tour
- USA Pro Road Tour
- World Cycling League
Many cycling brands have managed to make a name for themselves in the world of competitive racing. From apparel to the actual bicycles, these are the names to turn to if you want the best in the business.
A fantastic way for children to get into the sport of cycling is to set them up with a youth club or organization. Having friends and peers to cycle with is often an important factor for many bikers, regardless of their age. You can most likely find a youth club nearby if your child is interested in cycling. Here are a few organizations that specialize in children and cycling:
National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA): Student-Athlete centered organization that focuses on mountain biking.
USA Junior Cycling: Team USA’s branch for youth cycling.
There are countless cycling tournaments around the world each year. The most famous professional races are part of the “Grand Tour,” which consists of three stage races: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, and the Vuelta a España.
The UCI also holds junior cycling championships for road and track cycling, and these are the two biggest races on the calendar every year for racers between the ages of 17 and 18.
- Le Tour de France: Professional
- UCI Junior Track Championships: Junior (17 and 18 years of age)
- Giro d’Italia: Professional
- Vuelta a España: Professional
There are many non-fiction, fiction, and informative books on cycling. If you’re looking for motivation or a thrilling story, then here are some great books to check out:
Slaying the Badger: is about Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault, two of the greatest cyclists of all time, who were actually on the same team! Both had chances to win the Tour de France, and this book details what many consider to be the greatest Tour of all time.
Half Man Half Bike: details the life of Eddy Merckx, who many consider the best cyclist in history. It is a gripping tale of a man who sacrificed much to be the best.
This Road I Ride: is the story of one woman’s ride across the entire world, on her own. Finding meaning in cycling, Julianna Buhring took off to ride across the globe in search of something to take her out of a deep depression following the death of a man whom she loved.
The world of cycling is so vast that there are literally hundreds of websites devoted exclusively to the sport! From sites with the latest breaking news to the official website for organizations like the Tour de France or the International Cyclist’s Union (UCI), there are plenty of sources for you to turn to if you want to learn more about the sport. Here are a few of the broadest and most popular websites:
- Cycling Weekly: Cycling news, articles, gear reviews, and training tips.
- Letour.fr: Official website of the Tour de France.
- UCI.org: The website for professional, international cycling. Includes rankings, event news, and stats.
- Olympic.org: The Olympic website for cycling. The website has separate pages for BMX, Mountain, Road and Track Cycling events.
What are the benefits of cycling?
Cycling is a highly aerobic exercise, and has a lot of health benefits associated with it. Aside from increasing your strength and stamina, cycling improves your joint mobility, posture, bone density, and can decrease body fat!
In addition, cycling is lower-impact than other aerobic activities such as running, meaning that it is less likely that you will develop a joint or tendon injury, even if you’re biking a lot. Cycling also reduces anxiety and depression, and is considered an excellent exercise for people trying to get in shape.24
What are the rules of cycling?
There are some general rules that all cyclists should follow, called the “rules of the road.” These rules are unofficial, but are considered proper etiquette. Failing to follow these rules can result not just in other people thinking you have bad manners, but can actually be dangerous.
The main rules are to be predictable and be as safe as possible. This means to be prepared before you go out to ride (make sure that your brakes, gears and other equipment work) and to act in obvious ways that other people on the road can know what you’re doing, like using proper hand signals when turning.
Other rules include riding on the same side of the road as car traffic, and staying close to the shoulder when possible. Cyclists are also expected to obey all laws of traffic, like stopping at Red Lights and yielding to oncoming traffic.
What do you call a cyclist?
Competitive cyclists have many names, including Biker, Cyclist/bicyclist, Rider, or Racer.
What are the types of cycling?
There are a few different types of cycling. The three main ones are road, off-road, and track cycling. They all occur on different surfaces and have unique distances and rules.