A Warm Welcome to a World on Wheels

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in The California Events Schedule, January 1993

Welcome to a world on wheels, my sure-footed friends of the fields of fitness! Like all new unknown lands, the world on wheels has a unique language, history, etiquette, and raison d'etre. In this innaugural in-house editorial, I'd like to offer you an intro to the many-faceted sport of cycling, saving the official introduction to inline skating for a future issue. Cycling is a big world and I feel certain that you can and will find a warm niche where you will be welcome, content, and entertained. A world on wheels is a wonderful place to be, so please join us!

Fun Rides and Benefit Rides

The most easy-going cycling events (both physically and socially) are the fun rides and benefit rides offered throughout the state and beyond, such as the Lung Assocation's Clean Air Challenge. These low-key, hi-fun rides range in length from 10 to 65 miles, sometimes spread over two or more days. The emphasis is on fun and friends, never on speed, endurance, or machisimo. Many are benefit rides for charities and social service groups, requiring either a somewhat higher fee or a minimal fund-raising pledge. In so doing, they allow the riders to not only have a good time, but also ride for a worthy cause in the process. Some even have competitions (with prizes) for the riders who bring in the most pledges.

Century Rides

Next up the distance ladder are the century rides, such as the Solvang Century. These 100 milers are perhaps cycling's oldest and dearest events. Everyone from first-year riders to seasoned veterans seems to find centuries to be just the right mix of distance, difficulty, and time commitment for a memorable adventure. Their popularity stems also from the fact that they can be ridden for any reason: a long day on the bike; a year-end mileage goal; or even with semi-competitive intent. Many a cyclist uses his or her century time to guage their personal fitness. Depending on distance and conditions, riders cover the 100 miles in four to ten hours. (Note that "metric centuries" are 62 mile events because they're 100 kilometers long.)

Ultra Marathons

Events of 200 miles or longer are know as ultramarathons. They are commonly formatted as double centuries (200 milers). or even triple and quadruple centuries (yep, 300 and 400 miles long). 24 hour events take place as well, though most are in the MidWest. Beyond that are events like the Furnace Creek 508, Tour of North Texas, and Boston-Montreal-Boston. These 500 to 700 mile events are both rides and races, depending on the rider's intent. Top finishes in these can earn one a berth in the annual 3,000 mile transcontinental Race Across America. (But you'd better save than one for your 2nd season.)


The vast majority of organized bicycle racing is overseen by the USCF, or United States Cycling Federation. The USCF is affiliated with the UCI, or Union Cycliste Internationale, the international governing body of bicycle racing. Here in the States, USCF races for riders between 18 and 35 in age are divided up into five categories. First-timers start at Category Five, then move up the ranks by placing highly and consistently. Category One is the elite group, made up of America's finest amateur racers. The pro ranks draw their talent from the Category One and Two fields. Of course, men and women race separately. Racers under 18 race in the Junior events and those over 35 race in age-grouped Masters events. Sometimes a "citizens race" or "public race" is offered for unlicensed riders. The different categories race separately and cover varying distances.

The types of races offered vary dramatically, with packs of 50 to 100 riders racing en masse over all types of courses. Road races are the longest events and usually cover a large loop or point-to-point course. Circuit races are usually shorter and cover less territory. As their name indicates, they utilize a loop, usually 2 to 4 miles in length, ridden over and over. Shorter and faster yet are criteriums, which usually feature about a one mile course with numerous tight turns, ridden from 10 to 50 times around. Cornering and sprinting skills are at a premium in these "crits," as they are called. Time trials are known as "the race of truth," for they pit individual riders one at a time against the clock and Mother Nature. Multi-day races which combine several different types of races for an overall title are known as stage races.

Because of the wide variety of categories, age groups, distances, and types of racing events, there are races for all that are willing. Truly, racing is not as formidable as it may seem, and it is one of the fastest routes to improving fitness and skills. Give it a try!

Going For It

These are just brief highlights of what the world on wheels has to offer. If you're still wondering how to enter this new world, then let me close with a few suggestions: join a local club to meet riding partners, learn new routes, and increase your knowledge about the sport; consult The Schedule for event listings; join a cycling organization like the USCF or the UMCA (Ultra Marathon Cycling Association); subscribe to a cycling magazine; finally, and most importantly. get out and ride. The world on wheels awaits warmly!