Road Cycling

What is Road Cycling?

Road racing is the most popular professional form of bicycle racing, in terms of numbers of competitors, events and spectators. The two most common competition formats are mass start events, where riders start simultaneously (though sometimes with a handicap) and race to set finish point; and time trials, where individual riders or teams race a course alone against the clock. Stage races or “tours” take multiple days, and consist of several mass-start or time-trial stages ridden consecutively.

Professional racing has been most popular in Western Europe, centered historically on France, Spain, Italy and the Low Countries. Since the mid-1980s the sport has diversified with professional races now held on all continents of the globe. Semi-professional and amateur races are also held in many countries. The sport is governed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). As well as the UCI’s annual World Championships for men and women, the biggest event is the Tour de France, a three-week race that can attract over 500,000 roadside supporters a day.

In the USA, Junior road cycling consists of:

  • Stage Races – The winner of a stage race is the person that has the least time over the course of a multi-day race. There are very few junior level stage races in the USA. One of the prominent junior stage races in the USA currently is the Tour of Southern Highlands. Check out more info at:  
  • One-Day Road Races – A road race is measured in distance. The winner is the person who crosses the finish line first. A Juniors road race can be anywhere from 15 miles to 80 miles depending on the age and level.  Road races are usually done on open roads and there can be cars sharing the roads, however the courses are chosen carefully to avoid heavy traffic and there are always lead car escorts, motos, and course marshalls at intersections for safety. Even so, we recommend a junior NOT start with a road race until they are comfortable riding on the open road and can hold their line if a car passes.
  • Criterium Race – A “Crit” for short is a timed mass start race that is usually raced around a closed city blocks, a parking lot, or a speedway.  A Juniors Crit is usually 25-30 minutes in length. A Criterium race is a PERFECT way for a junior to start out in the road racing scene!!
  • Time Trials – Time trials are a race against the clock. Riders (or teams) start one at a time usually 30 seconds apart and drafting is not allowed. The winner is the fastest time to complete the course. A Junior Time trial is usually 10K or less. Some time trials are done on roads open to traffic, but many are on closed courses. Time Trials are also a good way for a junior to get involved in road cycling!

Racing Season

Though there are a few preseason races, generally the season begins in March and runs through early August. Your “race age” on the road is the age you turn in the current year.


You will need comfortable clothes, tennis shoes, helmet, and a road bike with junior gearing.  A road bike is sometimes hard to find to fit a junior, it’s a good idea to go to a local shop to find out what size bike you will need.  We recommend looking first for a used bike (try craigslist, Facebook marketplace, or ask your local bike shop if they have used options) or borrow one because juniors grow so quickly and this is the least expensive way to try it out. You do NOT need a fancy carbon fiber $1000 bike to start racing!! You can often find used small women’s frames (with 700c or 650c wheels), and if you need one even smaller look for a 24” wheel road bike. If you are over 48” they ARE out there.

Junior Gearing

Junior gearing can be a surprise to young athletes trying the sport of cycling for the first time. The young athlete attending his first USA Cycling-sanctioned event may be shocked to find his bicycle considered illegal. Parents may also wonder why this is so, especially when they have paid a lot of money for a bicycle they were told was race-ready. The main purpose of junior gear restrictions is to help the young rider develop a good pedal cadence and to avoid injury. Junior gear restrictions also level the playing field for developing juniors who may be at a disadvantage against rivals who possess physical advantages such as height and power.

The test to see if a race bike is legal or not is called the “rollout method” or simply “junior rollout”, which is the distance a bike travels backward in a straight line through one full pedal revolution when the bicycle is in its largest gear. The junior gear restriction for road events is 26 feet (7.93 meters).

To calculate how far a bike will travel relative to its gears, USA Cycling determines gear ratios with respect to race age and discipline and applies in all events in that discipline. There is no restriction for cyclo-cross or mountain bike races. For road and track there are limits.

  • Ages 6-18: 7.93 meters (26’)(52×14)

* Note that the gear ratios listed are merely suggestions. The distance rolled out is the governing standard.

Race officials will usually provide a courtesy gear check prior to the start of a junior race, but it is the gear check immediately after the junior race that determines whether a junior’s bicycle is legal or not.

The official checks a junior’s bicycle’s gears not by counting the number of teeth on the largest chain ring and smallest cassette cog, but by rolling the bicycle backward in a straight line for 26 feet. If the bicycle travels 26 feet or less when rolled backward one full pedal revolution, the bicycle is legal. If the bicycle rolls past 26 feet, the rider is disqualified for not complying with the junior gear restriction.

Ultimately, it is the athlete’s responsibility to make sure his bicycle is compliant with junior gear restrictions. The purpose of the courtesy check is to offer the junior the opportunity to block their gears prior to competing in his event. Note that blocked gearing is not permitted at USA Cycling national championships, certain selection events for international competition, or UCI events.

Depending upon the rear derailleur’s stop limits and rear cassette cog combination, there is no guarantee that a bicycle with blocked gearing can be made legal, since it all comes down to the distance traveled in the largest accessible gear. Blocking means adjusting the rear derailleur’s high stop limit screw to prevent the chain from going to a small rear cassette cog.

It is also important to note that not all cycling tires have the same diameter, which can give a bicycle a rollout distance different than the distance provided by the gear recommendation.

Junior riders need to roll out their bicycles on their own prior to attending a USA Cycling-sanctioned event to determine whether they will be compliant with the rules.

This is a great video to help explain how “roll out” works