Top tips for fixed gear crit racers
I love anything fast, technical and intense and fixed gear crits are all of these and more. These relatively niche races are insanely fun races and essentially, the entire reason I became hooked on training and racing. Fast paced and furious, fixie crits push competitors’ skills and fitness to the limit but despite (or because of this?) you’ll rarely find me competing in one without a wide smile across my face.
Whilst many of us experienced racers are gearing up for the start of the season, others are standing on the sidelines wondering how they can get involved. I distinctly remember being one of those people and feeling slightly intimidated. So, in the interest of making things easier for beginner or first time fixed crit racers, here are my top tips.
Select the right equipment:
As a minimum, your bike needs horizontal dropouts and drop handlebars. A high bottom bracket, short cranks or both are ideal as there’s a lesser chance of catching your pedal when your corner. Road and track bikes are not the same so converting a frame to a single speed is not gonna cut it if you want to race. Nearly all races have a mandatory bike inspection to ensure you’re riding something that’s safe.
Select your gearing:
What gearing you select depends on how fit or strong you are, how good you are at pushing a big gear or spinning a high cadence, and what the course is like – the bigger, more open and less technical the course, the less you’ll need to slow down in corners and then get going again – tricky (though not impossible) with a big gear.
A good place to start is 48:14 or 49:15 – you won’t got too far wrong with that. I usually take a selection of cogs and chainrings, ride the course practice or qualifications then make a call on what gearing to run for the main race.
Practice slowing down, cornering and sprinting out of corners
It’s highly likely that at various points on the course, you’ll need to slow down by backpedaling or pushing back on the pedals. Practice this beforehand and practice sprinting out of corners too. Being able to do this efficiently and safely is paramount. If you haven’t access to a closed road circuit, put a brake on and head to an industrial estate at night.
Cornering on a fixed gear bike is very different to cornering on a road bike so make sure you practice this too.
Practice riding in close proximity to other people
If you’ve never raced before, it’s essential that you practice riding ‘on someone’s wheel’ and right next to someone else, both on straight roads and around corners. If you have a road bike, join a cycling club and go on their club runs or rope in mates for training sessions.
Practice clipping in
A good start is vital! Fixed crits begin with everyone lined up at the start with one foot on the floor. When the bell goes, you have to clip in as you ride off. Mess it up and you’ll be left behind and you’ll waste a lot of energy trying to catch up. Make sure you’re familiar with your shoes and pedals and can clip in easily.
Find a local crit and practice racing
The best thing you can do to train for racing… is race. I’m assuming here that you have a road bike, when maybe you don’t.. but if you do, you should 100% race some roadie crits to get some practice. It’s great training for fitness, handling, tactics and awareness.
Make a big effort now to save a wasted effort later
Once you’re racing, do every damn thing you can do to stay with the other racers. Never, ever give up trying to and let a gap open up. A really hard effort right now will save you a long, drawn out, really hard solo ride later as you try to catch back up. The start is always very hard but stick with it as the pace will settle. Whether it will settle to something you can cope with is another matter, but unless you can read crystal balls, you won’t know that until later.
Train your mind
Belief is a big part of doing well in races. You need to believe that you deserve to be there and that you’re capable of staying with the group. You need to want to do well (and I’m talking about doing well for yourself, not necessarily compared to everyone else). Never go into a race with the idea that you can’t do that. Shut that voice out and keep telling yourself ‘I can, I will, I am. I’m prepared, I’m going to enjoy this experience.’ The minute you decide ‘you can’t,’ you’ll let that wheel go and get dropped.
Also, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy yourself. I’m often photographed smiling whilst racing because I’m stoked to be there.
Don’t pump your tyres up crazy hard
It’s generally agreed that these days, you don’t need to run 23c tyres pumped up to 120psi. A wider tyre with a lower pressure will give you better traction when you’re cornering, which is particularly important when it’s wet. Don’t skimp on tyres – decent ones are a valuable asset and improve your safety and that of those around you.
Choose your first race wisely
If you don’t have much race experience on a road bike or haven’t ridden a fixed gear bike for very long, look for a fixed gear crit which has as A and a B category so that you have a chance to fully experience racing. At some of the bigger races, you might find that you don’t qualify for the main event so your day is over pretty quickly. In the UK, Thundercrit always has A and B races so you’re guaranteed to get a decent amount of track time.
Don’t start at the back
If you’re feeling nervous, it can be tempting to start right at the back but doing this makes everything that much harder. Give yourself a chance of success by starting near the front and dig deep at the beginning. Races always go off hard but the pace will settle so just remember that.
I hope these tips make race day just that little bit more straight forward for you. It’s easy to be intimidated by fixed crit racing but it’s actually a very welcoming and inclusive scene so do put yourself out there and take the plunge. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice at the race or to chat to other riders, if you’re unsure of something just ask. And on that note, if you see me at a race, please come and say Hi!