In 2012, USA Cycling made it possible for riders as young as 6 years old to obtain a race license.  Previously, riders had to have a racing age of 10 years old by December 31st to be able to obtain a racing license.  So what does this mean?  I will try to break it down for you.

I will attempt to reference the various rules related to youth racing from the 2013 USA Cycling Rule Book and explain them the best I can to help everyone understand them.

First, USA Cycling classifies riders by their age as well as category (experience level).  For this, I will only be discussing age.

1A. Licenses
1A1. Generalities
(a) A license is an identity document that indicates its holder has voluntarily agreed to abide by the regulations, policies, bylaws, code of conduct, and decisions of USA Cycling. It permits the licensee to enter any event for which the licensee is qualified, for which a permit has been issued by USA Cycling, and for which the licensee has properly registered and paid an entry fee.

(h) Annual racing licenses are available to members who have a minimum chronological age of 6.

Part (h) of this rule just means that you are not able to get a race license until your 6th birthday.  Trust me.  I tried to purchase race licenses for my boys a week before their birthday and couldn’t, so I had to purchase them on their birthday.  The nice thing about all junior licenses is that they are half the price of adult licenses.  Of course, if your child wants to race both road events and mountain bike events, then you have to get the “add-on” which is the same price as the adult “add-on”.

1C. Rider Classes
1C1. Age-based Classes
All riders are classified according to age as shown below. All ages are based on racing age, which is the year of the event minus the rider’s birth year:
(a) Youth riders are riders with a racing age of less than 10.
(b) Juniors are riders with a racing age between 10 and 18.
(c) U23 riders have a racing age from 19 through 22.
(d) Senior/Elite riders have a racing age of 23 through 29.
(e) Master riders have a racing age of 30 and over. However, master riders may choose to hold elite status. Professional riders are always considered Elite and not Master even if they are over 30.

A Youth rider is a ride with a chronological age of 6 to 9 years old.  From there, they move up to Juniors, etc.

1H9. Mixing of Classes, Categories, and Genders
(a) Eligibility. No rider may race in a class or category other than that which is stated on his or her license, other than as allowed below.
(b) UCI Team members are not allowed to enter Masters Races.
(c) Masters may compete in any races for their age or younger, subject to category restrictions but not races exclusively for Under 23s or Juniors.
(d) Under 23 and Junior riders may compete in any races for their age or older, subject to category restrictions but not Masters races.
(e) Youth riders may enter only youth races.
(f) In mountain bike endurance races, junior riders age 14 and younger who ride with older Juniors may only enter races for riders up to category 2.  …

The way I read part (e), if you are a Youth rider age 6-9, you can only race in a youth race for riders ages 6-9, even if one is not offered, and are not permitted to “race up” in age as Juniors are per part (d).  However, this rule is not enforced, or I haven’t seen it enforced.  I have a couple of theories why.  

First, since Youth riders are new to the rule book, many race officials have overlooked this minor rule that pertains to only about 1% of all licensed riders.

Second, the race officials like seeing kids out on their bikes and participating in bike racing as these riders are the future of the sport.  Therefore, they ignore the rule to let these younger riders have a chance at an enjoyable bike racing experience.

Third, all of these rules are up to interpretation, and maybe all of the other race officials read this differently that I do.

1I5. Young Junior/Youth Bicycles
All riders aged 14 and under are restricted to massed-start bicycles as defined in 1I1(g). These bicycles must also have at least 16 spokes and no wheel covers may be used.

1I1(g) A massed-start bicycle is a road or track bicycle that is legal in all events within the road or track discipline, rather than a bicycle that is restricted to particular events. Handlebars for massed-start bicycles may not have forearm supports nor handlebar extensions or attachments that point forward.

This is another new rule.  It is in place to remind us, the parents as well as the kids, that it’s not about the bike, it’s about having fun riding and racing your bike.  Bike racing can be an expensive sport, and can be really expensive with kids as they outgrow their bikes each season.  This rule also helps level the playing field by not allowing families of higher tax brackets to outspend their competition just so their kid can win a pair of socks or a medal.

Youth Race: An event held on a closed course with a circuit length no longer than 5 Km that is open only to riders with ages between 6 and 9.

This is important for race promoters when planning events with Youth Races.  These younger riders can sometimes be erratic and having the course closed prevents any unnecessary encounters with cars or other vehicles.  Having a short loop (circuit) makes it easier to cover the entire course in case a child gives up and/or needs to be helped back to the start/finish area.  I sometimes joke that it’s not a bike race until a kid cries.  At our last event, it was one of my kids that was crying, but he’s over it and ready to do it again, just not on that course.

 

Since these Youth Categories are new, many race promoters have not put them on their race schedules yet.  Some may not even realize that it is possible to have a “sanctioned” Youth Race and not just a “Kids Fun Race”.  I have been soliciting a handful of race promoters who’s events would qualify for adding a Youth Race in an attempt to get them to add the category to the race in future years.  These are the future of bike racing, and as long as they can ride without training wheels, they are ready to start racing.  Besides, bike racing is suppose to be fun, and bikes are for kids.