Biking is a healthy way to get around, and most people find that biking across the city is often faster than driving. Cycling is one of the best ways to burn fat (calories).
According to Harvard University, if a 125-pound person bikes at 14-15.9mph for 30 minutes, they’d burn 300 calories.And if a 185-pound person rides a bike for 30 minutes at 14.-15.9mph, they’d lose 420 calories.
Evidently, biking around can help you build a healthier, leaner body. What’s more, cycling to work or running errands on your bike can translate into substantial long term savings.
The Popularity of Biking is Growing Fast
The UN predicts that almost 10 billion people, or 9.7 billion people to be precise, will populate Earth by 2050. But do you know how many bicycles there will be on the planet then? Currently, there’s about 2 billion bikes in the world today. And the World Economic Forum predicts that there’ll be a whopping 5 billion bicycles by then.
The world’s bike population is expected to grow by 3 billion while the human pollution will increase by 2 billion.
Taken together the numbers stated above show that the love for biking will explode in the next three decades. Cycling is a pretty popular sport around the world today, and the future looks bright.
That’s why I decided to put together a post focusing on different types of cycle sports. Here, you’ll learn the various cycling disciplines that exist and perhaps you’ll start biking soon if you haven’t already.
List of 11 Different Cycle Sports
In this post, I describe 11 biking sports, and I hope you’ll find the information I provide here useful. And if you’ve yet to start recreational cycling, it’s time to pick one of these cycle sports and start living better.
Here’s a list of 11 types of cycling sports you should know:
- Road races
- Stage races or Tours
- Time Trials
- Mountain Bike Racing
- BMX (Bicycle Motorcross)
- Track Cycling
- Cycle Speedway
- Mountain Bike Trials
- Cycle Polo
- Artistic Cycling
Now, I’ll examine each of these 11 biking sports to help you increase your understanding of this outdoor activity.
1. Road Racing
Road racing is any kind of racing where the riders start at the same place and time. The cyclists cover a pre-determined distance. Because the riders start off together, road races are said to have a mass start.
The contest mostly happens on open roads and highways. A road race may be a town-to-town race, that is, a point-to-point race. This kind of race may also feature a couple of laps of a closed circuit. Road racing may also combine a number of point-to-point stages ridden over several days.
How is the winner of a road race determined? The rider with the lowest total time for all of the stages becomes the winner. A good example of a road race is the Tour de France.
2. Stage Races (Also Known as Tours)
A stage race is a kind of road race contested over a number of consecutive days. A stage race usually features a set of different types of races happening in the exact same event.
For example, a given road race may feature individual time trials, team time trials, and a criterium (crit). The Tour of California is a fine example of a stage race, just as is the Giro Rosa.
3. Criterium Cycling (Crit)
A criterium is a lapped road race contested in cities on a closed circuit. This type of road race for the most part stays closed to traffic and takes place on public roads.
The cyclists competing in crit racing have to navigate tight corners while riding remarkably fast. There’s also a number of sprints involved plus changes in the peloton. The riders in the contest do a few laps on the course within a set amount of time.
How long is a criterium? The laps in a criterium are between 0.5 miles to 1.5 miles, and each course features 4-6 turns. The cumulative distance raced in criterium cycling ranges from 15 miles for beginner cyclists to 60 miles for professional riders.
Beginner cyclists in crit. racing take about 25 minutes to complete their laps. And pros take anywhere between 60 minutes to 115 minutes (almost 2 hours). And if you’re wondering how fast riders fly down the crit. course, they cane be as 30mph.
4. Time Trials (Time Trialling or TT Cycling)
A time trial is a kind of road race where individual cyclists or teams race against the clock. Each rider or team starts racing at a specific time and races over a pre-determined distance.
Every team or individual posts their best time, and the cyclist or team with the fastest time wins.
And if there’s one race where aerodynamics matter a whole lot, it’s a time trial. To win a time trial, a rider needs a special bike and wears an aero helmet plus a skin suit.
By the way, time trials can also be a part of other races. For example, riders racing the Tour de France also do time trials.
5. Mountain Bike Racing (MTB Racing)
What’s the difference between road racing and mountain bike racing? While road cycling takes places on paved roads, mountain bike racing happens on off-road terrain.
Off-road bike racing is one of the fastest-growing disciplines in cycling. Mountain bikers ride their tough bikes on forest trails, downhill, over rocks, in mountains, and other challenging outdoor environments.
Mountain biking may seem like a single and distinct sport to the average person. However, that’s not the case and there are quite a few race disciplines involved in mountain bike riding.
Downhill, slopestyle, enduro, four cross, and Olympic cross country (XCO) are the main sub-disciplines in mountain biking. Other MTB racing disciplines include pump track, freeride, and dual slalom.
While all these sub-disciplines are important, Olympic cross country cycling is no doubt the most famous.
If you watch Olympic Games on TV, I bet you’ve seen athletic bikes riding some insanely expensive bike down extremely rough terrain. You’ve seen cyclists such as Kate Courtney and Eve Richards. What you see is mountain bike racing for sure, but it’s mostly XCO. The riders you watched were competing in the UCI MTB cross-country World Cup series.
Cross country race courses can be pretty technical, but they’re not as demanding as downhill tracks. To compete in either XCO or downhill, you need to have tons of stamina and fitness.
In an XCO race, riders spend between 90 minutes to 105 minutes riding multiple laps over a 4-6 kilometer course. Even though XCO came on the MTB scene in 1996, it’s gained quite some clout on the competitive cycling scene.
Rock-gardens, drops, and rollers are some of the aspects that characterize this cycling sport. The courses where this type of cycling happens feature both steep climbs and super technical descents. The cyclists in the competition use extremely light and efficient hardtail mountain bikes that cruise down courses at high speeds.
A core event of CrankWorx and similar to freeride, slopestyle has the rider demonstrating various aerial tricks while descending a slope. Slopestyle courses feature berms, drops, ramps, and jumps, and these features make this course look like a scaled-up skatepark.
Winning a competition in slopestyle isn’t about riding fast, though. It’s about demonstrating your technical cycling ability and pulling off original tricks. It’s also about translating your riding expertise and smooth execution into flow, something that pulls in truckloads of spectators.
The riders in this biking sport use small, strong, lightweight bikes. These bikes have tons of capacity to endure strains and stresses while offering loads of maneuverability.
Some of the best-known cyclists who ride slopestyle include Carson Storch, Matt Jones, and Darren Berrecloth. The major event where you can watch competitive slopestyle is the Crankworx World Tour.
Nothing is as exciting as watching freeride cyclists doing their acrobatic maneuvers. Seeing these riders performing those frighteningly huge flips, jumps, and tricks is incredible.
If you’ve never attended the Redbull Rampage event in Utah, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Unless you see freeride cyclists jumping off big red rocks and cliffs, it’s hard to believe humans can do that.
As is the case with slopestyle cycling, freeride cycling doesn’t focus on speed. That means winning a freeride biking competition isn’t about finishing the race in the shortest time possible. Rather, it’s about demonstrable skill and technique mixed with tons of creativity.
Before the big day, the riders spend enough time with their support crew fine-tuning takeoffs and landings. The main goal of these pre-competition preparations is to identify a line down the hill that each rider will use.
Judges in freeride biking competitions consider aspects such as elevation, creativity, flow, originality, and speed to score runs. As each cyclist rides downhill, they combine various jumps and tricks while inventing new ones.
Freeride cycling has the riders pushing themselves hard as they explore the depths and boundaries of possibility.
The ideal bike for freeride is small, super-light, and strong. This kind of bike provides lots of maneuverability which allows for complex tricks and scary jumps.
Pump Track Cycling
Pump track cyclists demonstrate their ability to ride their bikes really fast around a short looped course without pedaling. To do that, you need to have built up a serious level of pump track skills. Also, you must be physically strong and fit to be a successful pump track cyclist.
Instead of pedaling the bike, the rider pumps it through their legs and arms, building up speed while retaining control. Each rider rides around the course once in as little time as possible.
Unlike in freeride and slopestyle riding, speed matters in pump track cycling. The cyclist that takes the shortest amount of time carries the day.
In some cases, though, there’s two tracks designed precisely the same and the riders compete head-to-head. The cyclists ride around the tracks until a winner is determined.
The ideal bike for pump track cycling is a hybrid between a hard-tail and a BMX mountain bike. This bike is small, strong, and incredibly efficient. And the rider does their magic standing rather than sitting.
Some of the best cyclists on the pump tracking scene include Kyle Strait and Jill Kintner. If you want to see pump track cyclists ride, watch the Redbull UCI Track World Championships.
Have you ever watched mountain bikers riding their bikes when they’re not competing? That’s enduro mountain biking, a leisure-focused kind of mountain biking. When riding recreational enduro, you spend a day or days doing technical descents and riding up climbs. And you ride your bike while seeing stunning mountain sights.
But this post is about competitive enduro mountain biking rather than recreational enduro.
Enduro racing features two key elements namely timed stages and liaisons. An enduro race has 3-6 timed stages. And each stage (also called a special stage) takes 2-20 minutes to complete.
The competing cyclists are timed and ride down marked tracks or courses. And the rider that posts the lowest cumulative time wins the race. Typically an enduro race takes 1-2 days.
Liaisons are second element of enduro racing. Liaisons are basically climbs that connect any two special stages. Each climb connects the end of a special stage to the start of the next stage. The riders aren’t timed when doing the climbs, though.
Even though enduro race riders aren’t timed, there’s a time limit in which they must reach the next stage’s start. Failure to reach the start of the next stage within the set time limit attracts a penalty.
The rules of enduro racing require riders to handle all trail-side repairs without assistance. That’s why the ideal bike for enduro offers tons of durability. Usually, the best bike for an enduro competition is a full-suspension bike that features dropper seatposts.
Some of the best mtb enduro racers include Martin Maes and Greg Callaghan. To watch the best of the best enduro riders, make sure to watch the Enduro World Series.
Speed and Style
To win in a speed and style cycling competition, you need to out-run and out-trick the other riders. Speed and style brings together the head-to-head competitive spirit of dual slalom and the creative side of slopestyle.
You’ll often see these kinds of cyclists doing spins, jumps, and whips at crazy-high speeds. Two riders at a time try to outperform each other competing in multiple rounds. And the losing rider gets eliminated.
The winner is the rider with the highest combined score from performing a series of tricks in the shortest time possible.
The ideal bike for speed and style features a compact design and sufficient suspension to absorb big landings. As you might expect, the best bike for this cycling discipline is one designed for both dual slalom and slopestyle.
Some of the finest speed and style stars include Jill Kintner, Casey Brown and Brendan Fairclough. And the event to attend or watch to see this type of cycling sport is the Crankworx Speed and Style.
Four Cross (4X) Biking
A four cross mountain biking race is contested on a track that’s similar in many ways to a BMX track. In this competitive MTB race, 4 cyclists compete head-to-head over a short, intense course. And the cyclist that crosses the finish line gets the crown.
The crowned rider proceeds to compete in subsequent rounds, and the fastest rider becomes the overall champion.
4X courses feature jumps, cambered corners (also bermed corners), and other elements. To become the overall winner in 4X racing, you need loads of stamina coupled with deep reserves of explosive power.
Thomas Slavik and super-talented Jill Kintner are some of the best-known faces in Four Cross. The premier events to watch these cyclists perform are the Crankworx World Tour and UCI 4X World Cup Series.
As for the ideal bike for 4X, it’s hard-tail mtb bike that features front suspension forks. And you ride this kind of bike standing up.
Dual Slalom Cycling
The tracks where dual slalom racing takes place are similar in design to 4X tracks. But unlike in a 4X race where 4 cyclists compete, it’s 2 riders at a time in dual slalom race.
The cyclists involved race head-to-head twice, and they swap tracks for the second round. And the rider that wins moves on to the next round until the final/overall winner emerges.
You need the same kind of bike as you would for 4X racing. And Thomas Slavik and Jill Kintner are prominent racers in these competitions. To see these riders perform, watch the Crankworx World Tour and UCI 4X World Cup Series.
6. BMX (Bicycle Moto Cross)
Kids in 1970’s California loved racing each other on dirt tracks. These kids focused on three aspects: speed, style, and jumping.
With time, though, cycling tricks became an integral part of this riding style. And that’s when this kiddo riding style became known as BMX. By the way, BMX is an abbreviation for Bicycle Moto Cross.
Today, there are two kinds of BMX cycling: BMX racing and Freestyle BMX.
What’s the difference between BMX racing and freestyle BMX? BMX racing mainly focuses on riding lightning fast on dirt tracks while freestyle BMX focuses on cycling tricks and stunts.
Freestyle BMX exists in 4 formats namely BMX Street, BMX Park, BMX Dirt, and flatland BMX.
As for the difference between BMX race bikes and freestyle bikes, BMX race bikes have a lighter build. They’re noticeably lighter than freestyle bikes because they’re designed for giving the rider bursts of speed.
Freestyle BMX bikes feature stronger frames since the cyclists that ride them like doing all sorts of stunts and tricks. Freestyle BMX riders are always jumping off walls and performing all kinds of aerial maneuvers and stunts.
BMX race bikes are mostly made out of aluminum while freestyle BMX bikes are constructed from steel.
But the best (and lighter) freestyle bikes are created from a more expensive steel alloy called chromoly steel. This alloy makes for light yet super-strong bikes.
7. Track Cycling
Track cycling has existed since 1893 when the first World Championships took place. This competitive cycling sport has been an Olympic sport each year since 1896 for men and 1984 for women.
Both individuals and teams can and do participate in the sport. This sport features 10 events grouped into three categories namely sprint events, endurance events, and the combined event (Omnium).
This cycling sport has come a long way. Initially, racing took place on wooden indoor tracks. Today, the riders in this competition race each other over specially built tracks known as velodromes.
These tracks are designed to allow riders to navigate the corners without needing to slow down. And if you’re wondering how fast track cyclists can go, they can ride as fast as 50 mph.
8. Cycle Speedway
Cycle speedway is a kind of bike racing sport done on short, oval tracks. The sport is mostly an outdoor activity, but it occasionally happens indoors, especially during the winter.
To be a good cycle speedway rider, you need to be a great sprinter with equally great bike-handling skills. You also need to have strong nerves and excellent tactical awareness.
The tracks measure 70-90 meters in length and 4 cyclists compete head-to-head around the tracks. Two of the cyclists come from one team while the other pair comes from the opposing team.
After 16-20 heats, the scores are calculated and the winning team determined.
Cycle speedway is similar to motor speedway in that the bikes lack brakes or multiple gears. This sport isn’t featured at the Olympics, though.
However, there are all kinds of regional leagues and national leagues. There are wins, losses, and draws pretty much like it is in soccer.
9. Mountain Bike Trials
Mountain bike trials are one of the most technical forms of bike riding in the world. This sport is divided into two main categories namely competition trials and street trials.
In competition trials, the cyclist demonstrates their technical biking abilities in all kinds of gymnastic moves. As for street trials, you’re all about navigating all sorts of obstacles out on the streets. That said, the fundamentals are pretty much the same.
Some of the tricks featured in competition trials include back hops, bunny hops, side hops, and pedal kicks. In this format, you have to complete 2-3 timed sections, and if you fail to complete them in the given time limit, you get 5 penalty points. And 5 points is the maximum score, so that’s really bad.
If you don’t get penalized, you must avoid letting your feet touch the ground. If you put your feet down on the ground at the same time or fall off your bike, you get 5 penalty points. And if you put one foot down, you get 1 penalty point.
Competition trials have become super technical these days. This riding competition has you navigating a course full of obstacles for about grueling 5 hours. And that’s just 2 laps. And the rider who completes these two laps with the least amount of penalties wins.
The ideal bike for mtb trials has a super low frame and super light gearings which make for easier bike hopping.
Street skateboarding, BMX, and competition trials have influenced street trials greatly. This riding style uses the exact same skills as competition trials but in a different way.
You rely on your creativity and technical ridimg ability to negotiate seemingly impossible obstacles out on the streets. Not surprisingly, street trials have exploded in media and there’s tons of exciting videos online.
10. Cycle Polo/Bike Polo/Bicycle Polo
Cycle polo is pretty much like traditional polo except you use bikes rather than horses to play the game. There’s grass bike polo and hardcourt polo. What’s the difference between grass bike and hardcourt polo?
Grass Bike Polo (the Traditional Bike Polo Version)
Grass bike polo is the traditional version of the game, and it was invented in Ireland in 1891. The cyclists in the traditional version play the game on a 150m X 100 meter grass field.
Grass bike polo lasts roughly 30 minutes split into 7.5-minute sessions. The ball measures roughly 2.5″ in diameter and a 1-meter mallet is used to hit it.
Two teams each having 6 members play against each other. And there should be at least 4 team members playing at a time.
The rules governing grass bike polo may vary slightly across cities or countries, too. For example, each team in France has 7 instead of 6 members. And 5 members must play at a time with the rest being substitutes.
Hardcourt Bike Polo
Hardcourt polo is the modern version of grass bike polo. Unlike grass bike polo which has 6 team members per team, 3-member teams play hardcourt polo.
Another difference between these two bike polo versions is that there are no substitutes in hardcourt polo. All 3 players must be on the court throughout the game.
There’s one more difference between grass bike polo and hardcourt polo. The difference is that hardcourt polo uses a street hockey ball, plus the game lasts roughly 10 minutes.
11. Artistic Cycling
Artistic cycling refers to a type of competitive indoor bike riding where the cyclists involved perform tricks to earn points.
These tricks are also called exercises. And the riders perform these exercises on smooth hard surfaces using specialized fixed-gear bikes. This cycling sport is similar in many ways to gymnastics or ballet.
Artistic cyclists perform their exercises in 5-minute sessions before judges. Individuals, pairs, 4-member teams, or 6-member teams can participate in artistic cycling.
You’d have to see an artistic rider(s) at play to believe it’s even possible. Well, it’s not like technical riding for sure. But if you think it’s easier than tech biking, think again.
You need copious amounts of technical biking skills to be an artistic bike rider. But that’s not enough. You must combine your riding ability with extremely good balancing abilities, a super athletic body, and a totally focused mind.
Just when I thought street bike trials and freeride were the most difficult bike riding styles, I discovered artistic cycling.
It felt like I’d never watched any kind of demanding bike riding ever prior. It felt like the rider was playing tricks on my eyes, but it was happening. It was happening in front of me…every single impossible move, trick, maneuver, hop, and everything in between. It was all happening before my eyes, and it was indescribable.
Now what? Choose one or more of these biking sports, obtain a decent bike, and start practicing. Who knows, you might become the next Jill Kintner. Or at least a happy, hot cyclist.