Category 6 Racing

Cat 6 Racing

Category 6* races (aka commuter races, or simply Cat 6 races) are those impromptu races that spring up between bike commuters on otherwise sedate commutes. You know the drill: you’re cruising along, when suddenly you see another rider, either up ahead or gaining from behind, and you kick up the pace to either pass or avoid being passed. The other rider does the same, and the next thing you know, you’re off to the races. That’s a Cat 6 race.

Even though I think they’re kinda’ silly, I have to admit that I’m not immune to the temptation of a little fun competition. Here’s a play-by-play of a Cat 6 race I took part in earlier this year:

So, this morning I’m cruising along, whistling a happy tune, noticing the birds along the trail, when on my left a bike rider whips around me like a sprinter going for the gold in the Olympic Velodrome. As he passes, he gives me a look back, not unlike the look Lance gave Jan Ullrich in the ’01 Tour. I was seriously tempted to kick up the pace, but I kept lazily rolling along to keep from perspiring in my work clothes. I caught up at the next stop light where I flashed a nod and smile that was met with a steely-eyed, racer-like grimace. When the light turned green, he bolted like Mark Cavendish off the front of the peloton in a final sprint, leaving me in the dust.

When I arrived at the train station a few minutes later, I noticed my rival on the platform, covered in sweat, but basking in the glory of perceived victory. But alas, it was not to be. I stowed away my bike in my bike locker, then I flashed a little grin as I slipped on the train ahead of him and grabbed the prime seat next to the exit, stealing victory from his clutches at the line.

You’ve gotta’ love commuter races… :-)

How about you? Have you ever been drawn into a Cat 6 race? Do you enjoy a little friendly competition once in a while, or is the whole idea just too silly to comprehend?

Do you participate in Cat 6 races?

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*There is no actual Category 6; the term is a cheeky reference to our road racing categories here in the U.S., with Category 1 at the expert level, descending down to Category 5 at the beginner level.

24 Responses to “Category 6 Racing”

  • Garth Madison says:

    In a car, that’s called street racing, and is generally frowned upon by the police. ;)
    I imagine doing it on a bike in traffic or an urban area would be a good way to run yourself into an obstacle too. You see the occasional case of a couple kids racing on their bikes and ending up hurting someone.


  • Allan Pollock says:

    Not only is it silly, it’s dangerous too. Far too often, I look back to see a cat 6 racer sitting less than a foot or two off my rear wheel, catching the draft. I immagine that these people don’t realize that this is unsafe behaviour, and forget that vehicles should leave two or three seconds between each other. I bet that the same people complain when they are squeezed on the road as other drivers refuse to treat them as a vehicle….

    Allan Pollock

  • Pete says:

    Not enough bike commuters near me to ever have the opportunity.
    I “race” the school bus, though, so I don’t get stuck waiting behind it. And I occasionally race the weather.

  • geoff says:

    I ride an opposite commute on a long bike path at a very early hour, and there are rarely ANY other commuters around. On the way home there are a few more.

    The only reason I do this (and i can’t say I race, but instead try to keep pace) is that riding alone, i get into this lazy mode of 10 mph crawl. seeing someone faster reminds me, “oh, wait, i can be riding much faster than I am” and so I try and keep up, and usually do.

    nothing competitive about it, and we usually end up chatting after about half an hour…

  • Klimabean says:

    I must say I love when this happens.
    I bike commute everyday and love that time to myself to think about the day’s events. I love the tranquility in the mornings and looking at the fall colored leaves on my way home. I sometimes find myself at a slower pace….that is, until the Cat 6 proposes itself to me. The adrenaline pumps, I have thoughts of being the break out guy in that certain “big” race.
    I’ll take it everytime!


  • David Bolles says:

    I’m with Klima on this. Sometimes, usually around day 4, I’m dragging a bit.
    And it usually happens that some one whizzes past me on a noisy, clanking bike and I decide to myself ” I must keep up!”
    Then I’ll pass, he’ll pass, I’ll pass and by the time I realize how I’m making great time that rider has probably been long gone. Taken their turn off somewhere and all’s well.
    Nothing competitive to it.

    I’m fortunate to have the majority of my commute on a safe trail.This same trail sees a lot of traffic on the weekend. If it was congested I would not do any sort of “race”. There are enough other people playing Tour de Trail while parents are trying to enjoy a stroll or ride with their kids.

    Being considerate helps.

  • Billy says:

    Sometimes, it feels a bit awkward to ride in front or behind somebody, especially because I figure we’ll only be riding together for a few blocks. In this case, I usually just hang back until a stoplight. If I pass before a stoplight, I know they’ll catch up while I’m waiting for it to go green, so like I said, I usually just hang back and arrive at the light simultaneously. It makes a few seconds for us to chat or awkwardly ignore each other. THEN I race off!

  • Allan Pollock says:

    Passing is fine. Racing is not. Racing implies drafting, blocking, cutting corners, and otherwise aggressive riding. When people enter a race, they accept a certain amount of danger that goes along with it….When I am on my commute, I have not accepted these same terms.

    Please don’t race me. If you want to pass me, then pass me. If not, then please back off.

    Allan Pollock

  • 300 Pound Gorilla says:

    I wear a shirt and tie during the day. That extra minute or two isn’t worth the sweat. My kids are a different story. They are 6 and 8. They *love* passing 20-somethings on road bikes. They do it, too! The 8 year old averages 15mph including some very slow steep hills. I don’t know what his max speed is, but it’s pretty fast. The 6 year old is not far behind. I ride with them on their way to school, so I end up in the race sometimes just to keep up with them.

  • Joe says:

    On my commute everyone must be in front, especially at red lights. If five people pull up to a red light, each one must pull in front of of the last. (To top it off, three of the five will be fixed-gear track standers, all balancing like idiots inches from crossing traffic.) Unfortunately, they’re all pretty slow, clipping in or whatever, so I have to ride in traffic to pass them… until the next red light when it starts over again.

    Drives me crazy!

  • Matt says:

    I commute along the Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle, which is a heavily used, multi-purpose trail, with bikers, joggers, walkers, strollers, etc. It *kills* me when Cat 6 racers (or actual bike racers in civvies for commuting) weave and dodge through pedestrians carelessly because going less than 20 mph on the trail “cramps their style”. Use your brakes, people! Think of it as interval training, and you’ll feel a lot better about it.

    That having been said, when there is less traffic on the trail, I have been known to hop on someone’s wheel that’s going slightly faster than me for the challenge of keeping up.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    My unusual commuting hours generally preclude any racing for me. However, even when I am cruising around town for errands I do not race in Cat 6. In fact, I will often hold back and ride 10-20 feet behind another rider if my speed is only a bit higher than his or hers, waiting for a better opportunity to pass when it won’t seem so obnoxious.

    Also, I’m really annoyed when people who arrive at a stop light after me come to a stop in front or abreast of me. My annoyance is more so when the offender is a hapless squid. When the offender is a hapless nerd on a 30 year old squeaky ten speed, at least I can think, “Maybe he doesn’t know any better?”

  • peteathome says:

    To me, bicycle transportation is the ordinary, everyday way of getting around. To talk about “commute racing” is to imply we are members of an odd subculture where we recognize everyone in the subculture club. Imagine if everytime a car passed another car the drivers would consider doing this.

    Besides, my bike has an electric assist on it, so it would be extra pointless.

    Occasionally I will pass a bicyclist who then tries to do a Cat 6 with me. So I slow down and let him pass. I’d hate for him to think that some old man can out-bicycle him.

  • Daniel M says:

    When I was younger I used to blow by other cyclists, only to be passed by them shortly afterward when I had run out of steam. These days, when I catch up to another cyclist, I use that as an excuse to back off the pace and follow behind at a respectful distance for a while, usually far enough back that they don’t know I’m there. If, after a while, their pace proves too slow for me, I crank it up, pass them, and keep up the pace so as not to put them in position of having to pass me soon after.

    When I get passed and feel that ego twinge, I do the same thing. Instead of passing back and getting into some pissing match, I just crank up the pace and see if I can hang with the other rider, again following at a respectful distance. If they continue to widen the gap, so be it. If it turns out that I can keep up, even better.

  • CedarWood says:

    On the rare occasions that I meet another cyclist, we usually strike up a conversation, either riding along together or stopping to inspect some portion of the other’s ride. But then, bicycles, especially city/cargo bikes, are an odd novelty around here.

  • Barney Fife says:

    I don’t “race” when I’m commuting….or even when I’m training. I have my pace, you have yours. If I’m faster, I stay far enough back until there’s a safe place to pass. If I’m slower…well, that doesn’t happen very often…I do like to ride fast. ;)

  • dwainedibbly says:

    I’m the chunky middle-aged guy in office attire riding the upright bar bike with an internal gear hub, generator hub, full fenders, and 2 u-locks on the rear rack with a pannier on one side. I don’t race Cat 6, but I have had several young people suddenly gain a lot of speed & re-pass me when they realize who/what just overtook them. Whatever. I was probably the same way when I was younger.

    Style over speed, right?

  • Opus the Poet says:

    There are so few people riding bikes out here that I hardly ever saw one on the same road as I was riding. When I was doing the Tour de Commute I mostly did the TT stages on Monday and Friday.

  • Ian says:

    I found this post hilarious and representative of my mindset when in a “Cat-6″ situation. Now, I didn’t take the post to mean recklessly weaving through traffic to “win,” as much as spurring oneself on to keep up with a faster rider until a potential moment comes to pass, wave goodbye, or board the train. Category 6 refers more to a mutual understanding than street racing, as I understand it. Two regular occurrences come to mind:

    – The Secondary School Commuter – these kids rip around on a wide variety of bikes, sometimes with a blinky light, often ninja-style. They pass in a whoosh, usually with a saucy glance back at the old man. I jam the friction shifters and start pumping my legs to catch up. This is good fun, and everyone wins. By everyone, I mean the kids. Every time. But, it’s a shot of espresso on cold, dark mornings.

    – The Hill Climb – on the steep steep steep section of my morning commute, middle-aged folk gather involuntarily. The Hill Climb Cat-6 is slow, but faster than it would be alone. We all know who wins – the last person to join the pack. When we crest the hill together, the last to join had the farthest to go to catch up!

  • Adam says:

    I never see any other commuters going the same way along my route (though I occasionally see 1 or 2 heading the other way).

    So…who knows?

  • Bob P. says:

    I wish I saw other bike commuters going my way. Most of the other commuters are on the sidewalk going against traffic.

  • Stephen D. says:

    I NEVER see other bicycle commuters on my route. I never see any other riders in the morning, but in the afternoon there will be an occasional (2-3 per month) recreational cyclist. I just let them pass because their sport bike weighs 15 – 25 pounds less than my IGH bike with fenders, rack, and panniers. Plus, there is almost no level ground on my commute, so I’m usually either going up a hill slowly on a heavy bike, or descending carefully. Also, there is a bit of style getting to one’s destination looking cool, dry, and relaxed.

    Is it unique to my area that the lycra set will never nod, wave, or in any other way recognize a commuter?

  • Alan says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I too have noticed that bicyclists riding for sport don’t nod or wave as often as more casual riders. Having been a competitive cyclist many moons ago, it’s my experience that when you’re riding for fitness, you’re more in your own head due to the level of effort, high heart rate, etc. I don’t necessarily assume it’s intentional.


  • Rick S. says:

    I have to agree that Category 6 is a fun term that tweaks the more serious Cat 1-5 folks. I’ve been involved in the occasional Cat 6 race while commuting or doing a long ride for recreation. It happens. I’ve never been in one that’s gotten out of hand; it tends to be an unspoken thing. Where I do have a problem is with the the spandexed person who blows by with no warning and so close you can feel the breeze. They’re the dangerous ones, and a bit goofy.

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