BMX – A BEGINNERS GUIDE

 

WHAT IS BMX RACING ALL ABOUT?

A BMX race is a flat out sprint which lasts around 40 seconds. An individual race (known as a moto) has eight riders at a time, and is run over a purpose-built dirt track which has a number of different jumps and obstacles that the competitors must negotiate. Although the start of the race in particular sees the riders applying maximum power, strength is only one aspect of BMX racing. Bike-handling skills, strategy, confidence, fearlessness, efficiency – these are just some of the many elements that a competitor needs to bring together at the critical moment in order to cross the finish line first.

WHO CAN DO IT?

The short answer is that anyone can have a go. BMX racing is one of the most inclusive speed sports in the world and it’s not uncommon for the entire family to compete at a single BMX racing event. Mum, dad and kids – all can participate and experience the fun, exhilaration, camaraderie and competitiveness of a BMX race.
And don’t think for a moment that age precludes you! Classes include a very popular 45+ cruiser class which is growing annually as more and more devotees cross the mid- forties threshold but have no intention of retiring from the sport they love.

WHAT ABOUT THE BIKE?

A conventional BMX race bike is low and light with a single rear brake, no gears and 20-inch wheels. For most riders under around 30 years old, this is the basic format of bike. The frames and components are available in many different sizes to fit riders of all sizes and ages, but the basic wheel diameter stays the same.

Some older riders however prefer something a little larger and more stable, and this has given rise to the ‘cruiser’ – essentially a BMX bike with 24- inch wheels rather than the traditional 20-inch.

As a guide, cruisers are easier to ride and are more stable and forgiving, especially for adults who are used to mountain bikes. But they are less responsive and feel heavier to jump and ‘throw around’. There are categories for all ages in both size classes, so any age rider can ride either size bike according to their own personal preference.

One thing that’s important to note is that BMX race bikes are slightly different to BMX trick or stunt bikes. Items like stunt pegs or other protrusions often found on ‘freestyle’ bikes aren’t allowed in a BMX race for safety reasons.

Although it’s possible to buy very expensive bikes and parts, a solid, race-worthy BMX bike can be picked up second-hand for as 20-inch little as a couple of hundred pounds (less, if you are lucky). BMX is one of the cheapest and most accessible cycling sports. Many clubs have a range of bikes that new riders can try out, as well as expert advice on where to buy new and used bikes to get you going.

IS IT DANGEROUS?

There is no escaping the fact that, like any physical sport, BMX riding carries an element of risk. But it’s true to say that compared to other ‘extreme’ sports, BMX is one of the safest.

Although crashes do happen, serious injuries are relatively uncommon. Modern technology enables riders to be better protected than ever before. Lightweight helmets, armoured gloves, knee pads, shin pads, back protectors, body armour, elbow guards, forearm pads, neck braces – all can be purchased reasonably inexpensively to help minimise the risk of injury. In BMX most crashes usually result in little more than a few bumps and bruises, and more often than not, the fallen rider is back on the gate for their next race half an hour later.

It’s true that when things go wrong, older riders can sometimes hit the ground a little harder than their younger counterparts, but even amongst the senior classes serious injury is relatively rare. Large numbers of today's racers are in their forties and fifties (including those in the main photo-spread on this page) and all would undoubtedly agree that the benefits of BMX far outweigh the risks.

GETTING STARTED

The first step towards trying out BMX racing is to find your local BMX club. Within the South West Region, there are around 10 clubs that operate regional or national standard tracks, plus several more that operate smaller practice or ‘pump’ tracks. Within Wales, Cardiff BMX are working in collaboration with LLynfi BMX so when riders have progressed from our Pump Tracks available at Splott and Maindy, we have options to enjoy one of the best race tracks in the regions (in our opinion) at Llynfi as well as regular race meetings with neighbouring clubs such as Bristol BMX.

We will also be hosting coaching sessions and run practice and training sessions, both open and coached, for all levels of ability. The only requirement is that you can ride a bicycle competently.

These sessions – which can include bike and equipment hire for just a few pounds – are a great way to learn the basics of BMX riding. It’s also worth checking for BMX clubs on social media like Facebook as most clubs have their own page which is regularly updated with training dates and schedules.

WHAT DO I NEED?

The minimum safety requirements for all riders on a track are long sleeves, long trousers (sturdy jeans are ideal), full-finger gloves and a full-face crash helmet. If you don’t have a helmet of your own, Cardiff BMX can arrange to lend you one to get you started.

I WANT TO GO RACING

If, after a few practice sessions at the Race track, you find you’ve been bitten by the BMX bug, the next step is to attend a race meeting. By now you’ll have decided whether you prefer the normal 20-inch bike or the larger 24-inch cruiser. Whichever option you go for, the basic race categories in the South Region are shown on the chart below.

It is important to remember that these classes are sometimes subject to change. For instance, if only four riders turn up for the eight year old boys’ class, and four turn up for the nine year old boys’ class, the two classes will often be combined to provide a full gate of eight riders.

In addition to Club Racing at Bristol, we are part of the ‘South West’ region. Many clubs will run a race as part of a series of races throughout the season in which riders will attain a final ranking based on their best performances.

DO I NEED A LICENCE?

For club races and some open series races (see next page), usually no licence is necessary, though you won’t be able to earn any series ranking points without a licence. But from regional level upwards you will need to purchase British Cycling (BC) silver or gold membership. As standard, BC membership comes with a provisional racing licence which will entitle you to race regionally, but again you won’t be eligible for ranking points. In order to gain points and a recognised BMX ranking, you’ll need to buy a full race licence in addition to your BC membership. Your BMX club representative will be able to advise on the details or alternatively you can contact British Cycling directly, either online at britishcycling.org.uk or by phone on 0161 274 2010.

British Cycling’s ‘Go-Ride’ Initiative ‘Go-Ride’ is a new initiative run by British Cycling to introduce cycle sport to young people. Go-Ride novice events are often incorporated into regular BMX races.

RIDER LEVELS - ‘NOVICE’ OR ‘EXPERT’?

One of the first distinctions for rider levels is between Novice riders and Expert riders. A Novice rider is defined as: Any rider who has not competed in a full Regional series as regional “expert” in the previous year or Any rider who has never competed at National level as “expert” or Any rider who has not competed in 3 or more National events as “novice”.

If you're just starting out, whatever your age, your best bet is to enter a club race. These are hosted by most clubs across the country and vary in size from a couple of dozen riders to a 100 or more.

Novice - For riders new to BMX

If you're new to the sport, whether as a beginner at riding or ride a bit but have never competed before, Novice is the class for you. It's a chance to experience racing and learn how it all works as well as perfecting skills and having fun.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Novice racing should be about the PROCESS not the RESULT so race to gain experience, not because you think you'll win easily!

Expert - for riders with some experience

You don't have to be winning races to move up to Expert, it's more a matter of having some race experience and being ready to test yourself. The best way to improve and ultimately to have more fun is to step up to Expert and get stuck in!

TYPES OF RACING

As with any sport, there are different levels of competition in British BMX. Broadly speaking these are as follows:

• Club Races

The starting point for the new racer, club races are relatively small and easygoing with plenty of help on-hand to guide you through the racing process.

• Open Races (or local series races)

These usually take the form of a series of races run throughout a given season but with the emphasis on novice and beginner racing. Examples include the London BMX and 250 London Summer Race Series or the Deep South Winter Series. Many such races offer specific novice classes to help get newcomers started.

• Regional Races

At this level the competition hots up a little. Regional races are generally much bigger than local or club races and can sometimes seem quite daunting. Novices are advised to get a few smaller club level races under their belts before venturing onto the regional circuit.

Regional races are also used to determine qualification for the end-of-season British Championships and South Championships. The ‘Brits’ requires riders to have attended five regional races, while the South West Champs has the following qualification criteria:

  • ‘Expert’ and ‘Novice’ riders whose primary club is based within the South West will automatically qualify.

  • For riders whose primary club is based outside of the region, they must complete 2 rounds of the 2018 South West Summer Series in order to qualify.

  • ‘Expert’ riders need to complete 8 out of 10 events to qualify for a Regional Expert Trophy and Ranking.

  • All riders will be able to ride in their UCI age group regardless of which age category they have ridden in during the season.

  • There will be no novice racing.

• National Races

The British BMX Series is the highest domestic series in the UK and attracts the very best riders from around the country. Riders must have competed at regional level for one season before being eligible to race at national level the following season.

HOW CAN I FORM A NEW TEAM?

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WHAT HAPPENS ON RACE DAY?

The basic principles of BMX racing are simple, but even at a small club race, there’s a lot to get through in one day. So here is all you’ll need to know to get the most from your day at the races.

Race Format

A BMX race has eight riders at a time riding one lap of the track. At any race meeting, all riders compete in three heats known as ‘motos’. Their finishing positions are converted to points – one point for first, two points for second etc., down to eight points for last place. Those with the lowest number of points from all three motos progress to the next stage.

As a general rule, a rider will need to average fourth place or better to transfer beyond the motos, but this isn’t guaranteed as some combinations of different results from different riders can skew the outcome. Also, if two riders are tied on points, the rider with the better result in the third moto will be the one to qualify.

After the motos come the sudden-death elimination rounds. In these races, riders have only one chance to qualify to the next round and they must finish fourth or better to do so.

The number of riders in a given class determines how many knockout stages there are. The numbers are as follows:

9-16 riders - 3 motos, top 8 to ‘A’ final

17-32 riders - 3 motos, top 16 to semi-finals, top 8 to ‘A’ final

33-64 riders - 3 motos, top 32 to quarter finals, top 16 to semi-finals, top 8 to ‘A’ final

If there are fewer than eight riders in total in a given class, the format is slightly different. In this instance, the races run in ‘grand prix’ format.

Essentially this means that all riders will ride their normal three motos, but will then ride a fourth moto, usually at the same time as the rest of the finals. Unlike a normal final however, the winner is determined by the average of all four motos combined.

You will notice in the list on the previous page that the finals are pre-fixed with the letter ‘A’. In common with some other regions, the South West Region runs additional finals under certain circumstances. These finals are pre-fixed with the next letter in the alphabet. For instance, in a class that has, say, 14 riders, the top eight from the motos will go through to the ‘A’ final, while the six non-qualifying riders will race their own ‘B’ final.

Usually only ‘A’ and ‘B’ finals are run, even in classes with more than 16 riders, but from 2017 an exception is made for the 16+ Open Cruiser class. In this class, all riders get to race a final, with the qualification for each one being determined by the results of the motos/quarters/semis.

As mentioned earlier, the organisers will always try to create races with full gates of eight riders. This means that categories with low rider counts can sometimes be combined. If the race is part of a series, then the results may be split back out to the individual class to be included in the overall series rider ranking table, even though the riders from the two categories raced together on that particular day.

DON’T WANT TO RIDE? WHY NOT VOLUNTEER!

Although BMX racing events are highly organised, the people running them are volunteers who are giving up their time purely for the love of the sport. Inevitably however, there are never quite enough volunteers to fill all of the various roles needed on race day.

So if you have concluded that riding definitely isn’t for you, or even if you’re a rider who is temporarily laid up due to injury, why not volunteer to help out at the track? Possible roles include start gate operator, finish line judge, track marshal, race referee, start hill attendant, signing-in administrator... the list of things that need doing is almost endless. Whilst it’s true that some of these tasks are a little specialized – the race director for instance needs to be formally qualified for the role – many tasks require no more than an on-the-day briefing to get under way. And as the saying goes, many hands make light work, so the more people that volunteer and help out, the easier it will be to divide the tasks and ensure that everyone – rider and organiser alike – has an enjoyable and stress-free day.

One other point that is worth making when it comes to race officials is that all race participants – riders, parents and spectators alike – have a duty to conduct themselves appropriately towards officials at all times. Sport can often generate passionate responses in people, but there is NEVER any justification for acting abusively towards the people that are running the event for you. Fortunately such instances are relatively rare in BMX, but when issues do occasionally arise, the race director will exercise a zero- tolerance approach to deal with it.

ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?

Start slowly

When you watch the experts, BMX can appear smooth and flowing, easy and effortless. The truth is very different – it’s a lot harder than it looks! Start slowly and build your skills gradually.

Pad up

In BMX everyone takes a tumble occasionally – often when they least expect it. Pad up every time and never ride without a helmet.

Don’t be put off

It’s easy to feel intimidated when you arrive at a track and see pocket rockets and burly bruisers alike flying round at warp speed. But remember all of those guys were beginners once. BMXers are a pretty friendly bunch and there will always be people on hand willing to help you get the most from your riding.

Be courteous and respectful

The people that run BMX races are all volunteers giving up their time for the love of the sport. Be nice to them.

Be a good sport

Bad sportsmanship endears you to no-one. True sportsmen and ’women shake their opponents’ hands after the race.

Ride your bike and have fun!

And enjoy the increased strength, fitness, stamina, sociability, sense of community, well-being and good health that inevitably comes with BMX riding.