BMX racing is a sport that combines speed, skill and technique. It requires fast reflexes, steady nerves and the ability to push beyond what you think is possible. And that’s just for the parents watching…
All kidding aside, BMX racing has great appeal to kids who just figured out riding on two wheels, adults who enjoy the thrill of speed and competition and everyone in between. Whether winning means beating your fellow racers by a tire’s width or beating your own self-imposed limitations, BMX racing will quickly become a passion from the moment you step on the pedals.
But if you are just starting in the sport, BMX is not as easy as riding a bike. What gear do I need? What’s a full-face helmet? Do I have to have knee and elbow pads? Can I ride in running shoes? And what about the bike, what size do I need? How tall should the handlebars be? What is the right gearing?
Getting started in BMX racing can be simple, but having the knowledge to get started on the right foot (or left foot, whatever is your dominant starting position) can make all the difference. Read on to learn all about this exhilirating sport!
What is BMX Racing?
BMX racing as a high-energy sport. It takes place primarily on dirt tracks where racers go full-gas for a minute or less around corners, over jumps and through rythym sections in an attempt to be the first one across the finish line. Most races involve 3 “heats” per evening, with the total points for the night resulting in the win/loss positioning for all racers. This minute of effort requires cardio to sustain max effort the entire length of the track.
In addition, it requires physical fitness to power to the front, as well as mental toughness to push yourself faster, to not let up in the corner when you’re elbow-to-elbow with potentially 7 other racers. It requires fast reflexes to take the winning line or to avoid a crash.
The adrenaline rush racers get from pushing themselves to the limit makes them come back over and over, every week, to do it all again.
Each evening is divided up by age groups and, if enough racers are present, by gender as well. Each group lines up 8 racers at a time at the starting gate. When the gate drops, the racers are off and volunteers at the finish line log the results as racers come across. At any given race, you will see race officials (often parent volunteers) standing on the track, ready to assist in the event of a crash, or watching for dangerous and/or illegal manouvers from the racers to ensure a fun, safe race takes place.
A typical BMX race will contain 3 “heats”. Groups of 8 or less will race once around the track, with points tallied for how each racer places. That’s one “heat”. During the course of the race, this will take place at least 3 times for each age group. Some groups are too big and will be split up into 2 or more groups. When this happens, there will be an extra heat made up of the winners of the groups to determine the overall winner for the race.
BMX Gear – What is Required
In order for a racer to be allowed to race, he or she must have at least the following:
- Full face helmet
- Full finger gloves
- Long sleeve shirt
Of course, that list looks simple. But it’s not! Take the full face helmet, for example. Many opt for a motorbike helmet, thinking that they’re safer when in fact that’s not necessarily the case. BMX helmets are lighter, allow more air flow and, most importantly, are built to handle low speed crashes. The type of crashes someone would experience when riding a pedal bike! A motorcycle helmet is built for high speed crashes and actually doesn’t have the necessary “give” for a low speed crash. It can be essentially the same as throwing a thin layer of padding on your head and calling it a day. The impact you will receive from a motorcycle helmet has the potential of causing you more damage.
Gloves are another thing to consider. Heavy and hot motorbike gloves don’t give you the dexterity you will need for a BMX bike, so look for something built for biking. Lightweight, yet crash resistant. Some racers prefer gloves with protection built into the outside, some don’t like the restrictions that adds. Either way, find a pair that feel good and fits well.
A long sleeve shirt and pants can be as simple as it sounds. However, a long sleeve racing jersey is more form fitted, handles sweat better and is less easily torn. BMX racing specific pants also are built with tight ankle cuffs to avoid the pants from entangling in the chain. They often have built in layers at the knee for protection.
BMX Gear – What is Recommended
In addition to what is required, we also recommend a few other items:
- Racing Shoes – A lot of power is lost through a shoe that flexes too much, or doesn’t grip the pedals well. A proper racing shoe will have a stiff sole and will be built to grip your pedal pegs tightly and securely.
- Chest Protection – While not always the most comfortable to wear, a chest protector will pay off dividends in the event of a crash
- Knee and Elbow Pads – The first thing many racers land on during a crash tend to be a knee or elbow. Adding some comfortable fitting pads ensures the racer that they can jump up and get back on that bike and finish the race!
- Neck Protection – As the races get faster, neck protection is vital. This piece of equipment is built to fit between the racer’s shoulders and the helmet, protecting the racer against whiplash, or worse
All of these required and recommended items are sold at Altas Outdoors. Come by the store to find something that is comfortable and that fits well!
The Bike – Differences, Essentials and Performance
Now that you’ve got the gear, what bike do you need? Are all BMX’s built the same?
If you’re brand new to the sport, there are two basic categories of BMX bikes. A BMX street bike, or trick bike, and a BMX race bike. A street bike is built for tricks and jumps. Therefore, it is built strong and heavy to handle the ramps, rails and other obstacles. The front chainring is smaller to allow better clearance, the rear chainstays (the part of the bike frame that extends from the center crankset to the rear axle) are shorter for agility and better ability to lift the front wheel quickly. A race bike, on the otherhand, is built light for speed. The front chainring is much larger, and easily swapped for different sizes based on different race tracks. The length of the bike is lower and longer, making it more stable at high speeds, and less twitchy.
Starting into the sport of BMX racing on the wrong bike to “see if I’ll like it” can give you very mixed results. A heavy street bike will be slow, hard to keep steady at speeds and unable to get to a proper top speed on the straights. All factors that will lead to a less than enjoyable race.
In addition, there are many different sizes available for a race bike. Micro, Mini, Junior, Expert, Expert XL, Pro and so on. This enables the racer to find a bike sized properly for their height, creating a more efficient racer-to-bike ratio. Children need smaller crank arms, lower handlebars, shorter reach and more. A properly sized bike can make the difference in 1st place and last, it is that important. There are an abundance of size charts and calculators on the internet, but you can always come to the store and we can help guide you through the process!
Once you have a bike that fits, the next is thing to consider is the gearing. Most pros can spin their legs extremely fast, so they may opt for a slightly smaller gear ratio giving them an advantage in being quick out of a corner or off the start. Many racers will fine tune their gearing based on the track they will be racing on. A long track with lengthy straights will cause many to grab a harder gear ratio. A shorter track with more corners may mean an easier gear. Whatever the case, making sure your gear ratio benefits you or your child on the race track is a crucial bit of information to understand.
Saskatchewan BMX Clubs to Join
The sport of BMX has a great and long history in Saskatchewan, but in the last 5 years or more it has started to increase in popularity at a very rapid pace. We are very lucky to have 3 great clubs in our province, and it would be great to see even more as the sport continues to grow. These clubs are 13th Ave BMX Club in Regina, Globe BMX Club in Saskatoon and Diamond BMX Club in Warman. All three are volunteer based clubs that are run by the passion of those who love the sport.
We are fortunate to have been able to set up our store directly across the street from the Diamond club. All three clubs have sent, and continue to send, many top racers across the country and even internationally, competing in major race competitions. Each club generally has weekly races running from May or June through the summer and into the fall. In addition to the races, there will be practice nights, as well volunteer nights for things such as track maintenance, building, and so on.
The goal of each club is fun and development. Racing is fun, the community each club has is great and the development each racer gets by racing each week, attending practices and getting pointers from their coaches means next race is even better.
In Saskatchewan, beyond the local clubs themselves, there is also a race series called the Sask Cup. This is held over the course of the season, with one weekend of racing being held at each club. Racers from across the province will join up and race for points to see who is the best in the province. This results in racers receiving plates with “SK” and then a number. If you have “SK1”, that means you are the best in your age group for the entire province! You may see similar numbers in other provinces, such as “AB1” or “BC1” as all provinces have similar provincial cup races.
In addition to the provincial racing, there is also a Canada Cup. This is held at various tracks across the country, we’ve held them twice even here in Warman at Diamond in 2022 and 2023! Racers travel across the country to these races to be come the best in the country. Racers that place well in their provincial and Canada cup races also get the opportunity to compete in the World championships.
This network creates a community that is far beyond just one club. Racers across provinces get to know each other. Kids have the opportunity to continue racing beyond just their club if they want bigger and better competition. But if they don’t? There is plenty of fun and competition to be had in just your local club.
So caution: BMX racing can quickly take over your life! In a good way, though, as it is a sport that many families soon start doing together. It is common to see parents AND children all dressed up and ready to race. While there are many things to figure out, from what to wear to what to ride, getting involved in your local club will help you accelerate that learning process. Check your local club’s website for when registration is open and to ask questions. If you wish, come into the store and we will be glad to help show you the bikes and gear that you will be needing and help get you started on the right track.
Here at Atlas in 2023, we started up a BMX racing team called Atlas Outdoors Racing. We did this to create an environment where racers could be part of a bigger family but without the pressure of performance, an additional group beyond the local club. As a store, we support our racers with race-day mechanics (when we can, we can’t get to every out of town race), coaching and other extra events that hopefully help you or your racer get to that next level.
We work with the clubs, and are not “an alternative”. Our racers are members of a local club as well as our team.