Sunday, 24 February 2008

How to get started in BMX racing

I have been asked this question many time in the flurry of calls and emails that I have been getting lately. Apparently some people do not know how to start. Never fear! We are here!

There are many sites that show how to get that first start in BMX and one of them is my friend from the US who was involved in the bike industry some time back. Jack Baruth or Jim Boswell (his pen name) as he is known as has an excellent website at with lots of insightful articles. One of the articles is Getting started in BMX racing. Lots of advice there but in a nutshell:
  1. A long-sleeved T-shirt
  2. Long pants or jeans
  3. A full-face helmet
  4. Shoes with flat soles
  5. Gloves (not really necessary but recommended)
  6. A 20" BMX in good working condition
There is another site here that also has a brief description.

Jack Baruth has closed his site but as I keep regular contact with him, he has given me permission to reproduce the article in full so here it is:

Let's begin by reassuring you and your parents (or children, depending on which one of you is reading this) about two important things:
  • BMX is no more dangerous than most team sports. Statistically, it is safer than nearly every traditional after-school activity or sport, with the possible exception of Drama Club. You WILL get a little bit scraped up, but in general the time you spend on a track will be safer than your time on the street. I'm living proof of that, having hurt myself much worse off the track than on!
  • BMX is not dirt cheap to do, if you will pardon the pun, but a sensible rider and his/her family can race a complete season for less money than nearly any other non-school-supported sport. Many people do not race because they have no health insurance, but the NBL and ABA do provide some medical insurance during the races, so check that out below.
Moderation is the key. I have met many a parent who brags about taking their novice rider on a full National tour their first year, in a new motorhome, and with a new frame every four months. That's a great way to burn out riders and parents. I did BMX on the cheap as a teenager, and am continuing to do so now.

With the two biggest fears of most riders and parents out of the way, here we go!

What will I need to race?
A lot less than you'd think! You, the rider, will need to show up at the track with the following clothing/stuff:
  • Long pants, jeans are fine and even recommended
  • A long-sleeved shirt, nothing fancy
  • A pair of good shoes that you are comfortable riding in
  • A helmet. If you are racing NBL (we'll cover that later) you will need to have a full-face helmet or a separate mouthguard. If you are racing ABA, all you need is a cheap motocross-style helmet. You don't even really need a visor. If you do not own a helmet, don't let that stop you. Your local track may have loaner helmets for new riders.
  • I do not think it would be a bad idea to wear some sort of gloves, even the 99-cent gardeners' gloves from the hardware store, but those are NOT mandatory. You can race without gloves.
Except for the helmet, chances are you have all that stuff already. What about your bike? It should have 20" wheels both front and rear. Riders under age six or so can usually show up on any kind of bike, period---12" wheels, 16", heck, some tracks even have Big Wheel races. If you have a "cruiser" or mountain bike with 24" or 26" wheels, that's okay, too, but you should call your local track for advice. Many tracks will let you race a mountain bike in the "Cruiser" class! Your bike should meet the following standards:
  • You should take ALL the reflectors off.
  • Take the kickstand and chainguard off, as well. This is to prevent injury in a wreck.
  • Your bike should have pads on the "top tube", "stem", and "crossbar". Most BMX bikes already have these pads---if not, $5 at the local shop should set you up. Some tracks keep loaner pads around.
  • The bike should have at least one working brake. That includes the coaster brake, if that's all you've got.
  • The bike should be in safe working order. Your local track can help you get your bike up to this standard if necessary.
  • Tie a paper plate to your handlebars. That's your number plate. When you get to the track, they'll give you a number to put on it. Don't worry about being a "geek". A LOT of people run paper plates. ALL of us can remember using a paper plate at some time or another.
That' s all you will need. Bring whatever tools you own, and an air pump if you have one.
You should bring your parent or guardian to sign you up. Bring your birth certificate, because they will need proof of your age.
What will it cost? Most tracks will charge you $15-35 for your racing license. That's good for a year. Sometimes your first race is included with that, sometimes not. The entry fee will be between six and ten dollars. You will have to pay the entry fee every time you go to a race, but the license fee is only once a year. I would take $50 on your first day, because you might want a hot dog or something.
So, let's review: clothes, bike, parent/guardian, birth certificate, cash. Got it?

Where can I go to race?

Sometimes your local bike shop will be able to tell you where the nearest track is. Other times, you will have to visit the NBL or ABA websites. Who are these NBL and ABA dudes? They're the sanctioning bodies of BMX, like the NBA is for pro basketball. They provide advice and insurance to the local tracks. As an NBL or ABA member, you will have some medical insurance if you get hurt on the track during a race and do not have any other insurance. The NBL is the National Bicycle League, the ABA is the American Bicycle Association. Visit their websites and see which one of them has the track closest to you. The NBL is strongest on the East Coast, while the ABA is really big in California and Nevada. Here in Ohio, we have both, which is cool. If you can't get good info from either website, email me and I'll hook you up. Don't forget to tell me where you live!

What will the race be like when I get there?

It's going to be a little confusing and scary to begin with---even at my age, I'm always confused when I show up at a new track. Don't worry. Try to show up a little early your first time--usually two hours or more before the race actually begins. The first thing for you to do is to find the registration tent or trailer. That's where you will sign up and get your license. Make sure to tell them you've never done this before. You'll get a number and a sticker to put on your brake cable to show you've registered.
Once that's over with, take a walk on and around the track. If practice is going on, you may have to walk along the side, but do it anyway. Try to remember where all the jumps are. That way, when you ride the track for the first time, you will have seen all this stuff before.
Now it's time to practice. Put your helmet and stuff on and follow everybody else up to the starting gate. Watch to see what everyone else does and where they go. The best thing for a beginner to do is to put his front wheel against the starting gate, keeping one foot on a pedal and the other one on the ground. You'll see people balancing against the gate when it drops. Don't worry about that. Just start pedaling when the gate drops. Go nice and slow the first five, ten, or how ever many times you need to feel comfortable. Remember, you can always go a little faster NEXT time if you don't want to this time.
Sooner or later, practice will end and the "motos" will be posted. You should talk to the people at the registration tent about where your particular race will be posted and how the race actually works. Here's the basics: You will be in a "moto" with other riders about your age. You will line up with the other people in your "moto" in the "staging" area. When your group is called, you'll go up and race! This will probably happen three or four times, depending on the system your track uses, and then it'll be time to go home. You might get a trophy, or maybe not.
It's entirely possible you will lose all three of your races by a humiliating amount. That's how I started, and that's how most racers start. Don't expect to go out there and win it all. It may take you a while before you are riding at the same pace as everyone else. No matter what happens, remember that you had the guts to go out and race. Not everybody does. You don't have to win the race to have done your best or for your parents to be proud of you. I came in dead last all three of my motos at the last National I raced. My dad was watching, and even though I'm 27 years old, I still felt lousy about it. It didn't matter to him how I did, however---he said he was proud that I was out there trying. Chances are your parents will feel the same way.

Where else can I find out about racing?

Visit the ABA and NBL website. Check out some of my links and some of the links from other pages. Once you get to the track, try talking to some of the other riders and see what they have to say. Most of the parents at a track are willing to help new riders and parents, even their competition, so don't be shy. Most BMX parents do not have the "Little League" mentality.

So with that in mind, get your stuff together and if I have not welcomed you before, welcome to the world of BMX! Youth Olympics here we come!


john christian said...

sigh! we have a long way to teach people who don't seem to want to learn.. why don't they start by "learning" to ask the right people...

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