BMX is short for Bicycle Motocross. BMX is a sport for the whole family. It's fun, it's exciting and it's challenging. Riders race on a dirt track with challenging obstacles and turns.
The sport of Bicycle Motocross began in the early 1970's in southern California. A handful of kids started riding their stingray type bikes off road in vacant lots and fields. Not much competition, but lots of fun. Today the sport of BMX is sweeping the country and the world. There are over 150,000 riders of all ages racing organized races at permanent tracks across Canada and the United States. BMX racing is clean, exciting fun that whole families can get involved in, whether it be as a racer, spectator, pit crew or track volunteer. BMX has something to offer everyone.
Races are organized according to age groups and skill levels so everyone gets the opportunity to compete on a fair and equitable basis.
All riders compete for awards including trophies and stickers redeemable for merchandise, as well as points that are published in the ABA's BMXer magazine. Each rider receives a personal copy of the BMXer every month.
The sign up building or table is where riders register for a race and pay their entry fee. Riders must bring their membership cards with them and show it to the volunteer at the table. This is also where new riders can apply for membership and current riders can renew their memberships. Riders can also find race schedules, newsletters and other information at the sign up table.
To sign up a rider must complete a sign up form. On it, the rider prints their name, membership number, bike number, age, class, bike number and optionally a sponsor name. These forms are used to enter rider information into a computer program which is used to organize the races. If a rider is new and has not received their membership card in the mail they should write the word "new" in the membership number space. Riders with a temporary membership should write "temp" in this space.
Races are organized into classes organized by age and skill levels. Each class races in a moto which is normally composed of a series of heat races. BMX gets many of its terms from the sport of motocross racing. Moto is one of these terms, so even through there are no motors on a BMX bike (except the riders legs!), we use this name to describe a race. There are normally three rounds to a moto. Each round consists of one lap around the track from start to finish line. The overall winner of the moto is either determined by the aggregate finish in all three rounds or by winning a main event, depending on how many competitors there are in the class. See total points and ABA Qualifying below.
There are generally two types of race systems used to run a race. The track operator will determine which system to use before the beginning of the race. One system is the Total Points System (also called the Olympic System) and the other is called the ABA Qualifying System.
Total Points System
The Total Points system has the riders race in three separate rounds within their moto. Riders are scored based on their finish position in each round. One point for first, two points for second, three points for third, etc. After the third round the scores are added up and the rider with the lowest score gets first overall, the second lowest get second, and so on. This system is always used when there are the minimum number of riders allowable for that class (three for boys and two for girls), even when the ABA Qualifying System is being used.
ABA Qualifying System
The ABA Qualifying System is generally used when there are a large number of riders and for multi-point races. Each rider attempts to qualify to race in a main event. The main event is a winner take all race which is the last round of racing for the day. In each round the winner and sometimes the runner up (depending on the number of riders in the class), qualify for the main. The objective is to have the best racers that day race in the final round, the main. If there are nine or less riders in a class, this means that one rider will not qualify for the main. If there are more than nine riders the top eight riders qualify for the main event (a full gate). If there are more that 16 riders, they will race to qualify in a semi-final, the top four in each semi going to the main. Once a rider qualifies, he or she doesn't race again until the main event (or semi). The remaining riders race the next moto to try to qualify. The advantage of this system is that there are more "winners", as a different rider wins each round.
The moto sheet is used to organize the riders for a race. Each class is assigned a moto number which specifies the order in which the motos are run. Generally the open classes are run first, followed by the girl classes, the cruiser classes, then the boy classes. Within each group the motos are organized in age from youngest to oldest. The Moto number is the moto the rider will be in for that event. Riders should know what moto they are in so that they can be at the start gate when their moto is supposed to race.
On the moto sheet are the riders name, sponsor, membership number number, bike number and start gate assignment. Moto sheets are posted prior to the start of racing so that riders can check to make sure that their name and bike number are correct and so they can see what gate lane they are assigned for each round. To be fair to all riders, the lane number a rider is assigned to is changed for each round.
The moto sheet also indicates how many riders will qualify for a main in each round when the ABA Qualifying System is used. The space after the word Qualifier tells you how riders will qualify to the main. If are six 6 riders in your class, it will show "1-2-2". This means in the first round the first place rider qualifies, the second round, first and second place qualify, and the third round first & second place qualify for a 5 rider gate in the main. If it says Total Points in the space after qualifier, it means the moto will be run under the Total Points System described above.
Sometimes due to the numbers of riders in an age group a novice rider may end up racing in the intermediate class or an intermediate rider may end up racing experts. The rules are designed to try to prevent a rider from racing kids more than a year older or younger than they are. If there are not enough novices to make a novice class in these circumstances, then they may be grouped with the intermediates. If this happens the novices get awarded intermediate points for that day. If there are not enough intermediates to form a class, then they can be grouped with experts and get expert points. On rare occasions a novice may end up in an expert class. Sometimes an expert rider or girl rider ends up in the intermediate class. When this happens all riders in the moto are awarded expert points.
The make up of each moto is done according to the ABA Rule Book and we have a computer program called the Motomaker that does this automatically once everyone has registered for the race. Once the computer prints all the moto sheets, they are posted so that all riders can check what moto they are in. It is important that riders check to make sure that their name. membership number and bike number are correct on the moto sheet. If there is an error and it is not corrected before the race, the rider could be incorrectly scored at the finish line and might be disqualified. There is always a short period of time after the motos are posted to go to the sign up table to make corrections.
The staging area is right behind the start hill. In this area, riders are organized into their motos and lined up into the correct start lanes. The Stager is the volunteer who organizes the riders for the start gate. It is important for riders to be in the staging area well before their moto is on the gate. The Stager has a copy of the moto sheets and will help guide riders into the appropriate lane.
There are several race classes in BMX racing. There are the boys and girls class (20" classes), the boys and girls cruiser class (24") and the open class. Generally boys race boys and girls race girls although if there are not enough girls, then the girls are put into the boy's class. In the boys class there are three skill levels: novice, intermediate, and expert. In the girls class the skill levels are: novice and girl. There are no separate skill levels in the cruiser class.
The open class is for mixed boys and girls with all skill levels racing together. This is an extra race that riders can sign up for to test there skills against better riders. A rider must sign up in a regular boys or girls class before they can sign up for an open class.
Riders racing in an event are given points in addition to the award they earn at the days event. The points are accumulated for the year and at the end of the year the top riders receive an award from the ABA. The goal of all riders going after district points is to be the number one rider in the district. The following year they get to have bike number 1 on their bike.
The points system is designed to reward riders who improve their skills. The ABA Rule Book specifies the number of points a rider earns based on his or her finish in a race. Novice riders earn the lowest number of points. Intermediate riders earn twice as many points as novice riders. Expert riders earn twice as many points as intermediate riders.
Girl riders and cruisers are awarded points at the expert level. All riders receive one extra point for each rider in their moto, regardless of their finish position.
Moving Up a Skill Level
As a rider improves in a skill level, he or she will begin to win races. All riders start in the novice class. After winning 6 races, boys move up to the intermediate class and girls up to the girls class. At the intermediate level a rider must win 20 more races before moving up to the expert class.
A rider's bike number is determined by his or her overall finish the previous year. For example, a rider finishing 25th overall in 2005 will use number 25 on his bike in 2006. Obviously the lower the bike number the better the rider placed the previous year. This is one reason new riders are assigned a high bike number and cannot pick a low bike number. The lower bike numbers are earned the previous year.
Most weekly races are single point races. In other words the district points earned are as they are laid out in the ABA Rule Book. However, for some special races the points earned are either doubled or tripled as an incentive for riders to participate. These races are generally the major events of the year such as the ABA Provincial Championship Series Race held once a year at each track and the Race For Life to raise money of leukemia research. Most multi-point races are double point races.
There are two very special races that are triple point races. They are the Red Line Qualifier and the ABA State Championship Final.
All riders must wear helmets with a permanent strap attached, snaps are not allowed. The helmet must have sufficient padding and be of good quality. Face protection is recommended, but not mandatory.
All riders must wear shoes which are sufficient to protect the riders feet. They must wear a long shirt and long pants. No shorts are allowed. Other safety equipment such as elbow and knee pads are recommended, but not mandatory.
Before we get into a discussion of bike there's some safety tips to know before a bike is ready to race. Check the riders bike out to make sure that it is ready to race. Tighten any loose bolts or screws. Remove the kick-stand, chain guard, reflectors and any other attachment that could end up poking a rider in a crash. The bike needs padding on the crossbar of the handlebars, the head set, and top frame bar. The seat must be fastened so as not to slip during competition. The frame must be in good condition with no cracks and broken welds. Handlebar grips are required and must be sufficient to cover any metal on the ends, and must be tight. Axle ends may not be over 1/4" long or must be cut off. The chain must not be too loose where it might come off during pedaling. All bikes must have brakes in good working condition.
Before each race all bikes are inspected to make sure that they are in a safe condition to race.
Bike Inspection involves checking for the bike safety items mentioned above. Bikes that are not in a safe condition will not be allowed on the track until the necessary repairs or adjustments are made.
With each year, the technology in BMX bike building keeps expanding, yet one thing that's remained the same since the beginning of BMX is the strong yet light 4130 Chrome-moly tubing used in construction. Chrome-moly is the BMX standard, but is not the only material used in frame building.
BMX has met up with the strong, super light (and very expensive) material called titanium. In the past, titanium frame and forks were only seen on the "mini" bikes. No one ever thought a titanium bike could withstand the abuse of a rider weighing over 100 pounds, but times have changed. Titanium companies have introduced some extremely light and very strong titanium pro-sized bikes.
Aluminum seems to be making a big come back. Some of the best bikes of the 70's were made of aluminum. There are many companies that have introduced a very impressive line of aluminum frames.
The new kid on the block is carbon fiber composites. BMX frames are being made from the same materials that are used to make the wings on a Boeing 777 and the FA-18 Hornet. This is a super strong and light weight material that can be molded to almost any shape.
The BMX Bike Ladder
When a kid begins racing, he is encouraged to race what he has. It doesn't matter if the bike is an infamous K-mart Special of a GT Mach One. The idea is to just try BMX racing. The more a rider gets into it, the more his bike will improve.
You'll notice this mostly in the younger age classes. Most 7 year old novices (beginners) are riding big, heavy clunker bikes. This is good though, as they are competitive on 28-30 pound bikes that probably cost $50 at the local garage sale. As they get better and move up into the next classification, you'll see the 7 year old intermediates riding mini chrome-moly machines. These 22-25 pound bikes can be bought brand-new starting at about $250 on up. Then, of course there's the serious, hardcore, totally dedicated 7 year old expert who is mounted on Dad's life savings - a 12 pound wonder bike, all titanium and aluminum, and insured for $1,500 and up
Probably one of the most confusing parts of BMX racing to a first-time parent are the different bike sizes. In particular, "What's a cruiser?".
Before we get into the definition of a cruiser, lets start with the basic BMX bike. About the only thing in common on all these types of bikes (besides the face that it has handlebars, pedals, and a seat), is they all have 20 inch wheels. The width of the tires may change, but all of the wheels have a 20 inch diameter. This is the single definition of a BMX bike.
The littler guys on their light weight mini-munchkin bikes often use 20 inch "sew-up" tires, which is an all-in-one tire/inner tube and is glued onto the wheel. The next steps up are the 20X1/8 and 20X3/8 tires, which are thinner and smaller in diameter, used between the 8 to 12 year olds. Next comes the BMX standard 20X1.75 tire. Occasionally, some riders prefer a larger 20X2.0 0r 20X2.125 tire on their front wheel only, for traction in the turns.
As you can tell by all the bikes around the track, there's a wide range of frames sized to fit these types of wheels.
What is A Cruiser?
And now, to answer that inevitable new BMX parent question, "What the heck is this cruiser thing I keep hearing them announce?"
Simply put, cruiser have 24 inch wheels, as opposed to the standard 20 inch wheel on the standard BMX bike. The term "cruiser" is short for "beach cruiser" - those balloon-tire, 26 inch wheeled, white-walled Schwinn paper route bikes some of you might've grown up on. Back in the late 70's, a few BMX racers in Southern California got on a kick to take their surf board racks off the back of their beach cruisers and race them on a BMX track.
Thus, cruisers caught on and it wasn't long before every manufacturer was making a cruiser frame for 26 inch wheels. In 1979, the ABA added a "cruiser" class to their list, with the intent that it'd keep many older riders from retiring when they reached 20-something.
In 1980, Jeff Kosmola won the first ABA Cruiser title, racing on his signature model Mongoose - a 26 inch wheeled "Kos Kruiser" Premiering the last race of that same year came something that would change cruisers as they were known. A top ranked BMXer from Southern California, riding for RRS (Riverside/Redland's/Schwinn) by the name of Joe Claveau, showed up on the first cruiser with 24 inch wheels. It wasn't long before 26 inchers were tossed aside and the real BMX cruiser as we know it today was here to stay.
With the popularity of cruisers at an all-time peak, the request from younger kids, as well as "BMX dads" (and moms), to race the bigger bikes became apparent. The ABA now has age classes as low as 9 years & under and goes all the way up to 51 years & older.
No doubt, cruiser racing has brought many "old-timers" back to the sport they loved as youngsters. It also gives the "know-it-all dad" a first hand try at what it's really like to be out there on the track. Once a dad tries racing cruiser, you'll no longer hear him lecture his son on how to pedal faster!