Olympic BMX, BMX History, The Rules of Racing and Everything You Need to Know
All the basics about BMX racing ahead of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro...
Want to know all there is to know about BMX racing and Olympic BMX? Well you’re in the right place – whether you’ve just bought your first BMX and are new to BMX racing or are just looking for some more information on the sport you love, we’ve put together an easy to digest guide to Olympic BMX and the sport beyond.
From a short history of BMX racing to the bike behind the racer, the rules of the sport and the history of BMX racing in the summer Olympics, we’ve got everything you need to know.
Have a read through, watch, look and learn. And if you have any more questions, stick them in the comments and we’ll try help out!
A Short History of BMX Racing
The origins of Bicycle Motocross (BMX) can be traced back to Netherlands around the 1950s, but it was really in America shortly after this that the sport would boom – through BMX racing.
It was in BMX racing that the sport would get its start, as kids inspired by 1972 motorcycle film ‘On Any Sunday’ – but too young or poor to ride motorcycles – took their Schwinn Sting-Rays off road to race, a trend which would not only go nationwide but would open up the gates for the creation of a sport which was there to stay.
Dirt tracks sprung up in Southern California throughout the 70s, bicycles started being made especially for BMX racing, the BMX National Bicycle League was formed by George E. Esser in 1974 and the American Bicycle Association (ABA) became the national body for BMX racing in 1977.
The ABA made sure that the sport became established – launching a tour and putting prize money up for grabs, creating a ranking system and events to cater for all abilities as organised BMX races became a regular thing in the USA and Australia.
The International BMX federation was founded in 1981, meaning the first BMX racing World Championships could take place in 1982, and by the time BMX became a part of the UCI – Union Cycliste Internationale, the governing body for all sport cycling, BMX racing was securely established.
There’s been ups and downs for BMX racing in the time since, particularly when the basic BMX tricks turned into a freestyle scene which took over popularity in the 80s and mountain biking became the trend in the 90s.
But the sports stayed strong enough to maintain a presence, and boomed when it was awarded Olympic status in 2003 – the same year as the first organised BMX supercross event – going on to become a full Olympic sport at the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008.
What Kind of Bike is Used For BMX Racing?
BMX bikes come in all shapes and sized, and when you’re buying your first BMX bike things can get confusing. Luckily while street, park and dirt bikes can be quite similar, BMX racing bikes are notably different – so make sure if you are getting yourself one, you ask first and look out for the following.
Unlike other BMX bikes, BMX racing bikes will always have at least one break, as well as a single gear that allows the competitor to push harder and increase their speed on the bike. They will also traditionally have larger sprockets than other BMX bikes. Like regular BMXs, those for racing have 20-inch wheels.
What are the Rules of BMX Racing?
The rules of BMX racing come from those already established by motocross racing. The race starts with up to eight riders being unleashed from a starting gate, and sees the riders speed around a dirt BMX track made up of numerous corners/berms, rollers and jumps before the finish line. An average BMX race will last between 30-40 seconds.
Collisions are common in the sport – much like BMX fails are a big part of the internet these days – and if one rider goes down in the middle of the pack, the rest tend to go with him.
BMX racers must not impede deliberately or force each other off the BMX track though. This would lead to disqualification. Likewise, on the final straight, no rider is allowed to block another’s path. The race is won when the front wheel crosses the finish line.
For the summer Olympics, the competition kicks off with a time trial for every rider, where the racer rides against the clock to get their seeding for the quarter-finals. The top four riders from the quarter-finals progress to the semi-final, and from there, the top four from each race progress to compete for the medals.
What does BMX Supercross mean?
BMX Supercross is one and the same as BMX racing – but it’s for the professionals and elite only.
The name came around when the governing body of the sport was looking at making BMX racing more popular and more exciting for the everyday viewer. It’s basically everyday BMX racing but bigger, badder and for the best in the sport – and it’s this branch that is officially an Olympic sport.
The organisers took the essence of BMX racing from the old days, keeping the fast turns and exciting straights and adding an 8m high roll in to start from and bigger jumps, fixing the problems that trying to put a large downhill course in the middle of a city would have caused and adding to the viewing.
The first BMX supercross start ramp was built in 2005 for a UCI event in San Jose, America, with the 8m start roll in being hailed for the thrills, and the BMX Supercross World Tour was established in 2006.
BMX Olympics | A Short History of BMX Racing at The Olympics
BMX racing officially became an Olympic sport when the International Olympic Committee decided to include it in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games at a conference in Prague in 2003.
...and if you’re after a full look at how BMX became an Olympic sport? Here’s the viewing you need:
Results at Olympic BMX Racing so far:
At Beijing 2008, Maris Strombergs left everyone in his wake and claimed the first ever gold medal for Latvia, while number one seed Anne-Caroline Chausson took the gold for France, with British hopeful and number two seed Shanaze Read unable to finish in the final. The results were as followed:
- Gold: Maris Strombergs, Latvia | Anne-Caroline Chausson, France
- Silver: Mike Day, USA | Laetitia Le Corguille, France
- Bronze: Donny Robinson, USA | Jill Kintner, USA
At London 2012, Strombergs again took the win, while Shanaze Reade again made the finals for Britain in the women’s ranks but finished sixth, less than a second off the medal times.
The results were as followed:
- Gold: Maris Strombergs, Latvia | Mariana Pajon, Colombia
- Silver: Sam Willoughby, Australia | Sarah Walker, New Zealand
- Bronze: Carlos Oquendo, Colombia | Laura Smulders, Netherlands
BMX Olympics | Who to Look Out For on the Team GB Front at the Rio 2016 Olympics
Liam Phillips is the man charged with bringing back the medal for the BMX racing instalment of Team GB at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio. Having become the first man to ever win back-to-back UCI BMX Supercross World Cup titles last year, with wins in 2014 and 2015, expectation is high.
Liam has been cycling since the age of five and won his first European BMX Championship aged nine. He’s already competed in two Olympic Games despite being just 27-years – even competing in London despite breaking his collarbone ten weeks before the Games.
Liam Phillips Olympic record currently reads one elimination in the heats and one in the finals, but with a lot more experience and wins under his belt, he'll be confident of a medal this time around.
Unfortunately Phillips' foot would unclip in those finals in London though, and he’d crash out. This time around he’ll be looking for redemption!
Kyle Evans will be the second BMX racing athlete representing Team GB at Rio 2016 in the summer Olympics, and will also be looking for a medal spot having had a good season which included second place behind only Phillips at the Manchester instalment of the UCI World Cup.