What Are The Rules of BMX Racing? What is a BMX Track? All the Basics Ahead of the 2016 Olympics...
A basic guide to the rules and regulations of BMX racing...
BMX Racing Rules
BMX is short for bicycle motocross, and BMX racing is an off-road bicycle racing discipline that sees riders compete for first place on specifically-designed, one-lap BMX dirt tracks that feature rollers, berms and jumps before the finish line.
Now, let’s get more a little more specific and take an entry-level look at everything you need to know about the rules and regulations of BMX racing - so you'll know your stuff when you're cheering on Team GB medal hope Liam Phillips or anyone else at the Games!
The Basic Rules of BMX Racing
A short history of BMX racing will tell you that the sport draws much from the world of motocross, and the rules of the sport are no exception. So, what’s the format for BMX racing?
Eight riders compete in each race, and are released from a starting gate to begin the sprint. The riders then race around the track from the start to the finish, riding one lap only of the of the purpose-built BMX dirt track.
A BMX race is typically divided into three phrases; the time trials, the qualifiers and the final. It's also worth noting that any individual heat in BMX racing is often referred to as a 'moto'.
- The initial ‘time trial’ heat, where each rider races the course by himself, against only the clock, to decide what seeding he will take in the first competitive stage.
- The qualification heat process consists of quarter-finals and semi-finals, with the top four riders at the end of each round progressing to the next round of competition until eight riders have eventually qualified for the final.
- While amateur events may have just one race to decide which four riders progress from each quarter or semi-final, the Olympic rules see three races make up each quarter and semi-final heat.
- A points-per-place system is used in the Olympic quarter and semi-finals, where the first place rider will score one point and the eighth will score eight. The four riders with the lowest points tally at the end of the three runs then progresses through the competition.
- For the Olympics, a rider who starts but does not complete a run will be recorded as "Did Not Finish" (DNF), and will receive a score equal to the number of riders who started the run, and will remain eligible to qualify.
- For the Olympics, a rider who does not start a run will be recorded as "Did Not Start" (DNS), will receive a score equal to the number of riders in the start list for that run plus two, and will remain eligible to qualify.
- The Olympic final, like in amateur BMX racing, features the top four riders from each of the semi-finals, and unlike the semis or quarters of the Olympics, it only consists of one race. The winner is the person whose front wheel crosses the finish line first.
Now that we've covered the basic BMX racing rules, let's move over to the track. A BMX track is the custom-built course on which a BMX race takes place. It will always include a start gate, a finish line, and three turns in between. Some of the other features include:
- A starting hill: a drop or slope after the start gate which will provide the majority of the speed required for the rest of the race
- A roller: a small bumps in the trail. Several rollers are normally combined to make one grouped feature
- A step-up: A small hill followed immediately by a bigger hill. The rider is expected to jump up to jump out
- A step-down: A bigger hill followed by a smaller hill or drop
- A double: Two hills spaced out enough to make a jumping air the fastest line
- A rhythm section: A combination of rollers and jumps where the rhythm and timing are imperative
- A table top: A jump with a flat top as a safety measurement. Good for learning and approaching bigger jumps
The overall length of a BMX track is required by the UCI, the governing body of world cycling, to be between 300-400m.
The start ramp must be 9-10m wide, the first straight 8-10m wide and the remainder of the track no slimmer than 5m wide at any point.
British Cycling note that “where tracks are designed for less than eight riders, dimensions may reduce accordingly. For example, if a track is designed for four riders, then dimensions may reduce by approximately 50%."
It’s also worth noting that the minimums for regional standard tracks are slightly different, with the length of the course to be 200m, and the course no smaller than 4m in width at any point.
An average BMX race will last for between 30-40 seconds depending on the athletes and the nature of the course.
BMX Racing Track Flags
During a BMX race, you may see officials using the following colours of flags. Here’s what they mean:
- Green flag: the course is unobstructed and racing can go on as usual
- Yellow flag: the course is obstructed and competitors should be held at the gate
- Red flag: all competitors should stop racing immediately and return to the starting gate to await further instructions
Obstruction and Contact Rules in BMX Racing
BMX racing is a contact sport, though racers are not allowed to deliberately impede another rider, or to force each other off the track. Any rider seen to be doing this will be warned or disqualified from the race.
Similarly, on the final straight, when riders have beaten the rollers, berms and jumps of the course and are pedalling flat out for the finish line, it is illegal to block a competitor’s path.
Any rider who leaves the course during the race for whatever reason should re-enter the course at the nearest safe point while not obstructing other riders.
Of course, with there being eight bicycles packed into a course at times just 6m wide, and due to the high speed intensity of the sport, there tends to be a lot of collision in BMX racing. Often, if one rider goes down, he or she will inadvertently cause several others to crash as well.
Basic Age Categories and Participation Rules in BMX Racing
The category in which a rider competes is decided by their age.
The British Cycling rulebook notes that BMX racing events can be distinguished in two competing levels:
- Championship level: including elite men, junior or championship men, and championship women
- Challenge level: all other categories
Once a rider has competed in an expert category at a regional or national event, they may no longer compete as a novice.
Rules and Regulations About BMX Racing Bikes
BMX racing bikes are simple and easy to maintain.
A typical full size racing BMX will have 20 inch wheels, a single gear and a rear brake only. A front brake is allowed but not necessary, while the rear break is required for anyone wanting to race.
The small wheel size offers maximum acceleration and manoeuvrability, while the minimalistic nature of the gearing and breaks mean there’s no unnecessary weight on the bike. These are known as standard BMX bikes.
Larger, 24 inch wheels are also popular with bigger or older riders, and provide more stability than the 20 inch wheels. Of course, they do weigh more, and so are not quite as fast. These are known as cruiser BMX bikes and can be ridden only in the cruiser category.
BMX racing bikes may have padded handlebars, stems and top tubes to protect the rider in the event of a high speed crash, but certain accessories are not permitted, mostly for the safety of the rider themselves and those around them. These include:
- Chain guards
- Side stands
- Mud guards
- Frame mounted reflectors
- Any sharp protruding objects
If you're looking for a more specific guide to buying your first BMX bike, we've got you.
BMX Racing Clothing and Safety Equipment
Any rider whose gear isn’t deemed safe to ride, won’t be allowed to do so by the officials at hand. So what are the right BMX racing clothes and gear to get you on the track?
- BMX Racing Jersey: Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt, normally in motocross style. Lycra is not allowed! Come on guys. The sport is cool. Every rider competing in a World BMX Championship/Challenge such as the Olympics must wear a national BMX jersey matching his countrymen and women.
- BMX Racing Trousers/Pants: Loose-fitting trousers or loose-fitting shorts with knee and shin protection are required. Again... Lycra is forbidden!
- BMX Racing Helmet: Helmets are a requirement for BMX racers. They must be full face and they must have a visor peak as well.
- BMX Racing Gloves: Gloves are another essential, and must cover the rider’s finger tips.
BMX Racing Number plates
Each bicycle in a BMX race must have a number plate, 20cm in height and 25cm in width.
The British Cycling BMX Specific Regulations state that riders must use the number plate and the number colour combination which is specified for the category they race in:
- Elite men: White plate with black numbers
- Junior men: Black plate with white numbers
- Championship women: black plate with white numbers
- Men/Boys: yellow plate with black numbers
- Girls: Blue plate with white numbers
- Cruiser: red plate with white numbersSo, that's it for BMX racing rules. Now, throw your hands in the air if you're ready for Rio 2016!