It’s been 17 years since France last hosted the UCI World Championships in the discipline, when Bubba Harris (USA) and WiIly Kanis (NED) took the top honours in Paris. But in 2022 we are headed to Nantes to see the different categories race on the specially built 450 metres track at the Nantes Parc des Expositions. With the pinnacle of our sport ready to put on an amazing show, let’s take a look back at its history.
Bicycle Motocross (BMX) can trace its very origins back to when kids pretended they had a motorbike while riding around on their bicycles making motocross sounds. A lot was copied from motocross in the early days. From the kids’ homespun inventions to imitate engine sound to appropriating the boots and helmets worn by the era’s cool motorcyclists. In its infancy, BMX was the poor man’s version of the real deal before it was developed into a sport of its own. Number plates got attached to the handlebars, used tires marked the edge of the track and riders would jump as high as possible to imitate the bikes with an engine.
BMX Racing as we know it now, heading to the UCI World Championships in Nantes, has developed in many ways, although so has motocross during the same decades. Let’s see where the similarities are today.
The gear used for motocross and BMX Racing is very similar, with the exception of the boots. BMX riders are clipped in to pedals while their motorised friends need a lot more protection around their feet and ankles and since they don’t have to pedal, it doesn’t matter that the boots restrict their flexibility.
Although a lot more motocross riders line up at the start of a race, both sports start behind a starting gate. BMX races start on top of a hill with the gate falling forwards while motocross gates fall backwards but the principle is the same; getting the holeshot (being the first rider to pass the first turn of the course). While both sports end at the finish line, in motocross several laps are completed before a winner is determined. In BMX Racing there are several laps to be raced during a day, but there are breaks in between each lap.
It goes without saying that both sports are demanding. Only being in top shape will you get the best results. Even when the engine delivers the speed and you ‘only have to turn the throttle’, anyone who has ever ridden a motocross bike can attest it’s one of the most exhausting sports out there.
Skills are needed to hit the right lines and take the jumps in the fastest possible way in both sports. High-low passes can be found in the paved turns on a BMX track or in the sand at a motocross race. At a BMX race, the condition of the bike isn’t what defines the finishing positions. Yes, a bicycle needs to be in good shape but pretty much everything you find on today’s top racers’ machines, you can buy at a bike shop. In motocross there is a lot more tuning and money involved to make sure that the bike fits the rider perfectly and performs at its best.
Many motocross riders get started in BMX
Both sports can be rather aggressive and crashes happen. When you start young, it is important to develop the right skillset. BMX Racing is considered a good starting point for many other sports, including motocross. Many of them have actually ridden BMX before such as Joel Smets (BEL), Jeremy McGrath (USA), Cole Seeley (USA), Lars van Berkel (NED) and former UCI World Champion Gautier Paulin (FRA). Some of the current motocross Grand Prix riders still ride BMX when time allows. The podium finishers in last weekend’s Grand Prix in Flanders, Glenn Coldenhoff (NED), Kay de Wolf (NED) and Tom Vialle (FRA) hit up the BMX track from time to time.
Getting from start to finish as quick as possible, trying to beat the other riders next to you is the goal in both sports. When the gate drops, the bench racing stops. Transponders register the lap times while officials hold up a flag when a rider goes down. The bike is only part of the mix and it’s the rider’s strength, endurance, fitness and skills that make a difference on the track. Experience comes into play and the mental game is strong on both tracks. A red leader plate is used in both sports. Points are collected for the overall ranking, which will help getting a spot on the sponsored team for next season and a new bike to compete on.
In many ways BMX still shares the same principles and certain details with motocross - the sport it ultimately derived from. But it has also gone its own way to raise the sport to World Championship level, which we will all enjoy in Nantes, while still remaining as accessible as ever for riders all around the world.
Official site for the 2022 UCI BMX Racing World Championships