How does BMX Racing work?
If you're new to BMX racing, there's probably lots of things you're keen to know more about....
It's possible that you're hearing words like "N.Q.M.", "U.C.I. meeting" and "Sprockets" being bandied around, not to mention all the terminology relating to BMX bikes themselves (what the heck is a "bottom bracket" anyway?). You may be confused over how the National Championships work, or what the 'Elite' class is, or who's allowed to ride in it.
In this article, we hope to strip away some of the mysterious sounding words, and break it all down into simple-to-understand explanations of how BMX racing works in New Zealand.
Let's start with BMX competition itself....
I'm not going to bore you with technical UCI meeting classifications, because in all honesty, the UCI meeting classification doesn't matter to most riders (it's more for organisational and permitting reasons than anything else), so I'm going to group meetings into three levels for you.
Level 1: Club Night Meetings
The humble club night is the most basic form of BMX meeting you can attend. It will likely be a very low-key and fun event, and lots of riders will be happy to socialise and have fun, rather than go 'hard out' and race till they drop! Club night meetings happen every week throughout the country's different clubs during the racing season, and ANYONE can ride at them. Club nights are where all riders start their BMX racing careers. You do not need to hold a BMX racing licence (see below) to attend a club night meeting, as most clubs allow casual riders to turn up and race if they want to. Some clubs (like us here at Waitakere BMX) often hold what they call "Points Night" race meeting where points are scored by each rider. Those points go to an end-of-year tally that is used for the club's own prize giving.
Age groups are often combined at club meetings - and sometimes the bigger bikes and smaller bikes are run together - like I said, club nights are pretty low key.
Level 2: Open meetings
Technically, they are not called "open" meetings, but that's what I'm going to call them. These are race meetings where a club runs a big event (at least, bigger than a club night) and opens up official entries to their event. These meetings normally require that you fill out an entry form prior to the event and pay more money than a standard club night to race. Often these meetings might have a fun name, for instance East City BMX Club runs a meeting every year that they call their ""Mud and Muck" meeting. These meetings often have prizes available for riders and can sometimes host certain racing classes that have their own little competitions going (see "Super Cruiser Series" below). These events are normally fun events, but they can also be quite competitive events to be involved in.
Level 3: National Level Events
These events include the National Championships itself, Regional Championships, North and South Island Championships and also what we call 'N.Q.M.' meetings. The term "N.Q.M." actually stands for "Nominated Qualifying Meeting". If you want to race at the New Zealand BMX Championships, you have to have competed at four N.Q.M. meetings in the prior calendar year of the Nationals, to be eligible to compete at the New Zealand National Championships. These meetings are generally competitive events where you'll be wanting to be at your best in terms of performance (if you are a competitive rider who's not just in it for fun).
To qualify for the National Championships, you do not have to win races, or be the best of your age group, you simply have to compete at four N.Q.M. meetings and have competed in each of your four races at each meeting. Your results from those meetings are meaningless and will not count towards any 'rankings' or anything like that.
National Level meetings are more expensive than standard club meetings. The National Championship itself will cost you $75-$100 to enter (per class that you want to ride in). If you're riding both 20 inch and Cruiser classes (see bike explanation below) then you'll have to pay two entries fees, one for each class you run.
The New Zealand National Championships are a one-event deal - it's held over Easter Weekend every year. There's no National Championship series or anything, it's all down to one meeting - down to one final even (more on that, in another article, soon).
Just to confuse things further, sometimes "UCI" BMX race meetings are held as well (the UCI is "Union Cycliste Internationale" - the governing body of cycling sports). Those UCI meetings are normally held as part of a Regional or Island Championship. UCI meetings allow riders who want to go for UCI world rankings, to gain points towards their rankings. Think of this as the sort of meetings that Marc Willers and Sarah Walker have to turn up to in order to gain points towards qualifying for the Olympics or other internationally recognised competitions (that's not strictly true in the case of the Olympics, but I've used that as an example).
As an interesting note, the UCI recently announced that in order to run certain UCI sanctioned events, the organisers have to pay ridiculous amounts of money. It's early days on that yet, but it may see UCI meetings become a thing of the past in smaller countries like NZ. But hey, to most riders, UCI ranking don't matter anyway.
OK, so that's the different race meetings out of the way, what ones can I race at?
To race at a club meeting (level 1 above) you don't need anything special, just a bike and some safety gear. You can join a club and race regularly, or you can turn up, pay a small fee, and race casually if you like. Clubs are easy going, and if they aren't, they should be. It's all about rider enjoyment at the club level.
To race at levels 2 and 3 (as described above) you'll need a BMXNZ licence to race. So let's move onto that....
BMXNZ Racing Licence
If you want to race at meetings that are at levels 2 or 3 (as described above), you're going to need a BMXNZ racing licence. Sounds scary right? Don't worry, you don't have to sit a test. In fact, all you have to do to get a BMXNZ racing licence, is fill out a few forms, and pay some money.
It's actually very convenient getting a BMXNZ licence in New Zealand. When you join a club, part of the club fee goes towards getting your BMXNZ licence. So when you join a club, they handle your licence documents for you - you have to fill them out, but the club sends them to BMXNZ on your behalf. Simple huh?
Racing licences cost between $75 for under 7 year old riders, and $120 for riders 8 years old and over.
A racing licence lasts you one calendar year from Jan 01 through to Dec 31. That's actually a bit of a pain for us here in New Zealand, because our season takes place over summer, which means that come December every year - right in the middle of our season - you have to re-apply for your licence. That's the UCI rules, so that's what we do...... (silly really, but that's the way we do it)
Now, there is another option for you. Most clubs have what they call a "Regional Only" membership. You still get a racing licence, but you are only allowed to race at level 1 events (club meetings only, pretty much). Normally those memberships cost something like $60, but it differs from club to club. Check it out with your local club first to see if it suits you.
Now that you know about licences, let's take a brief look at the bikes you can ride....
Cruiser or 20-Inch Bike - ah, what?
Yep, that's right, you can actually choose what size bike you want to ride, or you can do what some riders do, and ride both types of bike from time to time.
In BMX racing competition, there are two different wheel sizes of bike available;
24" Diameter Wheels (Cruiser)
The bigger bike has 24 inch diameter wheels and is known in BMX racing circles as a "Cruiser" class bike
The term 'cruiser' actually originates from a style of bike that was big in the late '60s and '70s called the 'cruiser' - they were popular along Californian beach-fronts and the like. In BMX racing, Cruisers are generally ridden by older riders who like the feel of a larger bike. Now, when I say larger, they aren't really that much bigger, but they are slightly more stable machines to ride on - so a lot of us older guys like to ride them instead of the smaller and more nimble 20-inch bikes. Having said all that about the 'older guys' riding cruisers, the younger age groups also have cruiser classes and many of the younger riders ride both classes to maximise their race day action.
20" Diameter Wheels
The 20 Inch bike is the same size as you saw at the Olympics. The 20-inch bike is the staple diet of BMX racing. The sport originally started on bikes with 20-inch wheels, and that configuration has morphed into what we race today. The 20-inch bike is a more challenging bike to ride and can be less forgiving than the bigger wheels and frame of a cruiser bike. Personally, I like to ride my 20-inch more than my cruiser, but overall I enjoy riding both bikes.
Generally speaking, Cruiser bikes and 20-inch bikes don't compete in the same classes, but there can be the occasional exception. You will only ever see that at lower level meetings. Through last year, the "30yr-plus Super Series" allowed either Cruisers or 20 Inch bikes to be ridden, but that has been knocked on the head for now and the 30yr-plus Super Series is now back to being the 30+ Super Cruiser series. Oh, the confusion of it all!
Go get a coffee, this could take a while (just kidding)....
In New Zealand, there are several different racing series that you can become involved with, or you can just race at the club level and have fun that way. The topic of race classes can seem a little complicated, so I'll try to explain it simply.
The "Challenge" (age-group) classes.
The term "Challenge Class" refers to age-group classes as contested at the world championships every year. In realistic terms, the challenge classes account for about 99% of all riders. All big race meetings will contain separate races for each age group class. You can only compete in one age-group class per size of bike that you ride (example: for me, I can compete in the 30yrs-plus 20-Inch class, and the 35-39yrs Cruiser class - but I can't race in more than one challenge class on the 20-Inch, and one on the cruiser, I'm only allowed to compete in one for each bike).
As mentioned above, something like 99% of BMX racers race in the challenge classes.
Now, most meetings you'll compete in use what they call your "UCI age" to determine what age group you'll run in. Your UCI age is easy to figure out. Basically, your UCI age is determined by how old you are on the 31 Dec of the given year of the meeting you are racing at. Here's an example; If I compete in a meeting in the year 2012, I race in the 35-39 age group because I will be 39 on the 31st December 2012. If I race a meeting on the 23rd January 2013, I'll race in the 40-44 class as my age on the 31st December 2013 will be 40.
The "Sprockets" classes
The Sprockets classes are classes designed specifically for riders under the age of 7yrs old. The races in Sprockets are not scored (so no-one keeps points and there's no clear winner at the end of the day). The Sprocket classes are designed to encourage kids to have fun and enjoy their racing, but it can also be very competitive - some of those little dudes can go for it!
One thing that causes confusion in the sprockets age groups is that there can be two different age classifications. One is the UCI age (as explained above) the other is "age on the day" (how many years old the rider is on the day of the event itself). Parents, don't let that trip you up! Check the entry forms and race meeting flyers carefully to ensure you know what age group to enter your child in.
From time to time there will be competitions set up that allow for some of the standard challenge classes to combine. These classes are not normally "officially" recognised - so there's no National Championship for them. One such example is the "30yrs-plus Super Cruiser" class. Although it is not an officially recognised National Championship class, competing in it at an NQM meeting will often count as one of your cruiser Challenge class qualifying meetings. To put that in English, if I went to compete in the 30yrs-plus SuperCruiser series at an NQM meeting, I wouldn't have to ride in the 35-39yrs Cruiser class, as my SuperCruiser appearance would count towards my 35-39yrs qualification. Basically, that happens because BMXNZ thinks that if you are riding your Cruiser in the 30yrs-plus class, you shouldn't have to ride a second class to make your NQM meeting count towards your total of four NQMs. It's hard enough riding one class let alone two.
Junior Elite and Senior Elite classes
These are the big boys and girls of BMX racing. Essentially these are classes where anyone who is over the age of 16 (for Junior Elite) or 19 (for Senior Elite) can compete against one another. You don't actually need to have any specific qualifications to ride elite classes, but if you do ride them, you'll be expected to do some very big jumps.
The Elite classes often ride more tricky sections of the BMX tracks that have been set up especially for them. The elite rider's skill level is a lot higher than your average rider and many of us (myself included) would never even consider trying the jumps these competitors regularly compete on.
The Elite 'scene' in New Zealand is small, at any given meeting there is often less than ten riders in each Elite class. This is largely due to the extraordinary skill level required to be competitive at the Elite level.
If nothing else, the Elite classes can be the most spectacular races to watch, I never get used to the size of some of those jumps!
Qualifying for the World Championships
So, have you heard? Yes, that's right, the BMX Racing World Championships are being held in Vector Arena in July 2013. Awesome!
I hear you saying "So how can I race at the worlds?". Basically, you need to finish in the top 32 (on average) in your chosen class (or classes) over the 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 BMX racing seasons. If you didn't compete in the 2011/2012 championship, or like me, you didn't rank in the top 32 (I crashed out), you can still make it to the worlds! You might need to ensure that you finish in the top 16 at this season's National Championship though.
Because New Zealand is hosting the 2013 Champs, we get to send the top 32 riders in each class to contest the worlds. Normally it's only 16 riders, but because we are hosting this coming worlds, we get to send 32.
Your World Championship Check List
Get a BMXNZ licence
Race at 4 NQM meetings to qualify for the New Zealand National Championships
Try to include either the North or South Island championships in there...(it might help your chances)
Race the New Zealand Championships and finish in the top 16 (this won't necessarily guarantee it, but on average you may just creep in)
Hope your results at the Nationals are enough
Wait to see if you've made it!
If you competed at this year's Nationals and finished in the top 32, you need to compete again at this season's championships and do your best to finish in the top 32 again. I'm working on averages here, ideally, you need to do better and finish in the top 8-16 if you can.
NOTE: The above checklist is a guide only, ultimately BMXNZ will have the call on whom they send to the worlds, the above guide is based on criteria they made official prior to the 2012 National Championships in Rotorua. If you competed at both Nationals (2012 and 2013) and finished in the top 32 over both of them, you may be selected - top 16 in both is a better option.
That's all for now folks, more to come through, next we tackle all those pesky abbreviations used in BMX racing. We'll also break down how the racing works at meetings (motos, semis, finals etc). On top of that, we'll have some info on the tracks in New Zealand.
Date: 16 August 2012
Author: Cliff Field