Your guide to all things BMX

Wondering how BMX races work? We break it down for you here.

While BMX may not be a mainstream sport, the rules of BMX don’t operate the same as they would for a team sport, like basketball or football, and may appear to be daunting to someone unfamiliar with it. But no worries, there are plenty of helpful hints on blogs and websites devoted to the sport so that, in no time at all, you will be racing with the best of them!

How BMX Races Work

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Getting Started in BMX

If you’re just starting “out the gate” (yes, that’s an intentional BMX pun) on your BMX journey, then you’re probably not very familiar with how competitive BMX racing works.

To start off, BMX is an individualized sport, much like surfing or skateboarding, which means you will be awarded individual points based on where you place in any given race, and if your points add up to place you in the top percent (which can differ from race to race) you can move on to the next round, and eventually on to the next class.

If you are serious about BMX racing, your goal is to place number one in your whole district, which will propel you to states, then region and so on from there. There are several Race Series to compete in, some of which depend on your class and rank, which will lead you to the next step in the process of becoming a pro.

How BMX Races Work

It’s important to remember, cliché though it may be, that a journey begins with the first step. Your first step, whether it’s on the road to the pro’s or just a life long hobby, will begin at the fall of your first gate.

As nerve racking as it may be, on your first time out it’s helpful to remember that every professional had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was probably a very slow and painful place. In your first race, you shouldn’t worry about being the best right off; instead, move slowly. Get a feel for how the track feels, and how you feel the best way to approach it would be.

How BMX Races Work

How Riders are Classified

USA BMX is the primary organization that organizes BMX racing for boys, girls and adults, throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico. In order to race in sanctioned BMX races at your local track, each rider needs to become a USA BMX member.

When a rider signs up for their first race, they will be classified based on their age, gender, proficiency and bike wheel size. There are three basic proficiency levels in BMX racing – Novice, Intermediate and Expert.  In an effort to keep the sport fun and engaging, every effort is made to match riders with other riders in their age group and proficiency level.

How BMX Races Work

All riders start at the Novice level.  Once a rider achieves first place in 10 Novice BMX races, they can move up.  Boys move to the Intermediate class and girls move into the Girl class.  Girl is the highest proficiency for amateur level girls.  Boys, however, can continue to move up.  Once boys achieve 20 or more first place wins at the Intermediate level, they move into the Expert class.  This is the highest level in the sport for amateur boys.

For example, a 12 year old (boy or girl) who is just starting out in BMX will be placed into the 12 Novice class with other 12 year old novices.   They will not move up in class until they achieve 10 first place wins.

How BMX Races Work

Another USA BMX classifies riders is based on the wheel size of their bike.  According to USA BMX, “…there are two bike categories, based on wheel size/diameter—20” wheel BMX bikes called class bikes, and 24” wheel BMX bikes called cruiser bikes. The 20” bikes are the required size for all Novice, Intermediate, Girl and Expert competition, while the 24” bikes are the required size for all Cruiser competition. But while the cruiser classes, like the 20” classes, are age and gender based, they are not divided into the novice, intermediate or expert proficiency levels.”

How Races Work

When a rider first signs up to race they will be placed into a moto (similar to a heat) with other racers in their age and class.  There can be anywhere from 3-8 racers in a moto.

Each race is made up of 2-3 qualifying races and a main event for each moto.  Each rider will race in up to three qualifier motos and their placings decide which riders move on to the main race.

How BMX Races Work
Photo Credit: JPennucci Photography | www.

There are two types of races, depending the riders in your moto.  The race could be a “qualifier” race, where a specific number of riders will qualify to move on to the main race in each round. In the main race, the final place will be determined by how the riders finish in the main race.

There is also a “total points” race where all riders race in two qualifier races and the main race.  Each rider will earn points depending on how they place in each race.  These points are added together to determine the overall winner of the event.

Points and Awards

You might wonder how riders get the numbers on their number plates.  These number are determined by the number of points a rider earns over the course of the year.  When you first sign up with USA BMX you will be assigned a number. However, at the start of each new BMX year, your number will be reassigned based on the number of points you earn.

The more races you compete in, the more points you will earn. The more points you earn, the better your number will be.  The ultimate goal is to ride off with the #1 plate!

How BMX Races Work

Still have questions?

One of the best parts about BMX is how helpful and friendly everyone is at the track.  You can ask your track operator or any of the track volunteers about how races work and they’ll be more than happy to help you understand.

Little by little, with constant consistency, you will find yourself growing in so many ways! Not only in your skills as a racer, but in the confidence and self-assurance it takes to tackle a sport head-on, and make it your own. So go out there, make mistakes, get bruised-up, learn from it all, and we’ll see you at the finish line.

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Looking for more?  Check out all of the BMX Basics content on BMX-Insider.

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