Keeping track on BMX track developments
Since the early eighties, BMX tracks have constantly evolved to keep up with the ever-increasing skills and techniques of the riders. Today, the original three-metre high start ramp now stands at eight metres for the sport’s professional riders, and up to 5 metres for skilled amateurs. The size and variety of jumps found in BMX tracks has also evolved in response to the general progression of the riders: the idea is to provide tracks which reward fitness, technical ability and tactical sharpness, while still allowing the athletes to recover from an error in a way that protects rider safety.
The first jump on a BMX Supercross track can measure up to 1.7m high with a distance of 11 metres before the landing appears. The first obstacle is one of the biggest, but the next has to be cleared at full speed as well: all the athletes are sprinting to that first turn to grab the holeshot. Still side by side after the second jump, the fastest racers will start opening up a little gap, trying to get their arms in front of those of their competitors. Some tracks have three jumps on the first straight, while others only have two before the pack dives into the first turn.
For major events, paved turns have become the norm for several reasons.
1) The surface of the turn stays in the same condition at all times.
2) Less maintenance is needed to keep the turn in perfect condition.
3) Speed can be maintained in the first turn which is well needed with the pro section coming up. It's important to keep the momentum to be able to clear the jumps on the second straight. Although there are split sections for the women and men, both need enough speed to catch some air and stay in front of their competition. Many variations of tracks exist: obstacles may be table tops, double jumps, rollers, or even gaps where the entire track gets crossed before heading into another 180 degree turn.
The third straight usually offers a roller section where skills are needed to get through as fast as possible. Manuals, pumps or jumps can be used to pass the rider in front of you. If you make a mistake at full speed, this section can be brutal as little flat space is available to slide and come to a halt. You won't see a lot of pedaling in section 3 of the track but you can wonder why one rider is so much faster than the other. Jumping, manualing and for sure pumping skills can make all the difference on this part of the track.
We're not there yet. The last turn usually offers possibilities to pass and get on that podium or to grab fourth place during a qualification round. By this time riders feel their legs burning but they must hold it together for a couple more seconds. The smaller jumps on the last section can make or break a rider. They must keep their rhythm on the way to the finish line… and that is easier for athletes in top shape. Normally between 300m to 400m in length, BMX tracks are not long but throw up everything necessary to test the riders’ skills, explosiveness and fitness.