BMX racing is an exhilarating sport that offers an incredible opportunity for kids to develop their cycling skills, make new friends, and enjoy healthy competition. But if you didn’t race BMX as a kid (like my husband and I), it can all be a bit overwhelming.
There’s a lot to learn, from understanding how races are run to ensuring your child has the right gear. When our son first expressed an interest in racing BMX, we had no clue how to start!
He’s been racing for a few years now, and we’ve finally got it all figured out. In this guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to get started in BMX racing, ensuring a fun and safe experience for your child. We learned it all the hard way–but you don’t have to!
Understanding the Basics of BMX Racing
BMX, which stands for Bicycle Motocross, is a type of off-road bike racing. The sport originated in the early 1970s in the United States and has grown in popularity worldwide.
Races are typically short and fast (they’re over in less than a minute) and they take place on a dirt or paved BMX track. The tracks include jumps, banked corners, and bumps that require pumping.
Finding a BMX Track
Your BMX journey starts with finding a local track. USA BMX, the sport’s national governing body, has a handy track locator on their website.
This resource is invaluable for finding a track near you. I recommend finding the contact information for the track and emailing them ahead of time. They can give you information on gate practices (more on that in a moment), beginner days, and just generally keep an eye out for you.
USA BMX Membership
Before your child can race, they’ll need to become a member of USA BMX. This membership provides insurance coverage during races and practices and is a requirement for participating in any sanctioned event.
You can sign up for a membership at your local track or online on the USA BMX website. If you want to give your child the opportunity to race first to see if they like it, you can also buy a 1-day license before you commit to a full membership.
Attending Gate Practice
Before diving into actual races, it’s a great idea for your child to attend gate practice sessions. These practices provide a safe environment for your child to get comfortable with the starting gate mechanics, an essential part of BMX racing.
It’s also a great chance to meet other riders and parents and get a feel for the track. Don’t be afraid to announce that you’re new and ask for help. This is the time to do it!
Gear Up: Essential BMX Equipment
Safety is paramount in BMX racing, so ensuring your child has the right gear is essential.
BMX Race Bike
BMX race bikes are lightweight and built for speed. Unlike most kids bikes, they are measured by frame size rather than wheel size. Regardless of frame size, all “class” BMX bikes have 20 inch wheels. For more on this subject, and for help picking a bike, read our guide to BMX race bikes.
Many tracks offer loaner bikes for riders to try out the sport before investing in a new bike. My son did his first two races on a loaner bike, before we found a used one on Craigslist.
A lot of tracks will also have their own Swap and Sell Facebook groups, or just ask around to see if anybody has a bike for sell. An entry level, used BMX bike will work great for your child’s first race season until you know if they are going to be committed to it.
Finally, just because your child isn’t pedaling yet, doesn’t mean they can’t race. The youngers riders get to race on balance bikes. They have their own category, and it’s super laid back. (Mom and dad can go out on the track with them).
A full-face helmet is mandatory in BMX racing (although not for kids on balance bikes). It should fit snugly and be specifically designed for BMX or mountain biking. Check out our guide to kids full face helmets to help you choose.
Your child is required to wear a long-sleeve shirt and pants. For their first couple of races, any durable, close-fitting clothing will do. A pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt will be fine.
Eventually you may want to invest in BMX specific jerseys and pants, but this isn’t required.
The first time your child races at the track, they’ll be given a paper number plate. This is fine for their first couple of races, but eventually you’ll want to upgrade to a more permanent number plate. You can pick up the number plate on Amazon or at your local bike shop.
The numbers you put on the plate are stickers and can be bought wherever you get your number plate, or many tracks sell them as well.
You child’s race number will stay the same for the entire calendar year. Next year, you just peel of the number stickers and get new ones.
Full-finger gloves protect the hands and provide a better grip on the handlebars. Crashing is a part of BMX, and gloves have saved many a little hand.
A sturdy pair of closed-toe shoes is necessary. Eventually, you’ll want to invest in BMX or mountain bike-specific shoes, but any comfortable, supportive sneaker will work for beginners. Or if your child has a pair of grippy skate shoes (like Vans), that will work even better.
Protective gear is not required, but some families also chose to have their kids wear knee and elbow pads under their clothing. Our son wears lightweight G-Form pads under his race kit, and sometimes even wears a chest protector when he races.
How a BMX Race is Run
BMX races are exciting and fast-paced. Here’s a quick breakdown of what to expect.
Registration And Practice
Most tracks will allow you to register online, or at the track in the hour before racing begins. If you don’t already have a USA BMX membership, you’ll buy one at this time. If you already have a USA BMX membership, they’ll be able to look up your child in the system.
After your child is registered, they can go practice on the track. There is usually 30-45 minutes of open practice before the track is shut down and they make sure it’s ready for racing.
How To Read A BMX Moto Sheet
After registration is complete, the race day starts with moto sheets being posted. These sheets list who is racing whom and in which heat (moto).
These are usually paper sheets that are literally posted on a wall or board, but nowadays may be online instead. The track will have a QR code or announce where to find the motos if this is the case.
Understanding how to read a moto sheet is crucial, but also very confusing at first! Here’s how to do it.
The picture below is of an example moto sheet. There will be a bunch of these posted. You’ll find your child’s by looking at the “class” field.
This field is by age and class (novice, intermediate, expert). So, if your kiddo is 8 years old, you’ll want to look for the moto that says “8 Novice.”
Every so often, there won’t be enough kids in an age group to have their own moto. In this case, your child might be bumped up an age group. So if there is no “8 Novice,” they should be grouped in with the “9 Novice” moto.
In the left corner, above the list of names you’ll see a moto number. (In this case Moto #8). This is important to remember–write it down if you need to! This will be the group that your child lines up with in staging. (Explained in the next section).
Next to your child’s name, you’ll see their plate number. Double check that it matches the plate on their bike. You’ll also notice columns to the far right. These are the gate lanes that your kiddo will be in for each heat.
So, in this case, Parker Burton will be in gate 5 for the 1st, gate 1 for the 2nd, and gate 3 for the “main.” It’s a good idea to write this info down also.
The other thing you want to pay attention to is the “Qualifiers” field. In this case, it says “Total Points.” That means that the kids will be racing all 3 heats and everybody advances to the main. Final places will be based off the finishing positions of all 3 races.
If there are more racers in the moto, the “Qualifiers” field will say something like “1-2 To Main.” In that case, the top finisher in the 1st heat will qualify for the main. (They will not race in the 2nd heat). In the second heat, the top two finishers will qualify for the main.
For the final “main” heat, the top finisher from the 1st heat, and the top two finishers from the 2nd seat will race. (All other racers are eliminated). The final positions are based off of the actual finish in that “main” heat. In other words, the kid that comes in first in the main, gets first place, regardless of their prior placements in the 1st and/or 2nd heat.
If you’re still confused, ask for help! There’s usually somebody standing around the moto sheets that will be happy to answer your questions. I’ve never asked for help or asked a question and not had somebody be more than willing to answer.
Riders are called to the staging area before their race. This is where they’ll line up according to their position listed on the moto sheet.
There will be lines (columns) of kids lined up by their moto number. If they are moto 3 for instance, they’ll be the third line of kids. Once their moto gets called up to the top, a volunteer will help them get in the correct gate position.
For your child’s first race or two, I recommend heading over to the staging area with your child. There will be a volunteer (usually a parent) at the bottom with the moto sheets and a clipboard. Let them know this is your first time, and they will be happy to help look out for your child and get them in the right place.
Once the gate drops, the race is on! Races typically last about 30-40 seconds and include jumps, turns, and straightaways.
There are usually 3 rounds of racing. Depending on whether your child’s moto is “total points” or not, your child may race all 3 races or only 2.
At the end of all three rounds, the top 3 finishers will all get an award. Depending on the race and track, this might be a trophy, a treat of some sort, or “points” to buy things at the track.
Before You Head To The Track
BMX races are a family affair, so plan on all going to the race. Between registration, practice, and racing, the whole thing can easily take 3 hours, so go prepared!
The track may have bleachers, or you may need to bring something to sit on. I like to bring along both a blanket and camp chairs. If it’s the middle of summer, and the track allows it, you might also want some sort of shade structure.
Bring plenty of water for your racer, and for yourself. I also bring plenty of snacks. Chances are your kiddo will want something to eat and drink in between practice and their races.
Classes: Novice, Intermediate, Expert
Riders are categorized into classes based on their skill level and age. The three main classes are Novice, Intermediate, and Expert.
Kids start as Novices and move up based on their race performance. Novices have to win 10 races to move up, so your kiddo will spend quite a long time in the novice category, which is great. It’s a low key place to learn and develop a love for the sport.
Understanding the Point System
BMX racing has a unique point system. Points are awarded based on race finishes and are used to determine a rider’s ranking and eligibility for advancement to higher classes. The system encourages consistent participation and improvement.
If your child ends up loving the competitive aspect of BMX, you’ll want to dive further into this. In the beginning, however, I wouldn’t worry too much about the point system. Just show up to races, and have fun.
The BMX Community
One of the best parts of BMX racing is the community. It’s a sport where sportsmanship, respect, and camaraderie are highly valued. Encourage your child to interact with other riders, learn from them, and most importantly, have fun.
The same goes for you–chat with other parents at the track, or choose to race too! It’s a family sport, which is part of what makes it really special.
The Rascals are a family of three. Kristen (mom), Blair (dad), and Parker (kiddo). We started Rascal Rides when Parker was born and we didn’t want to give up our passion for biking. As we learned, we shared. Over the years, we’ve tested hundreds of kids bikes, helmets, bike trailers, and more.
Kristen is a USA Cycling certified coach and loves to share her passion for biking with other families. Blair is a bike geek, mechanic, and mountain bike junkie. Parker is our resident tester and inspiration.
If you see us out on the trail, make sure to say hi!