THE ULTIMATE CHEAT SHEET ON DEVELOPING SKILL IN BMX RACING
In BMX today, everyone knows well that simply being fast isn’t enough, you need to have the skills to back it up. A mistake commonly made is to go straight into training (sprints and gym etc), where realistically the time could be spent developing much more beneficial skills.
For us, developing skills in BMX was one of the most fun parts of the sport. We watched other skilled riders and thought how awesome it was, but also inspired us to teach ourselves how to do it too. Every parent or new rider to the sport should have their focus on this area – the sprints can wait.
RIDE YOUR BIKE | MANUAL | BUNNY HOP
The first main area that is often missed all together is simply riding your bike, this can be simply on the footpath or a carpark. Developing essential skills on the flat helps develop essential bike handling skills and well set a good base skill level for learning on the track.
The skills to learn are flat-land bunny hops and manuals.
This is essentially just trying to jump as high as you possibly can, without a lip or kicker to help. Establishing this skill is an important pathway to riders learning to jump or beginning to start riding bigger jumps.
Flat land manuals are hard to start off with. But like any skills – small amounts of practice done consistently will improve your ability to perform this. I personally could barely even manual (on the flat) half a meter at age 12. But I decided I wanted to learn how to manual all the way down the road – so I began practicing for an hour after school, just trying to get an inch further every day. It took a long time – but within a year, I was able to almost manual about 30 meters. I continued to practice, and by the age of 14 I had reached my goal of being able to manual my whole street (about 300 meters).
The skill crossover here to the track, included to be able to manual whole straights and confidently double/triple manual at high speeds.
This alone – is a huge tool in developing a massive range of skills and techniques applicable in BMX racing. Incorporating the use of riding and training in flat pedals has several benefits in terms of skills development, pedal efficiency, bike handling skills and too a lesser degree, safety.
Skill development can be enhanced using flat pedals, in which clip pedals can hinder the development of natural/fluid techniques where riders in clip pedals simply pulling their bike into them (and is also terrifying to watch). Where this technically does work in the short term, it provides no long-term benefits in terms of skill development, especially when going into bigger jumps. There is no excuse at all, for a rider to not be able to perform the same jumps in flat pedals as they do with clip pedals.
Pedal efficiency can be developed or improved using flat pedals, as with clip pedals, it can be relied upon using the pulling (or up motion) of the circle, where in the short term this does help in terms of speed. In the long term it can create terrible habits that encourage non-fluid circle pedal strokes, greatly reducing the potential speed that could be created. By using flat pedals in training and riding, it promotes the pushing area of the pedal stroke as pulling would simply mean your foot flies off the pedal.
The use of flat pedals in an obvious example is using the French BMX racers. Arguably at this point the French a BMX superpower in the Elite scene with a massive depth of riders. One thing that is noticeable, is that you will see the top riders such Sylvain Andre, Joris Daudet, Amidou Mir, all posting training photos or videos in flat pedals. I am sure there is good reason they still incorporate flat pedals into their training and some degree part of their success.
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So if top riders in the world find it beneficial, it is a no brainer to incorporate it into your training and riding.
TRAILS |DIRT JUMPS | PUMP TRACK
The more time spent on the bike, pushing you out of your comfort zone is beneficial – no matter what area it is in. This can be through riding dirt jumps which are phenomenal tools to develop bike handling skills, pumping, air awareness and popping. Yes, it can be dangerous but so is the race track. It adds another element of BMX into the mix which in return will give them more confidence on the track.
Pump tracks have been more common now than ever, these are great ways to develop track speed and developing skills all while having fun! Especially younger riders where some area of the track are simply too big to try a skill, a pump track has different option (especially smaller) to learn or try these skills they have been wanting too.
TEST YOURSELF | PUSH YOURSELF
Once a base level of skill and confidence has been developed, the next step is to continue to push yourself.
The race track can be broken down into segments and the riders will tackle each jump and perform the skill they want too on it – once achieving then moving onto the next one. If there is the dream to jump a big double or triple at the track, then if they feel confident then send it – there is a lot of “what ifs” and worry about crashing, to the point where months or years go by before the get to the point of trying it, even though they were ready.
Understanding that most of the time – if you think you can do it, you will be able too. Letting fear to decide not to do this skill is not a fair representation – rather a natural psychological response to a threatening situation. But once the courage and confidence is enough to try the new jump, the fear diminishes very quickly.
A trick I like to use, even on myself is to make videos of your riding. Often when intrinsically motivated to do something to the best of your ability – and making into a group of videos to make an edit, helped me push myself in terms of skills development. Especially when I spent a lot of my time riding on my own as a teen – I needed someone to compete with, and I made it myself.
There you go, if you give that all a shot, you no doubt will be giving you or your rider the best shot at developing a ton of skill!
- Nick Fox | MCRA Coach