In a recent Facebook discussion BMX Australia were taken to task on the price of transponder hire. The respondent believed we are charging too much for transponder hire at the Aussies, and it’s a fair…

In a recent Facebook discussion BMX Australia were taken to task on the price of transponder hire. The respondent believed we are charging too much for transponder hire at the Aussies, and it’s a fair question.

This brought me a number of thoughts, but the major one was to ask why we hire transponders at all? Why don’t our riders have their own transponders? As far as I’m concerned the transponder is part of the bike. It’s no different to your chain or brakes. 

To be prepared for an event, a rider or their parents ensure that all components of the bike that are essential to racing are maintained, yet we seem to look at transponders differently.

Clubs/Regions/States are tying up capital in owning, hiring or otherwise dealing with transponders. They are not transponder hire companies, they are BMX organisations that should be focusing on running BMX events for their members. They are busy sorting out the hire of units at sign-on (holding up sign-on processes), trying to collect them at the end of the event, and carting them around all for the sake of the person who doesn’t ‘want’ to purchase their own unit.

Considering that a two-year transponder hire is approximately $75 for the first two years, and cheaper than that afterwards, it equates to about $35 a year on average we are talking about here. Most BMX parents certainly spend considerably more than that on equipment in any given year, so the aversion to investing in a transponder is baffling.

I’m of the opinion that every rider should purchase their own transponder if they want to ride in any event that uses transponders (did I happen to mention that i’m a bit controversial at times?).

Why is this my stance? Essentially I believe this because we need more scorers. I know it sounds dumb…The President of BMXA wants to “encourage” (using financial leverage) people to purchase their own transponder so we can get more scorers.

Yep, more scorers.

We train our officials online and we put them out on the track in various positions. Sometimes we give them shirts and other identifying objects, and in general we are always pushing to bring more people into the officials teams because we can never get enough of them.

But we don’t do that with scorers. We can’t just ask anyone to jump in the score shed – it’s a bit more complicated than that.

So we lean on the same old people every event to sit in a room away from their kids and look at screens all day. Finish lines used to be very high-pressure places prior to transponders, but in reality all we did was move the pressure from the finish line into the score shed.

So how do we get more scorers? How do we increase the number of these highly valuable staff that no-one sees or thinks about, but are the first ones you jump on when things don’t happen to go 100% smoothly for your young rider?

Let’s see. BMXA could go out and tell all clubs to “buy themselves transponders and teach people to use them”. The response to that would require less than 2 fingers. Maybe states could try to encourage the clubs – pretty much the same response.

However, if the majority of the members in any given club are asking their club to provide decoders so they can make the best use of their own transponders, which they have spent “all this money on”, then clubs tend to listen.  

Now I’ve just maligned a number of clubs. However there are a handful of clubs that have implemented transponder systems and are using them for weekly racing, but they are not in the majority. Therefore the number of people who are skilled on using this stuff is limited. Keep in mind that this is not like reading a rulebook – to learn scoring you need to be knee deep in it on a regular basis to understand the intricacies and pitfalls that can happen in a high-pressure situation.

I’m a computer engineer and a BMX official and between those two skillsets I have developed a very high regard for the people that sit behind the computers I have set up for them, and without whom we don’t race. But I keep seeing the same faces week after week, and I know that same scenario happens across the country. Some parts of the country are better off than others.

So if every club in Australia (or at least a high percentage) used transponders on a regular basis at the their club, several things would happen:

  1. Clubs would push to have several people educated/trained on how to use BEM and transponders
  2. We would have more people skilled in using the equipment and scoring systems
  3. We would have more people to share around at open events/regional events/state titles/aussie titles instead of just asking the same old team to do the work
  4. Club events would benefit from not having finish line personnel – less people required to run a clubbie
  5. Coaches would benefit by being able to provide a better coaching service to riders – being able to use times to help gauge the development of a rider
  6. Riders would benefit from all of the above

When members start putting pressure on clubs they listen, and clubs will start to look at viabilities and ways of making this happen (and yes I’ve been a club president well over a decade in years gone by so I have some experience in this). Yes this means money, but if you set your mind to it you can find a way to buy that new chip cooker, or tar that berm – you just need to set your mind to purchasing decoders, loops and any other equipment needed.

This topic could go on for a long, long time, and there are many people reading this who will be asking “why doesn’t BMXA just go out and buy all this stuff and give it to clubs”.

That isn’t a viable solution because just being given access to something doesn’t mean it’s used. People have access to BEM very cheaply, but there are still clubs out there not using a computer to scoring club racing. Why? Generally it’s because no-one is putting any real pressure on them to drive the technology side of the organisation forward.

Yes there are things BMXA and state associations can do, and I need to talk to my board about these things (generally before I write these things but that’s not always the case). But importantly change can be driven from either top or bottom of the tree – and this is one subject that seems to work best by starting at the bottom of the tree.

This will make a great topic of discussion at the mid-year conference.

Let’s get more scorers – buy a transponder.