I have constant discussions regarding BMX tracks. 8m, 5m, 2.5m start hills, pro straights, tar corners, rhythm sections, multiple transponders – you name it, it’s all up for discussion. However the main question that…
I have constant discussions regarding BMX tracks. 8m, 5m, 2.5m start hills, pro straights, tar corners, rhythm sections, multiple transponders – you name it, it’s all up for discussion.
However the main question that I think needs to be asked by State, Region and Club administrators is: “What are we trying to achieve with this track?”
That brings about a whole different discussion. Are you trying to increase membership? Are you trying to build something to help progress the skills of your riders? Are you trying to build something for your elite riders (a very small component of this sport) to train and practice on for international competition?
Are you chasing international events to your venue? Are you trying to start a club in a new suburban area of a major city with a very young population? These sorts of questions will determine what the layout of the track is, but they don’t come close to resolving the basic problem of BMX track designers and builders – the venue.
Venue is more important than track
Yes, the word “venue” is (IMHO) far more important than the “track”. Far too often I’ve seen tracks designed and built that are a brilliant technical achievement – trouble is they are built in the middle of a swamp full of flies with no spectator areas, no rider facilities, toilets 500m away and carparks that need shuttle services.
Basically, track designers should only be brought into the equation once the venue has been designed. Think about the number of tracks you know of that have miserable facilities – little Johnnie loves riding the track but mum hates going there because it’s a dump.
If BMX wants to become mainstream and wants to start attracting larger numbers of riders and people from outside the sport, then we need to cater for the people that are NOT riders – mums, dads, grandma and, heaven forbid, outside public.
If you look at the successful sports and their successful sporting facilities, most of what you see is designed around creating a fantastic user experience for those coming to watch the event, while still catering for those actually participating in the event.
BMX tracks and designs are a dime a dozen. You can get designs on Google, and photos everywhere of different sections of tracks. Even the UCI have at times put out “design” guides. Trouble with those designs is that they look at the track and 1.5m around it, and little else.
Now that’s fine for the rider, but if we ever do convince little Johnnie’s mum to bring him along to a club night to try out the sport, it’s both Johnnie and his mum that have to have a good experience, not just the rider.
The next time someone drops a plan of a track in front of me and says “look at the amazing thing we are going to build” I’ll be asking … where’s the rest of it?
Does this mean that all “facilities” and “venues” are not up to scratch?
Not by a long shot and I know of many clubs who are working very hard on the surrounds of their track to create a first-class “venue” (Castle Hill in Sydney comes to mind here), but I just find that the focus is all about the track – and that’s disappointing.
What do we need? What does your club need?
So back to the theme of this … what sort of tracks do we need?
Do we need more supercross tracks in Australia? Probably not (or at least not too many more). Supercross tracks don’t develop 8-year-old riders – in fact they scare the pants off young riders. They certainly don’t encourage growth and increased membership in the sport or your club. At the same time a flat, never-changing track won’t keep them interested for long either.
In reality it’s middle ground that is nearly always the right answer.
Yes we need Supercross tracks. There are a very small number of riders who “need” to train on them to get themselves ready for World Cups and other elite international competitions. That is, of course, if they are still riding in Australia and have not gone overseas to ply their trade.
We love looking at the US (apart from Trump gazing), so how many 8m hills does the US have? Consider they have more than five times the number of riders we have in Australia, then do some research. You might be surprised by how few they have. Why? Because as I said before it’s only a very small number of riders who actually need or benefit from these things?
Bigger is not always better
Now recognise that there are different types of tracks … “small” fun BMX tracks through to monster Supercross tracks and think about what we really need.
In my opinion we really only need one Supercross track per state. By Supercross I’m really referring to such facilities as Sleeman with 8m and 5m start hills, large pro jumps etc. This sort of track is required for the Elite rider to train on.
We need lots and lots of smaller “fun” tracks. I’m thinking here of Macarthur in Sydney, Pine Rivers in Qld, Knox in Vic and Wanneroo in Perth (note that the last time I was there was several years ago and things might have changed, but it used to be one of the craziest fun racing tracks I’ve seen).
These sort of tracks are seen as not good enough any more. Even the administrators of those clubs want to build something “bigger”. A lot of people who haven’t been in the sport for more than 10 years have not really seen much before the UCI started down this crazy path of “bigger is better” and have ended up with tracks like the Rio Olympics track which in my mind produced very little in the way of close racing – just a series of massive jumps that took every bit of skill the riders had to make a clean lap.
So we have a mindset by a lot of people in the sport that we need to build “bigger” tracks. As I said before, we need them, but we don’t need every track in the country to become a Supercross track – we need balance.
Young riders need to (a) have fun and (b) learn their trade. Yes, they need to learn to race, not just learn how to jump and manual. That means banging bars and learning tactics in corners as well as on jumps and straights.
They don’t learn that stuff on tracks designed for Elites, they learn it on smaller fun tracks.
If we want to build the sport’s membership, and improve the skills of our riders, we need fun tracks that don’t scare the pants off the new rider, keep them coming back for more, and that track needs to be encapsulated in a “facility” that provides for the needs of the rider, parent, sibling, official, scorer, stager, starter and everyone else involved in the game.
What do we do?
So who builds what? Does a State Admin get involved in track design and decide how many of what type of track they want in their state? That would be a pretty brave administrator.
Do we just let clubs do their own thing and end up going big, then coming back down small again when membership has dwindled and a change is in order?
We can’t determine who gets and who does what. That’s all about finances, motivation, ambition of the club etc.
But we can start talking and thinking about what the heck a BMX track really is, what it is trying to achieve and why should a certain style of track be built.
Those discussions might actually have a far better outcome for young riders plying their trade in this sport than the mad headlong rush to build the world’s biggest track.
Food for thought.