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The A To (Almost) Z Guide To BMX Tracks

by Michael Orduna

When it comes to kids bikes, BMX bicycles are the most famous. But while we still associate BMX bikes with children having fun, these are serious racing machines for older riders too. With BMX racing becoming mainstream thanks to inclusion in the Olympics, the rest of the world is now hearing the language associated with the sport, including terms to describe parts of the track. For the uninitiated, here’s some of the more common lingo:

  • Backside: the word used to refer to the landing area of a jump or the downward side of a single bump. If a rider says they “got a great backside” it means they were able to make good use of the landing and gain speed following on from it. To achieve that acceleration, a bit of “pumping” is involved and we’ll explain that below.
  • Berm: the word for a banked corner. A berm can be made from dirt or covered in asphalt or concrete. You’ll see three of four berms on a typical BMX track.
  • Double Jump: sometimes shortened to just “double”, a double jump refers to two bumps on a track that are close enough together to be considered one obstacle. With this type of track feature, you can choose to jump from the first to the second bump or pump your way from the first to the second.
  • Flat-land: this is not a good thing as far as BMX riders are concerned. Flat-landing describes what happens when a rider jumps too far and misses the ‘backside’ of the jump. It is called “flat-landing” because if you miss the downward slope and land on flat ground it can be very jarring for the rider and bike, and often ends up in a crash or a gear breakage. The bigger the jump, the bigger the problems arising from flat-landing.
  • Gate / Gates: quite an easy one, even for those unfamiliar with BMX lingo. The word ‘gate’ is short for the start gate. Meanwhile, ‘gates’ describes the process of doing one or more gate starts. When riders say “my gates have been bad today”, they mean they have not been starting well.
  • Holeshot; when a rider gets a ‘holeshot’ it means they’ve been the first to leave the start gate and get a lead on the rest of the field.
  • Pre-lift: this refers to a technique where riders lift the front wheel of their bike up onto an obstacle rather than ride up it in the usual way. Pre-lifting lets a rider gain more speed as they crest the top of an obstacle.
  • Pumping: this is a technique used to gain speed over bumps and jumps. When you “pump”, you use your arms, legs and body weight to gain speed by moving in a rhythmic manner while you ride up and down the bumps.
  • Rhythm Section: the rhythm section on a BMX track consists of several bumps and obstacles placed together in a tight grouping. The word ‘rhythm’ is used as it’s believed that a rider can get into a decent rhythm through those obstacles to gain speed, usually by pumping. On most BMX tracks, one full straight is dedicated to a rhythm section and often, but not always, this section is the last straight before the finish line.
  • Roller: this is a bump that isn’t particularly steep or sharp and can be ridden over at speed without being thrown into the air too aggressively.
  • Spin: To spin means to pedal fast. In BMX, they say that “spinners are winners”, and it’s usually true! Professional riders set the gear ratios so they can pedal at their most comfortable ‘spin’ rate.
  • Step-down: this is an obstacle where the landing area or ‘backside’ is lower than the take-off area of the jump. On the other hand, a ‘step-up is an obstacle where the landing area is higher than the take-off area.
  • Table-top: This is a jump consisting of an ‘up-face’, a flat and level top (like a table-top), then a ‘backside’.
  • Up-face: This is the front side of the jump. It’s an uphill section that the rider bikes up so they can get over the obstacle.

This is (almost) an A to Z of BMX track lingo, and will help you better understand the language  commentators use when this action-packed sport makes an appearance at the Tokyo Olympics (Covid permitting, of course!)

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