That’s a really weird title for a race article, adapting to race in flats when BMX was born on flat pedals, but at this stage, your young rider has potentially been racing in clips for one or more years. Maybe even 4 years if they jumped on them at 8 years old and go into the 12 year age group next year. Rightly so, some of the kids are a little miffed as to why they have to go back to flats, as well as the parents, and well, me as a coach to be quite honest. And I grew up racing on flats as a child of the 80s! I still race now and you guessed it, clipped in. Having done so for the past 10 years. They aren’t evil despite what the old schoolers (some of them are my mates) yell from the top of the crumbling dirt berms, they are a part of BMX racing just like carbon fibre frames and tarmac corners are in 2018.
Flat pedals were relevant across all age groups in the era lower speeds and stop-start corners, but this modern era of BMX is more complex, with the technical requirements being at a much higher level, as well as higher (and more constantly higher) leg speeds. Leg speed development is a key component of BMX racing and clips purely and simply enhance this component. This of course is all pure conjecture on my behalf as research doesn't exist to confirm, or reject my theory. It's based upon my 30+ years of racing across the various eras of BMX, my coaching experience, and the fact that I still race to this day at a relevant (to my peer group) level.
There’re two considerations here depending on the age of your rider. Firstly for those that are 11 and under in 2019, they will be forced to race on flats in those age classes for a minimum of 2 years, while those going into the 12 year groups (as stated above) will be going back to flats for a year, then at the stroke of the 2020 New Year, go back into clips. You don’t want to restrict the development of racing speed by not preparing them for racing in clips in their year of racing the 13’s group. There might be a few bad habits to work out of them as well as clip pedals can be responsible for promoting a pedalling style not conducive to skill development. I see some really weird body positions during pumping that are impossible to do in flats, and not desirable as the rider gets older and progresses to manualing and jumping. It takes a fair bit of "un-training" to get the rider back on track.
Lincoln is going to go back to flats for one year in 2019, but there's nothing wrong with his form on clips.
Though that said, the allowance of a rider to ride up in the 13 year age groups and hence be allowed to run clips could cause confusion for the 11/12 year old rider (and parents) as they may “ride up” at every possibility in the 13 year age group. Then be back on flats for any championship event like the nationals, state championships and down to zone champs.
So to circle back to help you and your racer to decide on how to attack next year. Well, it’s nearly the end of 2018 and there’s less than a month before your kid’s (potential) first flat pedal race and you guessed it, you should be on them now if you aren’t so already. Get a good quality set of flat pedals and make sure they match the bike because your kid is going to want that, and if in doubt, just go the reliable black set. Thin profile with a good number of pins. You might scoff about getting the right colour, but they’re your kid…. If they feel good about their race rig, then half the battle is one with this change.
Queensland State Title's Final 2018 - not many of the girls on flats here at Sleeman where speeds are high.
The one issue and resentment to change I’ve already seen in my 10-11 year kids is that in flats they are immediately a little slower initially than they are clipped in and struggle to clear jumps that they were doing easily. It’s not because they are poor peddlers, they’ve lost some power transfer from going from a stiff soled clip shoe to a softer soled casual shoe (okay, Vans. We got plenty of them at LUX just quietly). I’m seeing this on a track that has a flat gate and therefore requires a bit of HP to get going. But even on a more downhill track I’ve seen the same group struggle a bit and yes, jumping does feel different initially. I know as I swap between the clips and flats as well in my own riding, so I can empathise with how they feel. So the kids were bummed for a few weeks, but they are adapting quickly. Though I’ve had to think pretty quickly to keep them pumped on riding when they’ve felt a little regression.
This is only a small sample group of kids I coach and may not be a broader issue. But no doubt you’ve had to face the same questions from your kid(s) as to why they’ve had to go back. I’m in two minds as what to advise for next year in the 12 year group. Do you race them “up” to let them continue in clips? Do you revert fully in preparation for the 2019 Aussies in Shepparton? Ditto for the 11 year age group for the year after. Those that never converted to clips are cool, no change for them.
At the end of the day, the fast kids will still be fast on flats and there will be no revolution at the national championships when a completely unknown kid comes out of the skate bowl to win the 12 year Boy's/Girl's title. So my tentative advice for your 12 year old is keep them on flats and running in their own age class up until the Aussies (if that’s where you are heading) and focus on the adaptation period over the next few months. Anyone that says that there’s no difference in the two systems hasn’t ridden them, if at all, but the kids will quickly adapt. Just reassure them that it’s the same for everyone. Then start to blend their usage in riding and training sessions (kids can train at 12, it’s not a crime) throughout the rest of the year to prepare them for getting back on them in 2020 by letting ride up into the 13 year age group. If the rider's goal is a state title, then stick with flats right through to Sept/Oct, but once they are done, switch them over and "ride up" in a few races after that.
As far as the younger age groups go, just hide the clip pedals and send off the berm into the rhythm section and they’ll figure it out. All they need to clear something is enough speed and the realisation that sometimes you crash. The fundamental pedalling skills are still the same. We mash the hell out of pedals in BMX whether you’re on flats or clipped in. Gate starts may feel a little funky for the little shredder, but they’ll adapt. Kids are good at that.
Here's our pick of the best pedals for smaller feet.
See you at the track, and if you have any questions about coaching or bike set up, hit me up here.
Who’s the Coach?
Bruce Morris – LUXBMX’s race program manager
BMX Racer – 35+ years
BMX Coach – 7+ years
Additional Experience – 30 years in the fitness industry training people from all walks of life