It’s 7:30am on a chilly Manchester morning at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, where in just under a month’s time, the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup will be taking place.
Two members of the Ticketmaster team prepare to take part in a training session on the same course used by the premier athletes in the sport. Rick is a world champion bobsleigh medal winner and a veritable thrill-seeker. Mike (the writer of this piece) once destroyed his bike by riding into a parked car on a steep hill because he wasn’t looking where he was going. What could possibly go wrong?
With more than a smidgeon of trepidation, I’m stood at the top of the elite riders starting ramp on the BMX track at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester, staring at the near sheer drop below me towards the first massive jump that the riders have to navigate. Our coach for the morning, Brian, tells us that from start to jump takes about two seconds and the riders are hitting speeds of up to 60 kph. Thankfully myself and my colleague Rick aren’t about to test this theory as we are shepherded across to the relative safety of the smaller ramp. There are children aged six that fly down this ramp quicker than we do although they have had the benefit of more than the 30 minutes of track time we’ve had so far.
Our session starts with us quite literally learning how to ride a bike – in this sport, technique is as important as getting up a head of speed. Where you hold your pedals as you ride through the course could well affect where you end up – as proved by the poor chap training with us who caught a pedal on the ground during a turn and ended up being carted off to hospital in an ambulance with a damaged shoulder and ribs (thankfully no serious damage was done). A timely lesson, should one have been needed, that injuries are a distinct possibility for the over-confident or the inept. We both take note.
Once we’ve proved we can manage the basics, we get a little time on the second half of the course which sees us navigating the many jumps lined up using a technique the pros call pumping – using your bodyweight and momentum to traverse the course without having to peddle. At this part of the race, there is little point in trying with the wheels travelling at roughly 150 rpm. By this point of the session, we’re both a little exhausted. BMX is a lot more energy sapping than it is made to look, especially when the average race probably only takes about 30-35 seconds.
Our last part of the day sees us on the small ramp taking on the first half of the course which has larger jumps more spread out allowing us to pedal and gain some more speed and potentially some air. You’ll see the big boys and girls of the sport pedalling in mid-air to be able to get up to speed before they land, which Brian jokingly refers to as doing an E.T. – although I have yet to see a BMX race where they have baskets on the front. Both I and Rick manage a good inch of ground clearance, one of us more thrilled about this prospect than the other. You can probably work out which for yourself at this point.
We come away from the hour on the track tired, sweaty, full of adrenaline and with a healthy respect for what the best in the sport put themselves through to compete. It’s a compelling sport to watch and seeing it from the athletes perspective makes it that much more enjoyable.
UCI BMX Supercross takes over the National Cycling Centre, Manchester, between 18 – 19 April. Get full event and ticket details at Ticketmaster.co.uk/britishcycling.