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UCI's new BMX pedal rule takes industry by surprise

Published October 5, 2018
UPDATED with USA BMX phasing in rule change.

AIGLE, Switzerland (BRAIN) — Before preteen BMX racers head to the gate at tracks around the world next year, they may hear a new command from the starter: "Show us your feet!"

Under a recently announced UCI rule that takes effect Jan. 1, all racers under 13 are banned from using clipless pedals in BMX races.


In December, 2018, USA BMX announced that it would phase in the no-clipless rule, starting in 2020. "To allow for riders to prepare for additional changes regarding allowable equipment for their age and proficiency, there will be no changes introduced in 2019. Beginning in 2020, the use of clipless pedals will be prohibited for Intermediate riders age 12 & Under as well as for Novice riders of any age. Beginning in 2021, the use of clipless pedals will be prohibited for all riders age 12 & Under (Intermediate, Expert and Expert Girl) as well as for Novice riders of any age.  Once in place, the restriction is placed on the age/skill level of the rider – regardless of the class that rider may end up in. This is consistent with the current rules regarding Novice riders and clipless pedals," USA BMX said in a blog post

For the industry and retailers, it means that the niche market for kid-sized clipless shoes may all but disappear. On the other hand, it may lead to some new sales of platform pedals and flat shoes to the 12-and-under set.

The UCI had previously allowed national federations to develop their own rules for clipless pedals. In 2013 the U.S.'s sanctioning body, USA BMX, banned clipless pedals for all Novice racers, regardless of age. Riders who moved up to Intermediate and Expert racers have been allowed to use the pedals.

While the UCI reportedly discussed the rule change with national federation representatives in June at the BMX world championships in Azerbaijan, the change in late September took many by surprise. With the long lead times typical of shoe manufacturing, some brands may have small clipless BMX shoes in production or on the water. Some dealers who are active in the BMX race market have already committed to preseason orders for those shoes. Those sizes may be difficult to sell next year.

The text of the new UCI rule, which prevents national federations from setting their own clipless rules.

"Nobody wants to get stuck with product that is no longer viable," said Jason Kilroy at Ciclista-America, the distributor of Sidi shoes in the U.S. Although Sidi doesn't make BMX-specific shoe models, it does make its mountain bike shoes available in small sizes that are used by many BMXers. Kilroy said it is a very small part of the company's business.

Idaho's Fly Racing likely is the most popular brand of clipless BMX shoes, with several models offered in sizes down to Youth 13. Representatives from the company weren't immediately available this week to discuss the issue with BRAIN.

The UCI's decision was apparently driven by safety concerns, although it's not clear that the organization has date showing the frequency of injuries caused by clipless pedals. Anecdotally some BMX fans have seen small riders stuck in their pedals.

"I think many of us have seen those kids that were started on clipless pedals too young," said Dan Maier, QBP's BMX product manager. "I don't see it as much anymore but have seen more than a few younger racers fall at the track and still be completely stuck to their bikes. They were either not strong enough to unclip or their pedals were way too tight. Both are safety issues."

Maier said learning to ride and race on flats could be valuable.

"I do think this new rule will encourage better fundamentals for younger riders, which in turn should make them better riders and racers. Hopefully this keeps them racing for much longer and if anything it should give them better skills for any other type of riding they end up doing later on in life," he said.

Some in the BMX world say the ruling may reduce the cost for new entrants to the sport. Although clipless pedals have never been required, their widespread use may create the impression that they are necessary to be competitive.

Maier said the rule will help sell more mid- to high-end platform pedals and quality flat shoes.

"I would also expect to see an uptick in a smaller platform pedal that has a higher quality to it," he said. "Currently platform pedal trends are for large platforms but this rule affects younger riders who will have smaller feet and won't need an extra-large platform pedal. They will still want the traction of modern pedals so I would expect to see a few size options there."

Maier noted that most BMXers use mountain bike clipless pedals, but that HT Components is one brand that markets clipless models specifically for BMX use.

Topics associated with this article: Racing & Sponsorship

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