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BMX league for beginners grows ranks in 1st year under USA BMX

Published January 16, 2019

 Editor's note: A version of this story appeared in the Jan. 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (BRAIN) — Celestial Cycles owner Sheridan Marquardt figures his BMX race business has tripled since the beginner-focused BMX Racing League arrived at the local track, where the Oklahoma City retailer is now a title sponsor of the facility.

"They approached us when they started the league, and I was just blown away by their idea. It's been a huge success. The league sells out. They've got more kids than they can handle, which is great," Marquardt said.

The BMX Racing League launched in September 2016 at the home track of retired pro racer and Olympic medalist Donny Robinson in Napa, California. Modeled after many youth team sports, the league initially offered five weeks of instruction and racing at BMX tracks, targeting kids who had never raced before and making the sport less intimidating for families to approach.

After a period of modest expansion across the country, sanctioning body USA BMX acquired the league and launched an effort to scale up participation at the start of 2018. Robinson, a bronze medalist in BMX at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, serves as program director.

The league currently operates at about 50 tracks throughout the U.S.

"We're at about 2,500 riders who completed the program, with many of them moving on to the open racing program, racing in novice, intermediate and expert [race classes]. It's nice to see riders of all skill levels finally have their place in our sport, whether they are a go-getter who wants to advance ever-higher, or a boy or girl with a basket and streamers on their bike," Robinson said.

Historically, retention has been a challenge in traditional open BMX racing, but Robinson notes the BMX Racing League is seeing 75 percent retention within USA BMX programs — whether that's staying in the league or moving into open racing.

"Our goal from the start was to bring riders in and retain them at the local BMX track. We don't have a preference on how they participate in BMX Racing, but we're helping them develop bike skills they didn't know they had. They can use these skills in the league program, in open racing or anywhere else they're on a bike," he said.

Based on feedback from tracks and league families, USA BMX added a sixth week to the program this year. 

"Week one does not involve any racing for the members. Our biggest shift is to educate the riders and parents in week one," said Rob Gardenhire, chief marketing officer for USA BMX. "Weeks two through five are part instruction and part racing. Then in week six we actually welcome them into open racing at the local track, so it's a way for them to connect with that track community even further."

The league is also gaining new participants through the USA BMX Foundation's STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program and Track Modeling Program, where students learn about track design and visit a local BMX track before rendering their own scale track models on paper and in dirt on classroom tables.

"The Foundation's programs are a perfect fit for schools, and it's fascinating to see the content come to life in the hands of students. Our goal is to then build a bridge between using bicycles as a tool for STEM-related learning, and helping kids build a more long-term interest in riding — hopefully on the BMX track. But if not, then wherever it makes sense for them," Robinson said.

Heading into 2019, the BMX Racing League will continue its relationship with DK Bikes, which provides bikes at a discount to league families and to tracks so they can build loaner fleets. USA BMX is also in talks with several other industry suppliers about sponsorship opportunities, Gardenhire said.

And retailers like Marquardt report getting additional support for league participants from the brands they carry.

"We are a Redline dealer, and they've been super helpful," he said. "Fly Racing has been huge too. If we need to get some clothes for some kids or whatever and we find some money for it, they give us a break on that just so we can get kids on the track on bikes."

More information: bmxracingleague.com.

Students get their hands dirty in the Track Modeling Program

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