About six months ago, a guy named Justin Kosman called me wanting to know if I’d be into running an interview he did with Robbie Miranda about clipless pedals.I told him I’d give it a read, and if it was decent, put it on the web. He’s got some pretty opinionated views, some of which I’m into, others not so much, but if you’re into the controversy, it’s interesting reading. More.
By Justin Kosman, Naperville, Illinois
BMX. Those three initials mean different things to different people. In an old issue of RIDE magazine, profiled riders were asked what BMX means to them. Sandy Carson summed it up best with, “BMX is not a sport-it never will be. It?s more personal than that.” For Sandy and many other riders, BMX has far more meaning than the word “sport.” Lifestyle would be more appropriate. It’s the way we live.
It can be too thick to see through all the gear ratios and titanium spokes of BMX racing and still come to this conclusion. In 2002, it can be hard to see BMX racing as any different than a conventional “sport.”
The final nail in the coffin that gave outsiders a peg to dub BMX racing a “sport” was the institution of the clipless pedal. Designed not for comfort, not for style, but for speed, clipless shoes were developed for wining races, and win races they have. With the advent of clipless shoes among pro riders in the mid-nineties, so came the landslide of clipless pedals among amateurs-a technological solution for adding power and speed to any rider. But wherever speed comes, danger sits shotgun.
With flat pedals you can naturally put your foot down, but with clipless pedals, it is harder to remedy bad take-offs or sliding out in turns with the same immediacy as flat pedals allow. At nationals you will find roughly 90 percent of the expert riders using clipless pedals, which can make for a long day with the medics scooping four-to-thirteen year-olds off the track on a stretcher, sometimes with their feet still attached to their clipless pedals. The American Bicycle Association made its decision. Instead of banning clips and pissing off parents who had bought the $200-400 shoe/pedal combo, they dumbed down the tracks. Smaller jumps, less peaks, and smoother rollers-essentially a pure power track.
In France, after the NBL Grands, the BMX governing body banned clipless pedals for riders under 16 years old?a decision in stark contrast to lowering the quality of tracks in the US. The ban was a safety issue for the French, however their decision had no bearing on any other BMX organization, nor has it hinted at a world-BMX-wide decision one way or another, especially in the US.
I got a chance to talk to Robbie Miranda after winning the 2002 NORA Cup award. Robbie has been pro since the age of eighteen and has seen the sport change and not change in many ways. He has strong feelings about the state of BMX racing, and has not gotten caught up in the gimmicks that have come and gone. Keep in mind one question throughout the remainder of this section: Are clips the key to our sport, or do other areas need to evolve?
Justin: France made a decision to ban clips for 16 & unders, was it a good idea? Will that idea move west?
Robbie: In France they get things done, no messing around, it was a safety issue for them. Nothing will happen over here in the US. We should at least keep novice riders out of clips. They don’t need them. There are four-year-olds out on the track with clips not knowing what they are doing. Parents think they need them to win when they see all the older kids with them. Maybe there are some ten-year-olds who are using them to their advantage, but the younger kids shouldn’t start out on them.
The ABA Grands track was a jooke. Limp jumps, no kickers, why the retrograde?
The way the ABA is thinking is this: “If kids are going to fall we need to make easier tracks.” That’s the wrong way to think. All they are concerned with is running a smooth race and getting all the motos in before dark. They aren’t there to see good racing.
You?ve been all over the US and the World for BMX racing. Is progression uniform in BMX?
Doing clinics in the summer, we Miranda and Fons went to some tracks where none of the kids had clips. They weren’t influenced by older riders or pros as much. I think I see it in the rich kids whose parents are spending so much money on races and they think they need clips to win to make it worth it. It’s still a gimmick no matter how much they cost. And they aren’t everywhere.
After the UCI hosted the World Championships in Louisville this fall, there was some controversy about their involvement in the National Bicycle League. What is your stance on the UCI governing the National Bicycle League?s World race?
The UCI is a joke, they don’t have a clue, they have no control over the NBL. Did you hear about what they did to Neal Wood?
JK: Kind of, BMX Plus’! take on it anyway.
When complaints about the Pro section got back to the UCI they tried to smooth things over by making it a decision maker instead. Neal was hitting threes on it all day. When he and about fifty others protested the first main they singled him out and suspended him from UCI events for six months. Tedesco got on the mic and said that we were hitting the pro section and some crazy guy with a mustache got on and said that we weren’t. UCI made BMX look so stupid. They don’t have a clue.
Okay short answer section, here goes: “clips”
Kid’s don’t need ’em
“Roller, step, table, turn”
Lame, change it.
Good tracks, good decisions.
Orlando’s ten man gate
Rest in Peace
Thanks Robbie, and good luck on tour this summer.
Yeah, you too Justin, see you in June.
Ultimately, BMX needs a change. Have clips led us in the wrong direction? Think about the tracks. Is the old style of three turns and four straight-aways gotten old yet? Miranda is very persistent in making it clear that the tracks are getting boring and repetitive.
Aside from the tracks, what about the eight-man gate? At the 1987 World Championships in Orlando, Florida, a ten-man gate was used to get more people on the track during practice but only eight lanes were used during the race. “Ten man gates would be more exciting,” says Miranda. “Less motos, more guys to race in a heat, more excitement in the motos. Who says BMX has to be limited to eight man races? Motocross does it.”
Rider involvement in local tracks is a large part of the reason the sport has progressed, but it shouldn’t stop there. Not letting the manufacturer decide what direction the sport will take, and taking a stand against weak tracks is key to having a rider-influenced sport. To put it simply, I’ll use Miranda’s words. “The jocks have gone up, and the tracks have gone down. Maybe I’m over it, but the tracks aren’t as fun.”