If you spend any time at all on BMX racing websites and forums, it’s inevitable that you will stumble upon a thread on “how to grow the sport.”
That’s because BMX racing participation rates, while steady, have dipped considerably since the glory days of the 80s and early 90s.
Sure, BMX racing got some media attention from its inclusion in the past two Olympics, but it’s effect at track level was hardly the magic bullet many thought it would be. Many tracks struggle to make a full gate in many classes and local races can often have only a handful of motos.
In comparision, Roller Derby has seen a growth spurt in both popularity and participation that BMX racing can only envy.
What does Roller Derby have that BMX doesn’t?
Let’s take a look.
Roller Derby is primarily local. In BMX racing, “Nationals are the new locals”. Marquee riders are hardly ever at local races beyond stopping in for some gate practice. In Roller Derby, bouts between local teams are common. Moving on to national or international competition is secondary. Leagues and teams are sprouting up everywhere…from small towns to major urban centres.
Roller Derby participants are characters. From their outrageous costumes to their crazy nicknames, these girls create a persona that people can latch onto. Remember when BMX superstars like Stompin’ Stu and Pistol Pete Loncarevich used to have their nicknames and funny sayings sewn onto the back of their race pants? They were characters with larger than life personalities…contrast that to a pro of today with earbuds in, riding rollers between motos. In Roller Derby, these girls are larger than life.
Roller Derby bouts are not just a competitions, they’re a show. Look into a crowd at a BMX race, even a big one like a National, and chances are the the audience is made up of parents, spouses and brothers and sisters of the participants…maybe the grandparents too. You would be hardpressed to get a person off the street to plan an outing out to a BMX race just to watch. Contrast that with Roller Derby. People plan on a night out to check out a Roller Derby bout. People get into the characters, the excitement of local teams battling it out, the whole spectacle of it all. And most Roller Derby venues serve beer…that can’t hurt either.
Roller Derby is full contact in a way that BMX used to be. In Roller Derby posters you can often see lines like “the hits are real”. Roller Derby is full contact with people working their way through the crowd and sometimes winding up on the floor by a hit from a rival team. Likewise, back in the day it was more of a berm warfare kind of thing in BMX racing…elbows out and going for it. With the advent of more technical tracks and clipped in riders…many races end up being follow the leader type of exercises once riders exit the first turn with riders trying to avoid unclipping if they happen to end up going sideways (granted there are exceptions to this, but I’m speaking generally here).
Roller Derby walks the line between outsider and accessible perfectly. For all its badass babe mentality, a roller derby bout is something you can bring kids to without worry. If anything, witnessing a roller derby bout could be an empowering experience for the little tikes. Yet, 2o-year old hipsters also find it right up their alley too.
It’s interesting that in the roller derby movie, Whip it, the protagonist blows off the SAT prep to pursue Roller Derby. It reminds you of how in the movie RAD, Cru Jones forgoes taking the SATs to participate in the big Helltrack race that came to his town. But even in Rad, it’s all about the big race and Cru trying to fit in with the factory hot shots. In Roller Derby, it’s less about the competition and more about expressing who you are. Without trying so hard to fit in, Roller Derby has created something that people can buy into…and that appears to have made all the difference.