Opinion: Should Clips Get Clipped in 2019?

September 21, 2018 by  

Will Clips Get Clipped in 2019

BMXers clipping-in is probably the most passionately-argued and controversial topic our sport has to offer. It has literally ended decades-long friendships, had strangers typing in ALL CAPS in discussion forums and has tossed more than one local track into a tizzy.

“Clips,” for those who are new to the sport, refer to clipless pedals— a type of pedal that mates with a cleat on a special shoe, into a spring-loaded receiver built into the pedal, thus allowing the rider to be physically attached to the bicycle.

Why “Clipless?”

A pedal with toe clips

A pedal with toe clips.

Seems odd that such a technology that enables you to literally clip on to the pedal would be officially called a “clipLESS pedal,” right? That’s because the predecessor to clipless pedals involved the use of “toe clips,” a cage attached to the pedal, into which the rider inserted their foot. The advent of the cleat-and-receiver system (as shown below) did away with toe clips, hence “clipless.”

A BMX racer using a clipless pedal

A BMX racer using Shimano clipless pedals and Shimano clip shoes.

Why is This Such a Thing?

Clips help skilled riders exert more force and control, applying power on both the upstroke and downstroke, and allows riders to focus on other things than slipping a pedal.

For riders without advanced skills, clips can represent a clear and present danger. USA BMX ended clips for Novices with the 2013 season. Before that, we would often see younger Novices, their parents peer-pressured into running clips, cross the finish line, and just tip over and hit the ground, still clipped into their pedals (they did not know how to get out of them yet).

Which begs the question: “How young is too young, and how skilled is skilled-enough to run them?”

As with most things in the “clips versus flats” debate, there are a few sides to consider aligning yourself with:

1). Clips are fine for all Intermediates and Experts.

2). Clips should be banned for all Novices and Intermediates, as well as Experts under a certain age.

3). Clips should be banned for all Novices, Intermediates, AND Experts under a certain age

4). Clips should be banned for all Novices and Intermediates, but all Experts should have freedom of choice on running them if they so choose.

5). Clips are “un-BMX” and should be banned completely.

And there are a few more sub sets of those, which you can probably ascertain on your own.

One Man’s Opinion

For my part, I have signed on to number FOUR (Clips should be banned for all Novices and Intermediates, but all Experts should have freedom of choice on running them if they so choose). Here’s why:

Why ban them at all? As you can see in the above photo, clips are no joke. When you crash, your feet are still attached to the bike, unless you have the skill to get out of them while you’re crashing, or immediately after.

Younger riders usually have their clip springs cranked as tight as possible, so it is near impossible to get out of them–since inexperienced riders also tend to drift out of their clips with regularity.

When you listen to pre-teen Novices talking among themselves, they can’t wait to turn inter so they can run clips. Most don’t even know why, but it’s a tribal, cultural thing that represents a rite of passage into being considered more experience rider. I get that, but maybe it should come a little later in the journey.

Almost every BMX coach you’d talk to would agree that riders should master bike handling on flats first, then go to clips. This gives them a longer runway to do that.

Why allow all Experts to run them?. The dangers of using clips are a matter of rider experience, not age. A six Expert has won enough races to turn Expert and, in doing so, has demonstrated an advanced level of experience. Granted, a younger rider will not realize the full benefits clips provide to older, stronger, riders…but from a safety point of view, most Experts should be able to (and currently do) ride them competently.

Many proponents of an age-based restriction feel that a rider should not run clips until they can jump and manual. Others are simply concerned with a rider’s ability to operate the clips safely. I would argue that the rather-drastic act of banning something should be tied to safety and not to force any one method of rider development.

Some countries ban clips for 12-under, but they don’t have the same depth of ridership that the US has–nor levels of proficiency. Since clips are not banned for 12-under in all of UCI, the World Championships allow clips for all riders–or at least they have.

This means that American riders going to the Worlds will be at a profound disadvantage over riders who race in clips all the time. This, in turn, will cause fewer Americans to go to the Worlds, and that is a loss of prestige for Team USA and a great experience for the young riders.

Why talk about this now?. The 2018 season is drawing to a close, which means 2019 rule changes are upon us. Thursday evening, USA BMX held a webinar/conference call with track operators to discuss rule changes, and other T.O. related topics. Among the items on the list for discussion was a change to the rules on who can and cannot run clips.

USA BMX COO, John David, told NEWS the following about the call:

That part of the call centered around getting T.O. feedback regarding an expansion of the the clip rule. T.O. feedback is critical for rule changes, and every year the clip rule is a topic of discussion, as you can imagine.

Thanks to JD for the quote, and straight scoop on what was happening. Social media was lit up with all different scenarios this morning.

BMX News always wants you, the reader, to be well informed, so you can be part of the discussion on all matters pertaining to our sport. Hopefully, this opinion article gives you some food for thought in forming your opinions on the subject (whether or not you agree with us).

—Mike Carruth