By: Kerry George, NOVA BMX Member/Parent

It’s great to see so many new riders showing up at Tots Tuesday and local races with the required gear (helmet, long sleeves, long pants/or shorts and guards) and closed toed shoes.

So now that you and/or your rider are becoming hooked on BMX, you may be wondering where should your next investment be when you see all the vendors at the next State/Regional/National race?  One of those awesome carbon fiber bikes with all the go fast parts?  Cool clipless pedals and shoes like the fast kids wear?  An awesome custom jersey?

Before any of those, invest in the basic safety gear that will help your rider make it through a crash and be able to finish the racing. Having watched new and experienced riders for 16 years+ years, and seeing crashes at all skill levels ranging from pros to brand new riders that occasionally result in legitimate ER visits, I have also seen more than my fair share of riders who were done for the day with injuries that could have been mitigated with three basic safety items:

  1. Full-Faced Helmet that FITS PROPERLY and is BUCKLED CORRECTLY. While Full Face Helmets are not actually required, they are the single most important piece of safety gear you or your rider will put on your body for protection. Helmets range in price and technology, but as a rule, an inexpensive helmet that fits well and is buckled correctly will provide more protection than the most expensive and technologically advanced helmet that doesn’t fit or isn’t buckled correctly. If a helmet fits loose or is not buckled correctly, it can actually cause additional injuries.
  • It should be snug enough that the cheeks puff out a little and when the rider shakes their head side to side the helmet should not move around on their head.
  • The chin strap should be secured tight enough that when the rider opens their mouth it begins to pull the helmet down on their head. If you can see daylight between the strap and the chin with mouth closed, it’s too loose.
  • Expect to pay a little over $100 for an entry-level BMX-specific helmet like the new Fly Rayce (BMX helmets are lighter than DOT helmets and are designed for the types of crashes our riders experience). As you become more committed to the sport, or you land your first sponsorship deal, additional technology like MIPS and SPIN will add additional protection against impacts that are likely to cause concussions.
  • It’s not advisable to purchase used helmets since you do not know the full history. Helmets degrade over time, and leaving them in hot cars accelerates that. You are also not likely to be able to visually tell if the shell has been compromised in a crash. Helmets are designed to work once and often break in the process so that our heads don’t.
  1. Gloves. This is the cheapest investment that will save your rider unnecessary pain and suffering that could also end their day early. The natural reaction for riders is to put their hands out to catch their fall when going down, and track surfaces vary from asphalt to coarse gravel and dirt, to (at best if they are well manicured like NOVA’s) 100-grit sandpaper.  It may not seem like a thin layer of protection like gloves, or pants and shorts for that matter, will make a difference, but they are essentially the sacrificial layer the ground grabs instead of a riders’ skin. Factory Dad Tip: When the vendors are here for State and National over the next two weeks—they always have bins of gloves on sale (same with jerseys and pants).
  2. Knee and elbow pads. They don’t have to be super expensive name brands, or even BMX-specific. You can get them through Amazon or your local big box store in the cycling and skating aisle. They don’t have to be pretty since they will often be worn under jerseys and pants. They may or may not help much with more severe injuries, but like gloves, they are cheap insurance to reduce the likelihood of severe road rash or sutures in the knees and elbows.

Beyond that, you can also look begin to into protective vests and neck braces that offer even more protection as riders get faster and stronger, but the sooner you get a rider acclimated to wearing the gear, the more likely they are to continue wearing it out of habit (like wearing a seatbelt in your car).

If you have any questions about safety gear, feel free to ask any of the NOVA Volunteers. If they don’t know, they can certainly point you to one of the more experienced riders or parents for advice.