For the first time in Olympic history, one of the BMX bikes will have more than one gear.
Dutch BMX racer Twan van Gendt revealed on social media that he plans to run a two-speed drivetrain with a modified Zee derailleur and what looks like a Zee shifter on his Meybo HSX carbon frame at the upcoming Olympic Games. He hopes that it will give him an edge on the opening straight, allowing him to take the holeshot. 80 percent of BMX races, van Gendt said, are decided before the first corner, meaning that every pedal stroke out of the start gate matters.
This is not a story of something that was banned becoming legal, as was the case with the mullet bike explosion in downhill racing. Rather, running multiple gears has been permitted by the UCI all along, but no one did it, at least not at the Olympics. There have been several attempts over the years to develop BMX bikes with multiple gears, but none of the attempts have gone far enough to disrupt the status quo, and some riders have criticized van Gendt's decision to step outside the norm. Culturally, BMX bikes are thought of as inherently single speed, even if the UCI rulebook doesn't say so.
Looking at the track, it makes sense that van Gendt would want a second gear. Lap times will be 20-25% longer this year than on typical Olympic courses, so all the pedaling sections and especially the opening straight will be longer than usual. van Gendt believes that the optimal gear for the start is different from the optimal gear for the rest of the race, and has tested his new setup extensively at the BMX track where he trains in the Netherlands. To help van Gendt give the Olympics his all, Red Bull worked with van Gendt to build a start ramp and opening straight that replicates the Tokyo track, designed carefully to match key measurements of the track he'll race next week.
All the Olympic riders are at the top of their game, and any marginal gain in speed is a good thing, especially at the start of the race. While critics say that a geared drivetrain is too likely to fail under the torque of an Olympic BMX race start, the widespread use of Shimano drivetrains in downhill racing should at least somewhat put those fears to rest, though it may not do much to soothe the fear of change. If van Gendt were to win next week — which he very well might, as the reigning BMX Supercross World Champion — it would certainly stir up the conversation and could change the way BMX race bikes look forever.