LET'S be honest, there are a few sports on the schedule here in London that you're never going to experience. Fencing, modern pentathlon, dressage, sailing – you can't exactly just pop into the back garden and give one of them a go.

Thanks goodness, then, for BMX. That's right, BMX. I might be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I was convinced I was already an Olympic BMX champion when I was seven. And unlike the competitors who were in action yesterday, I also had the added pressure of having to have everything wrapped up by five o'clock so I could get back in the house for tea. Not to mention the skilful avoidance of the dog dirt at the junction for Lydgate Avenue.

The BMX was as much a part of my childhood as conkers, football sticker collecting and scrapping with my brother – pursuits which incidentally are believed to be under consideration for a demonstration role at Rio in 2016.

To be fair though, for all my youthful experience of BMX bike racing, I don't think I ever tackled a course quite like yesterday's.

To the video gamers among you, it's like a real-life version of Mario Kart. Just sadly without the rockets and protective forcefields. To everyone else, think a crazy golf course, only one that you can ride around on a bike.

Hurtling down an eight-foot drop to generate speeds of more than 50kph, the riders immediately tackle three huge concrete humps that send them hurtling two or three feet into the air. Whipping round the first corner, the women then disappear down an underground tunnel before reappearing to tackle another hairpin chicane, while the men are required to go a longer way round.

A run of tightly-packed smaller humps then require competitors to back off the pedals and simply concentrate on keeping their BMX balanced and moving in a forward direction, before the home straight features yet more bumps of varying scale and regularity.

The whole thing takes about 40 seconds to negotiate, and yesterday witnessed the seeding run of both the men's and women's competitions, with 32 men and 16 women securing their ranking for the later rounds.

It was fun and frantic stuff, and proved especially popular with the family audience that has been such a feature of these Games. Whole satellite channels are dedicated to adrenaline sports, and BMX is the summer Olympics' equivalent of the snowboarding that has proved such a popular draw at the Winter Games. On yesterday's evidence, it certainly seems to have its admirers.

It's competitive stuff of course, and in the shape of Crewe's Shanaze Reade, Britain has a genuine medal prospect in the women's competition.

Reade's back story underlines the perils of BMX. She was contending for a medal until the very last corner in Beijing four years ago, only to crash out spectacularly at the final bend. She estimates she has broken ten different bones in her body, and has struggled with injury throughout the current campaign.

Her greatest strength is race-riding, pitting herself against other rivals and putting herself into positions that others dare not, so yesterday's timing round, where the riders raced against the clock rather than other competitors, was not really her cup of tea.

She finished fifth, a decent enough showing that sets her up reasonably well for tomorrow's semi-final. Australia's Caroline Buchanan was quickest, almost a full second faster than Reade, with New Zealand's Sarah Walker second. Another of the fancied riders, America's Brooke Crain, crashed out, thudding jaw-first into the tarmac at the start of the home straight. You hoped it wasn't as painful as it looked, but secretly suspected it was.

Britain's male rider, Liam Phillips, knows all about pain, having shattered his collar-bone in a crash in May that put his Olympic participation in doubt.

He pulled through to take his place at the Games, and will be ranked 12th behind top seed Raymon van der Biezen of Holland for today's quarter-final. Phillips, a former European BMX champion, is not regarded as quite at the same level as Reade, and he was a second off the pace yesterday, not an insurmountable margin, but a significant deficit in a tightly-packed men's field.