From Marathons, to Mountain Bikes, to Motocross – Timing Your Race with RFID


Race Timing with RFID has been one of the most popular applications for UHF RFID since the release of cost-effective inlays at price points that are very affordable. Foot races are predominately timed using RFID, and now with the technology becoming cheaper, more efficient, and sensitive, other types of races, like cycling and go-kart races, have begun to use RFID as well.

Types of Timed Races using RFID

Foot Races

(Mile Runs, 5ks, Marathons, etc.)

Road or Foot Races occur throughout the year, across the world. In 2018, there were over 6 million registered road race participants, which is around 1.6% of the US population. It’s safe to say from the data collected last year that the business of running races isn’t going anywhere, even though the price per participant is steadily climbing.

Who & Where: Road races are generally organized and presented by cities, towns, organizations, or non-profit companies for communities, towns, cities, or states and are typically held on roads or tracks.

RFID Use: High

Challenges:  Some of the biggest challenges with timing foot races are:

  • Mitigating effects caused by the human body’s water content
  • Missed reads due to large clumps of racers either at the start or finish line
  • Determining the best RFID tag placement on runners

Each of these challenges can be overcome by investing time into the testing process and ensuring that the best RFID tag and tag placement is being used for the specific race.

RFID Tags: Inlays, Inlays with foam backing

Tagging: Bib tagging, Double Bib Tagging, Shoe Tagging, Hip Tagging

Popular Foot Races that Use RFID: Boston Marathon, AJC Peachtree Road Race

Bike Races

(Road Cycling, Off-Road Cycling, Mountain Biking, BMX)

RFID has been implemented in road cycling races all over the world. From one of the oldest road cycling races – the Tour de France which started back in 1903, to the La Ruta De Los Conquistadores, said to be the toughest Mountain Bike race on the planet – RFID chip timing has infiltrated all types of cycling. Because there are a few different types of bicycle races, the RFID equipment setup varies depending on the environment and number of participants. Bike races can also vary in RFID tag type, contingent on the results of preliminary testing. If read rates are higher when tagging the participant, inlays or foam-backed inlays can used, or, if read rates are higher tagging the bicycle, metal-mount labels or hard tags can be used. Metal from the frame and the speed of the cyclists make these races a little more difficult to time, but RFID is playing a key role in automating timing for quick and efficient results.

Who & Where: Bike races are primarily organized by the private sector, organizations, clubs, and leagues for cyclists and are typically held on roads, tracks, mountains, and courses.

RFID Use: High

RFID Tags: Water Resistant Hard Tags, Metal-mount Tags, Inlays, Foam-backed Inlays

Tagging: Bib Tagging, Bike Tagging, Helmet Tagging, Ankle Tagging

Challenges: In addition to similar challenges found in foot races, bike races also have metal from the bicycle and, in some races, added obstacles due to the environment.

  • Mitigating effects by the human body’s water content and/or mitigating effects from the bike’s metal frame
  • Environmental obstacles, especially in races with rougher terrain
  • Determining the best tag placement
  • Missed reads due to large clumps of racers at the start/finish lines

Determining the right tag and proper tag placement are both crucial in timing races with bicycles because of the RF reflection from metal. Additionally, in order to mitigate some of the RFID multipath effects seen in these races, it’s best to take a deeper look into the start/finish line setup and the makeup of the bikes to better identify tag placement options.

Popular Bike Races that Use RFID: Tour de France, La Ruta De Los Conquistadores

Motor Vehicle Races

(Dirt Bike Races, Go-Kart, Snowmobile, ATV Races, Car Races)

At speeds of over 200 mph, NASCAR races are a little too fast to be tracked by UHF RFID alone, however, Motocross, dirt bikes, karts, snowmobiles, and ATV races typically still qualify to be timed using RFID chips up to 60 mph.* These types of races are prevalent across the United States and can successfully be timed using chip timing. (For more information on how NASCAR is using UHF RFID)

Because these races are at high speeds and the vehicles are closer together, usually UHF RFID is used in combination with another type of technology to provide additional features or data. Other types of technologies used with these races are Active RFID, LF RFID, GPS, and Photo Finish equipment. These RFID tags, whether used alone or integrated with other technologies, are usually called transponders.

Who & Where: Motor vehicle races are primarily put on by organizations, clubs, and leagues for hobbyist motocross, kart, ATV, and car enthusiasts and occur on roads, tracks, courses, and in stadiums. For professional events, the private sector or organizations form country-wide tours in stadiums and professional tracks.

RFID Use: Medium

Challenges: There are a few key factors in these races that make them more difficult to time than foot and bike races. The top three factors or challenges are:

  • Amount of metal in the vehicles causing RF interference
  • High-speed reading, especially when multiple vehicles are crossing a read zone at once
  • Environmental concerns like mud, water, and snow, which may add a layer of multipath effects

Even though these challenges are more difficult to address than other races, timing automated vehicles with RFID can be and is being done today. Similar to all RFID applications, thorough testing is the key to success. Testing can be more difficult when working with two types of technology, such as passive UHF RFID and Active RFID. For these combinations, data about each technology’s weaknesses, integration points, and keys to operation are important to understand before testing.

RFID Tags: UHF: Metal-mount hard tags, Foam-backed Inlays

Tagging: Helmet Tagging, Grill Tagging, Visor Tagging, etc.

Popular Vehicle Races that Use RFID: Glen Helen, Texas Cross Country Racing Association Races

Race Combinations

(Triathlons & Custom Races)

Combination races like triathlons are timed with RFID, but it is important to consider and combine all the environmental elements in order to find a tag that will work throughout the race. Typically, a water-resistant, RFID tag is the best fit, especially for triathlons because of the swimming portion of the race.

RFID Tags: Water-resistant, hard RFID tag

Tagging: Strap attachment to participants’ arms or ankles

Popular Triathlons that Use RFID: Outlaw Half Nottingham, Escape from Alcatraz

Mitigating RFID Obstacles

Here are a few things that race timers are doing to successfully mitigate challenges.


  • Foam Spacers – To create as much distance as possible between the human body and an RFID tag, adding or purchasing inlays with a foam spacer helps create that distance.
  • Metal-Mount Tags – Using RFID metal-mount tags helps to mitigate RF reflection due to tagging metal objects, which means these tags are perfect for tagging bikes and vehicles.
  • Helmet Tagging – Tagging participants’ helmets in bike or vehicle races is a good option for timers because helmets contain layers of foam and plastic separating the human body and the outside of the helmet. Inlays placed on the plastic exterior of the helmet have enough space between a participant’s head and the RFID tag to successfully mitigate challenges.
  • Baton Tagging – For relay races in running, cycling, or swimming, it is popular to tag the baton in order to receive a final time from a group. It is also advantageous to track a baton because it is typically plastic and hollow, meaning inlays will work well (except in swimming).

General Setup

  • Chute Finish Lines – Creating a chute-like finish line allows control of the amount of people, bikes, or vehicles that come through the finish line at one time. This will help mitigate any reads that could be lost from clustering that occurs at the start and finish lines.
  • Start Waves – Releasing racers in waves depending on previous race times or age groups is a good way to stagger racers crossing the start and finish lines to mitigate clumps and bottlenecks that might reduce read rates.


For more information on race timing with RFID – checkout our Race Timing eBook series. To look into what other timers around you are using for equipment setup and software, their recorded read rates, and RFID tags they use, take the poll below. We will send you the results after a few weeks in order to give you more insight into the industry. For any questions, comment below or contact us!

To learn more about RFID race timing, check out the links below!

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