Bike stunt riding is also called BMX freestyle. It was born as an offshoot
of traditional BMX, which stands for bicycle motocross. Traditional BMX involves
bike riders racing each other around a dirt track. BMX freestylers perform
tricks on their bikes -- and those tricks can get pretty complicated.
Not only does it look cool, it feels great to practice tricks until that
you get them "dialed," as they say in the BMX scene. It's good exercise, exposure
to fresh air and a chance to get a great feeling of satisfaction!
With the popularity of the X Games, BMX freestyle has gotten more attention.
Popular riders like Dave Mirra and Mat Hoffman even have their own video games.
This is a far cry from the sport's humble beginnings in the '80s.
Ron Wilkerson is a professional rider. He says the professionals do everything
from "signing autographs for hours and hours, to doing shows in the freezing
cold snow in Norway to doing shows for 30,000 people in giant stadiums in
BMX bikes are smaller than mountain bikes or other geared bikes. Sometimes
they look like small children's bikes when adults are riding them.
BMX freestyle can be broken down into a few categories. Usually a rider
will focus on one, but most people who like BMX dabble in at least a couple
of the following:
Vertical (vert) riding involves either a quarter-pipe or half-pipe
ramp. To get a better idea of what that looks like, a half-pipe ramp is a
big "u" shape, going up 10 to 15 feet on either side, the last foot or so
being completely vertical. Riders go back and forth on the ramp, eventually
going up into the air every time, hitting heights of 10 feet or more off the
top of the ramp. They do tricks in the air that can involve everything from
a backflip 180-degree twist (known as a flair) or hopping off the pedals and
kicking the frame of the bike all the way around you and landing back on it,
all in the air (a tailwhip).
Dirt jumping is the closest BMX freestyle gets to traditional BMX
riding, but the focus is on doing tricks in the air after you launch off the
Street riding is just that: going out and finding obstacles on
the street to do tricks on, grind your bike's pegs on, or jump off. There
are also skate parks in many cities which feature obstacles and sometimes
bigger vert ramps. Street riders can do everything from sliding down handrails
to riding on walls. You have to see them to believe some of these tricks.
Flatland riding is just the rider and their bike in a flat area
(usually a parking lot or tennis or basketball court). The rider uses a lot
of balance to do everything from flipping their bike upside down and riding
it like that upside down (known as the darkside) to coasting forward on just
their front wheel with both feet stuck in the air (a hang nothing).
Those are some pretty amazing stunts! It might be hard to imagine riding
a bike upside down. But BMX riders say practice will help get you there.
"Anyone can pick it up and learn at least some of the basics in a short
period of time," says recreational BMX freestyle rider Jeff Favelle. "But,
like anything else, some people will learn faster and become more advanced
"There are a few people who have this wild natural ability to ride BMX,"
says professional BMX rider Brian Tunney. He also is the managing editor of
a BMX magazine. "For most of us, though, it takes a lot of practice, dedication,
hard work, repetitive tries... talent mainly comes from all of that hard work,
as does balance.
"Some of the top pros in the sport, guys like Jamie Bestwick, have been
riding for 20 years and still practice three or four hours a day," he continues.
"That's how they stay on top of their game. This isn't the kind of sport where
you can take six months off and still be on top. It takes a heck of a lot
of self-discipline and dedication, and that's inside of everyone if they want
it bad enough. But, yeah, anyone can do this; it just takes a lot of work."
Although rare, it is possible to ride with physical disabilities. In the
BMX world, anything is possible.
BMX freestyle bikes have many components the average bike does not. For
starters, they have a something called a gyro. A gyro allows the rider to
spin the handlebars around as much as they like without the brake cables getting
BMX freestyle bikes also have pegs on the front and back wheels, which
extend out from the wheel's axle. These pegs are what a lot of tricks (especially
flatland) are done on.
A BMX bike's frame geometry is designed especially for trick riding. More
expensive bikes are built especially for certain types of trick riding.
If you're starting out, it's a good idea to go to a department store and
look for a cheaper bike that isn't a brand name. You can get one for around
$100. Even a lower-level brand name bike can be found for $150 to $200. Then,
if you decide you want to keep riding, you can sell that bike and use the
money to buy an entry-level bike from one of the bigger BMX bike companies.
A good tip: find a quality second-hand bike to save some money. Many bike
stores sell second-hand bikes that are as good as new. Once you get really
serious about riding, a quality bike can run anywhere from $600 to $1,000.
It can't hurt -- and can keep you from hurting -- to get some safety gear.
A helmet is mandatory for all cycling, so that's a given. Be sure to get one
that fits your head snugly. For freestyle riding, knee, shin and elbow pads
are also a good idea.
"You need gear when you ride," says rider Angie McEwen. She also owns the
Trick Chicks BMX Stunt Team, a team made up of all female riders. "Elbow pads,
knee pads... If you are getting into street or vert, take all precautions.
"If you want to ride like Morgan Wade or Mat Hoffman you need to know that
when Morgan started out he would show up at the skatepark covered from head
to toe in gear. People would look at him and think he was a geek. But he blows
the doors off everyone because he took the time to suit up. After a while
you start getting the confidence to do this stuff with less gear. But always
use a helmet."
Most importantly, there's one key thing to do after getting the equipment.
And professional BMX rider Ron Wilkerson knows exactly what that is.
"The key is to ride, ride, ride!" he says.
Adventure Cycling Association
150 East Pine St.
P.O. Box 8308
American Bicycle Association - BMX
P.O. Box 718
A great BMX freestyle magazine
A site dedicated to all things flatland
Women of Freestyle
Women can ride, too!
ESPN Extreme Sports
Read up on the latest news
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