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BMX: A Guide

Freestyle BMX is a creative way of using bicycles originally designed for bicycle motocross racing.

It can be split into several disciplines, although riders will generally participate in more than one discipline. These are Street, (skate)Park, Vert, Trails and Flatland. Rather confusingly, in competitions, park riding is often referred to as ‘Street’.

Street

Street riding occurs on public streets or private property, typically within cities and towns. Without purpose-made ramps, riders have to improvise with banks, walls, rails, gaps, etc. In fact, almost anything can be used as an obstacle, and it is precisely this that draws people to street riding. Riders enjoy street riding because they are not constrained to what a skatepark designer has planned for them to ride, so it allows a good deal of creativity. Street riding relentlessly progresses, with obstacles and tricks that were considered too big or technical to attempt, becoming common place.

Many professional BMXers are street riders who are employed for the exposure they get through video parts and magazines, rather than for their competition results. However, these riders generally don’t get paid the huge sums that the big competition riders get, as most of the big money comes from placing in events such as the X Games. However, riders like Van Homan, who is a progressive street rider, often enter the X Games and manage to place quite high.

Street bikes are different from those used on park or dirt. Typically they will have two or four stunt (axle) pegs for grinding. They are usually the heaviest and strongest type of BMX bike. A considerable number of street riders set up their bikes without hand brakes (popularized by riders such as New York’s Edwin DeLaRosa).

Some street riders may also ride park and dirt, but the set up of street bikes can make the latter difficult.

Skateparks are used by BMXers as well as skateboarders, and both draw inspiration from the other. Skateparks themselves can be made of wood or concrete, or in the case of local council-supplied parks, metal.

Styles of riding will differ between wood and concrete parks – wood lends itself to technical tricks, while concrete is more suited to a fast, flowing style, with riders searching for gaps, and aiming to air higher from the coping. Concrete parks usually tend to contain bowls and pools. However, it is not unusual for riders to merge the two styles in either type of park.

Concrete parks are commonly built outdoors due to their ability to withstand years of exposure to the elements. Concrete parks are also often publicly funded due to their permanent and costly nature. Parks made from wood are popular with commercial skateparks due to ease of construction, availability of materials, cost, and the relative safety associated with falling on wood instead of concrete. Parks designed with BMX use in mind will typically have steel coping that is less prone to damage than concrete or pool coping.

Common obstacles include:

  • quarter pipes – literally, quarter of a pipe – riders air from it and perform tricks on a platform above the ramp
  • spines – two quarter pipes back to back
  • flat banks – a flat bank set at an angle of roughly 40 degrees from horizontal
  • wall rides – a vertical wall above either quarter pipes or flat banks
  • miniramps – two small quarter pipes facing one another, like a halfpipe, but with a short flat area between.
  • hips – essentially two quarter pipes or flat banks, each with one edge at a right angle to the other.

Vert

Perhaps the most extreme of the BMX disciplines, a vert ramp consists of two quarter pipes set facing each other (much like a mini ramp), but at around 10-13 feet tall (around 2.5 to 3 meters) high. Both ‘faces’ of the ramp have an extension to the transition that is vertical, hence the name.

Riders go up each face, performing tricks in the air before landing into the same face. A typical run involves going from one side to the other, airing above the coping each side. Also possible are ‘lip tricks’ – tricks on the platform at the top of the ramps before dropping into the ramp.

Mat Hoffman popularized the sport in the early 90s, and holds the record for the highest jump of 27’ out of a 25’ ramps (a total of over 15.5 meters from the ground). He achieved this by being dragged along a field by a friend with a motorbike and hitting one face of the ramp. On one attempt, he lost control at the peak of his jump, and the resulting crash caused life-threatening injuries such as losing his spleen. Remarkably, despite his age and injuries in the past, he still competes to this day.
The danger of the discipline (and scarcity of full-size vert ramps) puts most riders off, and as such, there are a small number of top professionals who remain at the top of the sport for many years. Most notable are Dave Mirra (US) and Jamie Bestwick (UK) who have won almost all the major international competitions in the past 5 years.

Trails

Trails are, as the name suggests, lines of jumps built from dirt (heavily compacted mud). The jumps consist of a steep take off, called a lip, with an often slightly less steep landing. The lip and landing are usually built as separate mounds, divided by a gap. The gap is measured from the topmost part of the lip, horizontally to the topmost part of the far side of the landing. Gaps typically range from only a couple of feet to over twenty feet. A moderate gap is around twelve feet.

Trail riding is sometimes also referred to as Dirt Jumping. Many maintain that a subtle difference exists in the approach of the rider; trails riders focus more on flowing smoothly from one jump to the next whilst performing more stylish tricks, while dirt jumpers try to perform the craziest tricks they can without much thought to their style or smoothness.

Although many regard trails and street as being completely opposite, the attraction is similar—trails riders build their own jumps so their riding is limited only by their creativity and resourcefulness.

Dirt jumping bikes are heavier than bmx racing bikes but lighter than freestyle bikes. Often times a bmx jump bike will have only a rear brake and they might also sport a gyro. The gyro will allow them to do airborne tricks such as barspins.

Flatland

Flatland BMX occupies a position somewhat removed from the rest of freestyle bmx. People who ride in the above disciplines will generally take part in at least one of the others, but flatlanders tend to only ride flatland. They are often very dedicated and will spend several hours a day perfecting their technique.

Flatland also differs from the others in that the terrain used is nothing but a smooth, flat surface (e.g. an asphalt parking lot, basketball courts, etc.). Tricks are performed by spinning and balancing in a variety of body and bicycle positions. Riders almost always use gnurled aluminum pegs to stand on to manipulate the bike into even stranger positions.

Flatland bikes typically have a shorter wheelbase than other freestyle bikes. Flatland bikes differ from dirt jumping bikes and freestyle bikes in one way. The frames are often more heavily reinforced due to the fact that the people riding flatland often stand on the frames. This shorter wheelbase requires less effort to make the bike spin or to position the bike on one wheel. One of the primary reasons flatlanders often ride only flatland is a result of the decreased stability of using a shorter bike on ramps, dirt and street.

A variety of options are commonly found on flatland bikes. The most unifying feature of flatland bikes is the use of four pegs, one on the end of each wheel axle. Flatland riders will choose to run either a front brake, a rear brake, both brakes, or no brakes at all, depending on stylistic preference.

History of freestyle

Freestyle BMX was pioneered by in the late 1970s and early 1980s. early pioneers of freestyle BMX included William (Crazy Lacy) Furmage, R.L. Osborne, Mike Buff, Haro, Pat Romano, Stu Thompson, Woody Itson and Tinker Juarez. The 1980s saw a major level of growth in freestyle popularity, but the 1990s brought a general decline in the interest on the sport. This brought the so-called “rider-owned” bicycle companies to the sport, which allowed for more freedom in designing, producing and building bicycle parts and accessories than the traditional corporate companies would allow.

Some of freestyle’s major innovators in the 1980s and 1990s included: William (Crazy Lacy)Furmage, Eddie Fiola, Mike Dominguez, Brian Blyther, Ron Wilkerson, Hugo Gonzalez(s), Dave Voelker, Rick Moliterno, Vic Murphy, Pete Agustin, Mat Hoffman, Dave Mirra, Kevin Jones, Ryan Nyquist, Dennis McCoy, Ruben Alcantara, Jamie Bestwick, Jay Miron, Joe Rich, and Taj Mihelich.

The first freestyle World Championships were held in Vancouver, Canada during Expo86 in 1986 which was won by Northern California’s Hugo Gonzalez. At present many freestyle contests are held year-round around the world, being the X-Games, the Metro Jams, the Backyard Jams, and the BMX Freestyle Worlds among the more notorious.

Tricks

While there innumerable tricks that can be performed, and many new tricks are being created every day, there are a few basic tricks that form the staples of BMX riding in trails, street and park riding, and are often combined to create new tricks.

Base Tricks

  • Bunny hop – Jumping the bike off the ground without using a jump. Performed by pulling back on the handlebars, then pushing forward while lifting off the ground.
  • Air – Simply, getting both wheels off the ground out of a jump, ramp, or bank, and landing with both feet on the pedals.
  • Grind – Sliding the bike along an object, usually coping, a handrail or ledge, using anything other than both wheels.
  • Fakie – Riding backwards.
  • Manual – Riding with the front wheel held in the air, without pedaling. A coasting wheelie.
  • Nose Manual – Basically the same as a manual except you ride on you front wheel instead of you back, usally a bit harder.
  • Wallride – Riding along a vertical or near vertical wall.
  • Endo – Stopping the bike with the front wheel, and raising the rear wheel into the air.

Grind Tricks

  • Feeble grind - A grind when the rear pegs are grinding and the front wheel is rolling along the rail.
  • Smith grind – The opposite of the feeble grind
  • Double peg grind/50-50 – Grinding along with both pegs on the ledge or rail.
  • Icepick grind – Grinding along only on the rear peg, with the front of the bike in the air.
  • Toothpick grind – Grinding along only on the front peg, with the rear of the bike in the air.
  • Crooked grind – Grinding along a rail with one peg on one side, and the opposite peg on the other side. For example, the front right peg on the rail, and the rear left peg on the rail.
  • Pedal Grind – Grinding on the pedal. Generally done by pegless riders.
  • Luc-E Grind – Grinding with the pedal and rear peg, with the front peg hanging below the grind obstacle.
  • Magic Carpet grind – Grinding on just the pedal.
  • Levitator Grind – Front peg and pedal, with the back peg in the air.
  • Disaster Grind/Sprocket Grind - Grinding along using the sprocket.

Air Tricks

  • X-Up - Turning the bars 180 ̊ or beyond while holding onto them.
  • One hander/no hander – Letting go of the handlebars with one hand/both hands.
  • One footer/no footer - Removing one foot/both feet from the pedals.
  • Seatgrab – Grabbing the seat with one or both hands.
  • Tiregrab – Grabbing the front tire with one or both hands.
  • 180/360/540/720/900 – Spinning the bike the number of degrees indicated, left or right.
  • Backflip/Frontflip - Rotating the bike 360 degrees on the vertical axis, backwards/forwards.
  • Tabletop – Tilting the bike flat on its side while in the air.
  • Turndown – pulling the bike up vertically whilst turning the bars down until they are rotated 180 ̊ from the frame.
  • Lookback – Similar to the turndown, except the bike is horizontal and the rider is facing backwards.
  • Barspin – Spinning the bars 360 degrees while letting go of them.
  • Tailwhip – Spinning the bike 360 degrees underneath you whilst holding the handlebars.
  • Can-Can – Lifting one foot off the pedal and thrusting it to the opposite side of the bike.
  • Candybar – Lifting one foot off the pedal and thrusting it over the handlebars.
  • No-Footed Can-can – Lifting both feet off the pedals and thrusting them to one side of the bike.
  • Superman – Lifting both feet off the pedals and thrusting them backwards.
  • Nothing – Releasing the bike entirely.

Lip Tricks

  • Fufanu – Leaving the ramp, then placing the rear tire on the coping, while holding the nose of the bike in the air, and returning nose first into the ramp.
  • Abubaca – As above, but returning into the ramp backwards, or fakie.
  • Stall – Stalling at the top of the ramp; common variations include double peg stall, smith/feeble stall.
  • Sprocket Stall – Stalling straight out of the ramp, sprocket on the coping, front tire on the deck and back tire below the coping.
  • Disaster – Leaving the ramp, spinning 180 degrees, and landing with one wheel in and one wheel out of the ramp.
  • Ice pick - Stalling at the top of the ramp with only the rear peg, while holding the nose in the air.
  • Nosepick – Stalling at the top of the ramp with only the front tire on the coping, while holding the rear of the bike in the air.
  • Toothpick - Stalling at the top of the ramp with only the front peg, while holding the rear of the bike in the air
  • Tailtap/Tiretap – Stalling up on the deck of the ramp with the rear tire and hopping back in.

Bikes

A typical Freestyle BMX, set up for park/street.

Freestyle bikes all use 20 inch wheels. Frame sizes and geometry vary depending on preference, but the top tubes are usually 20-21 inches long. Riders often customize store bought bikes, to suit their preferences and style of riding. Generally, street riders use smoother tires for more grip on concrete, and usually have two pegs for grinding. Park riders use a similar setup, but some prefer four pegs and twin brakes for better control. Dirt riders usually don’t have pegs, and use more knobby tires for better grip in the loose dirt. Dirt bikes also tend to run only a rear brake, Dirt bikes also usually have 48 spokes for strength. Vert bikes usually use the smoothest tires of all. Flatland riders bikes usually run four pegs, and a smaller front sprocket as speed is not as essential for flatland. Brakes depend on preference, and many riders have brakeless bicycles.

Before there was a “true” freestyle bicycle, riders used BMX racing frames for jumping and for performing flatland maneuvers. Bob Haro was the founder of the first freestyle bicycles company, Haro Bikes. Most of the early Haro Freestyler bicycles are collectible items that sell for several thousand dollars. The first freestyle bicycles were not as riding style-specific as modern ones; what made them suitable for flatland usually was the addition of bolt-on components, like standing pegs, platforms for the frame, the forks or the chainstays near the rear dropouts, and front and rear brake cable detangler systems like the ACS Rotor for the rear brake and the Potts Mod, a hollow stem wedge bolt for the front brake. By mid-90s, riding style differentiation in frames and components became the norm.

Dirt Jumping is one of the names given to the practice of riding bikes over shaped mounds of dirt/soil. The idea is that after riding over the ‘take off’ the rider will become momentarily airborne, and aim to land on the ‘landing’. Dirt jumping can be done on almost anything with wheels, but it usually involves bikes. The dirt jumping sport is centered on the riding of:

  • BMXs (with 20 inch wheels
  • Cruisers (big BMXs with 24 inch wheels)
  • Mountain bikes – 24/26 inch with either rigid forks or forks with short front end suspension (usually 80- 100 mm travel but can be up to 150mm+ depending on what sort of mountain bike one rides)
  • Freestyle Motocross (FMX, Moto-X) of various sizes & engine sizes, or CC’s

A BMX built for dirt jumping tends to have a longer top tube than other BMXs, and may well be more reinforced. They will rarely have pegs fitted (unless they are also used for street riding), and will generally run only the rear brake. Also, the tires will be semi-slicks, as opposed to the slicks used for park riding. Large, padded saddles are also popular as something to land on when it all goes wrong – they are also easier to hold for in-flight tricks. the gear ratio is generally something in the region of 44:16.

A mountain bike built for dirt jumping tends to be a smaller frame than is used for other disciplines. Running singlespeed is very common, as is using only a rear brake. The forks are generally either rigid or short travel (up to 100mm). Wheel size is either 26” or 24”. In general, a mountain bike dedicated to dirt jumping will have 24” or 26” wheels, a gear ratio of 1:2 (32:16, 36:18 and 24:12 being its most popular incarnations) and rigid
or 80-100mm travel forks. An ‘all-round’ bike used for dirt jumping will more likely have 26” wheels, a 30-36t chainring with a wide-ratio cassette and a short to mid-travel fork, i.e 80-150mm travel. In general mountain bike dirt jumpers are split on the basis of wheel size: 20”, 24” and 26”, because the wheel size dictates the shape of the takeoff to an extent.

Culture

Dirt jumping is a ‘freesport’, in that most riders participate for fun, rather than competition. More recently, dirt jumping contests have begun to be organised, with the King of Dirt(USA) and Duke of Dirt(UK) series becoming large, and viewed as the more definitive series. In these competitions, points are awarded by judges on the basis of style and complexity. Although cash prizes are becoming more common, most prizes are still bike parts, usually supplied by the major sponsors of the series.
Dirt jumpers see themselves as participating in a very underground sport, and go to some distance to prolong this – the majority of bikes and components are made by smaller companies, and most companies push a ‘by riders for riders’ image, to a greater extent than in most other bicycle disciplines.

History

Dirt Jumping evolved alongside bmx racing from its birth. Dirt Jumping is similar to BMX or Mountain bike racing in that the rider jumps mounds of dirt. It differs in that the jumps are usually much larger and designed to lift the rider higher into the air. Additionally, the goal is not to complete the course with the fastest time, but rather to perform the best tricks with the best style. Trails are most often hand built, with attention to detail.

Dirt jumping is a freesport, with most riders jumping for fun. There are some dirt jumping competitions judged on style, difficulty and interesting riding and tricks. Competitions have become more popular in parallel to the increased interest of big (and small) bike companies, particularly to help sell their range of dirt jumping bikes. Although popular competitions have only been sponsored in recent years riders have been jumping bikes for decades.

Types of Jumps

Doubles are the most common form of Dirt Jumps. This consists of two separate earthworks, one acting as a take-off(lip), and the other as a landing. Also known as a “gap” jump.

Tabletops are more common among those new to the sport, they are a single earthwork with a takeoff at one end, and a landing at the other, with a flat ‘table’ on the top. These are favored by new riders because when the rider comes up short they can still easily ride out of it.

Ski jumps consist of just a takeoff, they’re usually longer and flatter than other jumps, and tend to be situated on downhills, so the slope of the hill can serve as a landing. They’re used mostly in competitions on jump length.

Roller a small tabletop that gives you extra speed by ‘pumping’ the jump. you usually find these at the beginning of a trail.

Tricks Commonly Performed

NAME DESCRIPTION
Tabletop While in the air turning the bike on its side to a 90’ angle or further up.
Whip Keeping the front of your bike straight whilst flicking the back to one side
No hander Both hand off the handlebars
Suicide Similar to a no hander except hands are stretched back and knees are pinching the seat
Toboggan One hand off handlebars touching the seat or top tube, one hand turning bars 90’. Tilt front down for extra style.
No footer Both feet off pedals
Cancan One foot taken off and put over top tube to the other side of bike
No footed Cancan Similar to Cancan/Step-through except done on both sides so that both legs are to gether, off the pedals and on the same side of the top tube
Backflip Rotating bike and rider completely upside down & continuing to rotate 360’ of vertical rotation until facing original angle/direction
360 Tailwhip Rotating the bike and rider completely round 360’ until facing original direction.
Front flip Spinning the complete bike underneath you 360’ with the handlebars remaining static.
Bike flip Inverse of a back flip head tucked into handlebars and body in the fetal position
Heelclicker Jumping off the side of the bike and letting the bike spin a complete 360’ backwards before getting back on the bike.
X-up A no footer but touching the heels together over the top of the handlebars
Barspin Turning the bars 180’ or further without releasing the handle bars to make the riders arms form an X shape
Truckdriver Releasing & spinning handlebars one full rotation before catching them again
Turndown A 360’ while doing a barspin
Superman Similar to an x-up but turn your body round with the bars
Scotty G No footer with feet extended out to the back
Superman Spin the bike 180’ off a jump and land fakie
Seatgrab A standard superman but with one hand on the saddle rather than the handlebars
Underflip A variation of the backlip and the 360, a very hard, rarely seen trick. Only done on FMX. Recently Marcus Blengsli landed one on a BMX on a resi-ramp.

BMX Racing

BMX racing is a type of off-road bicycle racing The format of BMX was derived from motocross racing. BMX bicycle races are sprint races on purpose built off-road single lap racetracks. The track usually consists of a starting gate for up to eight racers, a groomed serpentine dirt racecourse made up of various jumps, banked and flat corners, and a finish line.

The sport of BMX racing is facilitated by a number of regional and international sanctioning bodies. These sanctioning bodies provide a set of rules for governing the conduct of the races, specify age-group and skill level classifications among the racers, and maintain some kind of point accumulation system over the racing season. The sport is largely participant-driven with the average racer age of approximately 9–10 years. Professional ranks exist for both men and women, where the average age is 18–21.

A BMX “Class” bike is a strong, quick-handling, lightweight derivative of the standard 20” wheel single-speed youth bicycle. Variations include a larger 24” and sometimes 26” wheel “Cruiser” class.

While BMX racing is an individual sport, racing teams are often formed from racers in different classifications for camaraderie and often for business exposure of a sponsoring organization or company. BMX racing rewards strength, quickness, and bike handling skills. Many successful BMX racers have gone on to leverage their skills in other forms of bicycle and motorcycle competitions.

BMX racing will become a medal sport at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing under the UCI sanctioning body. Other Sanctioning bodies in the United States are the American Bicycle Association (ABA) and the National Bicycle League (NBL). The NBL is certified under the UCI (International Cycling Union), which is recognized by the Olympic Committee.

Sanctioning Bodies

A sanctioning body is the private (in the United States and most Western Nations) governing establishment of a sport or branch of a sport. There could be several sanctioning bodies in the same sport or only one. They make and enforce the rules. They decide the qualifications of the participants including the players, owners and operators of facilities, the liability of the participants within the sport, including medical (insurance) financial (awards and pensions) and legal (being an intermediary between the participants and government(s)), and safety requirements. They also mete out discipline and punishments like suspensions, banishments or money fines and awards like bonuses and winnings and prizes like cars and other vehicles.

In the Bicycle Motocross context sanctioning bodies decides clothing requirements, the need for helmets, the age and sex requirement of various divisions and classes such as Novice, Intermediate, Expert, Pro (the labels of the classifications may differ from organization to organization and over time). They decide how the racers advance from class to class using points and event wins formulas, what requirements are needed to be declared the year end champion in a division and/or overall. They decide how to punish those who commit rule infractions like unsportsmanlike conduct or fraud. They decide standards of track conditions the local track owners and/or operators must meet. They are the ones make agreements with the media for event coverage. They also outline the obligations of both Professionals and Amateurs.

Bicycle Motocross has had many sanctioning bodies over its 37 odd year history going all the way back to theoriginal Bicycle United Motocross Society (B.U.M.S) created in the early 1970’s (see below). There are and have been regional, national and international sanctioning bodies, some are associated and/or owned by another. Many are defunct and/or merged into larger more successful organizations, many are still around in their original forms and prospering.
Below are the more notable and historic sanctioning bodies both defunct and still operating on the regional, national and international levels.

American sanctioning bodies

On July 10, 1969, a group of boys riding their Schwinn Stingrays bicycles in Palms Park in the city of Santa Monica, California wanted to race. A park attendant, Ronald Mackler, who was a teenager with motorcycle motocross (MX) experience helped them organize it. Palms Park became to BMX as what Elysian Fields is to American Baseball for at that moment, organized, albeit ad-hoc, Bicycle Motocross racing was born. By 1973, entrance fees of US$4.50 (which included a US$1.00 insurance fee for the year) for a 10 week season of Thursday night racing was charged and the top three racers in the season were given trophies. Then a new season of 10 weeks would start the following Thursday.

The track would operate well into the 1980’s largely unchanged, including the lack of modern starting gate.

Bicycle United Motocross Society (B.U.M.S)

The very first BMX proto sanctioning body was the Bicycle United Motocross Society (B.U.M.S) founded by Scot Breithaupt in Long Beach, California on November 14, 1970 when he was fourteen years old. On that day he put on his first ad-hoc BMX race. At first BUMS simply referred to the transients that congregated in the field around 7th and Bellflower street where the track was located but later Scot turned it into the acronym B.U.M.S. The first race had 35 participants who paid Scot a quarter (US25 cents) each for the privilege. At the next race 150 kids showed up.

Since he was a motorcycle racer he knew even at thirteen the importance of a sanctioning body and how races were run and organized. He used his personal trophies that he won racing motocross motorcycles as awards for the winning competitors. He gave out membership cards, wrote the rulebook and had a points system for scoring and proficiency level promotion. He ran the first state championship in 1972, when he was all of 16 years old. Also due to his racing experience, he knew how to layout a particularly exciting course. The track was about 1350 feet long and much more demanding than today’s typical BMX course. It was more akin to what the professionals race on in special Pro sections of track at large events today, including water holes and high drop offs. Indeed, this early track resembled more closely a shortened Mountain Biking course than today’s comparatively well groomed BMX tracks. With the aforementioned exception of pro sections, today’s tracks for the most part are pretty tame by comparison due to insurance concerns by the sanctioning bodies. The National Bicycle League even went so far as to ban double jumps in 1988.

This first structured sanctioning body would eventually grow to seven tracks in California. This is what made him different from other track operators at the time, he did not just start one track but several others under a single jurisdiction of rules and regulations, all the requirements of a sanctioning body.

Among BUMS first was the first professional race in 1975 at Saddleback Park with a US$200 purse. He also promoted in a joint venture with the new National Bicycle Association (NBA) (which was established the year before) of what would later be called “Nationals” with the Yamaha Bicycle Gold Cup series in 1974. They were three separate qualifying races held at three separate tacks in California sponsored and heavily promoted by Yamaha Motor Company Ltd. to decide the very first “National” No. 1 racer at a fourth and final race at the Los Angeles Coliseum. It was an achievement of import in the infancy of BMX, but it wasn’t a true national since virtually all the events were held in California and almost entirely raced by Californians. That would be left for other innovators.

National Bicycle Association (NBA)

Many followed Ronald Mackler, Rich Lee and Scot Breithaupt, opening impromptu often short lived tracks sometimes within pre-existing Motorcycle Motocross tracks, but with the exception of Breithaupt, they were independent “organizations” that operated individual tracks without any cohesion. What was needed was a governing body that would standardize and give direction and purpose to the grab bag of these amateurly run (in terms that it was not the operators main concern in life) tracks.

The first official BMX sanctioning body was the National Bicycle Association (NBA) started by Ernie Alexander in 1972. Like Scot Breithaupt, he had motorcycle motocross in his background, and like Scot he was a promoter but a professional one with his American Cycle Enterprises (ACE). He was also a former Hollywood stunt man that own and ran the famous Indian Dunes were many movies and TV shows were filmed. In 1970, he noticed a group of kids trying to organize a bicycle race with their Schwinn Sting-rays Being familiar with motorcycle racing he lended the kids a hand. He later opened the Yarnell track, a steep downhill course every bit as treacherous by today’s standards as Scot Breithaupt’s BUMS track-if not more so. In 1972 he created the National Bicycle Association modeled on the existing American Motorcycle Association (AMA) It was Mr. Alexander who built a truly nation spanning professional sanctioning body for BMX.

Unfortunately cases of mismanagement like not reporting points totals in time, running races late and behind schedule, deliberate scheduling its own events opposite the events of other sanctioning bodies to weaken their attendance, and a less than attentive attitude to its members irreparably damaged its reputation. In its last two years it went through a name change to National BMX Association (NBmxA) in 1979 and tried to reorganize in 1981, starting new tracks and by most accounts had a spark of new energy and enthusiasm, but still suffered lack of ridership (racers were committed to other point races with the other sanctioning bodies) to no avail. The NBA, suffering financial difficulties, ceased sanctioning its own races and started joint operations and did merge its membership (but did not merge its management) with the NBL after the 1981 season.

Mr. Alexander did try at least one more foray into the sport he helped to pioneer, he started the World Wide Bicycle Motocross Association (WWBMXA) in Chatsworth, California in 1981. Unfortunately it did not last past two racing seasons.
National Bicycle League (NBL)

In the United States today, there are two major national sanctioning bodies for BMX racing. One is the National Bicycle League (NBL) a non-profit organization started in 1974 by George Edward Esser (September17, 1925-August 31, 2006). It was originally based in Pompano Beach, Florida in the U.S. but now its headquarters is located in Hilliard, Ohio. George Esser was exposed to BMX by his within the sport famous son Greg Esser, on of the sport’s earliest superstars and first professionals. Like Ernie Alexander and Scot Breithaupt before him, he was a promoter who created the NBL as the BMX auxiliary to the National Motorcycle League (NML), now defunct when he became dissatisfied with how the races were run.

The NBL started in Florida and while it expanded rapidly on the East Coast of the United States and for most of its early history it had only a few tracks west of the Mississippi River That changed in 1982 when it inherited the membership and tracks of the defunct National Bicycle Association (NBA) when it ceased sanctioning its own races and went into partnership with the NBL. The NBL acquired all the NBA tracks in the nation including all those west of the Mississippi. It as a result became a physically nation spanning governing body like the ABA.

In 1997 the NBL joined USA Cycling, a sanctioning body that has long supported Road Race, Mountain Biking and other cycling disciplines in the United States, tracing its roots back to 1920. This is the National Federated body that represents Cycling in the United States. USA Cycling is in its turn part of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) also known as UCI Cycling, the Switzerland based international governing body that oversees virtually all aspects of Cycling around the world (see International Sanctioning bodies below). The NBL had a previous association with the UCI when through its previous affiliations with the now defunct NBL sister international organization the International Bicycle Motocross Federation (IBMXF) which was also in part founded by Mr. Esser, which the UCI absorbed in 1993 through its amateur cycling division Fédération Internationale Amateur de Cyclisme (FIAC) which in the prior five years held joint World Championships for BMX with the IBMXF (See International Sanctioning bodies below).

The UCI deals with USA Cycling at the national level along with the other 172 similar sanctioning bodies to USA Cycling in 172 other nations. UCI in its turn functions as a go-between for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the individual 173 National Cycling Federations that are part of UCI, including USA Cycling.

Through the efforts of USA Cycling and the UCI, BMX racing will be part of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

The NBL is still operates generally under its own rules under separate management while being operated by USA Cycling although some rule changes and terms like “Masters” and “Elite” are used for their versions for Veteran/”A” Pro and “AA” pro respectively has propagated down through USA Cycling from UCI.

American Bicycle Association (ABA)

The second current national sanctioning body is the American Bicycle Association (ABA), created by Gene Roden and Merle Mennenga in 1977 out of Chandler, Arizona USA. Mr. Mennenga thought at the time that the kids and their families were being cheated by unscrupulous promoters (not the aforementioned above). As the NBA was declining the ABA inherited many of its tracks and members making the ABA within two short years the largest albeit youngest and the first truly nation spanning sanctioning body. It was the ABA which created racing districts, invented the Direct Transfer System that shortened the duration of race events. The ABA also started the Team Trophy concept to award trophies and prizes to the Bicycle Shop and factory teams with thebest race results over a season. It was also the first to install electronic gates for its starting line with a signal light to ensure fairer starts. It also started the BMX Hall of Fame, recognizing the pioneers and stars of the sport.

Today it is currently the largest sanctioning body in the world (a position it won as early as 1979 when it passed the NBL and the old NBA) with 60,000 members and 232 affiliated tracks in the United States, Mexico and Canada, making it technically an international organization, but does not bill itself as one following its mandate to grow BMX in the United States, unlike the predecessor the International Bicycle Motocross Association (IBMX) and its chief early rival, the NBA, both of which had international aspirations.

Other Notable American Sanctioning Bodies

Along with the majors and pioneers there were other BMX governing bodies, both national and regional past and present. Among them were the Bicycle Motocross League (BMXL); the United Bicycle Racers Association (UBR) (1977-1983); the United States Bicycle Motocross Association (USBA) (1984-1986) which merged with the ABA at the end of the 1986 racing season after unsustainable financial trouble; the International Cycling Association (ICA) which was started in part by professional racer Greg Hill in 1990; and the South East region based National Pedal Sport Association (NPSA) (1975-1985). They are all gone now, but they did make, for good or ill, an impact on the American BMX scene.

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