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BMX Racing Barriers – Is it too hard to start racing?

As one of the instigators of Go BMXing Day here in Australia, and the coordinator of the Queensland event I’m sitting here scratching my (bald) head as I struggle with regulation, and maintaining a happy relationship with the organisation that governs the sport of BMX racing in Australia. It’s not that they are being difficult, far from it, they couldn’t be more helpful in trying to support an event that I’m planning; combining a come and try day with unlicensed riders, with racing (with current licensed riders). Indeed, I am extremely fortunate to have an open dialogue channel with BMX Australia and to make it clear, my struggle is more with the journey society has traveled as a whole, and how we got to the point where we are now. How did we get to a point where a 2 meter start hill has a gate across hit to prevent you from riding down to protect the public on one hand, due to insurance, yet on the other hand, we have a 8 meter hill with a 30 foot booster at the bottom of it that you hit at over 50 kph. A hill that you can send a 14 year old off it that has been deemed competent by (potentially) an official that may have never ridden BMX in their life.

Traditionally come and try days are aimed at recruiting new, never raced before riders, generally of a younger age. I want to run an event that would appeal to “lapsed” racers, as well as complete newbies. It would also see a bunch of freestyle riders shredding on the track as well, giving racing a go and generally boosting stuff. I don’t even want to look at the rule book to see what it says about left hand drive chains… And brakes? Completely for pussies! You could argue that from a risk point of view, that a freestyle rider trying racing is far less of a risk than a 35 year old father trying out what their kids do already. Don’t get me wrong, clubs do an incredible job of running these days and I hear of fantastic numbers of new memberships from these days, but we lose riders too. So hence trying something a little left of field to keep the stoke high on BMX racing. I don’t even want to suggest that I’m attempting to replace what clubs already do so well.

You see, Go BMXing Day brought together current racers, lapsed racers, freestylers, recreational riders and the old school crew. Last year here in Brisbane nearly 300 riders cruised out of Ellaspede Custom Motorcycles in West End and cruise into South Bank along (almost exclusively) bikeways. Then we came back, drank beers and had a bunnyhop comp. It is, as far as I know, a fairly unique event in drawing together a diverse BMX group like this. It was a little out of hand at times, but no one died. The freestyle guys eschew the use of helmets, something the cops definitely didn’t like. But to their credit, no one was pinged for it. More likely they didn’t have enough ticketing capacity… They did ask for the organisers name though. Again I was totally surprised, like the year before, that the freestyle kids were so into the event. Thinking really that they would be too cool to hang out with racers, but now that I’m getting to know a few of them, they just love riding bikes (and drinking beer).

I took a phone call the next day from a “concerned” citizen that was riding her bike in South Bank with her husband. The call went something like this: “Are you the organiser? I just wanted to give some feedback.” Here we go I thought. “There were far too many riders in that area and there wasn’t any directional signs to tell the riders where to go.” Ahh, no there wasn’t. “Kids were all over the path going a million miles an hour!” Sure, they are BMX kids, and they have more control over their bikes than the whole of the Brisbane to Gold Coast ride combined. “There should or been people in hi-vis directing the riders.” Well, I did see some fluro 90s jerseys amongst the ride. And my favourite part of the call. “I saw a grown man doing a wheelie! What sort of example is he to the kids?”

She had valid points I guess, so began my quest for an alternative to a city ride. I wear a few hats (helmets) in BMX and one of them is the dream job of working with the coolest bike shop on the planet, LUXBMX in West End. This was, up until early this year, exclusively a freestyle shop that has been extremely successful in developing a strong rider culture. Supporting along the way, some of the most talented BMX riders in Australia. I’m on board to help “bolt on” a race department and claw back the lost trade to OS online retailers that BMX racers seem addicted to. LUX have been successful because they have reinvested into the scene. Through their hard work, they have swum against the current to become successful and were on board supporting me with Go BMXing day from the first one in 2015 because they get it, and they love BMX. Rather than grumble about the lost trade to OS (and local) online retailers, they got off their arses and did something. Things like running jams is part of that (I would call it strategy, but that implies a calculated marketing maneuver, when really it’s born from their love of BMX) and sure these get the Instagram coverage, but it entrenches loyalty deep into the freestyle scene. Combine this with a genuinely different (to your typical chain store) customer experience when you walk into the store, or call up. Plus a killer online platform and it’s no wonder they have an envious reputation in the bike retailer sector. A reputation that I have learned, has blown away a couple of veterans of the BMX distribution business.

But this isn’t an add for LUXBMX (but that should take care of this week’s pay cheque), it’s background for the suggestion by the boys there that we should run a race meet and call it the “LUX League”. Where we bring the world of freestyle and racers together not for just a city ride, but for a race meet. Then I chimed in with attracting lapsed riders and complete newbies. And here we are…

My other BMX hat is as a coach and a rider that has to stay between the white lines and have the right number plate on my Supercross Flatline Bars (cheque’s in the mail Jenko!). A coaching role is a developmental role, you’re also a role model, and therefore in this hyper-aware PC world, you’ve got to watch your Ps & Qs. The third hat I wear is as an admin of a Facebook group named BMX, Beers and Bullshit. A page that was started a few years back initially to organise rides amongst a crew of South East Queensland riders, and so that every race meet, we had a place to ask “so, what age class are we running today?” so that all of us 30+ guys could bash ‘bars, rather than be split between 4 age groups and have more fun. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own since. With over 1000 members, it is sometimes controversial, sometimes convoluted, but always passionate. Last year we raised over $2000 from a run of BB&B t-shirts for Bruce Moore that tragically, paralysed on the Bathurst BMX track. We plan to help another rider or two very soon, a couple of riders that need a hand, through Go BMXing Day. A day born out of wanting to celebrate BMX.

Which brings me back to wanting to run a BMX event that sees racing by various groups of “cyclists” as my colleague from the Rail The Berm podcast, Brad, calls us. We want to have a bunnyhop comp, a jump comp, manualing comp and yeah, beers. My three TLDs just exploded! Conflicted by my love and passion for BMX, and the regulatory pressures born out of the birth canal of modern society.

I look enviously over at the US where just a week ago Todd Lyons (product manager for SE Bikes) held a ride in Oakland California that saw the wildest (his name is the Wild Man) riding from a bunch of riders from various backgrounds (predominantly not racing) on the streets on the big rigs that SE produce. It was the launch of the “Beastmode” and your Instagram feed may have been filled with kids and (gasp!) grown men pulling wheelies everywhere through San Francisco. Mostly riding the 29 inch SE bikes, this whole movement has propelled SE into the limelight, with even an article in the Wall Street Journal about it. Look up @rrdblocks on Instagram and you’ll see behaviour that would make a berm official blush. Other events like the 4130 rides in LA see people like Stompin Stu Thompson cruising at night, no helmets or lights, peeps pulling wheelies through the traffic and culminating in drag races, complete with a Christmas tree at the start. Run what ya brung style with roadies racing MTBers and BMXers. Imagine this happening in Australia?? You’d make ACA (or whatever sensationalist show exists these days) and the police commissioner would be fronting the media with a face like they were closing in on a serial killer vowing to catch these perpetrators of heinous crimes. BTW, did you know Stu’s a cop?

Am I being over dramatic? Probably. But to draw back this article to my original problem, Australia in general in a lot of respects is so over regulated that it’s killed our freedom to be expressive. And I ask myself, is our inability to be flexible with regulation because of insurance a barrier to starting BMX racing? It’s a barrier to me going to my local track and not being able to ride off the start hill because there’s a massive gate across the track. A hill that’s not even 3m high. Yet 100m away there’s a skate park with concrete bowls and 3m high spines that anyone can ride, with or without a helmet, and without any training at all, can compete in competitions. Contradictions in regulation. Anecdotal statistics from my friends in the BMX distribution industry sight a market split of 90% freestyle – 10% race. Could we be making it too hard, or are we creating an impression that it’s so dangerous that we lock our tracks up, whilst just a decent manual away, you can shred an incredible skate park?

Do we build tracks so technical, that it’s a barrier for anyone new to the sport? Byron Friday This guy was ground zero for BMX in the 70s, and is a long time veteran of the sport/industry) hit the nail on the head in a podcast with Dale Holmes a few weeks back where he ponders whether this is part of the problem that’s lead to the stimmed growth of USA BMX membership numbers in the US. Don’t get me wrong, I love the current level of tracks, but it took me 5 good (mostly injury free) years to be comfortable to hold it wide open on a BMX track, but I look back to the 80s at my local where you crank off the start hill and not end up on your head without really trying hard. There are very few tracks left like this these days and maybe that’s one of the things that propelled BMX into the stratosphere during that era. The thirst to one-up each other by clubs, the consistent thirst to change tracks does my head in sometimes. Especially here in South East Queensland where if your track bores you, you can drive in an hour, drive to 8 other tracks! We need some tracks not to be overly tech. Or maybe run dual straights. Not a pro straight, but a novice straight.

I raced at the USA BMX Grand Nationals last year and you can race there in a half-shell helmet and no gloves. In a country so wrought by litigation, I find this, combined with the SE and 4130 type rides, perplexing when we’re facing an uphill battle to hold a local race with non-licensed riders because we don’t offer a day license. Hell, all it took was an email to Gabi at USA BMX and I was licensed to race the Grands. How was it that easy? The biggest race on earth, on a subdued track that created some of the most incredible racing I’ve witnessed. A track that Anthony Dean says was so good because you could come out of the first turn and absolutely pin it with 7 other of the best, toughest pro BMX racers in the world and not worry about hitting trail style jumps, that look like they swallowed more HGH than Ben Johnson, at warp speed. You could just race! My God that racing was awesome.

My forth helmet (I’m starting to resemble one of those animals born during the early days of cloning) is working with Ellaspede Custom Motorcycles and we run an event called Dust Hustle where you can ride and “inappropriate” bike on a flat track. In its 4th iteration in April, we took it to a facility with a MX track and a couple of dudes boosted a 30 footer on Harleys. There was a dirt drag strip, as well as a pretty gentle “flat track”. Three different tracks, a whole range of bikes and riders. Toby Price (Dakar winner) was there shredding on his KTM and generally being a cool dude, and I’m pretty sure that he was boosting one of the HDs. I’m inviting Luke Madill next year because I’m confident on beating him on a chopper around the MX track.

The thing is, all of this happened because Motorcycling Australia offer a day license. It’s an unique event in this country and DH5 in November will be massive.

But back to BMX. I shouldn’t laugh at this, but yesterday I was in traffic and look across at a dad and his kids on the way home from school. They were riding on the footpath at about one mile per hour and he was on a scooter, with a freaking helmet on! Guessing I’m getting old by laughing out loud at this, but this is now the mindset of Australian’s. A country so hell bent on looking after the safety of its citizens that trampolines have nets around them and race tracks that, even if they are flat, have gates across the start hills to prevent little Johnny from hitting the 2 foot high double too fast on the front straight.

But here’s the rub, we have tracks with 8m hills that we expect 16 year old’s to drop in off and boost a 30 footer (10m for you newbies) with absolutely no discussion allowed on whether we could fill in half of it to make it a little safer for progression. Sorry kids, tough luck if you can’t make it. Go and try another sport.

BMX racing, the best sport in the world, but it’s a little confused now. I, along with some very passionate mates want to bring in more riders to experience what we do. Here’s to hoping our new regime iron out the legalities and we can hold an event like the kids have never seen. Sure I have a vested interest in promoting the sport, but those who know me know that I have a passion for the sport that runs pretty deep. I hope that I’ve shared this today if you’ve got this far. That was a long lap, I saved this doc under “Sleeman”.

Keep #poppinwheelies

ABOUT BRUCE MORRIS #84

  • Brisbane Australia
  • BMX Racer – 35+ years
  • Fitness Professional – 25+ years of operating gyms and training people
  • Coach 84 BMX Training – Coaching the 30+ racers. Spanning performance, fitness and healthiness
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