For me, trying to write an article about the best type of BMX is the best choice for you, is like trying to decide which of my children I like best…
…It’s like trying to decide what movie to watch on Netflix on Friday night. Do you settle down to watch the latest release or do you finally get round to watching Sophie’s Choice on DVD. It’s an impossible decision.
Where I’m coming from
The problem with me writing this article is that I already know the answer. The style of BMX bike is irrelevant, because I owned the best BMX bike ever made and so any and all other arguments are void.
This is it here:
Ok. So this particular bike isn’t my one. My one has spent the last 15 years or so hanging up in the back of my Dad’s garage, and it certainly doesn’t have the yellow padding anymore, or the blue tires, but it was still the best BMX bike ever made.
I would have died for my bike when I was a kid. In fact I almost did on quite a few occasions. Mostly I danced near death because I rode out onto the road in front of traffic, or tried to jump a homemade ramp that collapsed the moment any weight was put on it.
But there was also this one time a group of boys tried to mug me for it as well. In the only real fight I can honestly say I was ever in, I like to think I gave as good as I got at the end of the day. Despite black eyes, a burst lip, and a visit to an ER afterward.
All I can really remember about the incident was that I had stopped being scared the moment I realised the other kids were going to take my bike. It was at that point I started throwing punches…
What I’m trying to say here is that I am completely and utterly biased toward my bike. In the same way that many kids have dogs as best friends when they’re small, I had a BMX. And. That. Was. All. There. Was. To. It.
BMX bikes are BMX bikes, aren’t they?
You’d think so wouldn’t you? I know I did. That’s like saying a car is a car, but then there’s a world of difference between a Toyota Prius and a Porche 911GT. It wasn’t until years after I stopped using my BMX that I realised not all BMX bikes are created equal. But let’s start at the start.
What is BMX?
BMX is actually an abbreviation of the words Bicycle and Motocross. It’s a good job they shortened the words, as BMX sounds way cooler. It can be useful to think of it as an affordable, and relatively safer kid powered version of Motocross.
It’s a cycle sport performed, wait for it….on BMX bikes. Generally speaking the sport takes place competitively in 3 styles; BMX racing, freestyle riding, and street.
What are the different types of BMX bike available?
The sport of BMX has gone done quite a lot of evolving through the years and the bikes have evolved to keep up with the differing reiterations of BMX that have popped up over time.
Essentially there are 3 different types of bike that are matched to the 3 main versions of BMX-ing.
Before anyone says something like, “Yo, dude, that’s like totally heinous, there’s like so much more to it than that. What about…” – I know, but for the purposes of this piece, we’re going to keep it simple.
What bike you want to choose will ultimately come down to what style of riding you think you might want to do. (There’s also a hidden 4th option that I will get to shortly, but it makes sense to go with these 3 initially.)
- Freestyle bikes: These are basically trick bikes for doing stunts and such things. They are as happy grabbing air of a ramp as they are jumping off walls.It’s not uncommon to see freestyle bikes with only back brakes and pegs for rail sliding.
Freestyle bikes have to have strongly built frames than can soak up the punishment and trials that their home turf urban environments throw at them. Riders have to have the trust and confidence in their bike to keep them safe when performing aerial stunts and manoeuvres.
Concrete stairs and brick walls are hard, and have a real tendency to injure riders when things go wrong, so they need to know their bike will hold up under pressure.
Freestyle frames are mostly made from good old fashioned, reliable steel. The frame has to perform the trick of being strong enough to survive crashes but light enough that it can be ‘jumped’ by the rider. The more expensive frames are often made from Chromoly steel, an alloy that is strong but light.
- Street bikes: These are very similar to freestyle bikes. There’s not a huge amount of difference between them, but they are suited more for use on the flat where it’s as much about what types of tricks the rider can perform with just him and his bike.Scarily enough, they often don’t have brakes, but then speed and riding about everywhere isn’t the main point with these puppies.
- Race bikes: BMX race bikes are designed for dirt track racing and going very fast in bursts of speed. BMX races on proper tracks are usually short single lap affairs where speed over bumps and ramps is more important than trying to land a 1020 jumps.They tend to be lighter than freestyle bikes, and will not hold up well if used for stunt or trick riding.Race bikes are built for speed and are mostly made from aluminium. While aluminium is also a strong material, race bikes are built to go as fast as they can in as short a time as possible.
- Nonspecific generic bikes: Bike manufacturers aren’t stupid. This is the 4th option that doesn’t get mentioned a lot on BMX websites. It is also, I would argue, probably the most common type of BMX style bike out there.For the riders who are really into freestyle or racing then having a dedicated race of freestyle bike is pretty important, but not everyone wants a bike that was only designed for stunt riding or solely for racing.
That’s why there are a lot of really good bikes that are capable of doing a bit of each type of riding.
These ‘All Rounders’, are durable little bikes that have not been designed with a specific style or form in mind. They are almost all made from steel.My advice is that if you’re just after a BMX style bike to go to class on, that can get you there quickly, can run down some stairs, bunny hop up a kerb and just get around on generally, then this the bike you want.
30 second guide to BMX history
Who invented BMX?
That’s a bit of a minefield. Don’t ask. Despite what a lot of people say on the Interbike It might be better to ask who some of the pioneers of early BMX were. There is no one right or wrong answer. The BMX Genesis can be attributed to quite a few people. It also depends on what type of BMX riding being talked about.
Whereas Bob Haro, and his buddies are widely associated with pioneering the freestyling back in the mid 1970’s. Perhaps the first official record of the freestyling movement was when Skateboarder magazine published photographs of kids on bikes doing tricks in empty swimming pools in 1975.
There is also an argument that BMX-ing may actually have originated back in 1963, abusing store bought Huffies and Schwinns.
Apparently it’s all quite controversial. Don’t ask any more questions about this, please. I’ve been as egalitarian as I am able.
30 second guide to BMX wheels and tires
This for me is where it gets really interesting, and is another area where the differences between race and freestyle bikes are clearly marked. You can probably guess what I’m going to say about freestyle wheels, but I’ll say it anyway.
Freestyle rims are built for strength, and are quite often reinforced. The spoke count is likely to be higher as well with up to 48 spokes for dedicated Street style bikes. Freestyle tires are smooth so they can grip on concrete and tarmac. This is the same for Street bikes as well.
Unsurprisingly, race BMX wheels are made with speed in mind, and are again lighter and have fewer spokes, typically 32. Race tires are narrow for better acceleration, and have small blocky, knobbly tread designs so that they will grip better on the hard packed dirt courses they race on.
30 second guide to bike sizes and skill levels
- Bikes for kids: Kids bikes, surprisingly enough, are geared toward the smaller rider. Most young peoples bikes are built with entry level specs, but they can also be specced for riders of any ability if needed.Standard BMX wheels have 20” diameters, but kids’ bikes will have a 12 – 18” wheels as the frames are also smaller. Generally speaking, 16-18” wheels would suit riders from 5/6 to 10/11 years old.
- Bikes for bigger kids: And here we are back at the hidden 4th option; the all-round BMX. These are mostly classified as entry level BMX’s. They can do everything pretty much, but without the hard-core specialisation of dedicated bikes. These are good choices for a first ‘proper’ BMX style bike.
- Bike for bigger kids with deliberate intentions in mind: These are a bit like the all-round bikes above, but are a cut above in terms of what they are designed to do. They are the perfect first option for someone who wants to do some casual occasional racing or stunt riding, but want higher quality components.
- Bikes for the Pros’: You know what you want, and you know what you want to do. You’ve probably been riding a while, and want something that will stay true through the toughest of races, and the hardest landings. You want a bike with sealed bearings and lots of aftermarket components that will keep up with you, and not the other way around.
For all BMX’s though the best way to know what size bike you need is to get yourself along to a local shop, get some good advice and most importantly try the bikes out for yourself. But as a rough guide, here’s a sizing table to get you into the right ball park.
So what’s the best type of BMX: Race or Freestyle?
There isn’t one, and that’s the point. Like everything to do with bikes it all comes down to personal choice. It’s all about what you want to do with your bike.
At the end of the day it’s all about what you want to get out of a bike that counts. I wouldn’t take a road bike down a mountain trail, but I might take a hybrid down one slowly. Conversely I wouldn’t want to do a 100 mile cycle on a road on a mountain bike. But I might on a hybrid.
If you’re not sure, then get a good all-rounder. If you know you want to race then get a race bike. If you want to freestyle it, then get a freestyle bike. Just don’t attempt to freestyle a race bike, and don’t race a freestyle bike. But whatever you do, make sure you get something.