BMX bikes are known all over the world of cycling as off-road bikes that are used mainly for racing and tricks. The very name BMX means “Bicycle Motocross”. There are many kinds of BMX bikes in the world, each with their own particular use.
Each type has a different quality of build, and is intended for different purposes, such as off-road racing, street racing, and stunts and so on. The bikes are made of different materials and have slightly varied designs when it comes to their frames.
BMX is becoming a very popular sport indeed. Kids love BMX bikes, and always have since their inception. This is because they are a lot smaller than standard mountain bikes or touring and road bikes. Children like BMX bikes both because of this and because they impart a sense of being “cool” when riding one in the park or around the neighborhood. They ARE riding bikes that were created to be raced, after all. They even featured in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing!
The History of the BMX bike
The first BMX bikes were made in the late 1960-1970s. Children were getting excited by the motorbike motocross fever that was taking the world by storm. They simply had to get that feeling. We all know how kids will copy the latest trends when possible, in whatever way they can.
The BMX trend started in South California, where the motocross for motorbikes was the most famous. The kids customized their bikes to be as fast as possible while maintaining off-road capabilities. They would race them everywhere in the state.
By the middle of 1970, bikes like the Schwinn Stingray had become wildly popular as some of the most customizable performance bikes around. By this time, the sport of BMX had become a very widely recognized one indeed. Soon, manufacturers began building BMX bikes to support it. Before this, kids had been modifying the normal road and mountain bikes to race on dirt tracks.
While the bikes were originally intended for the motocross racing aspect of the sport, kids began to use the bikes to ride around inside empty swimming pools and concrete storm drain channels before long. The sport (or art) became popular around this time as people widened their vision into the stunt bike arena.
This style of BMX riding was called Freestyle BMX, and it became widely popular, especially in California, by 1978. While at the time the bikes were being mass produced to certain standards of design by the large bike companies, this trend began to decline in the 1990s in favor of something far more exciting.
This was the rise of companies that were started by cyclists. These were racers or simply enthusiasts who saw the need for cycles that were customized to certain requirements that only a cyclist would understand. Soon, BMX bikes were being manufactured in a variety of different styles based on rider requirements.
Today, BMX biking whether for sport or for leisure, has secured a large corner of the market, and has given rise to many biking legends, such as Matt Hoffman and Dave Mirra. It also has a number of competitions such as the BMX Big Air and others.
Types of Freestyle BMX Disciplines
Freestyle BMX is a broad discipline of BMX stunt riding, and there are quite a few subcategories to it that have their own differences (that’s right, all you fanatics preparing to shoot me in the head for generalizing freestyle riding can sit right back down, or pedal off now).
There is no real rulebook to the art of freestyle riding, except perhaps “Don’t Die”. That’s usually a basic rule. But for the most part, there aren’t any clearly defined rules. The point of freestyle, whether in riding or even dance, is to express an aesthetically pleasing set of moves that an individual has made.
Because of this, emphasis is only placed on certain qualities of a freestyle rider, such as creativity, originality, skill development and riding style. The main types of freestyle riding are based on these as well, along with the terrain or locale that the riding is done in. These include:
- Street Riding – Usually in public places such as the town square and other spots that have a lot of obstacles that allow for various tricks to be performed. Street BMX makes use of things like pavement curbs, staircase guiderails, stairs, and other street items.This style is one that varies a lot based on location because different streets have a whole range of different obstacles to use for tricks.
- Park Riding – This refers to one of the oldest methods of riding BMX that has ever existed since the ‘60s, which is the local skate park. It makes use of the usual ramps and transitions that one can see at a skate park, used by the skateboarders and rollerblades to perform high-flying bike tricks.Different parks have different types of ramps and transitions. The ramps that are made of wood are usually in line with the level of the road, which allows for tricks to be performed in high airs. Concrete is usually seen in parks that have bowls, rather like empty swimming pools designed specifically for BMX and skateboard stunts.
- Vert – You may have seen the X Games. The vert resembles a half pipe with vertical extensions on the upward transition. This gives it the shortened name “vert”. It is mainly used in BMX competitions like the X Games (which feature a 27 foot tall vertical extension).
- Trails – These are self-made dirt jumps. They occur in long lines with many jumps in between (as many as 8 in a row at times). The trail jumps utilize the off road capabilities of BMX bikes far more than the other disciplines.
- Flatland – This is a style that is very different to the rest. While other BMX tricks consist of jumps and mid-air flipping and twisting, flatland tricks occur while touching the flat ground. This means that the tricks involve a lot of spinning and manipulation of the body and physics to keep the bike stable.
What Makes a BMX Bike Different?
BMX bikes are very different indeed to your standard road bikes and mountain bikes. While there are only a few very obvious differences between many road bikes to the untrained observer, even an amateur could spot the many differences between BMX bikes and the rest of the biking world. Some of these differences are exactly what make BMX bikes the perfect choice for stunts and tricks, whether on the streets or off the road.
There are two large families of BMX bikes: racing and trick bikes. The latter is more commonly called freestyle, because that is what it is comprised of – people showcasing their skills in stunt biking by literally flying through the air atop their BMX bikes, performing a whole range of tricks in mid-air. Freestyle BMX bikes have a number of unique qualities that make them the perfect bikes for performing crazy, out of this world tricks and stunts, on the pavement, in the park and everywhere else:
- Weight – Freestyle BMX bikes come with a 20 inch (or approximately this) long top tube on their frame. When you compare this to the far longer 40 – 45 inch top tube on standard road bikes, you can see just how much smaller the frame of the BMX bike is.The top tube is great at this size because stunt cyclists can actually swing the bike 360 degrees in mid-air without hitting the frame and possibly falling hard.
This small frame effectively cuts the weight of the bike almost in half. This makes it perfect when it is necessary to pick up a large amount of speed in the short distance between jumps. The material that it is made from also plays a huge factor in the ease with which jumps can be made and tricks performed.
Most BMX freestyle bike frames are made out of chrome steel alloy (chromoly to bikers). These materials are extremely lightweight. One of the perks of this material is that in addition to being lightweight it still maintains its strength and durability.
Aluminum is also used in BMX frames, but it is much lighter than chromoly steel and is more common in BMX racing bikes for its higher speed capabilities.
- Durability – BMX bikes are required to be lightweight, true. They also need to be durable. When riding a BMX bike for freestyle tricks, the bike is going to take quite a lot of abuse, no matter what discipline of freestyle riding you may be practicing.Because of this, the bikes need to be able to take a harsh beating every day and still be ready to go when you next have need of them. The material that freestyle bikes are made of (the higher end bikes) is chrome – molybdenum steel alloy. This alloy has the particular quality of being very strong indeed while maintaining its lightness, making it perfect for stunt biking.
- Wheels – The wheels of BMX bikes are very different to those of normal bikes. The wheels vary based on what the bike is going to be used for. Traditionally though BMX bikes have featured small wheel sizes and knobby tires, made for gripping the dirt in the off-road tracks they were built for.On freestyle BMX bikes, the wheels are usually on a 20” size. This is one of the most popular on BMX bikes. Generally, they come in a ‘one size fits all’ type of design (for the most part, at least). The tire treads vary for different disciplines. For example, trail biking will require a groove pattern that is very knobby with deep grooves in order to achieve maximum grip off-road.
However, street and flatland bikes are on the pavements and roads, so they do not require a lot of grip. Because of this their tire patterns are smoother, to allow for spinning to be done on the ground with less friction against the tarmac of the street.
Wheels usually also feature powerfully built rims for extra durability. This is important when the discipline involves a lot of bumps, as the rims could get damaged or even split if too weak.
- Chains, Gears and Pedals – One of the perks of a BMX freestyle bike is that it is not necessary for the bike to have pedaling efficiency. BMX bikes are almost never used for long distance cycling. This means that to cut down on weight, the standard for BMX bikes is one gear. IT also doesn’t generally make use of a freewheel assembly.This is particularly useful when it comes to stunts, as the cyclist can actually backpedal to go in reverse. In addition to this, the lack of gears and extra assemblies on the bike make for an overall faster, lighter bike with less components that can fall apart at crucial moments or slow the cyclist down.
Although gears aren’t present on the bikes, the ratio between the main gear and the rear pinion can vary based on the discipline. For the precision and accuracy needed on the street and in flatland riding, the bikes have a ratio of 25:8, while for dirt and trail biking, the ratio is closer to 36:18.
- Brakes – Freestyle bikes don’t really make use of brakes much, but some have very primitive “u – brakes” on them to allow for basic stopping. Most BMX bikes are stopped with a foot on the rear wheel to provide the necessary friction. (Maybe that’s where the term “brake shoe” came from).Freestyle bikes involve a lot of spinning, so normal brake cables can’t be used. They may get entangled in the handlebars when doing a 360 and kill someone. Instead, they are routed through a gyro within the tube in order to allow for spinning.
- Pegs – Pegs are usually found on BMX bikes in the street and flatland disciplines. They attach to the front and rear wheels rather like the foot rests on a motorbike. They are commonly used by stunt riders to grind on rails and bars.
BMX bikes are used for a variety of purposes. The above are some of the reasons why they are consistently the best choices for stunt bikes by the professionals and amateurs alike. If you are looking for a BMX bike to start learning tricks on, make sure you wear the proper safety equipment, and choose the components based on what you know about the different disciplines. Good luck, and stay safe (ish)!