Quadruple Decade? Check!

A couple of weeks ago I went to a contest in North Carolina.  I ran into a bunch of old riding buddies.   Many of them were close to or had just turned 40.  We were talking about how life has changed with kids, work, getting older and balancing life without giving up riding.  We came up on the topic of when we started riding.  I just usually make a stupid joke when that subject comes up to avoid sounding like a pompous ass but as these were good friends who would understand, I told them the truth.

A few years ago I asked my mom “When did I start jumping my bike?  Actually putting a board on a cinderblock and making a ramp”.  She thought about it for a minute and then said “1972”.  Now this has been sticking in my side for a few years and I have tried to keep it low key.  It just seems ridiculous to me.  After talking with my best friend, a guy I have ridden with for about 30 years, I came to some conclusions.  My riding can be broken into distinct decade size chunks that are all different chapters in my experience.  I thought I’d share them here.

1972-1982- Discovery

I learned to jump by realizing that if I went fast enough on the sidewalk in front of my house my front wheel would pop up where the blocks had been pushed up by the enormous tree roots.  With a little more speed, I could get both wheels in the air.  Then came the small ramps.  Then I saw Evel Knievel on TV and I realized I was actually doing what he did.  Of course I was doing it on an age appropriate level but it was the same thing.  I figured out curb cuts, how to launch down staircases and find dirt jumps.  I came home from school every day in first grade and jumped my ramps.  The older kids in the neighborhood noticed me and encouraged me.  Mostly for their entertainment I guess.  This decade can be summed up as Discovery.  I was learning what I could do and what was possible.  I mastered wheelies, made drag chutes to slow me down, did stunt shows for the other kids with me jumping over big wheels while wearing a cape that my mom gave me that she had from a tap dancing recital she had done in 1951.  I didn’t know there were other kids jumping or doing this stuff on their bikes.  It was just something I wanted to do for me.  It was just fun.

Wheelie 1975. Still have the wrist band.

1982-1992- Innovation

This decade marked my entry into BMX.  I had moved to York and seen other kids with real BMX bikes.  I could out jump them on my department store Huffy I had been riding since 1975.  Then one day Dave Wineka gave me a box of BMX magazines instead of throwing them out like his father had told him to do.  I had about 2 years worth of BMX Action, BMX Plus and Super BMX magazines.  I spent the weekend in my basement and read every word in each issue.  I learned BMX in one weekend.  That was when I realized jumping my bike was bigger than me and that there were thousands of people that did what I was doing.  I started meeting more BMX riders and realized I needed to upgrade my bike.  One of the riders I met was Mike Daily.  He was a racer and a total BMX geek.  Through Mike, I met more riders and eventually we started a trick team.  Freestyle riding was blowing up and I knew that racing wouldn’t be my thing.  I spent the decade learning how to freestyle.  Those of you that know the Plywood Hoods trick team know what we did.  It was all new and we (the Plywood Hoods and our peers) were Innovating.  We were making up the sport.

Jumping into the green bowl at ThunderDohm, 1985. No footer to framestand landing. Pat Laughlin has nothing on me!

1992-2002- Progression

In January 1993, Kevin and I went to NYC to shoot a music video.  We rode a sound stage the size of a bedroom and while I could do a few tricks in the small area, Kevin could do them all.  I realized that his riding brought him cool opportunities and that was where I wanted to be.  I got really into flatland, moved away from jumping and street riding and spend countless hours in a parking lot by myself learning advanced bike control.  I started entering contests, traveling and doing shows.  This decade was all about Progression.  I wanted to keep moving forward and pushing my riding.  I even got 4th for the year in the amateur class.  I planned on getting in the top three the next year so I could feel that I was legitimately ready to compete in the Pro class.  That dream and my leg were shattered at the same time.  I knew I couldn’t properly prepare for the next year’s contest series.  I’d have to spend a year trying to get back to my dream of turning Pro.

Working on a great Loco route in 1997 at Genaurdi's. I still ride there.

2002-2012- Maintenance

By the summer of 2002, my first son was 2 years old.  My riding time was pushed aside for him.  As he got a little older whenever I told my wife I was going riding, Henry would ask if he could go with me.  My solo flatland sessions turned into riding around the neighborhood with a stop at the playground or 7-11.  Then the twins were born and I was the stay at home mom for the first two years.  Then my marriage started blowing up and I lost the mental edge needed to ride on the rare times I got out.  My riding went from progression to Maintenance.  I was just trying to keep the tricks I had learned, jump often enough to not be scared and hold onto my riding.

Riding a friend's bike, 2008. Thanks Budz!

Now I find myself divorced with 50/50 custody which offers me time to ride and the dread of a bad marriage is behind me.  I’m riding more than I have in a decade.  I’m still pushing myself but in a different way.  Riding brings a new smile to my face.  I can go out and work on new tricks or something from 1987 and get the same enjoyment.  I have such a personal history of my riding to tap into it feels fresh again.  I doubt I will ever get to the progression stage again but I’m also not in the maintenance stage either.  The mastery of Freestyle I started in the 80’s is complete.  These days I ride and just have fun and soak up the experiences just like I did in the 70’s.  I come home dirty, sweaty and skinned up and wouldn’t have it any other way.

I realize I’m pushing boundaries in BMX.  There are only a few of us who have been riding consistantly and hard since the 1970’s.  I have spent decades being aware and/or a part of the BMX scene.  At this point, I don’t have much in common with the current state of BMX when it comes to my own riding.  I’m fine with that.  I don’t care about innovation, progression or maintenance in my riding.  I’m still a huge fan of current riding but I know it’s not what I need to do.  I have nothing to prove to anyone except myself.  Thirty years after I spent a solitary weekend opening my eyes to BMX outside myself, I’m now back to where I started.  Some of my older friends get bummed thinking their best days are behind them.  When I look back at my 40 years of jumping my bike, I can’t pick out the best days.  They were all good and I know as long as I keep riding, there are still plenty of great days ahead of me.


Old guy on a bike.


I have wanted to do a video section for some time now.  I finally got this together.  Most BMX videos I see are a guy riding flat only, street only or park only.  A big part of this video is to show how one rider can do different forms of freestyle.  I have never considered myself great at any one type of riding but I can do all of them pretty well.  I wanted to capture that and I think it worked.  I chose some moves that aren’t typical as well.  The world doesn’t need to see another guy do the same old stuff.  Plus each of these sections is interesting on its own.

The main reason behind this is at 44 years old, I realize that I won’t have too many years left of riding hard.  I wanted to capture and document some cool riding.  I see old men with canes all the time and wonder what they did to deserve that prop.  Someday in the future, I’ll be able to show this video to explain my cane.

By brettdownsconspiracy

Have Fun Every Day.

Last Thursday I headed down to Richmond, VA to ride with my buddy Steve.  I have known him for years but I don’t think we ever hung out one on one before. He offered me a place to ride and crash while I was traveling so how could I say no?

When he came out to meet me he said he had to make a few phone calls and would be with me in a little bit.  Since there is a bike shop below his place I didn’t mind and just perused the place looking for buried treasures in the bunk bin.  After about 10minutes, he came down and told me what was going on.  Back in their hometown, one of his best friends, Mike, was actively dying from cancer.  That’s what the phone calls were about.  We went out and got some lunch and talked.  Steve was pretty rattled understandably.  Even though Steve had seen his friend a couple of weeks before, settled things up with his buddy and said their goodbyes, it wasn’t as final as it was at that moment.

After lunch we loaded up the bikes and went to the trails.  We got there and groomed them a bit and then another friend showed up.  The three of us rode together, laughed, talked about everything and nothing.  After a while the third guy had to go see someone so Steve and I stayed behind.  We talked about just being two guys in the woods riding BMX bikes.  Such a simple thing but so much fun.  I told him that Mike would be glad he was out riding today since he couldn’t be.  Steve told me about how he has realized the importance in having fun.  This time out at the trails made a tough day much better.  I told him that while Mike was young to go, he had had more fun than most people and gotten to have amazing experiences largely in part to moments like this-being in the woods with friends.  We rode some more and then headed back to Steve’s place.  We had a cook out, friends came over and beers were knocked back.  We laughed between serious phone calls.  It was a good night for all even though Steve was going through hell.

I got up early the next morning, got my gear together and started heading out.  Steve was asleep so I nudged the bed and told him I had to get on the road.  A semi conscious high five was exchanged as we thanked each other for a good day.  Later that night I was in North Carolina with other friends when they told me the news Mike had finally passed on.

This morning my eight year old son came into my room.  He has this habit of putting his face about two inches from mine and making weird faces and sounds.  I asked him why he does that.  Jack told me “Because it’s fun.  I want to have fun every day”.  I smiled thinking how glad I am that he got it.  I hope Steve reads this and has the same smile as I did.  Find some fun everyday.

I spent a weekend doing shows with Mike Tag about ten years ago.  He was quiet at first.  His riding was amazing.  Once I got to know him, I immediately liked him.  He was a great rider and person.  Though I hadn’t seen him in ages, I’ll miss him.  At least I know that on his last day, he was with us at the trails in some way.


By brettdownsconspiracy

Paper or Plastic or none?

I am fortunate enough to live three blocks from my grocery store.  I have a bicycle I call my grocery getter specifically for this.  It has front and rear racks as well as saddle bags that hold my cargo net, bungee cords, grocery bags and lock.  Since I live so close and shop by bike, I find myself going there two or three times a week.  Actually, I just got back and the conversation I had there prompted this post.

As I rolled my cart up to the cashier, I prepared myself for the confrontation I get nearly every trip.  There were three of us at this exchange.

“Hello.” I said to the cashier.  She didn’t really respond.

Turning to the woman whose job it was to bag my groceries I asked “Could I have no bags please?”

She answered “Paper or plastic?”

“No Bags.”


“No bags at all.”

“No bags?”

“No bags.” I answered.

As my groceries started their way toward the woman, she got confused as to what to do with them.  She asked the cashier “Should I put a sticker on everything?”

The cashier spun around and said “No.” as I hastily started firing the purchases back into the cart.

When the chicken breasts came to the bagger, she grabbed them and tucked them into a plastic bag and placed them in my cart.  I scooped the bag out, removed the chicken and gave the plastic bag back to her, feeling like a real prick.

As I shop more than once a week, some of the cashiers/baggers recognize me and know my routine.  It’s makes my transaction easier.  Those that don’t know me always seem perplexed that I am not following procedure.  I was once actually stopped by a store manager who asked what lane I went through and why didn’t they bag my groceries.

I have noticed that people are given instructions and quite often follow them blindly.  These instructions come from bosses, parents and other authority figures.  This is how we learn what to do.  The interesting thing is that it seems to me that sometimes this adherence to the rules stops people from thinking.  When something is out of the ordinary (i.e. no bags) they don’t know how to function in their role because they were never instructed how to react in the situation.

I have witnessed this in many jobs.  That is one of the reasons I quit teaching.  That is one of the reasons I don’t like some big companies.  The rules are set and allow little room for an individual to think for themselves.  Now I am not picking on the woman working at the grocery store.  The same could be said for the guy at Penn State who saw Sandusky in the showers with a kid.  He followed the prescribed rules of how to react.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It makes me wonder if these confrontations occur in the person’s everyday life, how do they react?  Do they react?

Bottom line, life is going to throw you curve balls.  Situations are going to come at you for which you haven’t been prepared.  You are going to have to think on your feet.  In these cases, don’t blindly follow the rules laid out that may not cover the situation.  Think.  Be a person, not just an employee.  Odds are, you will make the right decision.  Oh, and if you see someone abusing a child, stop them and call the cops regardless of the rules.