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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.