Rise above - Page 2

Skateboarders were once outlaws. Now they're the establishment -- and they're trying to drive BMX bikers out of public parks. Can't we all just get along?
Photo by Joey Cobbs

There are a few local bikers who have the place dialed, nonchalantly airing a few feet out and throwing the bars before heading back down the tranny. The only two skaters riding the bowl are a tall skinny teenager and his little sister, who looks to be about 10, and they have it on lockdown: lipslides on the spine, grinds, rock and rolls — everything smooth and fast. "Yeah!" I yell as they take their runs, stoked on their skills.

I know the times have changed when I see the little girl come up out of the bowl in the $450,000 public piece of silky-smooth concrete perfection, walk over to her mother, who's posted up on a ledge, get a cell phone and make a call. Not five minutes later there are seven (I counted) Redwood City police officers converging on the bench where my friends and I are sitting. They randomly collar my buddy Scott — though I was the last one to drop in — and write him a ticket for $100. I have to admit, I'm flabbergasted.

Guess what: skateboarding isn't a crime anymore — it's gone mainstream. Successful companies hire lobbyists to promote the sport, and communities spend big bucks building new facilities for skaters. And now some skaters, many of them kids who never had to live in the underground world that I did, are using their legitimacy to push out the new outlaws — people who ride BMX bikes.

It's crazy — two cultures that share so much, fighting over how many wheels they ride.

"Is that your daughter's bike?"

The question comes from one of my coworkers, and, believe it or not, it's not intended to be snarky. I can't ride in public without someone saying "cute little bike," while giggling to themselves — or laughing and pointing. Seeing a six-foot-tall, 200-pound, bald-headed, tattooed white dude on a "kid's bike" is like being passed on the sidewalk by a bear on a unicycle. At one point reactions like these would've rubbed me the wrong way, but nowadays, I nod and smile. Sometimes, I try to explain what constitutes a "full grown" BMX bike. While it's got small wheels — 20 inches in diameter — the top tube, from the seat to the stem, measures 21 inches, and the handlebars are considered pro-sized at eight inches high by 28 inches wide.

Bicycle motocross, or BMX, is purported to have started in 1963 when the Schwinn corporation of Chicago unveiled the Stingray, which was basically a downsized version of the company's balloon-tired cruiser-type bikes. Kids pretended to be grown-ups by aping Roger DeCoster and other moto heroes — launching their bikes off jumps, racing in empty fields and abandoned lots, and cranking wheelies down the sidewalks of Anytown, USA.

"It all began the way most individual sports start," motorcycle customizer Jesse James says in a voiceover at the beginning of the 2005 BMX nativity story/documentary Joe Kid on a Stingray, "kids pretending to be grown-ups, but acting like big kids."

I have been riding since I was seven. After three decades, one truism remains, and I can't candy-coat it. I've got to speak it like a true BMXer: BMX is rad. It is and always has been an entity unto itself, progressing from wheelies, skids, and bombing hills to encompass myriad styles and surfaces, from streets to pools to dirt jumps to ramps to the balletic grace of flatland freestyle.

This summer, big kids on little bikes will be jumping 30-foot gaps at as many miles per hour as BMX pays homage to its racing roots at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. On June 12 in New York's Central Park, Kevin Robinson will try to break the legendary Mat Hoffman's record for the highest quarter-pipe air on a bike — 26 feet, 6 inches.

It doesn't take death-defying world records, the X Games, the Olympics, or the stupefaction of squares with cameras to make BMX legit.

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