Getting back on track
BMX, aka bicycle motocross, occupies a common place in most adult bicyclists’ lives. Forgotten and lack thereof probably describe it best. Sadly, the pint-size bike that provided some of your earliest independence, and probably your first dozen scabs, isn’t just gone, it’s completely forgotten.Unless you’ve stayed in touch with the wonderful world of BMX and in particular, BMX racing, you wouldn’t know that this pedal-powered offspring of motocross wields just as much youth-sport significance and community backbone as baseball does in some communities. Unfortunately, here in the Tahoe area most people don’t even know there’s a mighty fine BMX track right in our backyard. And the American Bicycle Association – one of two sanctioning bodies in BMX racing – kicked down a $10,000 grant to help fund it.Still not interested?If you’re a diehard roadie or mountain biker who has ever made the mistake of writing BMX off as child’s play, take a look at the debut sports for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Don’t choke when you see that cycling just added another facet to its own Olympic glory. If you think the Tour had you on the edge of your seat, wait until you see eight world-class sprinters and some of the best bike-handlers on the planet line up shoulder to shoulder to race heat after heat over 300-400 meters of superhuman jumps and berms.Don’t let the baggy pants and rebel attitude surrounding X-Games BMX events like dirt, street and vert fool you. Those guys have more balance than a lot of gymnasts and more brawn than most rodeo riders. BMX racers have the same attributes, plus horsepower that would leave a Kentucky Derby winner late at the gate every time.Although the humble beginnings of BMX are forever attached to the gas-powered history of motocross, the UCI, the same body that sanctions international cycling events like the Tour de France and the World Cup of Cycling, has recognized BMX racing for decades. Now that’s saying something. Every year, a BMX star rattles the ranks in mountain biking’s technical disciplines: downhill, dual slalom and mountain-cross, especially among the women. Just go to Google and type in Jill Kintner.After that, type in Brian Lopes or Eric Carter. These guys and gals represent what BMX can do for any youth, and they’re living proof that there’s more support for youth in BMX than in any other bicycling discipline. It’s not too late if you’re an adult, either. Whether you ever owned a BMX bike or not, there’s something to be gained at your local BMX track, even on a mountain bike. Road riders and mountain bikers alike can learn the subtleties of jumping and sprinting but most of all they can learn the essence of BMX – the essence of smooth.The BMX track at the Truckee River View Sports Park is new but it already shows signs of fading. Despite the tireless devotion of volunteers to get ready for racing and riding in 2004, winter made for a slow start this year. Carefully sculpting and then steamrolling the dirt is essential for a season’s worth of use, especially where it snows. This year, excavators volunteering their time, like Tim Larson, were so behind schedule because of the late thaw that little time could be spared for Truckee’s fledgling BMX track.According to Dan O’Gorman at the Truckee Donner Recreation and Parks District, last year’s races saw little attendance. No official races have been scheduled for this summer but practice sessions are being held every Wednesday night from 5-7 p.m., providing there is adult supervision. If our community can’t offer more support, next year the track might fade out altogether.The Truckee Donner Recreation and Parks District put a lot of energy into getting the track approved and volunteers helped make it a reality. Seeing what the skate park did for boarding youth, it’s easy to imagine what the BMX track could do for Tahoe’s biking youth – and biking adults. According to the current UCI rankings, top ranked riders in the Elite class range from 19 to 33 years old, and the oldest ranked man and woman both hail from the U.S. Think there’s any American heritage tied to this new Olympic sport?You owe it to BMX, you owe it to volunteers and the TDRPD, maybe even your own childhood. If you don’t feel like dropping by for some carefree laps on Wednesday nights, maybe your neighbor does. So spread the word and keep your ears open for opportunities to support Tahoe’s own BMX track. Our community never shies away from supporting future Winter Olympians; with BMX we can provide a stepping stone for Summer Olympians, too.Peter Berridge is an accomplished professional mountain bike racer, tour guide and journalist who lives in the Truckee area and provides columns regularly for the Sierra Sun and other area newspapers.