When the hell did this happen…?
When I was young, and came across the letters page of the latest Ride BMX magazine, I’d always smile to myself when I saw the inevitable letter from the ‘old guy’ who’d come back to BMX in his 30s and fallen in love with it all over again. Like that was ever going to be me. If I’d been older and braver, I’d probably have gone and had a ‘BMX Forever’ tattoo done. No way was I ever going to stop.
Even though I was never any good, I still loved it more than anything. I’d gotten into BMX when I was around 16. I’d ridden mountain bikes for years – a little bit of cross country, but mainly downhill. I mean, I call it downhill, but back then it was more messing around than anything. Every time I hung out with other riders though, it was the same question – “are you doing this race?”. Even though it was just for fun, there seemed to be this underlying expectation that the ‘fun’ part was just training for races – that the berms we built in the woods or the doubles we lovingly sculpted were just something to practice on that might give us an advantage come race day.
That just didn’t feel right to me.
My best friend had always had a BMX – and would often ride it at the trails when we weren’t doing anything more rocky, rutted or rooty. One day I came by his house and he was watching a BMX video. I never remember if it was ‘BMX Men’ or ‘Soil’, but there were some amazing riders and they were just having fun. I mean, I know there were contests and stuff, but for the most part dirt jumping was just a bit of a sideshow at BMX races – not something the more serious riders took any notice of. I ended up buying my first BMX and it just went from there. I was riding trails, street, those crappy metal ramps councils always seemed to put up.
The whole scene just pulled me in – it seemed so much more real. Rather than having to go to Canada, or the mountains in Europe to ride the big trails, I could just go out the front door and build some doubles in the woods or find a set of stairs to jump. I could watch my favourite riders – people like Brian Castillo, Joe Rich, Taj Mihelich, Van Homan – do things on the street, on ramps, on the trails – and I’d be riding the same sorts of terrain. There was just this constant feeling of inspiration.
So what happened? I could be really pithy here and just say ‘life’, and while that’s true in some ways, it’s not the reason I stopped. I went to university, where I ended up spending more time on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater than I did riding my local park, which was Skate and Ride in Bristol. I was lucky enough to ride with Simon Tabron a few times, but even that didn’t seem to keep the fire burning. In the end, it was just the level of expectation I put on myself – I was a 20 year old riding BMX, and I thought people expected me to be amazing, given the fact I was for all intents and purposes an adult by then. That’s happened a lot in my life.
So the BMX ended up in the shed for a few years, until there was a time I needed some cash and ended up selling my Eastern Tarzan – the one with Volume Mad Dog bars and Primo cranks – and ended up selling it for less than the cost of the bars alone. People say you shouldn’t regret things, but I regret selling that bike – and all the money bought me was a tank of diesel. Hardly a worthy trade.
When BMX has been such an important part of your life though, there’s no escaping it. Every time I saw a glimpse of a skatepark, there was that little itch. There’d be a few days in the year when I’d find myself searching BMX shops online, looking at their clearance section. So last year when I was browsing eBay, I found an Eastern BMX that nobody else was bidding on, and got it for about £30.
It’s one thing to own a BMX though, and another thing entirely to ride it. It needed a few things done, and so it sat there, unridden. Last year I moved to Brighton, but the bike stayed in a friend’s shed. I told myself I’d bring the bike back one day, but never did – when I walked past the skatepark on the Level, I was too concerned with what people would think of the 30-something guy riding a BMX than how much I knew I’d enjoy being back on the bike.
Life’s too short though, and after a lot of procrastination I found myself rolling down Elm Grove in Brighton on a bike where the back brake made way too much noise and the front wheel was way out of true and had bearings that had seen better days.
The bikes might have changed a little – the chainrings and sprockets are smaller, and for some reason the pedals are plastic – and the ‘new school’ of the ‘90s was now considered ‘mid school – but the parks are the same. You look at a park and your Playstation brain kicks in – you look at the lines, the transfers, the gaps, the transitions… You start thinking of the possibilities.
So today I just rolled around a little – boosting a corner hip a little, getting used to the transitions, how 20” wheels feel after a decade of riding road bikes, a couple of fakie roll backs, eyeing up the little gap that I know is totally doable but will taunt me for weeks, a ledge I should be able to feeble grind…
But that same feeling’s there – the one where you’re building yourself up to try something and you chicken out – “maybe next time”.
Looks like there’s going to be a next time then…
Words and photos by @jamesisaphotographer