Bikes. POV.

Wut up, Ghost.

My hamstrings hurt. Actually, when I think about it, they’ve hurt since I started racing BMX in 2014, so nothing’s really changed in 8 years.

What I’m struggling with at the moment is whether I want to continue racing.

People think it’s weird that I don’t know how to ride a normal bike well, but that I race BMX. The truth of the matter is that big bikes scare me. You’re really high up. In the case of mountain biking, you’re navigating unpredictable terrain on a bike with tires that have a diameter that reaches my BMX bike seat. In the case of road riding, you’re (a) in a scary-ass peloton that (b) drops you right away or (c) gets frustrated with your slowness, or (d) on your own navigating the city with fucking cars.

With BMX, your bike has a 20” or 24” wheel, generally speaking (there are also 22’s, 26’s, 29’s, etc., but those are mostly for purposes other than racing). They’re extremely agile, light if they’re racing bikes, and easy to manipulate and maneuver. While racing, you’re navigating a groomed track with obstacles that, if the track is well-designed, are easily negotiated by most riding levels. These obstacles can be learned and approached in a variety of ways, from simply going over them with both wheels on the ground, to one or the other wheel off the ground, to “sending it” depending on the skill level of the rider.

While every track is a little bit different, most of the elements are the same, and a few cruises around tell you exactly what’s up. They’re a known quantity, and no one drops you (unless they drop you literally by elbowing your ass over the berm).

Additionally, BMX to me is really just a combination of two things I was already good at: horseback riding and snowboarding. I’ve written about this in a past post:

“For me, BMX is a bit like combining horseback riding with snowboarding. I know, that sounds ridiculous. Let me explain. Going over jumps on a horse you learn a sense of balance in the air at different points; forward over the horse’s neck on takeoff, gripping with the knees and lessening the forward lean on descent. You learn about looking around toward the next jump well in advance. Standing in the stirrups and standing on pedals is a similar feel. Going off jumps on a snowboard you also learn things about balance in the air, about snapping the nose up followed by the tail (like a skateboard Ollie) on takeoff and about changing balance to match the slope on landing. In snowboarding you learn about cornering, fall lines, carving, and absorbing small obstacles and impact. All of these skills apply in BMX.”

And yet I continue to try riding big bikes. Bike culture attracts me. Good male cyclists are a weakness of mine, not as much as skateboarders or BMX’ers by any means, but still 🙂 I wish I had that confidence and poise on “regular” bikes. I’m trying to learn it, trying to learn to navigate my new city on a bike, really working on getting better at cycling in general. Is it working? Sort of. Friends are helping me to navigate a little bit. I don’t even know the rules of the road, really, so I should probably brush up on that.

If you’ve read my past posts, you know that my car was stolen about three weeks after I moved to Portland. That was about five months ago, and I’ve really been getting around the city pretty well via Uber and public transportation. But there are places that public transportation don’t reach well, places I wish I could get to easily. My tattoo artist is one. Pretty much anywhere in SE Portland is tough. The bus is an option, but if I want to bring a bike that’s not so easy. So just riding there seems like a good idea.

The car theft also left me with no way to access a BMX track without renting a car. I’ve done that once, but it’s expensive. Even ride-sharing and car-borrowing are expensive. So I’ve been foregoing the track. I anticipate that I won’t get much BMX practice at all in the near future.

What I HAVE been doing recently, which absolutely thrills me and makes me happy beyond words, is riding my BMX bike around town. It’s not an ideal form of transportation, because even though I’ve ridden as much as 8 miles on the 20” before, that shit hurts. My back and legs (hello hamstrings again) scream at me the next day.

BUT. But. Doing sprints on a 3.5-mile Steel Bridge-Hawthorne Bridge loop means I’m mostly out of traffic and on dedicated multipurpose trails, and it is a WORKOUT. I love it so much.

I recall reading an article in which a really talented older female BMX’er who lived somewhere in the mountains in Arizona was asked “How do you stay in racing shape with no tracks nearby?” She replied, “I ride my BMX bike everywhere.” So there you have it, Ghost. There is a way to do this. To prep for nationals, to be potentially competitive, I can just ride my BMX bike everywhere. I’m going to do that Steel-Hawthorne loop forever, and hit Gateway Green’s pump track on at least one morning most weeks. That’s the Plan.

The Plan is also brilliant because I can do all of it by myself, with no judgment, no competition, no signups, no money, no car. I can just do fartleks (Swedish for “speed play”, usually referring to random running sprints) on the bike for 3.5 miles. Bikeleks. See that bridge pylon? Pedal as fast as you can from here to there. See that lady in the red jacket? Sprint to her. There’s a train on the steel bridge! How many cars can we outpace?

When life gives you lemons, Ghost, you make lemon pie. Whether or not I continue to race, at least I can keep BMX “fit” while I make up my mind and decide whether to let this go. Maybe I’ll make another move in the next couple of years, and I can prioritize track proximity in my next location.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include an insignificant paragraph on how guys view my BMX’ing. It’s the most insane thing, Ghost. Every single guy focuses on nothing else. I have to not mention it anymore until I get to know people. I had a Tinder profile for a while, and before I deleted it, BMX was the one thing that EVERY. SINGLE. GUY commented on.

I want to have an emotional connection with someone, and BMX, as it turns out, actually stands in the way of that. It’s guys living out their teenage fantasies, when I really picked the sport up when I was 43. I have no BMX background, no real love of old racers, no knowledge of bike parts, or maintenance, or even really USABMX rules. OK that last one isn’t true. I do know the rules, sort of. But I have to look them up all the time, especially with regard to moto seeding, because they’re so goddamned stupid and convoluted. Also wrong. They’re wrong.

Anyway, I kind of hate that BMX defines me for other people. They automatically assume that I’m “extreme” or daring in some way, when I’m really not anymore. My daredevil days, which mostly related to snowboarding when I was young, are over. I’ve never been daring at BMX. Even snowboarding, I might hit a jump or two now, but I don’t want to do backcountry anymore, or moguls, or see if I can make it down a double black diamond. I just want to float easy corduroy these days, guys. Maybe catch a little air, but only off knuckle huckers or frontside banks. Rails 6” or less, please.

With BMX, I want to just get stronger and faster. I don’t want to compete with women who will nudge you into a broken arm. I don’t want anyone to invade my space bubble. I have to go to work on Monday.

That being said, I do kind of still want to race. I want the “switch flip”. For me, the moment on the gate right before the cadence starts is the most Zen I can get. It’s as close to meditation as I’ve ever come. I can experience absolute calm, stillness, total control, for about five seconds. Then the cadence starts: “OK riders, random start. Riders ready? Watch the gate!” …and I lose my fucking mind. That gate slaps down and I suddenly have no friends. It’s the most surprising, personality-divergent, uncharacteristic transition I’ve ever experienced.

As I’ve said, I’m not competitive in the sense that I want to compete with other women, or that I’m any good and should be striving for some NAG goal or something. I think the reaction to a start gun of any kind is deeply ingrained in my psyche, thanks to a million swimming starts.

So I guess the answer is that I’ll just keep riding. Who knows? The next place I live might allow me to keep a car AND race BMX at a track. ❤

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