The officials are making some quick changes to the schedule and the announcer is relaying information over the loudspeaker so you have a few seconds to take in the moment. On your right, are three legit BMX racers. Two are in their fifties and third is just a bit younger, but all of you are over forty, and all of you have kids who already raced in the younger age groups. The guys in the first three lanes wear racing kits with their names on the jersey and a number that they have earned over years of competition. Each of them sits on a custom built work-of-art with 20 inch wheels. They are friendly enough, but they definitely compete on a higher level. You know you won't see much of them when the gate drops.
On your left is one other racer. He's a big happy, bear of a guy with a barrel chest and the shape of a Harley rider. A fist sized goatee flecked with grey sticks out the bottom of his face guard. Both of you are dressed similar in off -the-rack motocross jerseys and shorts below the knee. The two of you have opted for the 'cruiser' bikes with 24 inch wheels. The bigger bikes are just a bit more forgiving when you case a jump or start to loop out while pumping through the whoops. He smiles and jokes, "wait for me if I get winded." You respond with a smile, "as long as you do the same for me."
Deak, the charismatic announcer steps out in front of the gate and introduces the riders for this moto. He teases the stands with the promise of tight battle from the ex pros. Then he steps to the side and everyone gets serious, this is the start of a BMX race, in the next minute anything could happen.
You stand up on your pedals and settle into the crouched position that you think will get you off the line fastest. Rolling your fingers far under the grips and clicking your crank arm into the top of a power stroke on your strong leg, each racer is a fully charged battery sizzling with potential energy.
The automated voice begins the starting cadence. "OK RACERS, RANDOM START.....WATCH THE GATE....."
The anticipation builds, everyone focuses on the start gate. Some racers watch the starting light, some look straight ahead and listen for the buzzer. I'm convinced that all the best racers rely on some other mystical force to sense the moment just before the gate drops. These are the racers who have perfected "the snap."
The gate drops and all three racers on your right do just that. They are in motion as the gate begins dropping. The front wheels of their bikes lift slightly from the ground and follow the arc of the falling gate. They launch forward into a powerful sprint like three cannonballs fired simultaneously.
You and lane six leave the gate a half second later, you simply don't have the reaction time the others have honed over thousands of gate starts. On practice nights many young racers will hit the starting straightaway, then simply pull off the track and loop back up to try another start. The last straight of the race track means nothing if you can't master the first straight.
|The most rigid bike I've ever owned|
It was only a half second later, but the pro racers are now three bike lengths down the starting hill just as you guys get going. After several strong cranks you are suddenly approaching the first jump, it's a step up that starts with a small roller, then a level spot, into a landing a couple feet higher than the take-off. You pop off the roller and suck the bike up as high as you can. BMX bikes are light and extremely rigid, you feel every ounce of shock as the back wheel comes down on the knob at the top of the landing. As soon as your wheels touch you start pumping the pedals again. You pedal all the way up the second jump then swoop into the first corner. At Dacono BMX, the straights are hard packed dirt and each high banked corner is sculpted asphalt.
With your tires pumped up to sixty psi, you scream up the asphalt berm and arc back down as you start sprinting again. You don't dare look back because you know the big man will be right on you. Instead you keep your eyes forward as you run like a scared rabbit. A series of three table tops await you on the second straight, and you don't have the speed or skill to clear any of them so you try to absorb each take-off and pump your way into each landing. It's about this time you hear heavy breathing and catch a glimpse of motion in the corner of your vision.
The two of you reach the second berm elbow to elbow. Here's where you can try the ninja move you've been working on over the past weeks. You cut high as he swings in low, he needs to scrub speed to make the tight corner. That's when you pour on the heat and come blazing out of the steep berm. You carry that speed into the start of the whoops and gap the first two like a pro.
Of course the pros would continue to gap their way across the whoop section always clearing two, and sometimes three mounds of dirt at a time. You can't do that, so you resort to a combination of pedaling and pumping your way through the series of dirt mounds that stand between you and the last corner.
Halfway through the whoops section, a freight train barrels past you. It's the big man, and he knows how to pump rollers. He hasn't even pedaled a stroke since he entered the whoops. Instead he shifted all his weight over the back wheel and his thick, strong arms are stretched out straight as he grips the bars. Each time he crests the top of a mound, he bends his knees and lifts his weight from the bike. Then as his rear wheel rolls onto the backside of the mound, his legs straighten out with crushing force. A combination of strength, momentum and perfect timing allow him to flow through the series of whoops and actually accelerate just by pumping. He reaches the last paved corner just ahead of you, this time he goes high and you go low. He coasts for a beat as you throw in two quick pedal strokes, the bikes come out of the hundred and eighty degree switchback side by side. You bump elbows as each of you charges into the final straightaway. Together you hit another step up, he cases just a bit, while you manage to make it to the transition.
This is now an all-out battle as you both pedal madly across the center flat. Rising up and over one last hill of dirt, the bikes naturally want to lift into wheelies. Both of you slam the front wheels down awkwardly just so you can commit to the final sprint. Everything is redlined, you haven't worked this hard at anything in months. Your quads sting as you suck air into burning lungs. You want this win more than anything in your life right now, and so does he. Where is this guy pulling energy from? You look ahead to the finish line. A track official kneels low and squints along the white painted line. You know he's burning out, with each tire rotation you gain a little more ground on him. If you had five more feet you'd be out in front!...but you don't. Side by side, you're still sprinting as you cross the finish line. Your front wheel rolls onto the line, just as his wheel is rolling off!
Panting and laughing you guys skid to a stop next to the ex-pros. Fist bumps are exchanged all around. You find out that the other racers just lined up into evenly spaced positions one, two and three. The real battle to watch was the two out-of-shape, amateur dads going at it.
Sound like fun? This is just an average Wednesday night race at Dacono BMX. Dacono is our closest BMX track, and Silo BMX is right up the road in Fort Collins. Dacono is an immaculately maintained race track capable of hosting national level races. The facility is part of the USA BMX organization. This means that points earned racing here are applied to a racers national standing. The track belongs to the City of Dacono but it's run by a dedicated group of volunteers who do it for the love of the sport. Often, these are parents who have kids actively racing, and many of these kids commit to years of racing. It's not uncommon to see multiple siblings racing in various age classes. The track is a truly family-friendly environment with five and six-year-olds playing tag while groups of teenage racers discuss carbon fiber crank arms and whatever else teens talk about.
Despite the fact that BMX racing is life to some of these families, there is no elitist attitude. You might park next to a family who's 19-year-old just turned pro and both younger siblings are nationally ranked, but of course you can borrow their tire pump. All the veterans are open and helpful to newbies just getting started. That said, before you give BMX a try, do a little research online or go out and watch a race or even a practice. The track is not the same thing as a bike park. It has an order and a flow that needs to be respected. BMX is a great way to instill bike handling skills in a young rider. It also teaches them awareness of their surroundings. I can still picture my daughter buzzing the tire of the bike in front of her and going down hard. This taught her a valuable life lesson about how to get up off the ground and dust herself off after a crash. If you've ever griped about 'kids today' and the 'participation award culture', then you'll appreciate BMX racing. When eight kids fill the gate for a race, only first, second and third place finishes count at the end of the night.
If you live in the area, stop by Dacono BMX. There are weekly races and practice nights going on from spring to fall. Check out their website or Facebook page for info. No matter what night you are there, I promise you will see some amazing riding. It could be a pack of teenage experts blasting over a big double, it could be US Olympian David Herman being awesome or it could be a five-year-old learning to balance by themselves at the gate.