It’s Time To Grow Up, BMX
I’m sick and tired of hearing the phrase “no bikes” or “bikes won’t be allowed.” It pisses me off, it fuels my desire to stand up and shout, rally my neighbors, summon the militias, protest, petition, and claim mistreatment of a certain group. BMX so often gets the short end of the stick; we are at times not included in the process and left out of the discussion when it comes to building skate park facilities around the country. Who is to blame for this? Are we truly the enemies of skateboarders and skate park builders around the country? Do law makers, city officials, parks and recreation departments have a grudge against us?
I’m sick and tired of being left out, but I’m even sicker of the lack of BMX advocacy. I can’t stand the entitlement attitude; I can’t stand it when BMX riders show up late to the party and demand justice; and I’m really sick of the unruly and well organized protests that happen every time a park opens and bikes aren’t included. These ideas and efforts have to stop. If we want access to every park and be a part of the building process we have to do the boring and drawn-out work that skaters have been a part of for decades.
I love you BMX, from the days of fold down pegs to the overly tight denim jeans, you have been my first crush and you are still my rock when times are rough, but it’s time to grow up.
Some people might get mad at me for saying this, and some might not totally understand, but every time a park opens that doesn’t allow BMX or eventually removes us as a user, there is no one to blame but ourselves. Now, there are circumstances where bikes have been a part of the process since day one, riders were even a part of the design, and when bikes have later been removed there have been groups of motivated riders and parents that have worked tirelessly to change that rule. I understand that, I know it all too well. I’ve been there. However, this all boils down to our lack of experience, knowledge and history when it comes to getting parks built and being a valid patron in these facilities. The biggest problem is: People just don’t understand.
We have to change the preconceived idea that BMX solely rides on a dirt track. We have to change the minds of those who believe all we do is cause hazard and increase wear and tear. We have to prove that we are organized and willing to contribute. We have to show that we can get parks built too – not just skaters. I’m not talking about building bike parks, or changing the name to wheel parks or action sports parks; I’m talking about when a random person hears the word “skatepark” they picture skaters and a bike blasting out of a bowl.
We have so often taken on this role of persecution, believing that in some office there’s a guy in a giant leather chair laughing as he watches BMX get banned, arrested and chased out of parks. We feel police pick on us, and city officials have a vendetta against us. We think skaters are out to get us; they hate us, or feel we are undeserving to share their hard work. In some cases, this may be the truth, but for the majority no one really knows and no one really cares. That’s where advocacy comes in, and that’s when we put on a nice shirt, shave, smile, and nod our heads while we educate people about BMX in skate parks.
No one will take us serious if we are bunch of unruly thugs demanding entrance outside a facility that most cities are already weary of building. If risk management (the attorneys of the city) had it their way, there wouldn’t be public pools, playgrounds, sports fields and surely zero skate parks. Skateboarding and BMX riding are high risk activities. Maybe you and I know our limits and feel it’s no different in danger than football or soccer, but cities and lawyers see differently. They are fearful of being sued, and more importantly, they are fearful of spending a million dollars on a facility that could potentially bring (in their minds) punk kids getting hurt in a city park. Frequently, neighbors try to fight parks like these, not only do they not want skaters and bike riders in their hood, they surely don’t want their tax dollars spent on something like this.
So, imagine a city/county/parks department scared of pushing this through and then once it opens a crowd gathers and demands access. Now, BMX riders look like an unruly group, we look like jerks to skaters who often organize to get the park built, and we look like punks to the community who just agreed to allow the park to be built. Basically, we completely ruined all our efforts because no one wants to deal with us and they definitely don’t want to fork over another million dollar facility. However, the right people can talk their way out of this, and most likely stirring something up at least brought attention to the problem. I won’t deny that.
Although, when we get our foot in the door we are quickly turned down as soon as someone brings up “damage” and “dangerous.” There’s no denying bikes increase wear and tear in these facilities. There’s also no denying that skateboards cause wear and tear to skate parks, too. These parks get used more than any other field or court in any given park around the country. From sun-up to 11 p.m. at night, you can see skaters, and sometimes BMX riders, using a skate park on any given day. These parks will need maintenance. However, they will need a lot less than a baseball diamond or a soccer field – even with the addition of BMX bikes. If these parks are built with BMX in mind, they can be built stronger and built with the appropriate materials in the right areas to slow down the maintenance issue.
I spoke with Brad Siedlecki, owner of Pillar Design Studios, an architecture firm that specializes in designing and building skate parks and he said, “Parks can be built to withstand heavy use from both bikes and skateboards, but that involves using more and stronger materials, which drives up the cost.”
According to Siedlecki, it costs more to build a park intended for BMX use. I don’t completely agree these parks need to be overbuilt just to include BMX; however, I do understand more material means added cost – not so much that it’s worth excluding BMX, though. Even if BMX is only 10 percent of the user base, having kids safe, away from traffic and off public/private property is worth the investment.
I also feel it is completely ridiculous to think skate park builders and designers are purposely imposing a no bike rule. This would be a horrible business model because ultimately they would be throwing money away. Now, they might be able to work the system by making a park skateboard only and then hope BMX gets motivated, allowing them to get two jobs in one city. Let’s be honest though, there’s not a whole lot of BMX only parks in the country, and by hoping BMX gets motivated and then chooses the same builder who refused us access is another horrible business practice. These park builders build what the city wants, they do not enforce rules. However, if the subject comes up they’re not going to advocate for BMX, BMX has to advocate for BMX. If there are no BMX groups a part of the process when planning stages begin, we might as well not exist. Do you think city planners know BMX will be a user? Do you think a park builder will mention BMX in the planning stages when no one has stepped forward? This is a big problem to overcome, but not the biggest.
The final and most detrimental obstacle we have to clear is the issue of overcrowding. This is the biggest reason why we are excluded, and this is the biggest reason why we are treated as less than a valid user. I can’t emphasize this enough; overcrowding within a skate park is the biggest problem BMX faces when it comes to access. As I said before, these facilities are generally the most used feature at any park. On the weekend young kids and families are using them, weekdays and weeknights these facilities are being used regularly, whether you’re a skater, bike rider, scooter enthusiast or inline skater, a crowded park is a total buzz kill. In the few parks I do have legal access to; if it’s crowded I don’t want to ride. It’s dangerous. So, imagine the skater’s perspective when bikes are thrown into an already crowded park. I guarantee they will be upset, and I guarantee they will go to city officials with their complaints. Not only that, but over protective parents will surely be leading the charge – city officials listen to this group.
So, what the hell do we do? We have so much against us; and if I’ve kept your attention throughout you’re either waiting to disagree with me on several points in the comment section, or your bubble has burst and you’re just going to keep rebel-running the local park. This is not my goal with this piece; my goal is to motivate and unite us. We have to work together; we have to do the boring stuff and we have to do it now. The honest truth is, skateboard numbers are declining and BMX numbers are steadily growing. We need facilities, but we’re never going to get them if we keep going about it the wrong way. I can’t say that I personally have all the answers, and every situation is completely different, but there is a group willing to help who has experience.
I’m asking you to get involved with BMXRiders.org (BRO) by being active in the forum and emailing us, or joining us as an advocate to help BMX gain access and help get more parks built around the country. The forums are broken up into regions, and we have experienced people all over the U.S. who are willing to help riders everywhere. Maybe this sounds like a sales pitch now, but it’s not. BRO is working on its nonprofit status, and we’re just a bunch of dudes who love BMX. Skaters have used Skaters for Public Skateparks for years and that group has been INSTRUMENTAL in accomplishing skate park goals. I think it’s time BMX does the same. This has to be a grassroots effort, but we must be united with a common goal and talk track. So, if you’re sick and tired of being kicked out, ticketed or banned let us know and let’s change the rules.