18 June 2008

Columbia BMX Memories

Kuwahara, GT, Diamond Back, Mongoose, chromoly. R.L. Osborne, Bob Haro bunny hops, half pipes. Ashtabula forks, Pro-neck, Snake Belly tires, Vans, Skyway rims, the “uno” seat. Berms, tabletops, dropoffs, whoop-de-doos.

The above stream of consciousness was precipitated by an article that appeared in the Sunday, 15JUN08 edition of the Washington Post (Underdog Claims Place on Olympic BMX Squad). What got the nostalgia regions of my grey matter abuzz was the following passage in the article:

International Olympic officials have added BMX to the 2008 Games in hope of attracting a younger audience. If Saturday's crowd is any gauge, it should do just that.

Every adult, it seemed, had two or three children in tow. Among them were 40-something dads who were part of the first wave of BMXers in the 1970s, when the sport was at the fringe of acceptable athletic endeavors. Now, their children race the tiny, reinforced bikes with knobby tires.

Oh, that takes me back. Twenty years, no make that twenty-five years ago, I was deep into Bicycle Moto-Cross (BMX). Like most that grew up in the 1970’s, I learned to ride a bicycle with a banana seat and a sissy bar. As I grew up, I progressed to a Schwinn Sting-Ray with five-speed gear shifter, front shocks, and a rear disc brake. That thing weighed, I would guess, 70 pounds. During this time, it was commonplace for us Wilde Lake neighbor kids to cobble together cinder blocks and plywood to emulate every young boy’s hero, Evel Knievel. Over time, I graduated to the ten-speed.

Then something happened. I found my way back to the smaller 20” single speed bikes. These bikes were made of stronger, lightweight metals. They could take a pounding. They were highly maneuverable and FUN TO RIDE.

About the same time, things became more organized. Plywood ramps were replaced by dirt. I recall one dirt ramp we built in Dasher Green near Homespun Lane. We buried a discarded tractor tire and could get enormous air. After a few weeks, Open Space brought in a bulldozer, leveled the ramp, and removed the tire.


About the same time, BMX came to town. Two national organizing groups, the American Bicycle Association (ABA) and the National Bike League (NBL) began sanctioning races.

BMX tracks in Maryland were spread out in Rockville, Millersville, Cockeysville, Monroe, and yes, Columbia.

The Columbia BMX course was located behind Joseph Square Village Center. A local bike shop, run out the basement of a townhouse on Hildebrand Court, sponsored a team of racers. As I remember, they had cool red, white and black racing uniforms. Sanctioned races occurred regularly at the Columbia BMX track throughout the 1980’s. I had the joy of participating in a few (that’s me, #60, on the right).


Another interesting aspect that I have read about the BMX Olympic debut is the height of the starting gate at the Beijing course. According to an NBC website, the starting gate is eight meters high. That’s roughly 30 feet. For those who raced back in the 1980’s it must bring back memories of the Millersville BMX track. It was built on a landfill (Dicus Mill Road!) and featured…wait for it…a 30-foot high starting gate:


I always enjoyed the challenge of this track (I'm on the left):


After coming down this hill at warp speed, the course led into a huge 180-degree berm (I'm out in front in this one):


Well, come this August, I will have another reason to watch Olympic coverage.


Anonymous said...

Duuuuuuuuuude!!!! What a flashback! Haven't seen these pictures in years!-Peter

Hayduke said...

Are you jumping into a lake in that first picture?

B. Santos said...


Tom said...

Did you have some Springsteen playing in the background when you wrote this post?

John G. Boyle said...

Joseph Square, you say? I've been trying to figure out where it was. I participated in one competition when I was probably 10 or 11. It was just about the most exhilirating publicly sanctioned experience of my young life :)

B. Santos said...


The track was located "behind" the Village Center, roughly where the Columbia Sports Park is now, behind Harpers Choice Village Center. Glad to hear you where there.


Anonymous said...

Those pics are rad. Thanks for sharing.

Dave Bittner said...

There was a home-made BMX track behind the Roy Rogers in Owen Brown (now McDonalds) where we rode for several summers, until the bulldozers came and tore it down. We also did a lot of jumping into Lake Elkhorn at the docks, back when the lake was a regular summer swimming hole.

Fun memories!

Elvis said...

You can tahe the boy out of Tupelo,but you can't take Tupelo out of the boy.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had not moved to Columbia until I was 32. all you guys had so much fun growing up here.

Anonymous said...

Great Memories... I raced from 86 until about 92. I came up riding with Robbie Miranda so winning was tough...but i would usually win every race in between our birthdays. I always loved the first straight on that track...super tricky roller into the triple-step...and then the big table top at the end of the sweeper...man the whole track was sweet.

Andy Harrell
Now in columbia SC

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! I raced at that Columbia track as well. It was Matt Beverungen who ran that bike shop out of his basement. I actually race on his team which was called Atlantic Cycles.

Peter Cole

Nathan Potter said...

wow, for some reason i googled millersville bmx, i remember when the grand nationals were held there. somewhere i think i still have a autographed picture of harry leary (sp?) i think that was before he went to diamondback, i was just a kid back then my older brother was racing then., a few years had went past and our friend Jerry was officialing racing there . and eventully started "BERMBUSTER BMX" a local newsletter/Mag, years went past and he started doing freestyling and skateboarding competitions, i helped him out alot back then fixing ramps and loading them on the trailer. those were the days. i still see jerry from time to time at the anne arundel fairgrounds where he volunteers

ahhh the those were the days

Anonymous said...

Anyone know if there are still any tracks in the Columbia area where a 10yr boy can go to start learning more about BMX?

Columbia SportsPark said...

Come on out to the Columbia SkatePark Monday, April 18th from 12-4PM for our BMX Open House! It's bikes only for our first ever BMX freestyle session, and admission is free. Helmet and waiver form required. It's not a track, but it's a good first step.