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.