how the world sees america

BMX: Rails Always Smoother on the Other Side

Note: Please upgrade your Flash plug-in to view our enhanced content.

Where does the Bicycle Motocross (BMX) mecca lie? Where the rails are smooth, the money is good, and the pace is calm. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find all of that in one place.

In England, the pace is calm but the money is bad. In America, the money is good and it’s easier to gain prestige, but the pace is hectic and the competition fierce. Cities have also installed spiked handrails to stop skaters and bikers from grinding on them, making it harder to ride just for casual recreation.

Yet America claims to be the birthplace of the sport. In 1970 somewhere in Southern California, so the legend goes, a bunch of kids emulated their motorcycle motocross heroes by grabbing their 20" Schwinn Stingray bicycles, entering a backyard dirt park and getting serious air: thus BMX was born. Through the next two decades, documentaries, competitions and word of mouth helped spread BMX around the world to Japan, Australia, and England. In 2008, China will introduce BMX to the worldwide Olympic Games.

In England, soon after the sport was born in the U.S., a concrete cavern underneath Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank opened up as the sport’s unofficial UK home. It’s still in use today, flooded with graffiti artists, skaters, bikers, and curious bystanders.

Amidst whizzing bikes, an English rider named Darryl Munroe, who came from Jamaica but has lived in London for 14 years, described the BMX hype in America, how its stars get cash and international prestige. Fellow bike mechanic Ted Nelson agrees, saying it’s much harder to make a living through BMX in the UK. His romantic vision is of riding through the middle of New York City, jumping off street curbs to weave between tall buildings and dodge yellow taxi cabs. East Coast style, Munroe tells me, is like jazz -- casual at first glance, but demonstrating exceptional skill. The West Coast style, in contrast, is extreme: huge jumps, crazy tricks. London style, he says, is a mix of the two, “because we get both influences” equally.

The big difference, American pro-rider Josh Betley says, is the competition and the pace. “I’m much more laid back about biking,” he tells me. If he wasn’t, America would be his destination of choice. There’s money and more recognition, but the competition is fierce because “everybody wants to be a rockstar.” People are less inclined to be “laid back” about all of it, “like they seem to be here.” Betley “loves it here” in the UK for that reason.

And there’s another one. The streets of many U.S. cities are filling up with new buildings that are designed to be anti-biker and anti-graffiti. In addition to the spiked handrails, builders coat concrete with a slippery substance to make graffiti easy to remove -- which also makes braking tough on a bike. “There’s a stigma in the U.S.” against biking that there doesn’t seem to be here, says Betley.

And on top of that, there’s a lot more beef between skaters and bikers in the U.S. with each hogging their own skate parks. “It seems to be better over here” in the UK, Betley says. But British biker Munroe tells me exactly the opposite, explaining the real tension between bikers and skaters in South Bank. So there may be a few more similarities between the biking scenes on either side of the Atlantic than meets the eye.

Join Monthly Mailing List | Del.icio.us | Digg | Facebook

Comments (39)

milo:

hi i found this page by mistake but just thought as i'm from the uk and bmx i should give my view.
i bmxed in the UK, france and the US and still love the UK best, in the US it is so controled and everyone is trying to be made which ruins the fun. in the uk i ride with some amazing riders who could easily take their sport to the next level but for us thats not what its about. riding should be for fun not to get rich and be on tv.
also i think the UK offers for of the different styles than the US freestyle and street are huge and the less well known styles such as flatland are blowing up atm.
i urge anyone who rides bmx to come to the UK, meet the riders and just send one week going to our cities, trails, park and streets and enjoy bmx the way we do.

milo of the "HARDCORE HOBBIES BMX CREW" BSE UK

bub:

I rode in the late 80's as a teenager, and picked it up again a few years ago after dallying with mountain bikes in my 20's. It's interesting to see an article about what bmxer's call street riding in a mainstream source like this, instead of the incessant focus on the competitive x-games-type of riding that most non-riders are more familiar with. Street is pure freedom.

As an outsider, the UK scene is really amazing to me, and it's great to see it get some recognition here.

bub:

I rode in the late 80's as a teenager, and picked it up again a few years ago after dallying with mountain bikes in my 20's. It's interesting to see an article about what bmxer's call street riding in a mainstream source like this, instead of the incessant focus on the competitive x-games-type of riding that most non-riders are more familiar with. Street is pure freedom.

As an outsider, the UK scene is really amazing to me, and it's great to see it get some recognition here.

bub:

I rode in the late 80's as a teenager, and picked it up again a few years ago after dallying with mountain bikes in my 20's. It's interesting to see an article about what bmxer's call street riding in a mainstream source like this, instead of the incessant focus on the competitive x-games-type of riding that most non-riders are more familiar with. Street riding is pure freedom.

As an outsider, the UK scene is really amazing to me, and it's great to see it get some recognition here.

PinkBMX:

Well Hello there, whoever has the time to read this. You guys seem be like a really serious bunch of BMXers. I my 1st bike was also a BMX and I remember going mad on it. Back then I never really cared about the gender bender, "I am a Girl" factor. Anyways...today 20 yrs down the line I find myself working in a company designing Bikes and my 1st project here is to Design a Bike for Kids aged 5-10. So besides the part wherein I need to consider a lot of ergonomical technicalities and blah blah blah...I just want the Bike to include some amount of the Nostalgia, you know the feeling you had the 1st time you ever rode a bike/BMX. So could you guys share a couple of stories...good bad...Just let it flow. What was it like the 1st time you rode a bike?

PinkBMX:

Well Hello there, whoever has the time to read this. You guys seem like a really serious bunch of BMXers. I remember my 1st bike as being a BMX and I also remember going mad on it. Back then I never really cared about the gender bender, "I am a Girl" factor. Anyways...today 20 yrs down the line I find myself working in a company designing Bikes and my 1st project here is to Design a Bike for Kids aged 5-10. So besides the part wherein I need to consider a lot of ergonomical technicalities and blah blah blah...I just want the Bike to include some amount of the Nostalgia I felt when I rode my 1st BMX. So could you guys also share a couple of stories...good bad...Just let it flow. What was it like the 1st time you rode a bike?

bmxer:

what a ***? BMX(Bicycle Motocross) is racing sport..and nothing more. Dont mix this freestyle stuff in! Shalows!

Ray.:

It's pretty sad that people in the US have to put up with discrimination just for riding a bike. In the UK there is a good scene, most people wont slag each other off because one rides skate and the other Bmx. Ok there's probably a few who can only see their 'right' image, but to be honest I couldnt give a stuff what they think, I'm gonna ride whatever I like and if they dont like that...tough!
Personally I've found the UK Bmxers to be a very friendly crowd, old and new. The only problem we have are Chavs, sad poorly controlled kids and adolescents with no life, and no future.

Kimberly Hooper:

hornet volcanize cerebromalacia connective unprecedently thanatophobia assignation deeply
COMPA Industries
http://www.faikee.net

Sallie Knowles:

hornet volcanize cerebromalacia connective unprecedently thanatophobia assignation deeply
Stoneleigh Methodist Church
http://www.geocities.com/hlipin/

annoyed:

ITS ALWAYS RAINING IN ENGLAND.

rider:

I think what americans greatly underestimate, is the weather diferences. If you arn't rich, then you can't use indoor skateparks, and you can't practice.
This is very frustrating if you want to ride. This is made worse by the VAT taxes that you have to pay on everything, including all your bikes and gear.

trail ferret:

The UK biker scene isn't as friendly as some may think. If you havent got the right frame..certain clothes..if you don't do the right tricks..if you've got brakes etc etc etc..if you've got the wrong image then your goin to get abuse off those so called "hardcore" bikers. Huddled in indoor skateparks all winter, honing their skills, While i'm out on the front line digging jumps in the cold & rain. Uncalloused,clean and victims of fashion..no respect for the sport. This doesn't apply for everyone.. but everyone who does falls into that category shouldn't be in BMX. For me BMX isn't about who is the best rider, best dressed. It's about enjoying yourself, having good memories, going new places and meeting new people.

Comp's don't help and there should be more jams cause that's where the fun is. But now that BMX has been entered into the olympics we'll see what happens, good or bad?

Either way i'll be keeping it underground

Ed:

Battle Royale has stopped now, it got too big. very sad

rat:

correction:

this is the video i made of battle royale liverpool

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7x6kAFa1go

rat:

its weird in the uk, on one side we have the american influence of skate stoppers etc.. but on the other hand we get some wild european liberal views at the same time. but what maes the uk scene so great is the fact that our country is so small everyone ends up knowing each othere through friend of a friend or whatever. in california you could drive 5 hours to get to one spot but over here you'd probably end up in the middle of the north sea if you drove for that long. its all family over here. battle royale, if anything, showcased the unity that everyone over here feels.

sadly dftu doesn't operate anymore, it was run by my ex housemate and good friend steve. but they definately changed things. it was me who made that video posted above.

The Lord of D:

The UK looks amazing to ride,seems to be more of a positive vibe with the riders out there as well.Riding in the US is all about image now.Riding out here is all about going big and being a rockstar rather than just having fun riding your bike.


The Lord of D:

The UK looks amazing to ride,seems to be more of a positive vibe with the riders out there as well.Riding in the US is all about image now.Riding out here is all about going big and being a rockstar rather than just having fun riding your bike.


The Lord of D:

The UK looks amazing to ride,seems to be more of a positive vibe with the riders out there as well.Riding in the US is all about image now.Riding out here is all about going big and being a rockstar rather than just having fun riding your bike.


Tony "RATTY" waye:

Quality perspective, I started riding BMX in 1980, and loved the american scene, and couldnt wait to get the latest issue of BMX Plus and BMXA, I wanted to go and live in the USA so bad, you guys had it all, the weather, the tracks, the faces and the machines.
Fast forward to today and I am shocked to read about the way BMXers are treated in some of the states, barred from riding skateparks, arrested for protesting about it, and whats been written in that article,
Shame that the country that gave rise to an olympic sport should turn their back on it.

callum:

you get skate stoppers in the uk aswell funnily enough...

JRLR:

Great idea to include BMX in your project, Amar!

It so much broadens the view, brings people closer and takes us away from the "tragic". After all there is fun too, in people's lives... and the misery of trying to have fun without being victimized for it.

John Povah:

Hi Amar.
I grew up in the UK & moved to the US 16 years ago to be where the heart of BMX was, Southern California, so I have seen both sides of what goes on when it comes to the skateboard/BMX rivalry. Although individuals may have their own personal reasons for not wanting BMX in skateparks. In the US what I have seen & I feel is the case is: If a younger kid has a skatepark in their town as a rule being young they would usually just want to do ALL sports. BMX, Skateboard, rollerblading etc etc because they are fun & being young have no biase for any one of the sports & if they have ever felt what it feels like to do any of these sports in a skatepark it is exilerating, challenging & fun on all levels. Now imagine the young kid has experienced all the sports but now is told by the "powers that be" he can only do one of the above activities in the skatepark? Because he has experienced that ONE sport (lets say skateboarding in this instance) the young kid would have a tendancy to skateboard in the skatepark because thats what he's told he is allowed to do in the skatepark.
It's a smart move on the skateboarders & skatepark builders to encourage cities to have skateparks be "skateboard only" because it gets, like I said above more kids on skateboards, off of BMX's or rollerblades & feeds money into the skateboard undustry. Why would they want to help another industry by letting BMX in skateparks?????? Just wouldn't make sense for them to want to help others when they could help themselves.
Not that skateparks are the "be all-end all" of BMX. But to me it's a form of prejadice also & in a "Police State" like the US having kids on the streets doing a healthy activity like riding a bike makes it open season for making criminals out of kids that are doing something other than drugs or other crimes. Cities & cops are sending the wrong message by telling kids to do something creative, healthy & then turning around & giving them tickets, arresting them, macing them, confiscating bikes etc for it.

Bryan Copeland:

I liked the story, it's funny the differences I see in BMX not just between the US and the UK but everywhere. Since BMX has blown up its nice to see riders getting paid to do what they love. But at the same time with the compitition to be better and make more money than next guy kids now seem more apted to put down they're fellow rider. I know when my friends and I ride we push each other to progress just for the fun of riding and friendship. Its good to see among the pros that they cheer each other no matter who wins.

Bryan Copeland:

I liked the story, it's funny the differences I see in BMX not just between the US and the UK but everywhere. Since BMX has blown up its nice to see riders getting paid to do what they love. But at the same time with the compitition to be better and make more money than next guy kids now seem more apted to put down they're fellow rider. I know when my friends and I ride we push each other to progress just for the fun of riding and friendship. Its good to see among the pros that they cheer each other no matter who wins.

Flatartcrew:

don´t forget flatland!!

this is bigger in europe..check www.bidc.de and www.fac-agentur.de

Hank:

BMX in the UK is going so well at the moment and growing every day. We have talent from big contest winners to underground street destroyers as im sure any country does. It would be good to see a few more people over here earn a little more money for there efforts they put into it, but money isnt everything as we do still all do it for fun, money or no money.
www.pointtless.co.uk

Stuart:

The dutch invented bmx, www.fatbmx.com yo!

Jason Ryan:

Amar, you asked about the bike rider/skater divide. I think I can enlighten you quite a bit.

I live in Phoenix, Arizona, specifically Tempe. When cities began to build skateparks in 1998 here, bike riders were excluded from being allowed to ride the parks from the start. Every new skatepark the cities would build in the Valley prohibited bikes, and almost every skatepark in Arizona prohibited bikes. This was due largely to a selfish attitude by many skaters who felt they were solely entitled to the skateparks because they had worked politically to get them built. Bike riders originally helped as well, but there weren't near as many bike riders involved as there were skaters because there weren't near as many people riding bmx bikes as there were people skateboarding at the time. Also, the skatepark design companies were all run by older skateboarders, most of whom carried a bias against bike riders over from the bike/skate rivalry in the eighties.

It wasn't until we bike riders began a movement in 2002 to get cities to provide legal places for bike riders to ride that this exclusionary situation began to turn around. A skateboarder, Rex Golos, and myself, a bike rider, formed an organization called The Bike, Blade and Board Coalition (The 3BC) in early 2002. We got kids organized politically and raised awareness of the arrests, tickets, chasings and macings that were going on of kids on bikes riding at skateparks. Josh Betley was also lightly involved in this effort, and he came to a few of our 3BC meetings. We finally saw the first fruits of our many labors in the Valley when Mesa opened up their concrete skatepark to bike riders in December of 2006. We currently have 3 legal concrete parks that bikes can ride in the Valley, with 2 more opening by the end of the year.

I have created two short documentaries about the issue and the movement that are on my website, http://www.psychicflyingmonkey.com
I also host the 3BC page on my website and I have detailed all our dealings with city councils, parks and rec departments, and the media.

I am currently finishing filming and editing a full-length documentary about the Arizona bikes in skateparks movement entitled, "When Others Are Oppressed."

Waste NJ:

Alabama, yeah man you guys have one of the most innovative street riders, Seth Kimbrough.

It does seem like cops will harass just to pass the time. I have a blog about your exact situation up on waste-nj.com, about when I was younger and trapped in a lame town trying to ride.

Barrett, AL:

BMX is a hard sport to get into where I live (Alabama). Basically everyone rides street since there are no parks or ramps. Most of us have wound up on a police list. I routinely have cops come up to me and run my drivers license just for sitting on my BMX bike. Its a bum deal. Something really needs to be done to take away any undeserved stigma that riders carry.

Waste NJ:

Youtube video of battle royale 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoNxcxq1X3Y

I am not sure if or when the next one will happen, but it is organized by a group called DFTU (don't forget the underground). A google search for "dftu battle royale" will get a lot of info, articles, video.
Good story!

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hey thanks Waste NJ for the comment. When's Battle Royale? I'd love to make it there.

Waste NJ:

A BMX story? Really? Not a bad article, I am a rider for, oh maybe 17 years and also run a BMX scene site (waste-nj.com) and have been wanting to go to the UK for a while. Their scene seems more underground and hardcore, less X-games. But the truth is, to get a real picture of what any underground BMX scene is like, you have to be involved in it, you can't just look in from the outside and actually get it.

Don't be fooled though, to make a living riding BMX, there are only a handful of guys. A lot of guys are sponsored, but not many can quit their day jobs.

Here in New Jersey and the New York area we are what you call "east coast style" I suppose. A lot of technical street tricks, rails, wallrides, etc. We ride in a hostile environment, nobody wants you there. We look for industrial areas primarily because you can do whatever there. Skateparks are where the x-games types stay. Street riders work with whatever is around, but will ride parks too.

One event I want to make it to in the UK is the Battle Royale, where hundreds of bikers ride around a city from spot to spot. That's something that could never happen here. Cheers from across the pond to all the UK street riders! If you want to see what NJ BMX riding spots look like, check waste-nj.com

Amar C. Bakshi:

Hey Darryl,

Glad you're here on the blog. Quick question: could you elaborate on this biker-skater divide for people who don't know about it. And also, I'd be curious what BMX-ers from other parts of the world think about the scene where they live, in America, or in the UK. Thanks, Amar

Darryl Munroe:

Great job, straight up!

chatty82:

When movie star Doris Day was young she worked as a waitress in a truck stop in Utah. A gang of hard-core bikers stopped there and trashed the diner and scared the lady with freckles real bad.

They made it into a movie, showing a detrimental image of biking and bikers because of this important commentator in the culture.

Detrimental reports with people fixating on a certain bike meet in California in 1966 are cancer! Biking and motorcyling is just a fun sport, not associated with any clothes or any behavior.

Only two can fit on a bike, so bikers are selective about the passengers that they invite to "ride". And rightly so...

Jeffrey:

America needs more community spaces. Too much private property.

jeremy, UK:

completely unexpected. i love it!

Post a comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send your comments, questions and suggestions for PostGlobal to Lauren Keane, its editor and producer.