Written by Tyson Jones-Peni. Photos credited.
If you want to hear a truth, it’s that, as a BMX rider in my 30s, I have had an issue in the past with proving the validity of riding BMX to others. You might think ‘why would you care what other people think of you?’.
A fair question.
Most people think it’s silly to worry about how you’re viewed in the world. I agree to some degree. As I have gotten older, I have questioned a lot of the things that I do, to wonder if it’s worth doing, just because I enjoy it.
After a lot of thought over the years, I came to the realisation that I really enjoy BMX, but it’s the slew of positive aspects to BMX that not only help me enjoy BMX, but contribute to a higher value of life itself.
I’m a firm believer that BMX is not just riding a little kids bike. If you are doing things that have positive traits, you are not only improving at the thing you’re doing, but those traits are contributing to a stronger and better self.. Helping you to become a better person.
BMX is full of these positive traits.
So who needs to read this?
Perhaps you’re new to BMX and wondering what’s in it for you. Or you’re someone who has been riding for a while and are having the same question of validity that I had. Maybe you know someone who doesn’t ride BMX that might need some help in understanding why you’re still on that ‘kids bike’.
BMX is awesome, this list will help you to understand why it is.
11 Reasons Why Riding BMX Will Make You a Better Person
Of course BMX is fun! This is an easy one to explain. Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Have you ever played a video game? BMX leaves both of these things in its dust.
Riding BMX is a constant pursuit and attainment of fun.
Except, BMX does away with the parameters that both a roller coaster and video game have to adhere to. While both of these things need to follow the same rules each time (it’s not like the roller coaster can take a different track each time, or a car racing video game can turn into a speedboat), BMX has no rules to its level of fun.
Fun on a BMX can be doing a trick you’ve done a thousand times.
Fun on a BMX can be learning a new trick. Hell, fun on a BMX can be leaving your house to ride down a street, down a hill, through a puddle or off a jump you built.
Regardless of skill level, BMX, even in its most simple form of standing up on the pedals and riding is an amazing feeling.
Jack Gruber making fun from flat ground and a cardboard box. Photo: Brendan Boeck
There is literally no limit to the amount of fun you can have on a BMX, essentially the reason why you’ll see 3 year olds on a BMX bike, as well as 53 year olds. Fun is an incredibly important part of living, it means you are enjoying life and not getting weighed down with only serious tasks.
No one needs to be serious all the time. Pretty easy to get some fun in daily and enjoy a few moments of life with a ride around the block, or to school, on a BMX bike.
BMX is like the gym you never knew you signed up for. You are constantly lifting and moving this weight that is underneath you, for sometimes hours. But you never even notice because there is too much of Reason 1 going on.
A bunnyhop is essentially a deadlift. Riding any sort of transition or pumping to jump or gain speed is essentially a squat. A manual is a row. Pedalling to the next spot is the exercise bike.. And this is just in the freestyle aspect of BMX.
BMX racing is one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Regardless of how serious your take on BMX racing will be, take one lap around the BMX track as fast as you can and you’ll be wondering why you pay 70 bucks a week for your Crossfit membership.
A big session will leave you wrecked on the couch that night, while simultaneously wanting more while you replay all the Reason 1 moments in your head from the day.
When I first started riding BMX, things changed for me. I was welcomed into a new group, a subculture of people, who called themselves BMXers. It will be no different for you.
Regardless of skill level, age, gender, race, wealth or any other factor, the fact that you ride a BMX means that other BMXers will find their common ground with you.
All of my closest friends, I met because of our common interest of BMX. I have BMXer friends who are 10 years younger than me, as well as 10 years older. I’ve said hello and struck up conversations with people who are wearing a BMX t-shirt that I see in a random place.
BMX friendship spans globally. HVT trails, 2015. Photo: Tyson Jones-Peni
When I’m in a new town, if I’m on my bike, I head to the local skatepark. There I know that I’ll at least have the potential to meet a new BMXer and have a ride with them. Sharing a few ‘yeahs’ and ‘whoos’ over tricks they did, along with some small BMX conversation, it’s a sick thing to be able to have a conversation with a stranger who you know has a shared interest – and who knows where it may lead.
BMXers are a generally a bunch of misfits, but they’re a friendly bunch.
Challenge (Physical and mental)
They say nothing worth doing is ever easy. Similarly, the saying goes, the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Riding BMX is a perfect example of both of these. BMX is a heavily physical challenge that requires extreme mental focus. If the adequate amount of attention isn’t given to BMX, you can certainly meet some dire physical consequences.
BMX is certainly a challenging undertaking, but the whole reason why we do anything is because of the potential for becoming better than we were the day before.
If it’s your first day on a BMX bike, lifting even the front wheel off the ground may be the challenge for you. For a seasoned veteran of BMX who has ridden for decades, lifting the front wheel has become a simple task for them. Their challenge has moved onto a harder trick or a bigger jump, but they still face the same challenge – trying to do something they could not do before. A constant resetting of the bar, to aim a little higher, time after time.
Making the choice to ride BMX is an opportunity to become infinitely better at something; there is no ceiling to hit in the realm of freestyle BMX.
The challenges you create in BMX daily will strike a middle ground between being bored and feeling overwhelmed. This is what is described by many as a flow state, or being in the zone, allowing you to be completely immersed in attaining skills while enjoying the process.
Above: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and his state of flow expressed as a chart.
The infinite challenges in BMX is what make it an art, constantly evolving and improving, but never mastered.
From the moment you head out the door on a BMX, you are creating your own adventure. It’s taking you away from your house a little more each day, in an attempt to find something new to ride.
Adventure awaits.. Photo: Tyson Jones-Peni
Your eyes are open to seeing places in a new light, the areas of town that the general public might find boring, might be a haven to you.
BMX makes you want to turn down that street you’ve never been down, just in case there is something new to see, and ride. You’ll ride home a new way often because of this. Once your town has been sufficiently explored, you’re off to the next one. You are open minded to visiting anywhere.
Just when you thought the challenges (Reason 4) defined by your location were starting to dry up, you are shown a new spot, a new park, or some locals in a foreign place that are doing things differently – opening your eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities.
With the adventures you encounter through BMX, along the way, you’ll be surrounding yourself with the culture of the world, along for the ride with the locals riders of the area that you met because of Reason 3..
The seriousness and responsibilities of life can be tough sometimes. There have been times when I’ve been stressed, worried, sad, or downright depressed – and then I’ve gone riding.
BMX takes your mind out of the situation that could be causing you grief. In fact, it takes your mind out of any situation that isn’t riding the thing in front of you at that given moment. I’ll tell you right now, I’ve never been at the trails and as I’m approaching the lip thought about the phone bill I’ve had to pay.
The session with mates is always a stress relief. Photo: Tyson Jones-Peni
BMX isn’t an abandonment of responsibility though. Problems happen and stress can cloud any rational thought to see the path to a solution. BMX just allows you to set the problem - and stress - aside for enough time to clear your head, then come back to the problem with less emotion, perhaps able to see a solution. Enter the next reason..
BMX is high level problem solving – problems that are handled with extreme diligence, patience, and respect.
Knowing your limits and then taking steps to eventually surpass your limits, with time effortlessly, is what gives meaning to Reason 4.
Take for example the approach to any trick. For example, a 360 over a set of doubles. This particular move requires you to put the time into learning how to solve the problem of catching air, spinning 90 degrees, then 180, before navigating the final 180 to successfully facing the right way again. All on a safe enough obstacle that affords you the leniency of trying again if things don’t go to plan.
You then practice the 360 several hundred times until you feel confident that when you call on the move, you’re left with the desired outcome.
Then you have to find a double that doesn’t seem unobtainable to spin (and if it doesn’t exist, then the additional problem of building the right double occurs).
Then you have put yourself into a state of mind to allow you to focus and not let your nerves get the better of you. You process the feeling of the jump, what the lip feels like in relation to all other take offs you have ridden in the past. You call upon other times you have done a 360, perhaps the particular way you looked over your shoulder, the amount you tried to turn off the lip in the past. When you are in the air, in a split second you assess the information you are receiving and compare it to successful 360s in your past; making corrections as needed in order to land successfully.
If it doesn’t work out, then most of the time a BMXer knows what they did wrong and hopefully, will have another chance to make it right; hopefully with less skin off the next time around.
Having put yourself in such an extreme problem solving situation can make dealing with everyday problems a breeze, allowing you to approach things with a cool head. Day to day life can be stressful, but when you’ve already exposed yourself to the cortisol levels produced when trying something you’ve never done on a BMX bike, solving day-to-day problems will come easy.
Sheltered is something that BMXers are not. Most riders are switched on far more than your average citizen. This comes from being out in the world at a young age, riding around, meeting and hanging out with different riders from different backgrounds, exploring new places.
BMXers can sniff out when an area of town is sketchy. BMXers also have a phenomenal sense of direction, which comes from having something some like to call ‘The Riders Eye’. We tend to notice smaller things in the landscape that get bookmarked in your mind, because every BMXer is looking out for things to ride.
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been on the road with other BMXers who have found where we’re meant to be going, just on memory, based on street spots we’ve seen along the way.
Jack O'Reilly. In the streets. Photo: Tyson Jones-Peni
There are too many things that BMXers encounter in the wild world to list, but know that if you are with a BMXer, then they are confident that they will be able to navigate their way through the world, geographically and otherwise.
Independence and Creativity soars
Here it is, the reason that I think encompasses most other reasons listed above within it. While your street smarts improve, your fitness improves, you’re having more fun and you’re enjoying the adventure while squashing stress, reason 9 is really the how behind it all.
From the moment you step onto a BMX bike, you’re really making a choice - whether conscious or not - to take control of your own life and steer your own decisions.
You’re not a part of a team in BMX. There is no coach telling you what position to play, how to perform and telling you of your downfalls. While there is nothing wrong with getting advice, being coached, or being part of a team, in BMX there is no restraints to what you can learn, how many times you ‘play’, what you learn, or what you learn it on.
Photo: Brendan Boeck
This is why BMX was called ‘freestyle’ in the early 80s, in an attempt to capture the boundless opportunities of riding a BMX bike. You are free to create your own style of riding. If you like riding dirt, street, park, vert, flatland then that can be what you do – and no one can stop you from doing it the way you want.
This reliance on yourself to write your own rules and learn by your own will creates a stronger and more valuable version of yourself. Just as there is no coach or team to tell you what to do, there is also no one else to rely on if things go wrong, no slacking off if ‘getting good’ is what you desire from BMX. Except you. You write your own story in this one.
Riding BMX and the creativity and independence that it provides can transfer over to other aspects of your life, allowing you to look at situations in a more creative way.
This is how the aforementioned ‘Riders Eye’ develops. As time goes by, BMXers end up seeing landscapes that would be a total lack of interest to the general public, as places for creativity. Places to get them stoked. A set of stairs, a few curbs or traffic islands, a tree root that is pushing up pavement – I’ve seen sessions go down at spots that have less than that.
This is why (if you don’t ride) you might find BMXers having interest in other creative and artistic endeavours. An overspill of creativity from BMX at work.
This isn’t me saying that being constrained in society and having to be responsible for others (work, family or otherwise) is a bad thing. While BMX can be a way to step away from these constraints entirely, as some BMXers have shown, you certainly can use BMX as a way to provide creative and independent moments for yourself, before stepping back in and crushing the responsibilities you owe to the world at large.
The world can be a tough, hard to navigate, and sometimes downright unsafe place. Similarly, your time on a BMX bike can reflect the nature of the world. Things can go wrong. Sometimes the bike, and the ground you are riding upon, can bite back.
It doesn't always go to plan, but I'm still here. Photo: Brendan Boeck
BMX is hard. That’s partly the point (as reason 4 illustrates). You are constantly trying to learn; a new trick, a new jump. You can fall while this happens. But because of the fun, the challenge, and the problem you know you can solve, you try again, with your teeth gritted a little tighter.
BMX teaches you about your willingness to get back up and try again, making you more resilient, allowing you to consider your goal and adapt with more devotion and focus.
You also learn that it was you who made the decision to try whatever it is. That you are willing to face the consequences, even if they are out of your control (even if it is only for a split second).
Resilience is not only tricks learnt. It can be built in BMX through a constant building and maintaining of a spot, a set of trails for example. There are many things that can be stacked against you while doing this, but your ability to adapt to the surroundings and constant problems (think thunderstorms, landings falling down, poor dirt – the list goes on), to stick it out and work around, past and forward, can build extreme mental fortitude.
BMX shows you problems you must solve in order to progress. But because of the resilience you have acquired from trying (perhaps hundreds of times) and then successfully solving the problems of the past; present and future problems are shown to be not entirely unsolvable.
Getting up and trying again is a crucial part of BMX, just as it is in life. The mental toughness you acquire on your BMX won’t leave you once you step off your bike. You will be able to approach the problems you need to solve to become a better person and live a more meaningful life, with more tenacity. You will also be able to accept that if things don’t go right the first time, you can do like you do in BMX and try again until you get it right.
Stay Present (No eyes on the phone)
Almost a bonus reason, but certainly an important one in the modern age. No doubt many of us spend far too much time looking at our phones and not enough time being ‘in the moment’. There’s no distractions when you’re riding BMX. Even if it’s an hour session at the park, or a 15 minute ride to work, it is your time. Not time you have given to social media.
If finding time for yourself is hard and you don’t fancy the idea of joining a yoga class or meditating, BMX is for you. You are free from the distractions of the outside world and get a chance to clear your head.
If you’re feeling distracted, or perhaps feel a weird pull luring you to your phone, just go for a ride instead.
Eyes on the landing.. Not the phone. Russell Brindley. Photo: Tyson Jones-Peni
Even if your choice to ride BMX isn’t a decision past getting fit or having some fun, it’s that if you allow it, BMX will provide you with these positive attributes and simply put, add quality to your life.
At first glance, riding BMX might seem not as profound as some other endeavours that people pursue, but as the reasons above demonstrate, riding BMX is no less important. BMX is an extremely effective tool at providing traits that build character and make you a better person.
There is more to BMX than just riding around on a ‘kids bike’.