Ever since I purchased the book Mastering Mountain Bike Skills by Brian Lopes and Lee McCormack (my blog post about it here), I’ve been interested in learning BMX skills, not to race BMX but to improve my mountain biking. Lee McCormack (LeeLikesBikes.com) has many blog posts about BMX and emphasizes the benefits of learning BMX skills in his book. And when deciding between a 20-inch BMX bike vs. a 24-inch BMX bike (cruiser), he says:
Most adult MTB’ers find 20s too much of a handful, at least at first. Start with a cruiser; then work your way down (up?) to a 20. A winter, or even the occasional play ride, on your BMX bike will do wonders for your riding skills.
So when Chance Glasford told me last fall that Continental Ski and Bike in Duluth was closing out a 2011 Scott Voltage 24 dirt jump mountain bike, I bought it. I got in a couple of sessions at the Eagan Pump and Jump park (Facebook page here) before winter, but it was my trip to Ray’s Indoor Bike Park in Milwaukee in January where I first felt the benefits of learning to ride this bike, specifically when I learned to jump a table top, courtesy of Jed Olson’s coaching.
Jed told me last week that he and Chance were heading to Over The Top (OTT), an indoor BMX/skate/rock climbing park that’s part of the Bluff Valley Campground complex in Zumbro Falls (45 minutes from Northfield) on Friday. Good timing, as my 29’er is the shop, waiting for a new rim. I was pumped (heh) to go.
OTT is an impressive facility that bills itself as a skatepark but on Friday night, there were only BMX’ers there, no skateboarders. It also has a rock climbing/bouldering area.
Jed and Thor Shellum (a product design engineer at QBP / Surly Bikes) were airing it out pretty good over the big jumps.
Chance was impressive on the footjam tailwhips (PinkBike how-to video here).
My problem was that there’s not much at OTT that’s doable for a rank beginner like me. The one table top they have was not only bigger than the ones I learned to do at Ray’s. But there wasn’t an easy way for me to get up enough speed for it since I didn’t know how to do a 180 and pump back down the ramps to gain speed. So I asked Jed to map out something that I could practice.
He suggested that I learn to do the prerequisite to a basic BMX 180, and pointed out that the when the big ramps weren’t being used by other riders, I could make a wide loop across the face of them and just concentrate on A) getting comfortable with the leaning my body with the bike on the ramps; B) pumping the bike instead of pedaling as I went back down the ramps; and C) gradually tightening up the loop. By night’s end, I was able to stay within the single ramp in the middle (red arrows) both directions. Next time I go, I’ll be ready to try a 180, which involves a bit of bunny hop.
The connection of BMX to mountain biking now makes much more sense to me because I see how learning the basic 180 maneuver of a bunny hop and pumping will make practicing table top jumps (a common feature of MTB downhill trails) more fun.
Blake Waters, whose family owns and runs Bluff Valley Campground and to Over the Top, was on-duty Friday night and made me feel welcome, as did all the other young guys there that night. He’s a talented rider, but my only photo of him is the one on the right after a slow motion crash. (Blake maintains the Over The Top Facebook page, so you can contact him there, too.)
And in case you’re wondering, I wore every bit of protective gear that I own and was glad I did because I crashed a lot, landing hard on my elbows, knees, hips, shoulders, tailbone and head. I came away with zero bruises and just a mild ache in one knee from my old cartilage injury. I will be back.