Busy kids: Bumpy road ahead

By Danielle Wright

A child competes in the North Harbour BMX champs.
A child competes in the North Harbour BMX champs.

For a generation of us, BMX bikes will always be associated with 80s movies such as The Goonies, E.T and BMX Bandits, starring Nicole Kidman when she still looked like herself. But, if you haven't noticed, the BMX has since grown up and is now even an Olympic sport.

Bicycle Motocross (BMX) began life in California in the late 60s as a human-powered alternative to motocross, which was a popular sport at the time. It was the low-cost pedal-powered alternative that fast became an international hit, no doubt in part thanks to its role on film.

None of the dozen kids I meet at the BMX track last week has even heard of the films, but they're nevertheless here having the time of their lives out on the well-maintained tracks.

I watch pint-sized riders on tiny bicycles with thin wheels bump and fly past me wearing huge grins. Some full-face helmets are covered in sparkly silver unicorns and garish rainbows.

Sienna Bhimy, 5, is riding on a purple bike. She tells me: "It's funnest going around corners", before adding the important: "But, I don't ever fall off."

Her mum, Donna, has three children keen on the sport. The oldest, Lucas, 7, competed in his first national competition at age 3.

The competitions involve riders racing on a track filled with jumps, tight bends and obstacles. There are no points awarded for technique, it's simply the first to the finish line who wins.

"Lucas is sports mad," says Donna. "I've been surprised how quickly my kids have picked up BMX. It's amazing how easy they make it look."

She tells me most of the dads have taken up photography to give them something to do on the sidelines.

BMX racing is mainly done in summer and the Harbour Sport BMX Club holds a Tuesday night race as well as "running gates" on a Friday, which means the kids get to practise starting from the top. Members can practise at other times during the week, as long at it's not raining.

In New Zealand, the role models are active at a grassroots level and the day I visit the track there are just as many girls as boys riding.

"Olympic silver-medallist BMX rider Sarah Walker is at race meets and really lovely and approachable," says Donna.

"All the kids have her signature on their shirts and she's really encouraging."

As with many alternative sports, there's also a lingo for BMX riders - words such as wood-pushers (skate-boarders), unclipped (when a foot comes loose from a clip-in pedal) and pumping (a technique to gain speed over bumps and jumps).

And if you're keen on it yourself, remember it's not just for the kids - the oldest rider in New Zealand is in his 70s.

If you'd rather leave it to your children, this could be a great sport for keen bike riders to prolong their interest once they've mastered the two-wheelers.

ON YOUR BIKE

BMX Club
Membership costs about $75 a year, with races from $3 on club race nights to $85 for nationals. Gear can be bought cheaply second-hand or cost thousands for top-of-the-range essentials. To try it out, you can spend $5 on bike hire or $10 for bike, helmet and gloves on race nights, with the first three races free. For information on joining the North Harbour BMX Club, visit www.facebook.com/NHBMX

UCI BMX World Championships
The UCI BMX World Championships are on next week from Wednesday, July 24 to Sunday, July 28 at the Vector Arena, bmxworldsnewzealand.com. Tickets are $9 child (5-14); $29 adult. ticketmaster.co.nz

Vietnam cycling tour
Olympic BMX rider Sarah Walker is hosting a cycling tour in Vietnam from August 17-31 in a fundraising partnership between children's charity Variety and World Expeditions.A child competes in the North Harbour BMX champs. ... pint-sized riders on tiny bicycles with thin wheels bump and fly past me wearing huge grins. For a generation of us, BMX bikes will always be associated with 80s movies such as The Goonies, E.T and BMX Bandits, starring Nicole Kidman when she still looked like herself. But, if you haven't noticed, the BMX has since grown up and is now even an Olympic sport.

- NZ Herald

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