What is it?
Riding a bike designed for dirt tracks.
What's needed? BMX bike, full-face helmet, clothing to cover skin (if you feel like keeping it), covered shoes (so no stubbed toes).
The experience: Nowadays kids don't really get bikes as they're preoccupied with iPods, iPads, iPhones, Facebook and stuff. But it's their loss, as they're missing out on windswept, messed-up hair, the freedom, the health benefits and the thrill of the fear factor. You know, when you're peddling so fast, your eyes possum-like wide, and you're wobbling about, flying over bumps and going so wheelie fast that you think you might have the mother of all wipeouts. That's how I felt as a kid and that's why my kids have bikes. My bloke bikes to work every day and even my 2-year-old has a bike that he uses his feet to propel himself forwards on.
Anyhow, if you won't listen to me about why bikes should be in your lives then perhaps you'll listen to Sarah Walker. She's one of the best BMX riders in the world - and makes riding a bike even cooler. The 2012 Olympic silver medallist is trying to get Kiwis on their bikes. On Friday she was named as the ambassador for Move 60, a partnership between Coca-Cola NZ, the Foundation for Youth Development and Bike NZ, which aims to motivate New Zealanders to be more active - and specifically inspire 100,000 teens to "move" for 60 minutes every day by 2020. Part of the programme involves about 400 Avanti bikes given to selected high-school kids by next year, with Sarah teaching them safety tips and bike skills, too.
This weekend Sarah took more than 200 West Auckland teenagers through a custom-built skills and safety programme tackling obstacles, busy roundabouts and speed bumps to kick off the programme. She also taught me a few tricks and tips and boy, were the kids pouty I left them behind.
We're at the North Harbour BMX Track in Auckland and she gives me the low-down on BMX riding. She warns me BMX bikes are light and you have to be accurate with steering - otherwise they're unforgiving - so, I should keep the front wheel straight, look in the direction I'm heading and make no sudden movements, otherwise I'm toast. I also discover you don't really sit on the tiny, hard seat (rather hover above it while keeping both pedals level). "It's a stronger riding position," Sarah says, and it's a good idea to keep both wheels on the ground while learning - if you can.
Sarah tells me less than half a race is actually pedalling; it's about positioning the bike and body right, and maximising the ups and downs for speed. So I grip the handlebars (tightly) and traverse the ups and downs and bumpety-bumps of the dirty, rainy and windy track and squeal, "Wahoo!". I cruise over curves and jumps, but wimp out at the biggest vertical hump and the adrenalin pumps. Then we do it again and again and again. At the end Sarah laughs, "you did it. AND you stayed in one piece." Bonus.
Simply put, it's a buzz and I go home to boast to my kids about my awesome day and we plan our next family bike adventure in the school holidays.
How much? Sarah suggests people try BMX tracks by just turning up and paying the $3 gate fee to see if it's your thing. If it is, you can sign up to a club, which is roughly $100 in annual fees. You can also hire bikes, helmets, gloves from most clubs, which usually costs about $5.
Worth it? Bikes rock - for all ages.
Try it: North Harbour BMX Track, 169 Bush Rd, Albany, www.nhbmx.org.nz
Rachel wears: Gear courtesy of Avanti.