Over the course of one winter I went from a 45 pound Downhill rig known as Red Frankenstein to a 25 pound Clayborn 20" BMX bike. You would think that the many lessons I learned racing Mountain Bikes would carry over onto the BMX track but they didn't. In fact, it turned out to work the other way around.
Mountain Biking, with its 26 inch wheels, full suspension set-ups, hydraulic disc brakes and so forth can act collectively as a cheaters combination of tools. Sitting on thousands of dollars of advanced technology allows the rider to forego many of the basic lessons which are needed to become a skilled rider. This is why I had to start all over again when I moved down to the small bikes. Luckily I have survived the initiation and can tell the tales of what I have discovered.
Balance: Bikers of all types pride themselves on their ability to balance on a bike. It's the first thing you learn as a little kid, it's the act you extend when you ride your first wheelie. On the Mountain Bikes it is necessary for any rock garden or skinny bridge.
I assumed that I had good balance until I first tried the gate at a BMX track. This is where the art of the track stand was created. Your front tire barely touches the metal gate as you rise in perfect balance waiting for the timed snap that starts the race. You spend so much time in this position that your ability stay upright without hardly moving becomes almost magical, like a circus act performing for the crowd.
After mastering the stand up gate I have returned to a Mountain Bike and brought this amazing balance with me. It brings with a confidence infusion when navigating awkward obstacles at slow speeds.
Jumping: From your first makeshift wooden jump in the driveway to the four foot drop ramp at the Highland Mountain Bike Park skills center, we as riders love to go airborne. In Mountain biking you leave the ground off every log ride, rock launch or designed drop on the trail. When practicing and racing downhill I hit jumps and drops that measure as high as four feet off the ground but did I know what I was doing?
The BMX track is crafted with the intention that you will be lifted in the air whether you like it or not. There is no maybe when it comes to jumping. With this being an imperative skill, you start to learn how to lift, control your bike in the air and most importantly you learn how not to jump. These skills carry over especially well in downhill racing where a rider often needs to stay closer to the ground in order to maximize speed.
After spending 18 months hitting lips on a bike with no suspension, suddenly the more forgiving shocks and tires of a Mountain bike become an easy and fun platform for flying off or over just about anything.
The Swiss Army Knife: I could go through each individual skill - manualing, pumping, cornering, sprinting, pedaling within a tight group and thrusting the bike across the finish line. The point should be pretty apparent. In Mountain Biking we tend to depend on our machines to do a chunk of the work for us thus allowing us to be a little lazier when it comes to handling.
Having moved from XC to DH to BMX, I feel like I have gone backwards through biking the process to return to the roots I never had. As I wrote in an Editorial for the Bog Dogs Race Report, BMX skills are the starting point for many amazing athletes. It is the gateway sport that builds better bike riders.
I would recommend to anyone who loves Mountain Biking that they should try BMX Racing. I will warn you that it is not an easy transition but the benefits of developing those missing basics will transform you into a far more confident cyclist.