The History of BMX
It’s not 100% clear just how far back the history of BMX goes. Most accounts will tell you that BMX and BMX racing first got its start in California sometime in the 1960s. At least one account traces the history of BMX back at least 10 years prior to that time when races involving young children on BMX-like bicycles were being held in the Netherlands. It was sometime in the 1950s apparently when those BMX races were held, although it’s unclear whether or not they were officially sanctioned by any sporting organization. The idea for BMX took hold in part due to the popularity of motorcycle racing in Europe at the time.
The First Bicycles Didn’t Have 20-Inch Wheels
You can of course go all the way back to 1900, a time when bicycles first began to gain popularity, or a little later, when bicycle races where being held regularly in the 1920s and 1930s. These were not BMX races of course. The bicycles used were more like the pleasure bicycles or racing bicycles of today. BMX racing really got its start, whether it was in Holland or in California, when youngsters began to emulate motorcycle and motocross racing. All that was needed was to tack a ‘B’ for bicycle on to motor cross and you have BMX.
It Was Schwinn Who Got Things Rolling
If anyone deserves the credit for introducing BMX racing to America it would have to be the Schwinn bicycle company. In 1963 Schwinn came out with the Sting-Ray, a model that does not look a great deal different than the BMX bicycles of today. What made the Sting-Ray particularly good for operating on a race course was its short wheel-base in combination with its 20-inch wheels. That particular combination resulted in a bike that was surprisingly easy to handle. Imagine trying to navigate a BMX course on a pleasure bike today; on a mountain bike it might be possible, but not on a pleasure or touring bike.
Tweaking the Design
About 10 years after the introduction of the Sting-Ray, Yamaha came up with the Moto-Bike. The Moto-Bike wasn’t a motorized bike but did look a little like a motorcycle, complete with shocks and a fake gas tank. Needless to say, the Moto-Bike held the top spot as far as popularity for a time, eventually giving way to the Mongoose. About the same time the Moto-Bike was introduced, the first issue of Bicycle Motocross News was published. Not long afterward, the rigid frame bike replaced the bicycles that featured shocks. It was about this time that the term BMX began to gain acceptance, as opposed to the term bicycle motocross.
From BUMS in California to NBA in the United States
Through the 1970s most of the BMX racing action took place in California, making it easy to understand why it is commonly believed that California was the birthplace of both the BMX bicycle and of the sport. By the 1980s BMX competition had gained international recognition. The first official sanctioning body in the United States was the National Bicycle Association (NBA). It was preceded by the Bicycle United Motocross Society (BUMS), but BUMS events were primarily those held in California.
The founding of the National Bicycle Association was shortly followed be the founding of the National Bicycle League, and then the American Bicycle Association. In 1981 the history of BMX came full circle with the founding of the International Bicycle Motocross Federation (IBMF) in the Netherlands. Although BMX history may well have begun in the Netherlands, the idea of an international federation came from a Dutchman who had witnessed the growing popularity of BMX in the United States.
Finally – The Olympic Games
Perhaps the history of BMX has yet to reach its peak. If it has however it would have to be when BMX was integrated into the International Cycling Union (UIC) in 1993, followed by its Olympic debut in the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008. The men’s event was won by a Latvian, and it was a woman from France who took the gold in the women’s event. The Olympic course was on a 370m long track, filled with jumps, obstacles, and tight turns. Eight riders competed in each race.
It is worth noting the BMX racing has become a part of the professional sporting scene. While the vast majority of racers compete as amateurs, a growing number have taken up the sport professionally. About the only condition for turning pro is that a person has to be at least 15 years of age. Also, once you compete as a professional, you will be barred from competing as an amateur again, at least in American Bicycle Association sponsored events. There are two classes of pros, ‘A’ and ‘AA’, with entry into the latter class depending on size of a competitor’s winnings while competing in the ‘A’ class. No matter whether you are an amateur or a professional, if you’re a BMX racer you’re taking part in one of the youngest and fastest cycling disciplines, and perhaps the one in which people have the most fun competing.