Freestyle bikes & BMX Bike Culture 40 Years On

by Glenn Reeves on October 28, 2012

“Moto-crosso, mo-to-croooos-ooooo” chants the Zulerhead freestyle dreamer as guns his wannabe BMX over the drop sometime in late 1974.

Nothing like keeping it simple and hanging on a fixed-gear edge.

Zulerhead, known to his parents as “Andrew”, was pissed that all he had was this racing-frame “street”-bike hybrid. Lucky him. Some of us had much less as we practiced our version of a freestyle bike culture through the wind-swept streets and scrubland of this far flung urban satellite.

On the weekends we’d head out to the real motocross tracks that crisscrossed the desolate backblocks of  Rye and Blairgowrie  south of Melbourne to enjoy thrashing our poor old fixed gear heaps over the trails, in between runs by the guys on their dirt bikes.

Tough, nasty characters  they were too who’d punch your lights out for just thinking that you had any right to share the same stretch of track with them.

The Zulerhead was a year or two away from getting access to any of this real bike goodness. Athough he was slightly consoled by the appearance of a new sport and a new type of biking in BMX in far-off California, he’d long grown into motocross by the time it had made any impact downunder.

Bmx freestyle urban cyclists

The gang from BMX Bandits (not the band!!) plan their escape route through the suburbs

Popular culture lagged a decade behind this new sport. And when it caught up, it reflected the key division in cycling culture between the racers and the freestylers in cycling generally.

Possibly due to the International BMX Federation inaugural world championships in 1982, popular culture caught up in a big way in the early 80s. And, funnily enough, it focused on a group of kids who were also quite keen on avoiding getting their lights punched out by some bad guys.

Nicole Kidman’s first feature film, BMX Bandits was also the first movie to give BMXers mainstream attention.

Next year will be the 3oth anniversary of  this celebration of high cadence cycling through Sydney’s coastal suburban sprawl. If you ever wondered where Robbie McEwan got his inspiration for the sprint, look no further than the blue and red BMXers, PJ and Goose, 5 minutes in.

After rampaging through the central shopping strip and a run-in with the law, their first conversation, however, is to complain about not having a local BMX track: somewhere to bike without being hassled.

Way too uncool, though, and too far away from the free spirit of the ride. In their own minds they’d like to be racing around the track on a dedicated venue. The reality is that carving paths though the suburbs and riding coz you love to ride is much more fun.

freestyle bike bmx downhill with a difference

Nicole takes the ultimate freestyle descent through the waterslide

This tension between freestyle and rule-bound racing is revisited from the other side in the next BMX movie 3 years later: Rad.

RAD BMX racing

Here we have a kid, Cru, who thinks school sucks. . . and acts on it. His dilemma is sit for the college SAT or go racing. Racing it is and that’s basically where we end up: a slave to the racing scene’s rhythm.

Cru’s Mom does tell him that he really needs to get an education and forget about racing. But he goes his own way, as he must.

Strong echoes of Frank and Andy Schleck’s dad who has apparently advised his sons to find a pro-cycling career alternative after the Pro-cycling train-wreck of the last few weeks. At the least, as you are entering pro-cycling you’ve got to be thinking about the exit sooner rather than later.

Its one thing to race around in circles on a track or along prescribed routes in a manner prescribed by bundles of regulations. It’s another to freestyle your way across the fields of your imagination, which you can do on any old pair of wheels, anywhere, anytime.

Returning to BMX freestyle as the most potent expression of that spirit I’ll leave you with Brad Simms. His name’s not as cool as “zulerhead”; but he rides just the way that Andrew-to-his-parents would have loved had been born a few decades later than he was.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew October 29, 2012 at 6:32 AM

Ah! One of the bikes I wish my mom had not given away was a 1979 Mongoose Motomag. That was a great little bike. Indestructible.

Glenn Reeves October 29, 2012 at 10:32 AM

Bikes were indestructible back then. We used to get around on generic Malvern Star steel frames, bolted together that just would not break. The only place I ever put oil was into the BB…the more the better, or so I thought :-). You just had to tighten the chain by resetting the back wheel every now and again and it would take whatever was dished out, rain hail and shine, literally.

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