fit str 1 bmx bike

Looking to start riding BMX? Here is what you need to know, broken down by category.

Note: this is for freestyle BMX, as in dirt jumping, park, street, vert, and flatland. (BMX racing, the less popular meaning for “BMX,” is not discussed here.)

 

The Bike

The first step to riding BMX is to get a bike!

Where?

As a beginner it won’t make much of a difference what bike you get, as long as you don’t get it at Wal-Mart. While the quality of their Mongoose bikes has improved somewhat in recent years, the bikes are typically put together incorrectly, which could lead to a safety hazard. It’s just not worth it.

If you want to go bike shopping, you can probably find a reputable bike shop not too far away. If ordering online works for you, you can browse these two popular retailers – DansComp.com and Albes.com.

Just remember, if you order a bike online, you need to be able to install a few parts and adjust it properly before riding!

How much money?

Just about any bike for $220 or more will be pretty good. If you can afford $400, you’ll get a good bike that will last a while, but I wouldn’t spend more than that on your first bike.

There’s no point getting an expensive or light weight bike because you’re going to break parts no matter what they are. You can’t learn BMX without breaking stuff, so break the cheap stuff when you learn, and then you can get a better bike once you’ve improved.

What size?

You don’t need to worry too much about sizes when first starting out. All the bikes will have 20″ wheels (except for a few 16″ and 18″ bikes, made for young kids,) so that’s a given.

The only other size to think about is top tube length. This is typically between 20-21″ (although there are flatland bikes with 18-19″ top tubes.)

Top tube (TT) length is personal preference, and you’ll probably prefer a certain size after riding multiple frames over a few years, but there’s no hard rule for your first bike. A 5’5″ individual could ride a 21″ TT, while a 6’3″ rider would be perfectly alright on a 20.5″ TT.

But in general, someone over 6′ tall would probably feel more comfortable on a bike with a 21″ TT. Someone barely over 5′ tall would probably only want a 20″ TT.

 

Safety Equipment

If you’re getting a bike, don’t forget the safety equipment! This comes in very handy, especially when you’re learning!

The most important piece of safety equipment is the helmet. While head injuries aren’t the most frequent, one head injury could lead to brain damage or death. Riding without a helmet isn’t worth the risk.

Also very important are shin pads. Damage to your shins is usually superficial, but it occurs frequently, and it hurts!! So I highly recommend wearing shin pads, even if you’re just doing some basic tricks. (Some nice knee pads extend down and cover the tops of your shins, which is nice. I have some Shadow Conspiracy soft knee pads that work well for covering my knees and most of my shins.)

Next up, gloves. Gloves are great because they keep your grips from getting sweaty and slippery, and they also prevent your hands from getting scraped up when you fall.

Also, knee and elbow pads can lessen the pain of your crashes.

One last word of advice though: be aware of your safety equipment!

You could actually hit a point where too much safety gear becomes a problem. For example, a full-face helmet could obscure your vision. Knee pads can catch on your seat or handlebars, throwing you off the bike. Elbow pads could hamper arm movements.

The point is, be aware that riding in full safety gear will feel different than riding in shorts and a t-shirt!

 

Tricks for Beginners

Once you have your bike and safety gear, you’ll undoubtedly want to try some tricks.

The tricks you focus on will differ depending on whether you ride park, dirt, flatland, etc., but there are basic tricks everyone needs to learn at the start.

Here are a couple key skills…

1. The Manual

This is where you ride along, pull the handlebars back and lean back, with your butt over the rear wheel. The goal is to coast forward, keeping the front wheel elevated (it’s like a wheelie except you don’t pedal.)

There are two hints to doing a good manual. First, keep your arms straight. You use your body to control the manual, not your arms.

Second, shift your body to maintain balance. While doing a manual, you will subtly shift your body weight left, right, forward, and back to keep the front wheel in the air.

2. Bunny Hop

The bunny hop is a crucial building block for every other trick out there.

The first step to a bunny hop is to pull up on the handlebars. Once the front wheel is up, push the handlebars forward while also pulling the pedals up and back with your feet.

What happens is you go up off the ground and level the bike in mid air. Then land smoothly! (Absorb the shock with bent elbows and knees.)

 

More Tricks

A few ideas for more tricks to learn as you improve…

Park

If you will be riding skateparks, you need to learn how to ride ramps. Ramps are usually steeper and more slippery than they look on TV, so you just need to get out there and get the feel for ramps.

You will want to learn basics such as jumping over a box jump and airing out on a quarter pipe. If there is a small half pipe, you could learn how to “drop in.”

Street riding

If you’re a street rider, you’ll be using manuals and bunnyhops a lot. You may also want to learn the 180 bunnyhop.

If you want to grind, I suggest learning feeble grinds on flat concrete ledges or wooden benches. The feeble grind is where your front tire is on the ledge and your back peg is grinding. It is usually the easiest grind to learn.

Flatland

For you flatland riders, here are some tricks to learn: frontyard, backyard, squeakers, flatland tailwhips (with front wheel on the ground,) and the fire hydrant are good options.

(Click here for flatland how-to videos.)

Dirt jumping

For dirt jumping, you need to learn how to ride a dirt jump! Just to go over a jump, get air, and land safely is a skill that takes practice! I recommend starting on tabletop style jumps, as they’re more forgiving if you don’t make the landing.

Keep honing your skills on the jumps and when you’re ready, try tricks like the x-up, one hander, tabletop, etc.

 

More resources

For more information on freestyle BMX, here are some sites to check out:

BMX Trix
This is a very old website, but navigate to the “How To” section to find how-to videos for flatland and street riding, as well as ramp building.

BikeGuide
BikeGuide is a great resource for BMXers and the best part is the forum where you can connect with other BMX riders.

Sportskool BMX
Sportskool offers how-to videos from the pros, and one sport they cover is BMX.

Here’s a sample video covering the basics of BMX:

 

Good luck getting your bike and getting started riding BMX!

2 Comments
  1. Where do I take my son to start learning BMX and eventually joining a team or competing. He is 8 and we live in Chicago.

  2. @Ken

    For racing, check with USA BMX. They sanction the races and have some good info on their site.

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