I am advanced enough in age to know not to be put off when I can’t do something after one hour. I can barely learn a new word in that time, never mind an entirely new way of distributing my weight so that I can jump on a bicycle. Still, I borrowed a BMX from a very kind BMX ultra called Stuart Dawkins and went for a lesson.
BMX riding reminds me a little of parkour. First, there are about five basic moves that look incredibly impressive when someone else does them; you learn these straight away, but are miles away from being able to do them. Second, this is a young person’s game. There is a niche middle-aged woman BMX scene, dominated – possibly entirely populated – by Lesley Reynolds, 53, from Truro, the oldest member of the British team and, sincerely, an inspiration to us all. There is a track in my nearest park, but it is full of six-year-olds. Barging into that would be only fractionally more appropriate than going to soft play.
At the moment, though, I just need flat ground on which to practise two hops. The simplest involves taking a leap while keeping your feet on the pedals, so that the bike moves with you. The other, a “magnet hop”, is where you jump, bring the pedals up to meet your feet, then land.
I had a mental block about the latter, because I couldn’t imagine doing it on a regular bike, but these are engineered for it. Your posture is different: the frame is very low, so all your weight is on your hands and feet. (Sure, you can sit on a BMX, but you look as though you have stolen the bike from a child.) Your shoulders have more control, too. The hard part, at first, is to trust that you are not going to pitch over the handlebars in a fit of enthusiasm. After that, it is just repetition. Pedal along, standing, at a leisurely pace, then, you know, hop. It sounds so straightforward, but takes ages.
I think my posture was too awkward to call this a workout for a particular muscle group: my arms worked quite hard, but my back mainly ached afterwards because I was curving it like a cat (not an agile cat: a cat about to get into a fight). Glutes and hamstrings get less sustained use than they would on a road bike, but the balance requirements are great for the core.
I didn’t get past the first stage of a “manual”: you lift your front wheel until it is at a 45-degree angle from the ground. With your feet on the pedals, find your balance point. You are trying to stay on the bike with the wheel in the air, for at least a couple of seconds. Once you are confident, test your solidity by thrusting your bottom half forwards, to try to keep momentum. This was so engrossing that I didn’t mind what I looked like – although I had waited until it was dark and was practising in the world’s smallest park.
It strikes me that the reason this is a young person’s game is that they have more time left on Earth. If there is any corner of your brain that wants to show off, you need to know that it will probably take years.
What I learned
The ideal terrain is a slight downwards incline, so you are not wasting any energy propelling yourself along.