I’ve decided to get a second BMX. After a year and a half with my flatland bike, riding it nearly every day, I’ve realize that what I really want for daily use is a street bike.
For the uninitiated, a flatland bike is smaller (shorter top tube), has two sets of big grippy alloy pegs, front and back brakes with a rotor, and is generally several pounds heavier than its streetly counterpart. It’s made for flatland riding, which you do in a nice, well, flat parking lot and which involves lots of rolling, spinning and bouncing type tricks. The bike is never much more than an inch or two off the ground at any time. It a also has a smaller gear ratio, which makes getting going very easy but makes going fast very hard.
Since I only got the bike to do flatland tricks, it was the perfect choice at the time.
A street bike is made for street riding, which involves manuals (think “wheelies”), jumping things (curbs, stairs, ledges, benches, railings, ramps and what have you) and grinding stuff (again, what have you). This involves being in the air at times and sometimes landing on hard things from high places. As such, a street bike is big and strong but tends to be very light. It might only have a pair of pegs on one side (or only one peg or none depending on your riding style), only rear brakes (or none depending on style) with no rotor and a slightly larger gear ratio (though still a small chainwheel for good clearance) which makes higher speeds easier to maintain.
I ride to work every day, even longer distances on occasion, and I absolutely love to jump things, having something light and fast is what I need for daily use.
Rather than build my own dream bike, which could apparently cost me nearly $1500 (yeah , I already priced it out on Dan’s Comp), I’ve decided to buy one of the many fabulous complete bikes that are being released to the market over the next couple of months by so many BMX companies. Of course there are a million choices, including brakes (rear or none?), color/styling, weight, price, etc. But what I’ve been struggling with the most is the rear hub.
The hub is the part of the wheel in the center which connects to all of the spokes. In the front, it’s job is to be strong, light, small and to hold some fast bearings and an axle. In the back, however, it also carries the driver, which is pulled by the chain and ultimately makes the bike go. Over the years, I’ve encountered several distinct kinds of rear hubs.
The simplest kind of rear hub and driver setup possible is the fixed-gear (“fixie”), traditional on track bikes and popular with bike messengers the hipsters of today. This is what the very first chained bicycles used. With a fixed gear, the pedals are always moving in the same direction as the rear wheel is moving, so you can never stop pedaling as long as you’re moving. You don’t need brakes because you can use the force of your legs against the rotation of the pedals to slow it down (think “Big Wheel”) and you can pedal backwards. Of course, a fixed-gear hub has no place in BMX because it would render nearly all tricks impossible (prove me wrong, please).
On my very first bike, a blue and yellow BMX, I had a rear hub with a coaster-brake, which allows stop pedaling while the bike is moving (freewheel), but has a brake which engages as soon as you backpedal (after a very short rotation). When bike rolls backwards, the pedals can stay in place until you apply the brake. However, this type of brake is now mostly only seen on low end kids bikes, beach cruisers and the like. I never see coaster-brakes in BMX anymore, probably because they hard to maintain and they can lock at very inopportune times.
On my second BMX bike, a white 1987 GT Pro Freestyle Tour, I had by far the most popular BMX hub, the freewheel. This is the one that lets you coast without moving the pedals and lets you backpedal without applying the brakes. When the bike rolls backwards, the pedals go backwards along with it. This means you can do tricks rolling backwards but you have to make sure to pedal backwards a little faster than the bike until you’re ready to go forwards again. Most bikes I find have this type of hub and it’s the most affordable.
On my third BMX bike, a custom built 1987 Haro Master, I had ACS RL (Osborn) Edge wheels that had a new-fangled (and rarely seen since) “freecoaster” hub that allowed you to switch it (in less than 2 minutes by turning a couple of screws) from freewheel to coaster-brake. In addition, you could roll backwards as long as you wanted without having to backpedal. This made for a long of really interesting tricks, but was way before its time. As far as I made, this hub was not made past the late ’80s.
My current bike, a dark grey 2005 Haro Master M7, has a freecoaster hub, but today this has an entirely different meaning. There is no brake in a current freecoaster. You have the traditional freewheel but you can also roll backwards without having to backpedal. After a portion of a forward rotation (1/4 or so), the hub engages and you are “back in gear.” This allows for what is now an entirely new and thriving area of BMX street involving backwards rolling tricks (manuals, jumps, grinds, etc.) where the pedals are kept level the entire time. However, it also introduces what turns out to be an annoying lag when first pedaling forward, but I guess you can get used to it. I pretty much have.
So with all that the real choice is between the freewheel hub or the freecoaster hub (though on a totally separate note I’ll be honest that I’ve been regularly drooling over some of the fixed-gear bikes I’ve seen lately and crave one of those as well). I could get a complete bike with a freewheel and replace the back wheel or replace the hub, but that’s a pretty expensive and/or complicated upgrade so I want to make the right choice from the start. I could always decide that I have a freecoaster already on one bike so I’ll get a freewheel on the other, but I really think that the street bike is where I’m most likely to use the backwards rolling the most. I probably won’t regret getting the freecoaster on the new bike, but it drastically reduces the options for complete bikes.
I am now awaiting all the new 2008 BMX completes to be announced at Interbike, which takes place this week in Las Vegas. From that I will make my selection.