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Lately, I’ve been doing a lot more traveling than usual. Of the last six weekends, I only spent one in Boston. I meant to blog about all my travels and other events but it was too difficult to keep up. So, here it is all in one post…

This weekend, I am happily staying in Boston to enjoy the beautiful weather and spend some time riding bikes.

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.

Yesterday, after each attending our respective company’s beer hours at 4pm, Bailey and I headed to alleyway behind the Underground snowboard, skate, bike shop on Commonwealth Ave for a little BMX event. The Bone Deth Alley Chunk Dad Bone Donation event (flier below) was a fund raiser put together to collect money to buy a permit for a REAL LIFE SIZE MEGA BONE DETH event sometime in October.

Bone Deth Flyer

The event was a blast. They had setup several makeshift ramps out of pallets and plywood in the alley behind the shop. People were launching off this one huge ramp, flying over the crowd pulling all sorts of tricks. There was several 360s, a tailwhip air, a barspin, an x-up and quite a few unsuccessful attempts at a 180 and at a wall ride that left the crowd cringing as the rider and the bike would slam into the ground repeatedly.

Local BMX hero Sean Burns organized the event and was there acting crazy as usual. See him hear featured on the July 2007 cover of Dig BMX and pulling a ridiculous 18-stair toothpick grind on the May 2007 cover of Ride BMX.

The BMX craziness continued until about 8:30pm, when the real show began, the Wet T-Shirt Contest! When we had arrived a couple of hours earlier, Bailey was quickly recruited by the girl organizing the contest to participate as contestant #6. Though it was her first time and she was a bit nervous, she’s very proud of what she has so she decided to go for it. It was a pretty crazy scene. All the girls were up on the top of the big ramp and a dude was pouring water on them from a 5-gallon Poland Spring bottle (I think a sprayer of some kind would have been more effective). The girls got drenched from head to toe. Everyone was screaming and going wild. Bailey was the obvious best, but at the last second, while the guy had already announced her as the winner and was holding her hand up into the air like a boxer, he changed his mind and let the much more slutty girl get a few more jiggles in front of the audience and then eventually announced her as the winner. Bailey was robbed!

All in all it was a great event. It was fun being around so many people that are into BMX and watching all the ridiculous aerial maneuvers. Plus, you can’t go wrong with the wet t-shirts.

On the way home as we waited for the T to come, two kids asked us if we had caught the wet t-shirt contest. Bailey then pointed out the #6 on the wet t-shirt she was carrying and they immediately went on and on about how she was definitely the winner and that other girl didn’t deserve it. Then one of them asked us what college we go to and invited Bailey to his birthday party next week. Good times.

For a little peak at what a Bone Deth event is really like, check out this PROPS 61 clip on YouTube.

Today as I was leaving work, a train was coming through Kendall square and had blocked my chosen route across the tracks toward Hampshire.  So, I decided instead to leisurely ride up Fulkerson and jump every little curb and stump I could find, expecting the train to be long gone by the time I got to the other crossing.

Unfortunately, I arrived at the crossing as the train was only pulling in, just nearly enough for me to consider if I could get in front of it and across the tracks in time to avoid a collision and then to quickly remember that I can’t jump train tracks and now is not the best time to prove it to the world.

While I waited for the train to pass, four young rascals on BMX bikes rode up.  I never know what to do in these situations.  Perhaps something like, “Hey dudes, I have a bike too and am literally old enough to be your father, let’s hang out!”  I just don’t know if I’m going to have anything in common with these kids or if they’re even going to want to talk to some old guy with a bike or what.

Apparently, all you really need to have in common with kids like this is the BMX bike, because one of them immediately came up to me and said hello.  Then another.  By the time the train passed, we were all heading to behind the A.J. Wright to ride, then over by the loading dock at the auto parts store.  It was kind of cool that these two spots were already in my daily routine and though I had never run into anyone else there before, I knew I wasn’t the only one had discovered them.

It was also cool that they just included me as if I was one of them.  We apparently all spoke the same language.  At 14, 16, 18, 19 and 31 years of age, we could all agree that a bike should have 20” wheels and perhaps some number of pegs, though I am apparently the only one of the five of us that believes in brakes or a seat post.

I watched as two of the kids attempted trick after trick on the sloped pavement nearby while the other two fawned all over my iPhone.  The younger one also admired my freecoaster hub and has apparently already put $50 towards his, but then can’t get Burger King with the others for lack of funds.  (Watch Ian Schwartz make great use of his freecoaster hub in this Lotek video on YouTube.) We agreed to all see each other again, perhaps at the bike shop or riding around town.

Now I have to go learn some tricks so I don’t feel like such a clumsy dork around these kids.  I’ll show ’em next time!

I don’t remember exactly when I first fell in love with BMX, but it was probably more than 20 years ago, sometime between the 5th and 6th grades. Kenton, my best friend at the time, had a sweet freestyle bike and bedroom walls covered with hundreds of cut-outs of his favorite freestylers. I was instantly intrigued. I ran home to tell my parents how I absolutely needed to have a trick bike of my own! I collected stickers and put them on everything. I started checking the tore every day for the new issues of BMX Plus and Freestylin’ Magazine, cutting out the photos to put in my locker. I dreamed of meeting Mat Hoffman or Dennis McCoy. I was hooked.

It wasn’t long before my parents gave in to the constant begging and got me my first freestyle bike, a beautiful, white 1987 GT Pro Freestyle Tour Team model (exactly like this one except with white mag wheels and one-piece cranks). This bike changed my life. I don’t know how many thousands of hours I spent riding this bike, but it was a lot. We’d ride every chance we got. We’d ride to school. We’d get together after school to ride.

Ritually, every Saturday morning we’d meet up early to eat a bowl of Kix and watch the movie “Rad” before going out riding. The trip was basically the same every time. We’d zig-zag all over town, hitting every curb-cut, every little jump, going through all the parking lots, stopping at the McDonald’s for some McNuggets and an apple pie. Then we’d stop at the bike shop and hang out for hours. That place was like our second home and Jerry, the bike shop owner, was like our other dad. We’d almost always end up at the Bazaar Mall (redundant?) where we’d hang out until I would call mom to ask her to come pick me up with the family Suburban because I was just too tired to ride all the way home again.

After 6th grade, I spent a week over the summer at Woodward Camp in Pennsylvania. This was a completely amazing experience. They taught us how to do flatland, how to ride ramps, how to ride down a dirt track, etc. We did all kinds of drills and learned a ton. There were Pros there teaching us and performing for us. Spike Jonze would be there taking pictures for Freestylin’ (which later merged with BMX Action to become Go!), taking a break from his main gig at Sassy. Not to mention you had all the cute girls from the Woodward gymnastics camp there to keep things interesting. Good times!

During this part of my life, my bike was everything. I saved up my money to buy parts and did all the work myself. First, there were some axle pegs for the front to complement the fork stands. Then some fancy hot pink Shimano pedals to match the decals. Mushroom bar grips. Barefoot tires that would leave a line of tiny little wet footprints in the pavement anytime you’d drive through a puddle. I eventually made so many changes to the bike, including a new frame (this exact blue/black 1987 Haro Master frame), that it barely had any of the original parts. It was completely built for me, by me (FMBM)! I loved this thing to death.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many hobbies, my involvement in BMX eventually faded. I wasn’t able to return Woodward in the summer of 1988 due to a case of Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis that had me hospitalized near the end of 7th grade in order to have pins put in both of my hips. I spent some time in physical therapy recovering and then spent months on crutches. Although that wasn’t the end of the bike for me, but as the years went on and my friends started to get cars in high school the bike and I eventually drifted apart.

That was then and this is now.

Turn the clock ahead to January 2006, almost exactly 20 years since I first discovered BMX, when my brother Niklas, after years of hearing me talk about maybe someday getting a bike again, decided to kick things in gear and make something happen. He called a local bike shop in Somerville and put a down payment on a new 2005 Haro Master M7. I’m back baby!

Since then, I’ve been riding my bike as much as possible. I ride to work every day, except when the weather is bad. I save up my money to buy parts for my bike. In the last 18 months, I’ve gotten a new tires, new front and back pegs, new brake pads and springs, new stem, new head set and new pedals. I even have my actual 1987 Haro Master frame and plan to restore it and build a new bike around it.

I subscribe to BMX Plus! and Ride BMX (I don’t cut the pictures out anymore because now I can scan them). After work, I hang out at the local bike shop, Timeless BMX, and the owner Jody is my new BMX mentor. I fantasize about the day when the new Charles River Skatepark will open and I can finally have somewhere fun to ride! I actually have dreams about pulling off amazing tricks and wake up somewhat disappointed that it was just a dream but all the more excited to get back on the bike and try!

I feel like a kid again and I love it!







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