Ride UK Tech Columns
(This article first appeared in Ride UK issue No. 69 and is reproduced
here by kind permission of Ride UK.)
This month I want to discuss something a little different.
BMX has been around for about 30 years now and so have I. In that time riders
have come and gone as you would expect but there are a surprising number
who came and never went.
Jamie Bestwick, Matt Hoffman, Dennis McCoy, Rob Ridge, Kevin Jones, and many
many more top riders are now in their thirties and still riding, even guys
you might think of as well out of it like Eddie Fiola, are still at it to
a certain degree.
When you try to talk to the council about a skatepark in your town they always
think of BMX (and skateboarding) as "kids" sports, you can try to tell them
otherwise, but you can just see in their eyes that they don’t believe you.
They may believe that there are a few eccentric older guys who still ride
but they will never truly "get it".
BMX WAS a kids sport but the kids have grown up now and are showing
no signs of stopping anytime soon. Professional football is generally played
by guys in their teens, twenties and thirties which is pretty much the same
as BMX, but because it has been around longer its not considered just a sport
With this in mind how long do you think YOU will be riding? Will you still
be riding tomorrow? Next week? Next year? In ten years time?
Don’t think that you will change; one of the weirdest things about "growing-up"
is that you realise that you don’t feel any different to how you felt as
a kid, except maybe a little more tired.
So lets assume that you will still WANT to ride in 10 years time, the question
now becomes will you physically be able to ride in 10 years time?
Indulge me for a minute while I relate my own experiences and maybe it will
save you some of the mistakes I made.
When I was at school physical education (P.E.) meant running about after
a ball of one sort or another, running around the countryside or standing
and watching cricket for 2 hours before spending 2 minutes at the wicket.
There was bugger-all "education" involved. The saying used to be; "Those
who can, do. Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, teach games."
When you are a teenager you can get away with all this un-disciplined exercise,
and 90% of people seem to pretty much give up on physical activity after
school age anyway so it never catches up with them.
For those of us who ride, this "physical education" is no use whatsoever.
I learnt precisely nothing in 13 years of P.E. .At the time I considered
running miles through the countryside to be pointless, and I moaned about
it, I now realise it was actually worse than pointless, it was building my
young muscles with no regard to their length or flexibility.
This mentality of just turning up and going for it will eventually lead to
problems. You don’t see professional footballers just amble onto the pitch
then hurl themselves about at full belt, they warm up and they stretch first,
and they warm down and stretch again at the end. They have dudes paid to
rub their muscles and manipulate their joints because it makes a difference,
it prevents injury and extends their career.
Yet we turn up to ride and pretty much just go for it.
BMX is harsh. Pulling up into a bunnyhop is an explosive action, you work
nearly all your muscles at full speed and power, chances are you do this
without any warm up or stretching and in cold weather. Then you turn round
and do it again, and again, and again.
Eventually this is going to catch up with you. For me it happened in my early
twenties. One day while reaching for the ketchup I felt an incredible stabbing
pain in my elbow, I couldn’t straighten my arm for weeks and sometimes when
I used my arm I would get it again. I became guarded in the way I moved my
arm because I was always half expecting another jolt. It slowly improved
and I got used to it, but as soon as I started riding again it flared up
again and I realised that I needed to do something about it. It took 6 weeks
to get a physiotherapy appointment on the NHS and by the time it came around
I was pretty much better, but I went anyway and the guy was great. He asked
all the right questions and explained to me what was wrong but most importantly
he told me how to fix it. A few simple stretches and I could keep it from
happening again. And it worked.
A year or two later I had a new problem, one day I bunnyhopped and then stopped.
My lower back was in agony and there was no way I could ride again that day,
or the next, or the next. After a couple of weeks off my bike I tried riding
again, tentatively at first, the aim was to build up slowly but it only took
a couple of bunnyhops before I was back to square one.
This time I rested for longer, but when I tried to ride again I only managed
a day or two before I was in agony once more.
I didn’t feel like waiting this time so I went to a private sports physio,
for £30 he gave me a quick prod then "manipulated" me. The manipulation
consisted of getting me to lie on my side and relax, then putting his arms
round me and "ragging" me into an awkward shape. The improvement was impressive
and I felt like a couple more of those would get me back on my bike in no
time. But the next session was useless, I knew what was coming and I just
couldn’t relax enough for him to do it. By now I had spent £60 which
I just didn’t have, and didn’t really feel happy that he know what was wrong
with me. So I simply walked away and tried somewhere else.
My next physio was brilliant. She spent nearly an hour asking me questions
and getting me to move in certain ways. She felt each individual vertebre
of my back and determined its range of movement, finally she made her diagnosis.
Years of bunnyhopping and riding up big hills without any stretching had
built up muscle but I had lost all the flexibility in my upper back, this
was causing other parts of my back to have to work harder to compensate.
The fact that the pain was in my lower back was a red herring, lower back
pain can indicate a problem anywhere at all.
She gave me a series of stretches to do and sent me on my way. Within a week
I felt cured, a single follow up visit was enough and I was cured.
But I heeded her advice and I started stretching, I read a lot of books and
I tried different stretches, over time I narrowed my selection down to about
a dozen different stretches that should help keep me mobile for BMX, despite
BMX. In short I finally started some "Physical Education" that should have
started at school in the lessons of the same name.
When I started stretching I couldn't touch my toes but within a year of moderate
work I could. You don’t need to spend hours and hours every day to feel the
benefits but stretching after every ride will pay dividends in no time.
If you look at the older guys who are still riding, they nearly all do some
stretches. Dennis Mccoy is a really good example. The guy has been riding
forever and he has taken some of the hardest slams I have ever seen. Often
he gets up and just shrugs it off and that is the pay-off. Those few minutes
spent stretching each day or after each ride or whatever will make you tougher
than you ever imagined possible and that will make it all worthwhile.
Jackie Chan is probably the ultimate example. From the age of 5 he was trained
and stretched to an extraordinary degree. His master would push his stretches
to points that would be illegal today and he became incredibly flexible and
Watch the out-takes from a Jackie Chan film and you will see him take some
terrible hits and massive falls, just watch him falling from the clock-tower
in "Project A", he landed on his head the first time so he did it again!
And he is still going strong, if I am still fit enough to ride when I am
his age I will be very happy. But not only does his flexibility help protect
Jackie, it is a vital part of his stunts. In a similar way it will improve
your riding as well as your crashing.
You can spend all the time in the world maintaining your bike, you can try
to keep up-to-date on all the latest parts and you can obsess about keeping
the weight down but if your body is screwed, nothing will make any difference.
What we do IS extreme. We have all grown to hate the word but BMX is fucking
nuts, it is physically very very demanding and to do it well you need to
take it just as seriously as any professional athlete in any other sport.
A few years ago there was a "novelty" song in the charts by Baz Luhrmann
called "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)". Its an old guy trying to pass
on the hard won wisdom of his life, to save the coming generations from the
pain of making the same mistakes. There is a bit in it that I always remember
where he just says; "stretch". When I first heard it I just though "Too fuckin'
If there was one piece of advice I could pass on to the next generation of
riders (or even the current one) it would be to stretch. You are never too
old to start on it, so do it now. This tech column started out to help you
understand and maintain the machine you ride, but don’t neglect the machine
(another cheesy ending… sorry)
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