Generation BMX

Young racers test their mettle with their pedals

Faster, higher and often younger than you might imagine, BMX racers are tearing up the dirt at Elings Park every Friday night.

Elings Park BMX (courtesy photo)

Elings Park BMX (courtesy photo)

The sport, which first became popular in the 1970s, is one of the fastest-growing competitions in the country, partially due to the popularity of the X Games and BMX-inspired DVDs, video and computer games. BMX (bicycle motocross) is scheduled to become an Olympic sport in 2008 and, according to Dale Bowers, track director of Santa Barbara BMX, there are three or four local bikers who “could be peaking” at that time.

Several local BMX racers will be competing in the National Bicycle League NBL Grands in Louisville, Ky., this weekend, including Logan Beebe, Chris Burke, Austin Davis, Michael Davis, Austin Hamilton, Jarrett Kolich Kolich, Amber Melgoza, Brianna Wiley and Jason Wiley.

While the level of expertise in Santa Barbara is high, Bowers emphasized that there’s a BMX skill level race for everyone, including beginners — and grownups. If you can ride a bike, you can BMX, which means there are some pretty impressive 5- and 6-year-olds out there.

Racers work their way up, depending on their age and how good they are, said Scott Berry, a 13-year-old La Colina Junior High student.

“I saw commercials on TV and really wanted to try it … we came up on a Friday night and just watched,” he said. “I just liked what I saw and wanted to try it.”

Bowers recommended that interested families follow Scott’s lead: just come to the track and check it out. “It doesn’t cost anything to come in and watch. Not much you can do for free on a Friday night, and its exciting entertainment.”

For participants, too, BMX is very affordable, said Scott’s mother, Debbie Carder.

It costs $45 per year to join the NBL, with a 30-day trial membership available for $30 (which is credited toward the full membership). Races, which take place most Fridays beginning at 6 p.m., are $8, and practices, at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, are $5.

“They’re so helpful, too,” emphasized Carder. “Even the older kids … they take the time to help the little ones. They go out of their way. They’re not snotty. They just take them under their wing … without being asked. It’s kind of like a family in a way.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon