Cycling: BMX Racing

I’ve never really known what the point of this project is or what I wanted to achieve, beyond the hope that someone might offer me some money to write a book so I could basically be Caitlin Moran and get paid to wang on about my own, let’s face it, fairly irrelevant thoughts.

He's probably quite cool

He’s probably quite cool

I have always known that I wanted to find a sport I liked (I’ve found several) and over the course of the project, I’ve felt I might want to repay (albeit indirectly) all the amazing volunteers who’ve helped me out, by volunteering somewhere, myself. Don’t get excited, this week is no different – I still don’t know what the point of it all is. But I do feel something of a breakthrough has occurred in terms of my second objective.

With the awesomeness of volunteers, who are basically keeping grassroots sports alive in the UK, in mind, I signed up to Sport England’s Sport Makers programme, back in March, with the intention that I might attempt to inspire some others after this silly project has finished. Still full of the warm, fuzzy feelings associated with doing good, I was texting Important OCJOG Lady, Ruth, as I wandered back from my induction session, and was promptly mugged. Karma can be a cruel mistress. Aforementioned mugger was a kid on a bike who cycled up behind me, under the cover of darkness and plucked my phone from my hand.

Perhaps the most traumatic part of this experience was being forced to engage with Vodafone as a direct consequence, most of which ocurred via a one-sided tirade of Twitter-based abuse. I should clarify that I was the abuser, in this particular scenario and to be fair to Vodafone (which is a token gesture – I genuinely don’t believe they deserve fair treatment, given that this is not reciprocated by them to customers/society) I was quite upset at the time.

The other distressing part of this episode was the experience of what can only really be described as the stirring of sympathies with Daily Mail readers’ views, somewhere within me. I live in Hackney (Islington council tax, Hackney ambiance – essentially the worst of both worlds) on a reasonably nice street where media types go to have babies, but you don’t have to look very far to find abject poverty. So my assumption was that my assailant stole my phone to make a couple of quid for them self. The sad thing, I felt, was that I’m someone who genuinely believes it’s unfair that some people are going to have fewer opportunities than me, purely by virtue of the circumstances they were born into. I’m on their side, until I’m made to feel vulnerable on my own street, then i just kind of think the perpetrator’s probably an arsehole who doesn’t really deserve my sympathy. The loss of this sympathy actually makes it worse for everyone, because fewer people feel inclined to improve the circumstances people are born into.

One of the things about the Olympics that irked people a bit, was the feeling that whilst it was all fun and games for the middle classes of the world who could afford to travel to and buy tickets for events, what about the people who actually lived in the Olympic boroughs of Greenwich, Newham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and Waltham Forest – homes to some of the most deprived parts of the country? As the shiny new BMX park was being built in Stratford, Access Sports made the very valid point that this was lovely and all, but not one single BMX track existed in any of the five Olympic host-boroughs. Consequently, a project to rectify this situation was set up, and tracks were built for model clubs in each of these boroughs.

Like basketball, BMX is a “cool sport”, but it wears skinny jeans and listens to indie music, and as such has a unique appeal to younger people. The idea behind the BMX Legacy project was to provide a space where kids can learn a sport that establishes a relationship with cycling from a young age, without having to compete with the 243 for some road space. An additional social facet of the project was to offer young people the opportunity to learn practical skills, like mechanics or coaching. On a similar theme, the clubs work with schools in the local communities to help keep kids on the straight and narrow. Paulo, who coaches at Hackney BMX, down the road from me in Haggerston Park, tells me that research suggests the top two reasons kids get involved in gangs are to find a sense of belonging and, wait for it, sheer boredom.

It’s been “a while” since I was a teenager, so I’m a bit out of touch unless we’re discussing the respective attributes of Harry (sick) and Zayn (wrong). So it didn’t occur to me for one second that I might have been mugged out of boredom as Paulo suggests.

There are clearly some wider socio-economic factors at play here, but Paulo makes the point that in his native country, Brazil, you get mugged because the mugger wants your possessions and if you hand them over, no one gets hurt. Here in London, children are stabbing each other, in some cases, because of their postcodes. When I think about the boredom experienced in my own teenage years, growing up in semi-rural Essex, we were definitely up to no good at times, but ultimately, my geographical location limited opportunities in this respect.

BMX gives these kids the chance to be part of a gang,  where they can take out any aggression they have on the track rather than each other and experience adrenaline in a positive way. Paulo reckons the element of danger involved in BMX (apparently he has broken quite a few bones during the course of his BMXing years) has an added benefit – if the kid hurts himself on the track, it makes him think about the consequences of causing physical injury to someone else.

In my own BMX pursuits, despite being scared of EVERYTHING, particularly the possibility of experiencing physical pain, I’m actually starting to get a little cocky. Having mastered the velodrome the other week, I figure BMX isn’t going to be a problem for me. But again, my failure to plan in any kind of meaningful way, means that I’m not really prepared for the reality of BMX. A BMX bike is tiny, rendering its saddle pretty much pointless, as far as I can tell, and meaning that you have to cycle standing up.

BMXing in a disused car park in Hackney. Urban.

BMXing in a disused car park in Hackney. Urban.

“Have you ever tried BMX before?” asks Paulo. Nope. I didn’t even know that BMX is an abbreviation of Bicycle Motorcross and just thought a BMX was a type of (small rather than tiny) bike. “So what kind of cycling do you usually do?” Oh no, I don’t actually cycle at all, really. On this basis, Paulo seems unsure that I’ll make it onto the track today, but sets me to work pedaling around a disused car park – it could’ve only be more “Hackney” if I’d been wearing leopard-print cycling shorts whilst ironically knitting an art-installation.

There are a lot of kids here at the club, and quite a few parents are also here to help out. Not only helping but a few of them are actually riding as well, having gotten into the sport whilst watching their kids participate. One of the mums tells me that she thought rather than sitting around in the rain every Sunday, she might as well have a go herself. The prospect of my mum or dad ever having gotten on a BMX track with me as a kid is, frankly, unthinkable. Let’s face it, the idea that I might have ventured onto a BMX track a year ago is pretty hilarious, so I’m incredibly impressed by these guys.

Eight months into this project and I reckon I’m relatively competent at some things, now and let’s face it, it’s not that difficult, is it, pedaling standing up? I don’t really understand what the big deal is. But apparently you have to use your knees as well, i.e. to kind of squat whilst pedaling, standing up. Paulo thinks I need to practice a bit more before I’m let loose on the track. Once I’ve had a look at the track, actually, I’m inclined to agree with him.

I stay in the car park and join in with two of the other kids, one of whom is new to BMX and not quite ready to take on the track, either. He is undeniably better than me, though, it transpires as I fall off my bike whilst trying to “scoot” on one pedal. “Look where you’re going,” the coach instructs me, “you’re going to end up where you’re looking, and you’re looking at the floor”, which is indeed, where I find myself. Ouch.

(in best Lad voice) SHE FELL OVER

(in best Lad voice) SHE FELL OVER

Paulo returns and decides that I might be ok to have a go on the track after all, but my cockiness vanishes as the cold hard reality of the track hits me. No, cycling standing up isn’t that hard, but it’s a bit harder when you’re going over some not insignificant bumps. Twice I attempt to launch myself down the ramp onto the track, but for some reason, on both occasions, I forget to pedal and lose momentum about halfway along. On my third attempt, again, around the halfway point, I feel the wheel turn around, almost in slow motion, and end up once again on the floor, though this time it’s a bit more painful.

Fortunately, I wasn’t travelling with enough momentum to do any real damage to myself and not too many people seem to have witnessed. Paulo tells me, reassuringly, that even he still falls off from time to time and that this means I’ve had a proper experience of BMX racing. Do I want to cycle to the end of the track or just wheel the bike over? I think I’ll probably just wheel it, I mutter sheepishly.

Back in the car park, I realise that I’ve neglected to take any photos or get any footage, so ask Darren, one of the parents, to film me cycling round a few circuits. Correctly identifying that this does not make for the most exciting footage, he ropes in his son, Thomas, to race me. I don’t know how old Thomas is, but at a guess, I’d say no older than 7. He is a fraction of my size and I feel the result is a forgone conclusion, until he jumps onto the frame of the bike whilst in motion. Watching the footage back, it’s not quite the high-octane-thrill-fest that I’d remembered (I thought I was going A LOT faster) and I now see that I might be some way off competition-level.

The mix of kids and parents all getting involved is really great to see and you really couldn’t fault the the aims of the BMX Legacy project. Paulo is realistic about what they can achieve at the club and admits that they’re unlikely to change the world with BMX racing, but he loves his sport and he wants to use it to the benefit of the community. It’s hardly surprising, then, that he’s recently won Pro-active London’s coach of the year award, alongside neighbouring Tower Hamlets BMX’s accolade of club of the year. BMX is too scary for me, and its definitely not my sport, but I feel like the stars have aligned, this week – I love what this project is doing and I would very happily volunteer my services off the track.

 

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

Jen

11

13

2

26

Gemma

3

3

Jade

2

1

3

Nick

2

2

Uncle Becky

1

2

3

Pete

1

1

2

Harriet

1

1

2

John D

1

1

2

Aliki

1

1

Chloe Rogers

1

1

Colin

1

1

Dalston Dunkers

1

1

Daniel

1

1

GB Handball

1

1

Grant

1

1

John T

1

1

Naomi

1

1

Otter Water Polo

1

1

Romford HC

1

1

Ruislip Eagles

1

1

Simon L

1

1

Steve

1

1

Su

1

1

Vera

1

1

Simon M

2

2

Nic

1

1

2

Ali

1

1

James

1

1

My Mum

1

1

Nancy

1

1

Joss

1

1

Olly

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s