What Is A BMX Bike? History And Overview Of BMX Trick Bikes

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The BMX is the wild child of bikes, built for crazy stunts and off-road adventures.

It’s got a compact frame, usually has small, 20-inch wheels, and can handle all sorts of tricks. Whether you’re tearing it up on dirt tracks, pulling off stunts, or just cruising around the streets, BMX bikes bring the fun.

The BMX bike has become hugely popular in the last few decades. Parks all over the world are filled with young riders, and you can even watch BMX racing at the Olympics these days.

To give you the lowdown on all things BMX, we’ll be covering:

  • What Is A BMX Bike?
  • How Are BMX Bikes Built?
  • The History Of The BMX
  • What Makes Them The Best Trick Bikes?

Let’s get into it!

What Is A BMX Bike: Title Image

What Is A BMX Bike?

There are loads of different types of bikes that fit into the BMX category, each with its own particular use. You may have compared the urban freestylers on TV with the off-roaders you see near your local park and thought to yourself: “So what is a BMX Bike?”

It’s important to note that different models are built with different qualities in mind; some are great for stunts, some are intended for street racing, while others are built for off-road action.

So what is it that defines a BMX bike?

First of all, we should note what these initials stand for: “Bicycle Motocross”. The name refers to the motocross racing aspect of the vehicle, which is what riders fell in love with when BMX riding started gaining popularity in the 1970s.

The term ‘BMX’ often refers to racing, although BMX freestyling (which can take place on the street, in parks, on flatland, or across dirt tracks) is perhaps even more popular. All BMX bikes can be split into one of these two categories.

It’s a corner of the biking market that has produced legends such as Mat Hoffman and Ryan Nyquist, as well as events that are watched worldwide.

What is it about BMX bikes that makes them special? We’re going to shine a light on how they work by looking into the key structural elements of the BMX bike.

But first, let’s explore the history of this unique form of cycling!

Fish-eye view from behind of a BMX rider performing a tweak in a skate park.

The History Of The BMX

The term ‘BMX’ originated in Southern California in the 1970s when kids started racing their bikes across dirt tracks and customizing them to combine speed and off-road performance.

People began customizing their bikes for off-road performance, and pretty soon, manufacturers caught on and started producing their own specialist models.

BMX riding continued to expand and become more diverse, with enthusiasts taking to empty swimming pools and concrete storm drain channels to showcase tricks.

This was the birth of freestyle BMXing.

BMX trick bikes were developed to suit the needs of riders, and throughout the 1990s cyclists took more control over production to build bikes that suited a variety of different needs.

In the modern day, BMX riding has a huge following, both in terms of freestyling and racing. It’s fair to say the sport has come a long way from its roots in 1970s California.

Today, there are five main types of BMX trick biking:

#1. Street Riding

This involves taking to public places like town squares, making use of pavement curbs, staircase guide rails, and steps to perform tricks that vary depending on location.

#2. Park Riding

The clue’s in the name — this is done down your local skate park. Specially-designed ramps, transitions, and concrete bowls allow riders to practice tricks in an ideal setting.

#3. Vert

If you’ve seen the X Games, you’ll be familiar with Vert (short for “vertical”). This is a structure resembling a half pipe, with vertical extensions on the upward transition.

#4. Flatland

Unlike all other forms of trick biking, flatland riding encourages tricks that occur while touching the flat ground, which involves lots of spinning and manipulation.

#5. Trails

In trail riding, off-road bikers use self-made dirt jumps, which occur frequently in long lines – often with as many as 8 jumps in a row.

A BMXer performs acrobatics on flat ground.

4 Key Features Of A BMX Bike

#1. Weight

BMX bikes have a much smaller frame than your typical road or mountain bike.

Rather than the usual roughly 40-inch top tube of a standard road bike, a BMX trick bike will usually come with a 20-inch top tube on its frame.

This effectively cuts the weight of the bike in half, which makes the bike incredibly agile.

The material also plays an important role. Most BMX bike frames are made out of a chrome steel alloy or aluminum. These materials are extremely lightweight, but they’re also strong and durable.

#2. Wheels

Traditionally, BMX bikes have small wheels with knobby tires, made to increase grip on off-road dirt tracks. However, street and flatland bikes don’t require the same levels of grip, so their tire patterns will usually be smoother.

BMX riders will also benefit from powerfully built rims, which give extra durability. This is particularly important given the major bumps involved in BMX biking.

#3. Chains, Gears, and Pedals

BMX bikes are rarely used for long-distance cycling, so they tend to have only one fixed gear.

This helps cut down on weight, while the lack of a freewheel mechanism also allows riders to move in reverse by backpedaling – which is great for stunts!

#4. Handlebars

BMX handlebars are super important, and choosing the right type can seriously improve your biking experience. There are a few types of steel that are used, which impact strength and weight.

BMX Handlebars also come in two different shapes: 2 piece bars and 4 piece bars.

The 2 piece features one long continuous bar, while the 4 piece sees 2 grips connected by 2 other individual cross guards. The difference here is primarily aesthetic rather than structural.

These core features give cyclists some room to play around depending on their needs and goals. If you want to find out more about how high-end models are built, check out our article covering the most expensive BMX on the market.

Black and white shot of a BMX trick rider performing a tailwhip on brick tiles.

What Makes Them The Best Trick Bikes?

Riders and manufacturers have fine-tuned the design of their favorite rides over the years, adapting their models for different purposes.

The history of the BMX is one of invention and experimentation to boost performance.

So what exactly is it that makes the BMX such a good trick bike?

  • Lightweight – Using Chromoly or aluminum allows BMX manufacturers to make sure their bikes are super lightweight. This makes jumping easier, particularly for off-roaders who need to generate speed quickly between jumps.
  • Strength and Durability – BMX riders put their bikes through a lot of strain. To withstand the constant jumping, landing, spinning, and performing tricks, while maintaining high performance, BMX bikes have to be incredibly strong and durable. This is ensured through durable materials and specialized wheel rims.
  • Wheel Adaptation – Wheels are super important for BMX riders; trail bikers need knobbly tires for grip, while street riders are after smoother wheels for less friction. These adaptations are part of what makes the BMX the best trick bike.
  • Brakes – A key feature that allows BMX trick bikes to perform well is their use of brakes, which are usually limited to one primitive “U-brake” at the rear for basic stopping. The large amount of spinning used in BMXing means normal brake cables can’t be used (for safety reasons), so brakes are routed through a gyro within the tube.

These features allow BMX bikes to be the best trick bikes around!

Triple-stop photo showing the stages of a BMX transfer jump at sunset in a skate park.

What Is A BMX Bike – Covered!

As we’ve explored in this article, there are several reasons that these are consistently chosen as the optimum stunt bikes for both professionals and amateurs.

One of the most appealing aspects of BMX riding is the element of fun, imagination, and experimentation that accompanies freestyling.

The social element of BMX biking has allowed it to expand beyond its roots and attract people in different locations all over the world.

If you’re interested to have a go for yourself, bear in mind that BMX cycling can involve some potentially dangerous stunts. Staying safe and wearing the right protective equipment is vital!

Found this article interesting? Learn More From The BikeTips Experts Below!

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Fred is a sports journalist with an extensive background as a cyclist. Fred is on a mission to explore the intersection of cycling, mental health, and mindfulness. His work dives deep into the transformative power of two-wheeled journeys, emphasizing their therapeutic effects on the mind and soul. With a unique focus on well-being, Fred's writing not only informs readers about the world of cycling but also inspires them to embark on a path of mental and emotional resilience through the sport.

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