If you had told me that at the age of thirty-six I would fall in love with BMX I absolutely would have told you that was ridiculous. But that’s the thing about falling in love – it can happen at the most ridiculous times & we can’t really control who (or what) we fall in love with.
So here I am, a year into the best relationship I’ve ever had and it’s with a 20″ bike, and I’m writing this love letter for all to see because love makes us do crazy things.
When I was a little girl I took jazz and ballet and that is where my physical activities started and ended. I would go to class and at the end of the year we would have a recital and I was the star. Except, I was never the star because I was actually a really terrible dancer.
In eighth grade I finally quit dance and joined the swim team, not because I wanted to join the swim team but because my mother said I had to if I wanted to quit dancing. In our family, you had to DO SOMETHING so that was my trade off. I didn’t even make it to the first meet. I was a young teenage girl with a mess of body image issues & the last thing I wanted was wear a bathing suit in front of anyone.
I decided then that the problem wasn’t the constant negative self-talk, but actually sports and that they just weren’t my “thing,” and as heartbreaking as that is, I stood by that sentiment well into my thirties.
Last year, right before I turned thirty-six, I met a dude. He was handsome and funny and a BMXer. A few weeks into hanging out he asked if I wanted to go to Posh Woods, his local trail spot. I agreed because I wanted this dude to like me.
That turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I sat at a picnic table and watched him ride. It was as if he was flying, effortlessly through the air. It was beautiful. I wanted to do it. I wanted to fly like that.
A few days later we were at the park and he sort of nudged his bike in my direction and asked if I wanted to pedal around. Again, I wanted to impress him so I did. It was my first time on a BMX bike and it was weird. I had to stand the entire time because the seat was so low that if I sat down my knees hit the handlebars when I tried to pedal. I rode around the basketball court for a little bit, feeling awkward, not really knowing what to do. Then, we went home.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about BMX after that. I went online and looked for girls who rode bikes. I went on YouTube and watched BMX videos. There are so many styles of BMX. I had no idea! I found girls who were riding street, racing BMX, doing flatland and riding trails and all at varying skill levels. I started reading all the BMX blogs and magazines and I started learning about the long history of BMX.
During those months I found a really strong, close community of women riding bikes all over the world connected by the Internet and I got even more excited. Then, a few weeks before Christmas my boyfriend presented me with my very own BMX bike and my life totally changed.
Posh Woods is my local trail spot and it’s over twenty years old. The history there is incredible and I am incredibly lucky to get to learn to ride BMX at such a legendary spot alongside some of the best BMXers.
But a lot of work goes into the trails and I learned pretty quick that you have to “dig to ride”, so I grabbed a shovel and got to work. I have so much respect for bmxers who spend time building their spots up and put in hours to maintain them. I can’t think of any other sport where you are responsible for building your own course. It really makes you appreciate it that much more.
At Posh Woods there are various lines you can ride, most of which are for intermediate or advanced riders. However, at the top of the hill there is a warm-up line or what is called a pump track (basically that means you don’t pedal, you use speed and a pumping motion to get through the line).
This line is called Sticks. This is the only line I have ridden at Posh (so far!). My goal last year was to ride through Sticks without stalling out (not being able to ride over a roller) and eventually jump the double at the end of the line. A double is two jumps (a lip and a landing) that have a gap in between them. Sticks starts at the top of the hill, you ride down into a berm (a banked corner) which then brings you up over a roller.
It was this spot that I stalled out every time I tried to get through Sticks. I was riding into the berm, getting nervous because of the speed and pulling my brakes. My first time laying off the brakes I got totally squirrelly because I wasn’t used to going so fast and ended up falling off the side of the line, through a bush and down to the lower part of the line, ripping off scabs on my knees from a previous crash. (If you don’t want to be covered in scabs and gnarly bruises, maybe BMX isn’t for you.)
Weeks went on and I couldn’t get over my fear of falling again but that fear was making my riding more dangerous and I was sabotaging my progress. On days I couldn’t get to Posh I would go to the skatepark. It wasn’t until one early morning skate park session before work when I rode with a four year old kid who was so stoked to show me his “boo boo” from falling down that I realized I just had to DO IT. I broke through “the wall” that day and never looked back.
Of course, it didn’t mean I was suddenly killing the BMX game. I still had a healthy bit of hesitation when it came to riding but I stopped the negative self-talk that was telling me I “couldn’t do it”.
Then, I just did it. I got over that roller and then the next one and the next one. It wasn’t until the fourth one that I lost my speed and couldn’t quite choreograph my pumping to keep going. But it didn’t matter because that small amount of progress was huge and I was so proud of myself. It also had me even more determined to make it further in the line.
As the summer progressed and I got more time to ride, my form improved. I spent time riding different spots, not just Posh or the skate park down the street. I got better at pumping which really improved my confidence. I continued riding Sticks which has a second berm after those rollers. Once you come out of that second berm you can pick one of three directions to continue. Two of the three have doubles or jumps I wasn’t ready for but the top line is all roll-able (even the final double you can just ride to the right of if you aren’t able to jump it).
Eventually I was even getting a small amount of air on one of the rollers after the second berm, something that the regulars at Posh do without even thinking about but for me, it was unreal.
But as the season came to an end, I hadn’t yet jumped that double. But I did make it entirely through Sticks without stalling or stopping. I had set two goals and achieved one. But it didn’t really matter because I was out there doing it, I was digging and riding and pushing my body and myself well beyond my comfort zone, physically, mentally and emotionally. I didn’t focus on that one thing I wasn’t able to achieve but instead all the progress I had made because there is no negativity in the woods, just a bunch of people really stoked on bikes.
It’s unreal and it confuses me when I hear people who, when they find out I’m learning to ride BMX, have something negative to say or tell me “I used to ride BMX.” I wish those people could see it through my eyes because there’s nothing better than being covered in dirt, and getting sweaty in the woods surrounded by people who just want to see you succeed. That encouragement and inspiration drowns out any negative self-talk that might try to take over.
Sometimes while riding I would set my camera up and record my sessions and then watch them. I do this to see my progress and to be able to share it with other women riding and I’ll see my body moving in ways I’ve never seen it move. I see my arms getting stronger, my legs getting more muscular and my riding is more fluid.
BMX has sparked a love of cycling in me that I never knew could exist. I bought a used road bike soon after I started riding BMX and set a goal of achieving a century ride (100 miles) by the time I am forty. I recently started going on mountain bike rides after learning about the demo bike rental program at my local bike shop. Those rides can last for hours and push me to my limits but just like when I’m struggling to achieve a BMX goal, I am still DOING IT.
When I watch those videos I can literally see my confidence growing from one video to the next and best of all, in every video I have the biggest shit-eating grin on my face because the most important thing about BMX is to have fun. See ya in the woods!
Taryn Hipp writes the zine “lady teeth” & tries to ride her bike every day. She really hopes you’ll come to Posh Woods one day & ride bikes with her.