Extra Points: BMX

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Mike Schroeder got into BMX as a kid, racing around dirt tracks to keep himself out of trouble. As a husband and father of three, he doesn't have to leave his first love behind - he simply brings everyone along for the ride.

"In my family, we race from 38 years old to two," said Schroeder, preacher of all things BMX throughout Central Ohio. "It's pretty much a family affair."

The sport might evoke the rebel chic of the wild, colorful '80s, but here in town, it's all about eating up dirt and encouraging others to do the same.

"When my kids saw my pictures and trophies, they said they wanted to try it," said Allen Godfrey, racer since the '70s and president of the Central Ohio Bicycle Racing Association. "It's pretty much one of the only sports where the whole family can do it."

The city's tight-knit BMX biking community is headquartered at Heer Park on the South Side. A dirt track off South High Street features a starting gate, jumps, asphalt berms and winding turns that challenge a range of skill levels.

BMX, short for bicycle motocross, runs on dirt courses with large obstacles, banked turns and other features inspired decades ago by off-road motorcycling. You've probably seen X Games highlights with bikers going big off half-pipes and kickers, but racing is an equally important type of BMX competition.

Adults typically ride small, rigid, single-speed frames with knobby tires, a rear brake, wide handlebars and tacky grips. Race classes are separated by wheel size - 20-inchers are fast but tougher on the knees, while 24-inch cruisers are more forgiving and handle better.

A starter BMX bike costs under $200, though most riders choose to wear a full-face helmet and other safety gear, which cost more.

On Sundays until November, Heer Park sees between 30 and 50 racers in different age groups, experience levels and classes. Practice sessions are held Wednesday and Friday nights. Race entry costs $6, gate practice $4. (For info, click to heerparkbmx.com.)

"You've got people from all over the spectrum," Schroeder said. "It's something you can get into for cheap."

In addition to the scheduled dates, veteran racers and even some local pros will help you out other days, both Schroeder and Godfrey insisted. There are plenty of people who want to get you out on the track.

Javier Larrea, a Bolivian pro who found his way to Worthington several years ago, currently helps train several families and is eager to meet others.

"I love the challenge of how the sport has changed over the years," he said. "I'm always looking for people who want to listen, people who want to learn."