Since their origins back in the 70s, BMX bikes have seen a surge in popularity. What initially started as mimicking motocross races become an extremely competitive sport that demanded tougher and more specialised bikes. As a result, many subcultures formed around freestyle and street BMX. Nowadays, BMX racing and freestyling are performed even at the Olympic Games, and professional riders and teams are sponsored by great sponsors. But you can't use any type of BMX bike for any type of riding. There are several riding disciplines, and all of them require a different type of BMX bike.
BMX Riding Disciplines
BMX bikes made for freestyle riding are designed to take the abuse that comes with performing stunts on dirt jumps, skate parts and street features. This means that the wheels, frame materials and other parts like theBMX stunt pegsneed to be optimised for ease of maneuverability and strength. On the other hand, race BMX bikes are designed with acceleration and speed in mind, so they're made from lighter materials and are made to ensure stability, agility and stiffness at speed. But even under the freestyle riding discipline, you'll find sub-disciplines that have distinct requirements from the BMX bike. And except for flatland BMX bikes, there's a lot of crossover between them. That being said, you're best off by going for an all-rounder bike that is versatile and can be used in most riding styles.
BMX Bike Materials
Entry-level BMX bikes are mainly made from a steel composition known as Chromo, which is an alloy providing greater strength when compared to other types of hi-tensile steel. Chromo steel can be made thinner and is therefore lighter. It's oftentimes reinforced around the joints and ends for extra strength. Steel is the typical choice for many as it's very resistant to fatigue and is easy to repair. For BMX racing, aluminium frames are preferred, as it's lighter than steel, but is still stiff and strong. If you have the budget to get a higher-end bike, then look for one with carbon fibre frames, as it's even lighter and features vibration dampening properties.
BMX Bike Sizes
BMX bikes are ridden by adults, teenagers and kids alike. Therefore, the size of the frame can come in a variety of sizes to suit the height and the riding style of the rider. The wheel size, however, is almost always constant. Most freestyle BMX bikes feature 21 inch top tubes so that riders have enough room to swing the bike when performing tricks. They also have a shorter seat allowing them to whip it around with ease. BMX flatland frames are usually the only exception to this rule, as they're typically lighter and feature shorter tubing for improved control and balance. Additionally, they feature a steeper head angle and 3/8 inch dropouts for smaller rear axles. Race BMX bikes feature a longer wheelbase and slacker head angle to place the rider further back, allowing for better handling and stability at higher speeds. Race frame BMX sizes are available in a wider range to suit the rider age and size spread.
BMX Bike Wheels
20-inch wheels are considered standard. These wheels are smaller than those found on road and mountain bikes. Kids' BMX bikes can have even smaller wheels, usually 18- or 16-inch. Some trail BMX bikes can have 22- or 24-inch wheels for dirt jumping. However, most of the time, BMX bikes are fitted with 20-inch wheels. Racing BMX bikes are separated in two basic categories based on wheel size. The first is 20-inch, which is the norm, and the second is 24-inch. 24-inch BMX bikes are for cruising, and they're a popular choice for older and taller riders who want more stability. Race BMX wheels are lighter than freestyle wheels simply because they help you accelerate faster.
BMX Bike Accessories
Every BMX rider, regardless of age and skill should wear a helmet. Freestyle helmets cover a larger part of your head and are bowl-shaped rather than low-profile, highly-vented - the shape and features you'll see on road cycling helmets. These helmets can extend to cover the ears, and feature minimum vents. This is due to the fact that freestyle riders can land in any direction. For BMX racing, there are clear restrictions and rules when it comes to equipment. BMX racers wear full-faced helmets along with long-sleeved jerseys and pants. Gloves are also a must. Full-fingered BMX gloves feature grip on the palm that extends to the fingertips. Shoes are also an important accessory. If your bike has clip-in pedals, look for BMX-specific clip-in shoes that provide comfort and stiffness. Lastly, BMX stunt pegs are a popular accessory for flatland riding. Pegs are usually made of metal or plastic, and they're fitted to the axles of the bike, allowing you to balance on them, perform grinds on ledges and rails, etc. Flatland BMX bikes usually feature pegs on all axles, whereas street BMX bikes usually have only one side with pegs on the rear and front.