Born in the 70s as an offshoot of the motocross scene, hugely fashionable all throughout the 80s and a little lost in the 90s, BMX biking is once again going from strength to strength. This follows its inclusion in the Olympics since 2008, pushing the very top performers in the world to global sporting fame.
While other bikes are available in a variety of frame sizes to suit riders of all ages, the frames of BMX bikes are usually a standard 20 inches, with the same sized wheels. To make sure your bike is the right size, ensure you can stand over the frame with a gap between your body and the top tube of the frame of at least two centimetres. Smaller wheels are available for shorter or younger riders.
Although the standard frame size and design means that one BMX bike looks very like any other, there are a few subtle differences, depending on what type of riding you plan to take part in. Therefore, the first step for any beginner about to purchase his or her bike is to decide what discipline is of most interest.
If you want to spend all of your time performing tricks and stunts, you'll want to get a freestyle bike. Usually made from steel, the frames are strong enough to cope with the stress that comes from bouncing down staircases or a hard landing after taking off from a ramp. Most freestyle bikes have only a back brake. If you want the reassurance of front and rear brakes on your freestyle bike, be sure to choose one which routes the front brake cable through a gyroscope attached to the head tube. This will enable to you spin the handlebars a full 360 degrees - an essential move for many tricks.
Another of the most common tricks performed on a BMX bike is known as the grind. In its most basic form, it involves running along the edge of a wall or rail on pegs attached to the front or rear axles. Depending on the type of tricks you want to pull off, you can fit pegs only to the front wheel, only to the back wheel, only on one side of the bike or to all four wheels.
If you want to make the most of a dedicated BMX facility close to where you live, a freestyle bike will be a great choice, but if you don't have a specialist park and want to make the most of the urban environment while performing tricks, consider a street bike instead. These are almost identical to freestyle bikes but tend to have no brakes at all and are designed to be used mostly on flat surfaces. Street bikes are often supplied with pegs fitted on both sides of the front and rear axles.
Freestyle bikes designed for ramp jumping tend to have a slightly longer top tube - usually 21" - which gives riders room to swing the bike round underneath them while airborne. Bikes designed to be used mostly on the flat tend to have slightly shorter frames of 20" or less.
If speed and competition is your thing, you may want to get into the world of BMX racing. The bikes used in this division of the sport tend to be made from aluminium rather than steel, to ensure the frames are as light as possible. Perfect for achieving the short bursts of speed and coping with the ramps and bumps of a typical race circuit, such bikes are unlikely to survive if repeatedly used for trick or stunt riding.
Racing bikes are usually rear brake only. Since being able to pedal as quickly as possible is far more important with a racing bike than one designed to perform stunts, a wider range of frame sizes is usually available on this type of machine. Racing bikes don't come with pegs, as they must be removed for racing.
No matter what they are designed for, all BMX bikes are single speed, and another difference between the various types is the level at which the gear ratio is set. Street bikes typically employ a low gear ratio, to allow for precise control at low speeds when pedaling around tight obstacles or performing complicated tricks. Racing bikes have a larger gear ratio, which provides better acceleration and makes it easier for the rider to maintain speed over a longer distance.
Unless you're absolutely certain that you are only interested in one type of riding, your first bike should be something of an all-rounder, that is strong enough for the street but light enough for the track. If you become serious about competing, such a bike is unlikely to make you a winner in either discipline, but you'll be able to turn your hand to anything that takes your fancy and have enormous fun on the way, all without having to pay high prices for a bike that offers far less flexibility.
BMX bikes are all built to take a huge amount of abuse, but certain parts will loosen over time and need to be adjusted. Some parts may occasionally fail and need to be fully replaced. Ensure you have the necessary tools with you to tighten headsets, spokes and chains while out riding, so that you never have to cut short your fun. This is especially important if you have pegs fitted to you bike, as these can only be removed and adjusted with the right tools.
Once you've sorted out your wheels, the next items on your shopping list should be connected with safety. When you're starting out, even the most straightforward tricks, like a simple bunny hop, can go wrong and potentially lead to injury. The right protective equipment will reduce the risk of you getting hurt, allowing you to spend more time honing your skills.
Whether you're riding alone or with a group friends, ensuring your head is protected from a collision with the ground or another rider is a top priority. Although in the early days of BMX, helmets were considered uncool, the fact that almost all professionals now wear them has gone a long way to making them far more acceptable. If you want to take part in BMX racing, it's compulsory that you wear a full-face helmet during contests.
If you fall off your bike, it's highly likely that you'll throw out your hands to save yourself. Wearing gloves will protect your palms and fingers from painful cuts, scrapes and grazes. Wearing gloves will also help you to maintain a firm grip on your handlebars - essential if you want to master more advanced tricks.
A wide range of other injuries can be prevented by wearing items of body armour. In particular, pads for your knees, elbows and wrists will lessen the risk of you getting hurt while learning new tricks. Shin pads will protect you in the event that your foot slips off a pedal. If you're worried about the way you might look while wearing body armour, the latest lightweight designs can be worn under your clothes, but are so discrete, only you'll know you’re wearing it.