BMX bikes, short for bicycle motocross, are a popular type of off-road cycling bike designed for dirt tracks and extreme stunts. With their rugged construction, knobby tires, and lightweight frames, BMX bikes allow riders to perform tricks, race competitively, and ride on dirt trails.
A Brief History of BMX Bikes
BMX originated in the early 1970s in Southern California when kids started racing their bicycles on dirt tracks modeled after motocross courses. They modified their bikes to handle jumps and rough terrain, giving birth to the BMX bike style. The sport quickly gained popularity across the United States.
By the 1980s, BMX racing was an organized sport with professional racers and sponsors. Freestyle BMX also emerged as riders performed acrobatic stunts and tricks. BMX continued gaining followers globally throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, BMX is a worldwide action sport with several disciplines including racing, freestyle, and dirt jumping. Participants compete professionally while others ride recreationally or perform street riding stunts.
Key Features of a BMX Bike
While designed specifically for off-road use, BMX bikes have some distinct features that set them apart from other bicycle types:
- Compact Frame Size: BMX frames have a small, low profile to enhance maneuverability for tricks and technical handling. They range from 18” – 21” high.
- Lightweight Construction: Top, mid, and entry-level BMX bikes typically weigh between 21 – 25 pounds. Lighter than mountain bikes, their minimal weight improves speed and control.
- Knobby Tires: With large tread lugs and widths ranging from 1.95” – 2.4”, BMX tires grip loose dirt well and help absorb impacts from big jumps.
- Pegs: Metal pegs attach to the axles for performing grinds, stalls, and other tricks. Pegs come standard on freestyle BMX bikes but not on race BMX bikes.
- Rider Geometry: BMX bikes use a geometry tailored for technical control. Features like a 75° – 80° steering angle, short wheelbase, and low standover height enhance agility.
- Single Gear: One fixed gear ratio provides simplicity and reduces potential mechanical issues. Higher-end BMX bikes may have a freecoaster hub allowing the rear wheel to roll backward without engaging the drivetrain.
The Different Types of BMX Bikes
There are several BMX bike types, each designed for specific riding purposes:
Race BMX Bikes
Optimized for competitive BMX racing on dirt tracks, race BMX bikes prioritize speed and efficient pedaling over tricks capability.
- Lightweight aluminum or carbon frames for fast acceleration
- 20” or 24” wheels depending on rider size
- Knobby tires with a moderate tread pattern
- Steeper headtube angle for quicker steering
- No pegs
Freestyle BMX Bikes
Enabling technical street riding and vert/park riding, freestyle BMX bikes focus on durability and maneuverability.
- Shorter top tubes for better trick control
- 48-spoke wheels for absorbing hard landings
- Pegs for grinding
- Cable detanglers on the headtube decrease maintenance from twisted cables
- Thicker, padded seat for cushioning tricks
Dirt Jumper BMX Bikes
As implied by the name, dirt jumpers are designed for jumping, trail riding, and airborne tricks. Their suspension fork absorbs impacts from big jumps.
- Suspension fork with 80mm – 120mm of travel
- Bar ends on the handlebars protect hands from crashes
- 24” wheels
- Rear U-brakes or disc brakes
BMX Cruiser Bikes
With larger frame sizes and wheels, BMX cruiser bikes suit taller, adult riders who want BMX-style bikes in a bigger platform. Many cruisers resemble vintage BMX bikes.
- Larger 22” – 24” wheels
- Longer top tubes around 21” – 23”
- Upright riding position
- Rear U-brake
- Increased gearing for faster downhill speed
Flatland BMX Bikes
Flatlanders are designed for performing balancing and flipping tricks on smooth, flat surfaces without jumping. Their frames are extremely durable to withstand abuse from grinds and crashes.
- Very compact, 17” – 19.5” frames
- 4130 chromoly or high tensile steel construction
- Low seat position over the rear tire
- Zero offset fork for straight steering
- Peg-ready hubs
BMX Frame Materials and Parts
Higher-end BMX bikes use lightweight materials like chromoly steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber to shed weight. Entry-level bikes feature hi-tensile steel for affordability and durability.
- 4130 Chromoly: The highest quality and lightest BMX frame material with excellent strength-to-weight ratio. Found on pro and high-end bikes.
- Hi-Tensile Steel: Strong and heavy steel used on entry-level and mid-range BMX bikes. Provides a more affordable but heavier option.
- Aluminum: Also light and corrosion resistant like chromoly but easier to dent. Mainly seen on race BMX bikes.
- Carbon Fiber: The lightest and stiffest, yet also the most expensive option. Prized for its vibration dampening. Used on high-end race BMX bikes.
Components: Quality aftermarket parts like sealed bearings, lightweight alloy parts, and strong rims/spokes improve performance. Expect to see brand names like Salt, Profiles, Odyssey, Flybikes, and Alienation on higher-end bikes.
BMX Sizing Guide
BMX size is determined by the frame height range, typically from 18” – 21”. Similar to mountain bikes, standover height is a key measurement where you straddle the bike flatfooted.
You want 2” – 3” of clearance between your crotch and the top tube. Those under 5’4” fit well on 18” – 20” frames while taller riders need 20” – 21”.
Here are general guidelines for BMX frame sizing by age:
- Age 8 and under: 18” frame
- Ages 8 – 13: 18” – 20” frame
- Ages 12 and up: 20” – 21” frame
- Ages 14 and older: 20” – 21” frame
Those with longer legs and a shorter torso may size down while longer torsos size up. Visit local bike shops to test different sizes if between frame heights.
Where to Buy a New BMX Bike
When buying new, visit a bike shop with dedicated BMX expertise. Specialized BMX retailers offer better selection plus professional assembly and tuning. Buyers also gain access to continued maintenance and support.
Some top BMX brands sold at specialty shops include:
- Sunday Bikes
- Fit Bike Co
For lower budgets, mass retailers like Walmart offer basic BMX bike styles starting around $100. Expect heavier hi-tensile frames and cheaper components.
Shopping online opens up wider brand selection but lacks test rides and professional setup. BikesDirect.com provides an affordable option for getting higher-end race BMX bikes shipped direct.
Buying a Used BMX Bike
Searching for used BMX bikes can score major deals, especially for vintage collector bikes. Check sites like Craigslist, Pinkbike, and eBay for local listings or nationwide searches.
When buying a used BMX bike:
- Inspect the frame thoroughly for any cracks, dents or damage.
- Assess wear on drivetrain parts and wheels. Expect to replace the chain, cassette, and tires.
- Ensure handlebars are not bent and turn smoothly.
- Test ride it to check for any issues.
- Factor in costs for any needed repairs and tune-ups.
- Negotiate a fair price based on overall condition and included accessories.
Well-maintained race bikes with higher-end parts often resell for 30% or more below new cost. Custom modded vintage BMX bikes can demand premium pricing.
BMX Bike Maintenance and Repairs
The harsh riding conditions of BMX place more stress on components compared to normal bicycles. Stay on top of maintenance to keep your bike running smoothly and prevent breakdowns:
- Inspect the Bike Frequently: Check for any loose, damaged or worn parts needing replacement. Tighten bolts. Lubricate the chain.
- Wash Regularly: Use a damp cloth to wipe dirt off the frame. Clean the drivetrain with a degreaser. Avoid using a pressure washer.
- Replace Tires When Worn: Knobby rear tires may only last a few months with frequent skidding. Flip to extend life. Swap damaged tires immediately.
- Tune Moving Parts: Adjust hub, headset, crank and pedal bearings annually. Re-grease and tighten as needed.
- Check Brakes and Pads: Keep pads aligned and free of contaminants. Replace frequently.
Having a professional tune-up yearly will spot potential problems early. Learn to do basic repairs like fixing flats, adjusting brakes, and replacing cables to keep your bike in prime condition.
Safety Gear for BMX Riding
BMX is a high-risk sport, so wearing protection against injury is critical. Never attempt tricks or technical riding without these basic safety gear items:
- Helmet – A full face helmet provides the best protection. Ensure proper fit.
- Gloves – Cycling gloves shield hands from abrasions and absorb vibration.
- Knee and Elbow Pads – Hard shell pads reduce impact of falls and crashes on joints.
- BMX Shoes – Shoes with flat, grippy soles and ankle protection ensure stable footing on pedals.
- Mouth Guard – Helps avoid dental injuries and lip lacerations.
- Eye Protection – Goggles shield eyes from dirt, debris and UV rays.
While not mandatory, padded vests, neck braces, and wrist/shin guards offer added protection from injury as skill level increases.
Stay visible while street riding with bright, reflective clothing.
Top 5 Beginner BMX Tricks to Learn
Once comfortable riding, you can start progressing into basic BMX tricks. Mastering bike handling skills develops the necessary foundation. Here are 5 beginner-friendly tricks to focus on first:
Balancing on just the rear wheel improves control for other skills. Go into an easy gear. Pull up and shift your weight back. Use the brake to prevent looping over.
2. Bunny Hop
Launching both wheels off the ground unlocks more advanced techniques. Crouch down and spring up using your arms and legs. Level the front wheel while airborne.
Manuals involve balancing on the rear tire while lifting the front wheel. Start slow. Use your legs and shift forward as needed to hold the balance point.
Carve smooth rounded turns while maintaining speed. Look through the turn. Weight the outside pedal and shift your hips inward.
5. Simple Grinds
Slide or stall on ledges using your pegs. Approach straight on. Lean into the obstacle and hold your balance. Keep momentum to roll away cleanly.
Wear safety gear and use spotters until these basic moves become second nature. The skills form the building blocks for progressing to bigger tricks and jumps.
3 Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between freestyle BMX and dirt jumping bikes?
Freestyle BMX bikes are optimized for street riding, skateparks, and vert ramps with pegs, thinner tires, and more durable frames. Dirt jumpers feature suspension, bigger tires, and stronger wheels for hitting dirt jumps.
How much does a good BMX bike cost?
Entry-level bikes start around $300. Mid-range quality bikes run $400 – $800. Pro-level brands start around $1,000. High-end race bikes exceed $2,000. Used prices are often significantly lower.
How tall do you have to be to ride a 20” BMX bike?
20” bikes best fit most riders over age 12 approximately 5’ and taller. However, skills and riding style also influence sizing. Shorter BMX pros ride 20” successfully. Trying out different sizes is recommended.
BMX bikes offer thrill-seeking adventure and fun challenge through stunt riding, racing, and jumping. Their agile handling allows for creative self-expression on the streets or track. Understanding the various types, from race bikes to cruisers, helps match the bike to your riding goals and experience level. Investing in a quality BMX suited for your needs provides performance and longevity through the many spills and thrills ahead. Start with the basics, wear safety protection, and progress at your own pace to get the most enjoyment out of this dynamic action sport.