BMX and Flatland
BMX or Bicycle Motocross refers to both the racing of bicycles in motocross style dirt tracks and the sport of freestyle BMX. Freestyle BMX is the sport of BMX stunt riding and is the focus of the content on this site. Within Freestyle BMX there exists six distinct disciplines; street, vert, dirt, park and flatland.
As the name suggests flatland is performed on smooth flat surfaces such as asphalt parking lots and basketball courts. Tricks are performed by spinning and balancing in a variety of body and bicycle positions. Riders almost always use aluminium pegs to stand on to manipulate the bike into even stranger positions.
Flatland originated from three pioneers; R. L. Osborn, Bob Haro, and Bob Morales. R. L. Osborn was a fan favorite in the mid 80s, being the highest paid BMX flatland professional ever after signing a contract with General Bicycles for around $100,000 US. Bob Haro went on to become founder of Haro Bicycles. Bob Morales was the founder of the once elite American Freestyle Association. The AFA was the dominating league for both professional and amateur flatland and quarter pipe events. While there were several amateur AFA events the Masters series contest, held throughout the US was the biggest pro/am flatland/quarter pipe event of the time.
Flatland’s roots can be dated back to the 50’s. Flatland has gone through many stylistic changes since its beginnings in the late 70s. Riders once wore full protective gear and full face helmets, starred in feature length films such as Rad (film), and performed in large scale events such as NBA halftimes. Following the decline in popularity and subsequent recession in most action sports at the end of the 80s, flatland went “underground”. It resurfaced in the late 90s with the return of media attention in the form of events such as the X Games. Flatland was dropped from the X Games and other large scale events in the early 2000s, forcing the sport/artform to become more independently run and owned. Most flatland companies and events now exist outside of other BMX circles, although there is still, somewhat limited, coverage in mainstream BMX magazines and videos.
With the removal of flatland from events such as the XGames, many independent event organizers have stepped up and taken flatland to the masses through creative, independently organized events such as the Red Bull Circle Balance, Circle Cow, and BMX Masters events in Europe, the Elevation Flatland series and Voodoo Jams in the USA, and smaller “jams” such as the Athens Jam and Hollywood Jams which take place in the US. These independent events and jams are what has helped keep flatland “alive” and thriving over the years.
What is a BMX Bike?
Is the name of a popular bicycle primarily designed to perform in the above disciplines. Cheaper low end bikes are usually made of hi tensile steel. Mid range bikes, a mix of chromoly and or high tensile steel and higher end bikes are almost always made of 4130 chromoly. BMX bike wheel sizes vary with the 20 inch being the most popular size. Sizes vary from 16-20 inches however to accommodate younger and taller riders. The average wheel size of 20 inch allows one to quickly distinguish a BMX to a typical mountain or road bike as a BMX bike is much smaller. This smaller size allows for increased agility for tricks.
Popular BMX Tricks
The Bunny Hop, Basic Jump, Manual and Fakie are all fundamental BMX skills. These are the basis of most other tricks in BMX and most riders work on improving these skills throughout their whole career.
The 180 and 360 allow the beginner to transitioning into rotational tricks. Start with doing 180s out of your favourite fly out and transition to doing 360s.
Flatland is a freestyle BMX riding style performed on smooth flat surfaces that do not include any ramps, jumps, or grindrails. It is sometimes described as a form of artistic cycling with a blend of breakdancing. Despite the conceptions of Flatland practitioners, the sport has little in common with Zen meditation.
Flatland occupies a position somewhat removed from the rest of freestyle BMX. They are often very dedicated, and will spend several hours a day perfecting their techniques.
Flatland also differs from the others in that the terrain used is nothing but a smooth, flat surface. Tricks are performed by spinning and balancing on the bike in a variety of unexpected positions. Riders almost always use either knurled/grip taped aluminum or plastic pegs to stand on to manipulate the bike into even more imaginative positions.
Although the flatland bicycle is similar to most other BMX bicycles, flatland is often performed with specially designed frames with geometry (head tube angle, top tube length, etc.) suited to the needs of flatlanders. Front and rear bolt-on pegs, a hollow compression bolt on the forks for the front brake cable, and a rear brake cable detangler or Gyro to allow the bars to rotate endlessly without tangling the brake cables. Also invented specifically for flatland riding is the rear hub mechanism known as a freecoaster, which allows the rear wheel to roll backwards without engaging the hub and making the cranks rotate backwards as they would on a normal freewheel or cassette style hub. Other technical bicycle setup specifics can include zero offset forks, narrow handlebars, very high pressure tires (100psi and higher), and a very small front sprocket (18-28 teeth).
In competition, talent and skill are judged by the ability to maintain coordination, and balance while performing a variety of difficult and elegant moves. There are usually several categories for judging purposes which can include:
number of touches: the number of times a trick is not completed and/or the number of touches of the foot to the ground
number of tricks completed in the allotted time
difficulty of the tricks, which can be very subjective, as flatland techniques have in many ways become as refined as those in figure skating or breakdancing
originality of the tricks performed, which again can be somewhat subjective
style and flow, or how smoothly and/or stylishly moves are performed during the contest run
Showmanship; the ability to present your routine to the crowd. Hugo Gonzales and Dave Vanderspek, while not the top pros were known for their elaborate showmanship and antics.
Flatland is an involving, time-consuming discipline in which the rider learns different balance/counterbalance points and center-of-gravity in motion techniques through repetition and trial-and-error. Some tricks can be learned in hours, while others may take years to master.
Various riders emphasize different aspects of the discipline: the artistic nature of flatland and the originality of tricks, the number and difficulty of tricks, or the simple enjoyment of the activity. Only contest riders need to be concerned with the competitive side of the discipline, as there are many riders who prefer doing shows, taking parts in videos, or simply riding with their friends and enjoying themselves.
Riders usually pedal a few times for speed, and then perform various stunts often involving difficult and/or awkward stances on pegs, mounted to the axles of their front or back wheels. Pegs are aluminum or plastic tubes, which are bolted onto both sides of the front and back axles. When flatland riding first began, most riders would do one trick and then return to the pedals. However, by combining different body and bicycle positions into “combos” and “linking” them together, riders began to do several tricks in a row without stopping between each move. Flatland riding is now usually a combination of many different kinds of moves, often linked together non-stop as the rider goes through as many as 10-12 consecutive moves, and position/direction changes, before returning to the pedals.