BMX Bandits

What happens when you put a bunch of Sufferlandrian’s on BMX bikes, then point them to the nearest pump course? This one’s one of the most intense adrenaline pumping afternoons known in all the lands of Sufferlandria. Unfortunately, the BMX course in Sufferlandria is still under construction. The crew building the course is still working on the Rio Olympic course. We ‘borrowed’ the UCI’s replica of next year’s Olympic course, located at the UCI World Cycling Center.

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BMX was a stand out occasion in the Sufferlandrian National Team Training Camp as we went in with the least of prior experience. In fact,  during the talk we had in the week, many of us dug up childhood memories of BMX bikes, building jumps, or Nicole Kidman’s break through sensation, BMX Bandits. It was definitely her finest acting hour.

With all our heads winding back the clock to our early teens, could our now ‘mature’ bodies keen up with our youthful bravery?

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Our coach for the afternoon was the UCI World Cycling Centre’s head of BMX, Thomas Allier, former BMX champion in his own right. He led us outdoors to the BMX pump course located on the UCI grounds before briefing us on the purpose of the pump course. Apparently, you are meant to ride the entire course without pedaling, developing your ability to use your body, and pumping the jumps to develop speed to get through the course. Sounds easy, but very tough to grasp once you’re on the bike.

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As most of us came from road cycling backgrounds, we ride ‘stiff’, so the fluidity in the body needed to pump the jumps took some time to adapt to. The trick is to lift the bike on the way up, making it light, then pump it down the back, adding weight to the bike’s descent, and building speed to get up the next jump.

The group looked out-of-place compared to the national teams of other nations like Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, etc. We looked like a bunch of retirees trying to skateboard. We didn’t care, we were loving reliving our youth.

After we got the skills needed on the pump track, we moved up to the big boy course – a replica of the Rio 2016 Olympic course, full of huge jumps, bumps, lumps, and banked turns. I was excited. Or maybe I was admiring the 8 meter start ramp behind us.

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BMX is a quirky sport  as we learnt later that night at dinner. Stefany Hernández (@hernandez469), the Venezuelan champion joined us for dinner to share her insights in the life of BMX. What looks like child’s play actually requires massive power. Men can produce up to 2500 watts over the start, and women 1500 watts. WTF? Yes, that’s up there with track cyclists.

The group was given a chance to learn the course. We actually found it easier than the pump course. With more room to pedal between jumps, we could lean on our road cycling legs to develop the speed needed for each jump, coupling that with our new pumping skills, we were starting to get ‘good’.

But one thing hung over our heads. We were starting each lap from the flat ground in front of the start ramps, and this brave Sufferlandrian group was eyeing off the size of the drop from the start ramps. With just over 30 minutes left in our time on the course, Tom was confident we had the skills to graduate. We climbed the stairs to the five meter ramp. I was both equally excited and shit scared. Five meters is a long way up when your standing at the top.

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Next, we had to learn the start gate. You see, BMX starts from behind a hydraulic gate that drops on a computer controlled count down. But before that, we had to balance with both feet on the pedals and the front wheel up against the gate. Some of us can track stand, so the balance was easy. But then, Tom gave a number of commands to test our ‘readiness’.

“Touch your rear wheel with your ass”

“Touch your bars with your hips”

“Touch your helmet with your left hand, now with your right hand”

“Touch your helmet with both hands”

Yes, while balancing on the bike, lean against a start gate on top of a five meter ramp. Not sure if that’s normal, but it’ll take your mind off the impending drop.

Then the computer goes. “Riders ready… 5, 4, 3, beep, beep”. And the riders dropped into the ramp speeding towards the first jump. When starting from the flat ground, it didn’t seem that imposing. We would now be approaching it as we speed.

My first turn was a nerve-raking, adrenaline-pumping ball of fear. But once that gate drops, you leave fear behind as you race down the ramp quickly building speed. Now Tom has coached us to use a bit of brake before we hit the first jump, otherwise, we’d find our wheels three feet off the ground. It sounded tempting with my new-found youthful confidence.

One by one, Tom launched us down the ramp, as the UCI’s top brass watch a bunch of Sufferlandrians throw themselves into BMX. That day, the UCI Professional Cycling Council was meeting, so some of the road cycling top influencers were there. It’s like that in that meeting. They were deciding the now public ruling, banning motor homes in the pro tour. Sorry Team Sky.

Once we were confident, it starts with only two riders at a time. Tom gave us the chance to experience it with more riders. Six of us lined up along the ramp and were counted in. I was right in the middle. The ramp released us and we sped towards the first jump. It’s such a rush going down that ramp. On this occasion, I even got a little ‘air’ off the jump.

On my immediate left was Sufferlandria’s toughest team member, Spencer. All week, Spencer had thrown himself into the various challenges. He killed the time trial, smashed the climbs and one of the fastest on the track. He is an ex-military personal trainer, and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever met. But on this occasion, he scared the shit out of me. Something happened as he came over the lip of the first jump. He hit the deck. In my head, I immediately thought I’d go down with him, but luckily I shot over the jump and onto the next. Is Spencer ok?

We all pulled back around to find Spencer lying on the ground. He was disoriented, and a bit stiff, clearly sore. Ouch, that would have hurt. I gave the guy some room and let the top shelf staff of the UCI and National Team Coach Neal help Spence. Spencer was checked over, and was given the okay later that night. He had a few nice bruises and a stiff body for a few days.

It was the last run on the last event of the week. But that’s cycling for you, we all fall, but it still hurts when you do. What an awesome chance to try something we hadn’t done in years.

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