Last year I joined my friend Jenny at a women’s only BMX session at the HSBC UK National Cycling Centre in Manchester. As the first indoor Olympic cycling track in the UK, the centre is also home to the National Indoor BMX Arena, which is a BMX track used by new riders, existing riders and world-class BMX athletes.
What is BMX?
BMX stands for bicycle motocross or bike motocross and is a cycle sport performed on BMX bikes, either competitively or freestyle. It is predominantly an off-road recreation, popular with young and old riders.
My BMX experience
Being an Olympic sport, I wanted to try BMXing as I’ve always loved mountain biking and assumed it’d be quite similar. Upon arrival, we were kitted out with full face helmets, protective gloves, elbow and knee pads and paired with a bike. It all felt very novel in the gear room, however when we entered the huge BMX track, the reality of the sport I’d said I’d try loomed. Little kids were whizzing up and down huge jumps, making me incredibly nervous (I do have a little vertigo!)
After a brief explanation from our instructor, who was conveniently on the British Cycling team, we took our time to ride around the track and given tips on how to take the corners. What felt weird was that we didn’t sit on the bike’s seat much. But I seemed to get the hang of it and felt competent enough to try some small hills on the track. The key was to keep pedalling over the hill but every time I approached I chickened out and didn’t make it up! Eventually I got the hang of it and it felt the exhilaration of completely my first full circuit.
Finally, we were taken up the highest ramp to attempt the bigger jumps. This was very nerve-wracking but I remembered all I’d learnt in the last hour and went for it. Unfortunately I turned my front wheel whilst I was in the air and fell on my left knee. Cue massive graze and panic from the Centre’s staff. I actually didn’t feel any pain so carried on, ripped trousers, blood and everything!
All in all I really enjoyed my experience and can see how you can get hooked on this sport. The fact that it was a female-only class was even more attractive, meaning you could relax and take your time to perfect the bike skills, If I was still living in the area I would definitively keep going.
I caught up with Jenny who’s also got into MTB (mountain biking) recently.
What made you get into BMX and MTB?
A puncture! I took my son to the local mountain bike trails and he got a puncture half way round. We had to cut our ride short and head home as I couldn’t repair the tyre. He was so disappointed, as was I, because we were having so much fun! I decided I needed to learn more about bikes!
Where did you hear about BMX/MTB?
My boyfriend competes in MTB endurance races and I went to support him at a race. I fell in love with the vibe and atmosphere and the competitive streak in me was itching to have a go! At a similar time, I was looking for school holiday activities for my son and stumbled across a ladies only BMX session at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester. We are very lucky to have such amazing facilities in our doorstep here in Manchester!
What equipment do you need to start BMX/MTB?
You can start to learn straight away if you hire equipment but obviously it makes sense to buy things if you ride regularly. To get yourself going, get yourself a bike (this needs to be specific to whichever type of riding you want to do) helmet, knee pads, biking shoes, gloves and you’re ready to go. Proper cycling gear really does make a noticeable difference to your riding; cycling shoes, especially, will make it much easier than trainers to grip the pedals and so maintain control and power. Although, there is a lot of second-hand gear available to keep costs down.
What sort of training do you need to do?
It’s physically challenging – ride as much as possible. A strong core helps with balance and you’ve got to accept that your legs are going to be punished! I do spin classes a few times a week and I’d recommend a basic skills course so you start with and build on good techniques.
What were the challenges of BMX/MTB?
It’s daunting to try something new! Actually having the confidence to go along to a class and give it a go was the first challenge! Ladies only sessions are super-friendly, open and encouraging and definitely increase female participation. It’s also physically and mentally tough. After your first big fall it’s very difficult to get back on when you’ve lost your nerve.
What are the best parts of BMX/MTB?
Friendship, fitness, getting out in the countryside, the synchronisation of mental and physical exertion. Feeling awesome when you nail a new skill!
Do you think it’s harder for women to get into BMX/MTB?
It is I think, because in general girls don’t grow up riding bikes in the way that boys do. There’s a massive push to get more girls riding at the moment so there’s lots of opportunity to get involved now. Facebook has a thriving Women’s MTB community so you are always able to find someone to ride with.
Where do you see yourself and your bike in five years?
Gosh I’ll be 40!! Hopefully fit and 40! I hope I’ve explored more areas of the UK countryside. I’ve signed up for more endurance races and definitely want to master a wheelie and get some air!
Any tips for anyone thinking about taking up BMX/MTB?
Get on a beginners course, watch YouTube videos, join some Facebook groups, get a bike and get riding!