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Origins

Freestyling can be traced back to the late 1980s, where riders spent a lot of time on their BMX bikes at a concrete skateparks 

Towards the end of 1979, the BMX Action Trick Team, the first organized freestyle team was created. After the BMXA Trick Team became known, other organized trick teams were founded and quickly gained prominence.

The freestyling movement at this point was very much underground. Although several BMX manufacture-sponsored freestyle teams were touring the US, they were promoting the sport of BMX in general, not specifically freestyle.

The (AFA) was the first governing body for BMX freestyle, founded by Bob Morales in 1982.

Bob Osborn founded a slick quarterly magazine devoted solely to freestyle. In the summer of 1984, Freestylin Magazine made its debut. The BMX world suddenly noticed the sport's massive potential. Manufacturers hurried to the drawing boards to develop new freestyle bikes, components, and accessories, and began searching for talented riders to sponsor. Bike shops began stocking freestyle products. The AFA began to put on organized flatland and quarter-pipe competitions.

During the years from 1981 until 1988, the sport of freestyling was at its peak. During this time period, the sport progressed with new bike models being released all the time, as well as new components and accessories designed strictly for freestyle.

Disciplines

Street

Street riding involves maneuvers on obstacles that are typically man made and not designed for bicycles. They can be, but are not limited to, stairs, handrails, ledges, curved walls, banks, unusually shaped architectural designs and even a simple curb.

Through online surveys and magazine polls, it has been found that a large percentage of riders today participate in this discipline. As in the other forms of freestyle riding, there are no specific rules; style/aesthetics, skills, and creativity are stressed. Street riders tend to have no brakes if they do it is mostly straight cable not gyro. Usually they have front and back pegs on one side of the bike.

Park

Skateparks are used by BMXers as well as skateboarders, inline skaters and freestyle scooter-riders. Skateparks themselves can be made of wood, concrete or metal. Styles of riding will depend on the style of the parks. Wood is more suited to a flowing style, with riders searching for gaps, and aiming to air higher from the coping. Concrete parks usually tend to contain bowls and pools. However, it is not unusual for riders to merge the two styles in either type of park.

Concrete parks are commonly built outdoors due to their ability to withstand years of exposure to the elements. Concrete parks are also often publicly funded due to their permanent and costly nature. Parks made from wood are popular with commercial skateparks due to ease of construction, availability of materials, cost, and the relative safety associated with falling on wood instead of concrete. Parks designed with BMX use in mind will typically have steel coping that is less prone to damage than concrete or pool coping.

Vert

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Vert ramp

Vert is perhaps the most extreme of the freestyle BMX disciplines. A half pipe consists of two quarter pipes set facing each other (much like a mini ramp ), but at around 10–15 feet tall (around 2.5 to 3.5 metres) high. The biggest ramp ever used in competition is the X Games big air ramp at 27 feet tall. Both ‘faces’ of the ramp have an extension to the transition that is vertical, hence the name. Coping is a round metal tube at the lip of the vert that helps freestyle BMXers do grinds, and stalls on the lip of the vert.

Riders go up each jump, performing tricks in the air before landing into the transition having turned 180 degrees (assumptively. variations include 540, 900). A typical run involves going from one side to the other, airing above the coping each side. Also possible are 'lip tricks' - tricks on the platform at the top of the ramps before dropping into the ramp.

Trails

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A freshly built double at the overlook trails in New Jersey.

Trails are lines of jumps built from dirt (heavily compacted mud). It can also be named as a pack such as a 4 pack, 6 pack and 8 pack. The jumps consist of a steep take off, called a lip, with an often slightly less steep landing. The lip and landing are usually built as separate mounds, divided by a gap. The gap is measured from the topmost part of the lip, horizontally to the topmost part of the far side of the landing. Gaps typically range from only a couple of feet to over twenty feet. A moderate gap is around twelve feet.

Trails riding is sometimes also referred to as “dirt jumping”. Most trails riders maintain that a subtle difference exists in the style and flow of “dirt jumps” and “trails”; trails riders focus more on of a flowing smooth style from one jump to the next while performing more stylish tricks, while dirt jumpers try to perform the craziest tricks they can over larger, less flow-oriented jumps.

Although many regard trails and street as being completely opposite, the attraction is similar — trails riders build their own jumps so their riding is limited only by their creativity and resourcefulness.

Trails riders usually run a rear brake only as they have no use for a front brake, and usually a rotor (gyro) to make it easier to do barspins, as they do not have to spins the bars back the other way to untangle it, which is hard to do on trails. In general, trail/dirt jumping bikes have longer wheelbases (chainstays) than other BMXs to aid with stability.

Flatland

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BMX Flatland rider at Santa Monica beach.

Flatland BMX occupies a position somewhat removed from the rest of freestyle BMX. People who ride in the above disciplines will generally take part in at least one of the others, but flatlanders tend to only ride flatland. They are often very dedicated and will spend several hours a day perfecting their technique.

Flatland also differs from the others in that the terrain used is nothing but a smooth, flat surface (e.g. an asphalt parking lot, basketball courts, etc.). Tricks are performed by spinning and balancing in a variety of body and bicycle positions. Riders almost always use knurled aluminum pegs to stand on to manipulate the bike into even stranger positions.

Flatland bikes typically have a shorter wheelbase than other freestyle bikes. Flatland bikes differ from dirt jumping bikes and freestyle bikes in one way. The frames are often more heavily reinforced because the people riding flatland often stand on the frames. This shorter wheelbase requires less effort to make the bike spin or to position the bike on one wheel. One of the primary reasons flatlanders often ride only flatland is the decreased stability of a shorter bike on ramps, dirt and street.

A variety of options are commonly found on flatland bikes. The most unifying feature of flatland bikes is the use of four pegs, one on the end of each wheel axle. Flatland riders will choose to run either a front brake, a rear brake, both brakes, or no brakes at all, depending on stylistic preference.

Bikes

The vast majority of freestyle bikes have 20-inch (51 cm) wheels. Frame sizes and geometry vary, but the top tubes are usually between 20 to 22 inches (51 to 56 cm) long. Beginner riders tend to purchase store-bought complete bikes and often customize their bike with aftermarket parts, generally as parts break (such as forks, pedals and cranks), to suit their specific needs. However, more experienced riders usually build custom bikes from the ground up to suit their preferences and style of riding, which is much more expensive but allows for greatest customization based on personal preference.

Generally, street riders use slicker tires for more grip on concrete, and may use up to four axle pegs for grinding. Riders generally have a preferred side for grinding and may run 2 pegs only on one side. However, adding an additional 2 pegs to the non-preferred side can open up a great deal of trick variations such as crooked grinds. Street riders also tend to ride big bars for easier tailwhips. Smaller gearing is also preferred among street riders. Street riders tend to run brakeless, for a number of reasons; for example, they claim that barspins are smoother, and that they have more control over the bike.

Park bikes are very similar to street bikes. However, some park riders prefer to use brakes (rear or both) for an increased variety of tricks and more control. Park bikes may differ from street bikes in the fact that they are not as reliant on heavy duty high-strength parts, as park riding is much less stressful on the bike.

Dirt riders usually don't have pegs unless they want to do peg-specific non-grind tricks such as rocket airs, and they use knobby tires for better grip in the loose dirt. Dirt bikes also tend to run only a rear brake and have longer top tubes and wheelbases. Many riders use bigger bars for more control, although big bars have become a trend among kids and popular professional riders. Dirt bikes generally at least have chromoly top and down/seat tubes and forks to increase durability and prevent bending of parts (especially forks) when landing large jumps.

A professional who primarily competes in park contests will probably have a gyro with rear brakes only, zero to 4 pegs, and a lightweight bike. This is because riders in contests usually have a limited time, 60 seconds or less, and have to perform very difficult tricks consistently.

Vert bikes are relatively heavy for stability and control, with four pegs.

Flatland riders’ bikes usually run four oversize pegs, and smaller, lighter frames, often with pre-bent tubes to make it easier to do flatland tricks. Flatland BMXs most of the time have both front and rear brakes, as many tricks require them to exit a trick or aid in weight distribution. Top tubes on flatland bikes are also shorter (about 17–19 inches (43–48 cm)) Flatland bikes almost always have small sprockets (25 to 30 teeth) and low gearing, to make it easier to pedal out of tricks, as there is no need for them to ride fast.

Before there was a “true” freestyle bicycle, riders used BMX racing frames for jumping and for performing flatland maneuvers.

Tricks

Grinds

Grinds are where a rider’s bike will slide along a surface (such as a rail, ledge or lip of a ramp) on a part of the bike other than the wheels. Usually “stunt pegs” are used; these are short tubes are attached inline with an axle that project out from the main frame so that they can slide along the surface they which grind. Some grinds also involve the cranks and pedals.

  • Double peg: The rider must bunny-hop on and land both pegs on the rail or ledge (wheels must be off the ground for all grinds).
  • Feeble grind: The most basic grind to do on a ledge. The rider must bunny hop and land the rear peg and the front wheel on the ledge. This is easy to do on a ledge because ledges are generally wider than rails.
  • Smith grind: The step up from a feeble. The rider must bunny-hop and land the front peg and rear wheel on the ledge or rail.
  • Luc-e grind: The rider must bunny-hop, turn the handlebars 45 degrees, and land the back peg and the pedal on the ledge and lean back, keeping the front wheel off the ground but not grinding the front peg on the top of the ledge either.
  • UnLuc-e grind: The rider bunnyhops and lands the front peg and pedal on the ledge or rail, keeping the back wheel off the ground.
  • Rollercoaster grind: The rider must find two rails or ledges close enough together so they can bunny hop and grind with at least one peg on each rail.
  • Icepick grind: A rear peg grind where the rider is riding on the back peg only with the front wheel above the rail or ledge they are grinding on.
  • Crooked grind: When alternate pegs are on either side of the rail.
  • Predator grind: When the rider does a double peg grind on a rail then hops over to his alternate pegs.
  • Toothpick grind: The rider slides on the front peg only with the rear wheel in mid air.
  • Toothpick hangover : A toothpick grind where the rider hangs the rear end of their bike over the opposite side of the rail or ledge they are grinding.
  • Snaggletooth: This is an over to toothpick hangover.
  • Howyadoin grind: this is a rail hop 180 to an icepick to half cab (180) off. usually performed on a rail, but sometimes on a thin ledge.
  • Lucky: The rider icepicks the rail while also having the pedal sliding to, but the front peg is below the rail.

Air tricks

These tricks take place in the air. Freestyle dirt BMX involves many air tricks.

  • Tabletop: While in the air the rider will bring the bike up to one side of him/her by turning the handlebars and using body movement making the bike look like it is flat like the top of a table.
  • Superman: The rider removes both feet and extends them outwards to resemble superman in flight.
  • Barspin: Spinning the handle bars 360° while in the air.
  • Tailwhip: The rider throws the bike out to one side of them while still holding onto the handle bars so the main frame goes 360° around the steer tube, the rider then catches the frame again and stands back on the pedals.
  • Backflip: Both rider and bike do a backward flip while in the air, usually from one ramp to another.
  • Frontflip: Both rider and bike do a forward flip while in the air, again, usually from one ramp to another.
  • 180°: The rider and bike spin 180° in the air and land backwards, in what is called fakie  (riding backwards).
  • 360°: The rider and bike spin 360°.
  • x-up: The rider turns the bars at least 180 degrees, so the arms are crossed and then turns them back.
  • Can Can: The rider brings a foot over the bike to the other side.
  • No Footed Can: The rider does a can can but takes the other foot off the pedal as well, so that both legs are on one side of the bike.
  • Tire grab: The rider grabs the front tire.
  • Tuck no Hander: The rider tucks in the handlebars and takes both hands off
  • Turn down: The rider will whip the bike out to one side and turn the handle bars into his or her legs wrapping them around their leg.
  • Crankflip: The rider bunny hops and kicks the pedals backwards so the crank arms make a 360° spin and then feet are placed back on pedals to stop the cranks.

Variations and combinations of these tricks also exist, for example a 360° tailwhip would be where the rider spins 360° in one direction and the frame of the bike spins 360° around the steer tube, both bike and rider will then meet again, with the rider catching the pedals, facing the same direction as before the trick.

Flatland tricks

Flatland tricks are not just used within flatland BMX, but also in street BMX. Flatland tricks usually involve much balance, more often than not with only one wheel in contact with the ground.

  • Wheelie: The most basic of flatland tricks, the wheelie is when the rider rides the bike on only the back wheel whilst pedaling.
  • Stoppie: Basic flatland trick where the rider uses the front brake or a curb to lift the back wheel and balance on the front tire.
  • Front or Back Pogos: Basic flatland trick where the rider stands on the wheel pegs (front or back), locks the wheel's brake, and hops with the other wheel in the air.
  • Manual: A step-up from the wheelie, the manual is essentially the same only the rider does not pedal; this makes the trick more difficult to perform as point of balance between the front and back of the bike has to be reached. Professional riders can often do this until their bike runs out of momentum.
  • Pogo: The most popular advanced basic trick. Created in the 80's, it is executed by swinging the bike to a vertical position on its rear wheel while the rider sits and hops on it to maintain balance.
  • Nose manual: The same concept as a manual, only performed with the back wheel in the air and the front wheel on the ground.
  • Bunnyhop: A bunny hop is achieved when a rider jumps the bike into the air from flat ground (this can also be done close to the lip of ramp to gain more height) so that neither wheels are touching the ground.
  • Dork Wheelie: When rider puts one foot on the peg, and the other foot in the air, controlling balance, and ride down the street in a manual with the foot on the peg.
  • Fork Wheelie: When a rider puts one foot on the front peg and spins the handlebars around, to lift the bike up into a fakie manual, with both feet on pegs.
  • Footjam Tailwhip: The rider jams his/her foot in the fork to start a foot jam endo then kicks the tail of the bike around. When the tail of the bike goes 360 degrees the rider puts his/her foot back on the pedals. An alternate trick is to jump the frame as it comes around repeatedly until the rider elects to put his/her foot back on the pedals.