When we mention BMX, you probably imagine bikes flying high above ramps or grinding down massive handrails. Or maybe you’ve seen racers, flying off a start ramp and round banked corners?
What if we told you that one of the most challenging BMX disciplines requires nothing more than a bike and a piece of level ground?
BMX Flatland is one of the most accessible forms of cycling. Entry level BMXs are very cheap to acquire, and the nature of flatland means there are no requirements for a specialist facility. In fact, most Flatland riders practice their skills, or play about on their bikes in urban spaces such as parks, skateparks or just an open space or square.
If you like performing tricks, then this could well be the sport for you.
What is flatland BMX?
Flatland BMX is often described as dancing on a bike. In fact, if you saw the World Championships this August in Glasgow Green, it will look like you are a breakdance competition with the addition of bikes.
You’ll see some riders favouring balancing on their front wheel and some on the rear wheel, but all will be a spinning amalgamation of bike and person. Riders will have pegs, cylindrical bits of metal or plastic extending from their hubs, and they will use these to balance on and catch themselves as they jump from side to side to keep their bikes upright and rolling.
They will be rolling forwards and backwards at speed. The bikes have a ‘freecoaster’ hub to make the backward rolling easier. If you go and grab your bike and roll it backwards, you will notice that the cranks and pedals will also rotate. A freecoaster hub has a clutch inside that allows it to disengage when you are rolling backwards, and this keeps your cranks and pedals still when moving backwards. It is always good to know that your pedals will be where you left them.
The history of flatland BMX
BMX first came about in the 1970s or slightly earlier, either in the US or the Netherlands, depending on who you listen to. What is certain is that these early versions of BMX bikes were built to emulate motocross bikes; that is why BMX stands for bicycle motocross.
Originally BMX was all about racing, then in 1979, the magazine BMX Action created their Trick Team. The team was designed to be a sideline at races and motocross events, and to keep crowds excited. The first members were R.L. Osbourne and Bob Haro, and these two men and Bob Morales are considered the godfathers of flatland.
The creation of this team was right before the first boom of BMX, which was from 1980 to roughly 1987. Flatland during these times could be seen during NBA halftime shows, where the riders wore full race uniforms and helmets. The movie RAD came out in 1986, and everyone was now exposed to BMX flatland.
As the ’80s ended, flatland became more of an underground sport, like the rest of BMX. As the 90’s ended and the X Games appeared on the scene, flatland BMX was reborn, but its mainstream reappearance was short-lived. It was dropped from the X Games in 2004. In 2018 the UCI picked up flatland riding and helped to rejuvenate it, and it came back as an X Games event in 2022.
If you tuned in to the World Champs, or headed down to Glasgow Green to watch in person, you’ll have seen Reece Thomson in action.
Reece is Scotland’s very own BMX flatland legend in the making. Reece is an athlete on the rise and has just started his competition career, so expect to see more of him as time goes on. However, such is his ability, he was selected to represent Great Britain at the UCI Cycling World Championships.
Reece’s story is enough to inspire anyone, given it’s simplicity. Reece loves playing on his bike, and does so in Edinburgh’s urban spaces, as he practices his tricks and skills, before performing them in competition. It really is as simple as that.
There aren’t currently any BMX Flatland clubs in Scotland, but we are working to set two new clubs up in Edinburgh and Glasgow to allow likeminded people to give it a go together.
If you would like to find out more or are keen to try out Flatland, then please contact [email protected]