Here’s something you may need to know – BMX is Bicycle Moto Cross the X is a cross, get it?) It took me a while to pick up on that… – Anyway it’s a bunch of people racing pedal bikes on a dirt track with bumps and banked curves and jumps.
A couple of posts ago I talked about how my dad was “all thumbs” when it came to fixing things – By the mid-1970s I had become very proficient at fixing bikes. This was at a time where owning a BMX bike was the “cool thing” but sadly, the expensive thing. I got caught up in BMX madness because one of my neighbors was in charge of turning an empty overgrown field into a track for the city-wide BMX races. I ended up going to the track just about every day, driving water trucks to spray down the track, building banked curves, and riding my bike like a madman. I broke my bike frame practicing on the monster jumps we had built into the BMX track. With the big citywide race just around the corner I was out of that race for sure. I had no money for a new frame but found a broken down girls bike in my dad’s shed – it belonged to my sister.
There’s a major difference between a girls and a boys bike frame. The boys frame has a bar from the gooseneck area back to the base of the seat stand. I had no idea why – I did know it gave you something hard to crack your tender parts on when you came off of the seat.
Boys Bike Frame (now I kind of wish I had thought of that pad on the bar 40 years ago!):
Girls Bike Frame (no bar between the seat post and the gooseneck):
I promptly liberated my sister from her bike and stripped it down to the frame and started finding spare BMX parts to round out the look and functionality. What about the “boys-bar”? I was sure i’d be able to jump much higher and farther with the lighter girls frame so I dove into the project. Serendipity was working on my behalf! A week or so later I unveiled the finished bike. I was so proud! It was so cool – bad to the bone! (except for the obvious fact that I was riding a girls bike). Nothing a lot of swagger can’t overcome.
It looked good but did it work? I couldn’t wait to try it out. I built a jump on the sidewalk in front of my house about eighteen inches high (around 46 cm) and jumped a few times. It was working great! – smooth as butter, However my tests were missing something… what I needed was a sense of danger.
I gathered kids from around the neighborhood and had four of them lay down side by side on the sidewalk next to the 18” side of the the ramp. I rode back, came at the ramp full speed and jumped over them easily. Now to be extra impressive I got the girls in the neighborhood and put them on the end furthest from the ramp. Now I had 8 kids I had to jump over – four kids and four girls! – missing might smash one of the cute girls, but it was a risk I was willing to take – danger was my middle name!
I built up extra speed for extra danger and I jumped over 8 people easily. Just one thing I noticed after the jump – my handle bars were closer to my seat. I was momentarily puzzled, but I brushed it off and went for another jump. I was out of kids – I did have some sense – and decided for the last death defying jump to simply measure 14 kids and put a board on the sidewalk. Then no cute girls would be harmed in the testing of my new bike.
However, a couple of the kids wanted to be a part of it so they laid down next to the ramp again. I rebuilt the ramp another 6 inches higher to give me more air on the jump, and get me over the top of the kids. It was still a pretty big challenge . Honestly I wasn’t sure I could make it. The kids I had been jumping over stayed around to witness this amazing feat unfold.
Super fast… up in the air… cleared the final board by a couple of feet (I could have fit another cute girl in there easily)!! The neighborhood was awash with excitement! I was the hero of the day!
Just one small thing – my handlebars were only about 6 inches from my seat! I couldn’t pedal because they were in the way of my legs moving. I was so puzzled by this! I stopped amid the crowd of kids to look at the new configuration of my new BMX bike… and here’s what I found: The frame was bent right where I’ve circled above. Well it wasn’t bent so much as the weld had cracked! I suddenly realized! That’s what the bar on the boys bike is for, extra support when jumping over kids/girls! Now I knew.
I suddenly came to myself amid the adulation – I was still the hero so I got back on my bike to ride away. Sitting on my seat with my handlebars in my lap was not very hero-like, so I pushed the handlebars foreword to bend the frame back into shape. Now that my girls bike looked cool again I started to pedal away in victory. That’s when the weld broke all of the way. I was quickly a hero laying in the street with a bad-to-the-bone girls bike laying around me in pieces.
All of this came flooding back to me as I talked with Ron about life. We met at a store I frequent – he was the cashier and I was at the front of a long line. Our conversation was brief. He had told me he was trying to start a second career as an author. I’m a big person and the main character in his first book is a large man too – so he struck up a conversation. To be honest I thought he was selling me a book. He just wanted to know how tall I was for reference.
I asked him what his first career was and he told me that he had started forty years ago as a technical illustrator/writer for a company in Los Angeles. The big project occupying most of the company at the time was designing/building fuselages for the first 747 planes. The company he worked for supplied the fuselage – then other companies put their components on to complete the aircraft.
But before they could do any of that Ron’s company took the first six fuselages and destroyed them- They were trying to see how much abuse a fuselage could take under the most extreme circumstances. His eyes were kind of sad as he said “so many man hours for each one! It just took so long to build one and then we found that they had only been built to destroy. According to Ron the fuselages were dropped from great heights, were set afire, bombed, and one even had tanks try to drive through it.
I could relate to the pain in Ron’s eyes as he talked about his creations, his teams creations being destroyed. I thought of the last time I destroyed something while testing it for flight (thinking of my girls bike flying over that jump decades ago made me smile). But then I realized it had the same result as Ron’s 747 Fuselages. I learned a lot, but in the end all of my work was destroyed.
We’ve all seen footage of crash-test dummies, of cars being tested for safety, and even though it caused Ron pain – I’m glad engineers and others are working on safety issues far in advance. I hope Ron finds great satisfaction in his first career every time he sees a 747. I wish him the best for his second career and hope nobody tests his book with flame, a bomb, or a tank.
He’s a good guy – likable and excited about his new life. I wish him the best.
I’ve been a dad for 27 years – and I have a daughter and a grand daughter who I love more than air. If some clown on a girls bike tricked out to be BMX thinks he’s going to jump them in an attempt to impress them… well let’s just say I see the other side of this story now. I’m glad it worked out where nobody was hurt in my adventure. Most of those kids make great Facebook friends now.