The sport of BMX, or bicycle moto-cross, has really come of age with the decision by the International Olympic Committee to include it as an event at the forthcoming games in Beijing.
This is all a million miles away from the popular image that the acronym BMX conjures up, that of teenage boys trying to impress their friends and prospective girlfriends with hair-raising manoeuvres on urban-ramp facilities, or high-tailing it over hills and local parkland.
However, even before the IOC decided to give the sport its ultimate seal of approval, BMX could boast a network of cycling clubs in many countries, from which skilled riders developed to the level where they would be equipped to compete in a range of national and international events, all underpinned by a comprehensive set of competition rules governing the behaviour of both riders, track judges and other officials.
What about the bikes themselves? Not surprisingly this is not a sport that can be enjoyed by simply turning up with your push-bike because both man and machine would quickly suffer from the high-impact nature of the sport. What you need is a small but solid frame with either 20- or 24-inch wheels.
There is only one gear, too, because it is manoeuvrability as much as speed that is the difference between success and failure. For the testing moto-cross courses that the best competitors tackle, the frame must be very solid in order to absorb impact but light enough for both speed and high-end handling skills.
Deep treaded tyres for grip are another essential over the jumps, flat-tops and other assorted obstacles.
This “race” variety of bike is in contrast to the “freestyle” versions for stunt work that sport smooth rubbers and a rotor system that prevents the brake cables wrapping around the stem when the front wheel is turned in a full 360-degree circle when performing some of the most dramatic manoeuvres.
There is also a third, smaller category – “dirt jump”, used for, as the name suggests, obstacles fashioned from natural materials.
Only One Gear
Of course, you won’t be getting very far on a bike with only one gear, so don’t invest in a BMX thinking that it will double as a machine for commuting or supermarket runs. The small frame won’t be conducive to Sunday morning pedalling, either.
BMX attracts a range of age groups both at a recreational and race level. In terms of the latter, events bring together riders of the same age or ability in order to ensure that the competition is as even and, therefore, as exciting as possible.
Beijing will be the start of a new and exciting chapter in the history of top-class BMX. British organisers, for example, are already looking beyond this summer towards the next games in London.
For those who aspire to winning a gold medal in 2012, £200,000 has been invested in the construction of a floodlit training site in Cheshire aimed at giving British riders a head start.
But whoever occupies the winner’s rostrum, at the very least these initiatives should encourage future generations of BMX riders and ensure the development and popularity of this adrenalin-packed sport.