To burn or not to burn: BMX Advocacy
This coming Saturday, December 11, marks the coming of "The Great DC Shoe Burn." To protest the fact that BMX bikes would not be allowed into a new park in the Phoenix, Ariz. area funded by the Rob Dyrdek Foundation, Jason Ryan, of The Bike, Board and Blade Coalition, is organizing a DC shoe and apparel burn near the location of the planned skatepark. According to Ryan, the event is being attended by Heidi Lemmon of the Skatepark Association of the USA (SPAUSA), in addition to BMXers and skateboarders that advocate the inclusion of BMX bikes in the planned park. The event is sponsored by Adio Shoes, who are donating 200 pairs of shoes to give out in exchange for people that burn their DC Shoes, along with Kore Bicycles, Ice Cold Zine and Psychicflyingmonkey Productions.
Mike Hines is a Tucson, Ariz. area BMXer that writes and edits the Clicked BMX Web site. Last month, when news broke about the DC shoe burn, Mike got in touch with me to discuss the prospects of writing a piece on BMX advocacy. According to Mike, burning shoes or protesting in any form is not the simple solution to a complex problem, nor is it productive to the future likelihood of getting BMX bikes into skateparks. So I asked Mike to contribute his perspective on the subject, and that follows. -- Tunney
About two years ago, a new skatepark was being built in my city, minutes from my house. Almost all of my friends were excited to hear about a new place to ride, an actual concrete park. We all just assumed bikes would be let in. Everyone knows BMX uses skateparks, right? If they didn't allow us right away, we'd just make a big stink and they'd have to let us in. Yeah right. About 4-5 months prior to opening, I called the local Parks and Rec to find out if BMX was going to be allowed. The woman said "BMX? You mean bikes? No, there's a racetrack in town for that, this is a skatepark." I said, "I realize that ma'am but we do freestyle BMX and there's tons of us that could use this facility."
She really had no clue. This would be the common theme I ran into up until the park was opened. After the park was opened and we received no word on BMX being allowed, we decided to stage a protest in hopes of making our voices heard. We were only asking for two nights a week for BMX only sessions. We went before the city council, met with the city manager, met with the director of Parks and Rec, all to find out that the builder/designer claimed the park wasn't built to withstand the wear and tear caused by BMX. It made me angry, but my anger wasn't going to get me anywhere, and that was something that took time to realize.
Let's look at BMX advocacy, skateparks, and the two sports as a whole. The two biggest reasons for not allowing BMX is: Liability and maintenance.
The liability issue stems from concerns skaters have about collisions with BMX, which is a valid point. Bikes go faster, higher, and take lines few skaters could only dream of doing. Being a BMX rider myself, I don't want to collide with anyone, I could hurt someone, or I could get seriously hurt. Collisions though, are a part of the skatepark reality and can be avoided. Proper etiquette within the park should be taught, if not in a class, then by an older adult figure who is willing to teach the younger guys. More importantly, collisions come from either poor design that creates blind spots for the users, or a park that is overcrowded. Overcrowding to me is the main issue we face when it comes to liability. If the community does not do the proper planning for the park and build one that's far too small for the amount of users, there's a huge problem, and guess who's the first one to get cut from the park? You guessed it, BMX.
Maintenance is the easiest issue for us to overcome in BMX advocacy. Do bikes cause more wear and tear in a skatepark? Yes, of course they do. Think about it, if you suddenly doubled the amount of skaters at one of these parks, would they see more areas getting damaged or in need of repair? Of course they would. Now, I'm not saying that pegs don't cause damage, because they do, and they do cause more than a skateboard, it's just common sense. Is it enough to keep children safe, rather than having them riding near busy streets? Nope. The whole wear and tear issue is easily avoided when the park is built properly, even more so when bikes are in mind as intended users. Not to mention we can now run park friendly pegs, plastic bar ends, plastic pedals, literally making us lighter and less of a threat than the aluminum trucks on a skateboard.
The big problem in BMX advocacy today is, BMX has no idea how to do it. We show up late when the park has already been built, we barge parks making us look like punks and bullies, we protest, we burn things, and cry like babies when we don't get our way. It doesn't happen every time. A small community near me just built a park that is BMX friendly because the BMX riders went to the meetings, helped with the design, and raised awareness the right way. I say all this because I've been the guy to show up once the park was opened and whine about not letting us in, I've been the guy that protested the parks, I've been the guy that yelled "my tax dollars" or "this is a civil right issue." It's taken serious time and help from skateboard advocates for me to understand what really needs to be done to get safe and legal places, and what shouldn't be done.
First off, hating skaters for building a reputation with communities and getting parks built all over is not the problem. Neither is protesting once a park has been opened. If anything we should be stoked for them; they have built the road that we must travel now. They should be our examples, not our enemies. Protesting has helped get bikes in parks (I will admit that), but it was mainly from the awareness it created within the community. Plus, it's a lot easier to get all the riders out to yell and make signs then it is to get them to write an e-mail to their parks department. Am I wrong?
Yelling out absurd ideals like, "It's my tax dollars" or "civil rights" is the absolute worst way to go about it. My tax dollars paid for the street in front of your house, pays for your trash to be picked up, that soccer field down the street, but you don't see me walking around holding up a sign that says "That's my asphalt," or "I should be allowed to do donuts in the soccer field because my money paid for it." That's just not a proper argument, because if we do want more parks to be built, we all better hope golfers and old people don't start complaining about the money that's spent on them.
As far as a "right" to use the park goes, you do have every right to use a skatepark. All you have to do is go get a skateboard, then you can use it all you want. You just don't have an argument there either. If you think about it, almost everywhere you ride your BMX bike is illegal. I think it's one of the few products put out and designed for kids where you're not allowed to do it anywhere, unless you have a park that allows it. Your jumps are private/city land, the street spots are off limits, you have to have lights on your bike, you can't ride on the sidewalk, blah blah blah. Complaining that the skatepark is a civil right shouldn't be the argument. The argument should be with BMX manufacturers, who haven't stepped up to the plate to help us get places to ride safely.
Skateboard companies have, they see it as a future investment in their company.
In conclusion, what does BMX need to do to get safe legal parks to ride? BMX needs to start advocating for BMX, not for skateparks or against skateboards. We're in a time right now where we can capitalize off the hard work done by skateboard advocates and get our own parks built. Wouldn't you rather ride a park that was designed and built by a BMX rider? It's a lot easier to bridge a gap between two parties when there's something on both sides of the bridge. I'm not one for segregation and I hate to sound somewhat greedy, but there's nothing wrong for wanting a park that only allows BMX. I have a good feeling that if BMX riders started getting good parks built that skaters would want in, and when that time comes we can make a deal with them. But, as it stands right now we have brought little to nothing to the table.
No wonder they don't want to share. We're just another guy in their way.