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July 24, 2014

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Living Las Vegas:

The dirt on BMX: Sport is soaring in popularity

For racers, mastering the winding Boulder City motocross track is competitive thrill, or it’s just plain fun

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Leila Navidi

Tucker Norman, 8, performs a jump during an open practice session Wednesday at the Boulder City BMX track.

Boulder City BMX Track (5-12-2010)

Cooper Brow, 9, waits to ride during an open practice session Wednesday at the Boulder City BMX track. Launch slideshow »

2008 Olympics BMX highlights

About the track

The Boulder City racetrack is available to anyone who buys a $45 annual license from the American Bicycle Association and is properly protected with a helmet, long-sleeved shirt, pants and handle bar pads. Two-hour practice sessions Wednesday night cost $5; the Friday night competition entry fees range from $10 to $20. No matter their age, they face the same course, which includes a washboard-bumpy rhythm section, step-up ramps and a plenty of jumps, with the more experienced racers traveling at speeds of 35 to 40 mph.

What is BMX?

BMX, or bicycle motocross, is the extreme sport of riding dirt bikes on off-road courses. The tracks are typically full of obstacles such as inclines, jumps and ramps. The activity has spiked in popularity the past two years since debuting as an Olympic sport at the 2008 Beijing Games. The American Bicycle Association is the sport’s governing body, regulating competition based on age and ability, and helping advance the sport.

Josh Study tightly grabs his dirt bike’s handle bars, waiting for the starting gate to lift.

As the seconds count down, Study visualizes his route on the winding, clay-and-asphalt course. If he lands his jumps cleanly and leans just right into the curves, he ought to finish the challenging ramp-filled outdoor track in less than 30 seconds.

Now comes the adrenaline rush.

With a light breeze at his back, the 19-year-old Study is straddling his 20-pound Intense Podium bike — the Cadillac of dirt bikes — and is ready to go.

The gate lifts. Study and seven other competitors lean forward and pump hard on their pedals, and another race is under way at the BMX track at Veterans’ Memorial Park in Boulder City.

Study, wearing a fluorescent yellow long-sleeved racing shirt and jeans, picks up speed while turning the first corner. He navigates around a few turns and onto a launch-ramp, and now he’s flying.

This is the payoff, he says: the freedom of soaring.

Study isn’t alone in his passion for BMX racing.

The Boulder City track is packed on Wednesday and Friday nights with racers of all ages and abilities, maybe imagining themselves as future Olympians after the sport debuted at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.

It’s a democratic sport — no waiting for the coach to insert you into the lineup, no being cut from the team and no obligations to attend frequent practices.

There is minimal structure during the Wednesday night practice runs, with 60 to 80 racers from all divisions taking turns at the starting gate for unlimited runs during two-hour workouts. Some focus on a certain part of the course — mastering a section with a tough turn, for example — while others enjoy the freedom of riding at their own pace.

“This is a sport where you don’t sit on the bench,” said Pam Wamsley, who along with husband John Wamsley are volunteer operators of the facility.

There is a 3-year-old being introduced to the sport, using a starter bike, a racer well into his 50s and teenagers who prefer the independence of racing to more traditional activities offered at their high schools.

The racetrack is available to anyone who buys a $45 annual license from the American Bicycle Association and is properly protected with a helmet, long-sleeved shirt, pants and handle bar pads. Wednesday night’s two-hour practice sessions cost $5; the Friday night competition entry fees are from $10 to $20.

The racetrack exudes a laid-back party atmosphere, with friendly banter, blaring rock music and families eating picnic dinners in the bleachers.

“This is an awesome sport that is just starting to get attention because of the Olympics,” track director John Wamsley said. “But children have always had fun out here. It’s as easy as buying a $60 bike at Kmart and coming out to have a good time.”

In the case of Study, racing is a family affair. His dad, Jeff Study, was an accomplished racer during his childhood and now competes for fun in a recreational adult division.

Father and son make the drive to Boulder City from southeastern Las Vegas twice weekly.

“This is a sport you can do with the whole family. It’s a great family event,” Jeff Study, 42, said.

The Wamsleys are also a BMX family. (BMX stands for bicycle motocross.)

John and Pam Wamsley became interested in the sport while taking their son, 12-year-old Myles, to weekly races. They responded to the need for volunteers to help operate and maintain the track.

It’s a time-consuming responsibility — they have to water the dirt, chalk the boundaries and handle administrative duties. But watching Myles and other young racers enjoy themselves makes the effort worthwhile.

“My dad teaches me to go fast and do jumps,” Myles said.

The bicycle association, which governs BMX nationwide, has competition divisions based on age — for racers as young as 5 to those 56 and older — bike type and skill level.

No matter their ages, they face the same course, which includes a washboard-bumpy rhythm section, step-up ramps and plenty of jumps, with the more experienced racers traveling at speeds of 35 to 40 mph.

On this night, it is Josh Study who appears to be the fastest racer — and maybe the most peaceful, too, as he flies through the air.

“This sport is what you make it,” Study said. “If you want to win races and go fast, you have to push yourself. You have to love your bike. But there are several who come out here and race with their friends for fun. That is OK, too.”

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