Before there was mountain biking, cross-country or downhill, freeride or fourcross, there was BMX. Small, fully rigid and fixed gear bikes that were fun to ride (short distances anyway), and lent themselves well to sculpted dirt tracks and head-to-head racing.
And now, since the 2008 Games in Beijing, it's a sport with Olympic status.
The lure of potential medals has brought a lot of new participants into the sport, but so has the fact that many of the top mountain bikers in the world have BMX in their backgrounds.
Sea to Sky, which is one of the most active biking regions in the world, has also embraced the sport. The Squamish BMX Racing Club is only a few years old, but has already expanded and improved its track adjacent to the Brennan Park Sports Centre, and is getting close to 90 riders out for its weekly points night events.
Nick Goertzen, a pro BMX rider with 10 years of experience, is looking to take things even further as he launches the Goertzen Racing Academy - a province-wide program to develop high performance BMX riders, as well as to provide cross-training to mountain bikers. He is already working with a group of 15 riders, including some locals, which are taking part in national series races across the province over the summer.
"At nationals in Canada there are three levels of teams that you can compete on," Goertzen said. "There's a trophy team, a bike shop team and a factory team. I want to have all three, and hopefully graduate a few kids to the next step - I'd like someone in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, or the Junior Olympics in 2014 depending on ages and who I can pick up."
While his goals are ambitious, Goertzen has over 10 years of experience racing professionally as a factory-sponsored rider - "one of the first from Canada to ride on a Canadian team," he said. He lived in the U.S. to be closer to training and the competition circuit, and was ranked the number one Canadian twice in the pro category of the American Bicycle Association, which is the largest pro association in the world. He was also ranked first three times in his age category, was the junior national champion and ranked #2 in North America in the UCI junior standings. The experience prompted him to launch his academy, while also hosting clinics around the Lower Mainland and in Squamish.
"During those 10 years my family, my sponsors and even the Canadian government probably spent a quarter of a million dollars on me, but in all that time there was zero direction," said Goertzen. "It was up to me to ride my bike. There was no guidance, nobody to follow - what I learned I learned from friends, or by snooping around and eavesdropping on the conversations I heard as I worked my way through the sport. It was fine, but if I had better direction how to spend that money I could have done that much more."
The Olympic excitement died down soon after 2008, but Goertzen says it's starting to ramp up again and expects things to get a lot more exciting in early 2011 when the qualification process for the 2012 Games gets underway.
Goertzen meets up with his team at nationals events for training and competition, but otherwise follows his athletes closely by phone and email. "Every two weeks the kids report back to me, what they've done riding, how they're doing in school. I ask to see their report cards, and I give my own at the nationals so they can see their progress," he said.
"There's not much weight training, but we work on sprint programs where you basically come to a standstill on a piece of flat ground and then sprint your bike like crazy. We do core workouts, I emphasize a proper diet, and if they're older then I'll help them with gym workouts as well. But the biggest thing is on-the-track training."
Goertzen says riding BMX is the cycling equivalent of a perfect golf swing, that you have to blend power and skill in a balanced way to be the first to the finish. That means you have to ride all the time, all day if possible.
"For four summers I rode 12 hours a day on the track, my dad would drop me off in the morning and pick me up at 8 o'clock at night," he said. "I was not naturally gifted on a bike, I think I rode on training wheels until I was almost nine, but practice really makes perfect. You have to be strong to get to that first corner of the track, which is everything in BMX, and you also need to be able to ride the track and be comfortable in the air."
Whistler riders with Team Goertzen include Finn Iles, and the brother and sister team of Kasper Woolley and Maja Wooley. With another team member injured, Kasper is the only team rider in the Expert class.
From Squamish the team includes Zak and Sam Berrisford.
Goertzen is also doing clinics with the Squamish Club every two weeks through the summer.
"Right now I teach clinics as a living, but with this team I'm hopeful that it was all come together as a BMX school at one point," he said.
Goertzen is also keen to work with any mountain bikers that are looking to improve their skills.
"Mountain bikers with a BMX background or do BMX as cross-training get better results, I've worked with both male and female pro mountain bikers over the years and their results have been night and day. I wish more mountain bikers would crossover into BMX for cross-training, I can guarantee they'll see a huge difference in just three or four months.
For more information on the academy visit www.goertzenracingacademy.com.
Squamish BMX to host provincial championships
The last few years the Squamish BMX Club has seen their numbers skyrocket from about 10 members and one race in 2007 to over 60 members and 15 races in 2009. This year the club is hosting races every week and the occasional weekend, plus regular clinics for their intermediate and expert-level riders.
Vicki Schenk, the president of the club, is amazed at how fast the program has grown, and expects to be among the five biggest clubs in the province by the end of this season.
"It's a lot of word of mouth from our riders, and we've been putting on a lot of 'learn to BMX' clinics too that I think have been helpful," she said. "And the kids are really getting into it. Last year I think we hand seven or eight five or under novices and this year we had 15 at our last race. And that's pulling in the parents, too - last season I think there were two events where I got to race other moms and females, and this year we have our own women's class, and there are always two classes of the dads."
Goertzen has also held weekend camps in the past in Squamish with between 40 and 50 kids taking part, which prompted the club to hire him to create a development program for young intermediate and expert riders apart from his academy program. Those athletes are also building up to the grand nationals in October.
The Squamish BMX track also recently got an overhaul. While it's not one of the longer tracks in the province the club hired Billy Allen, who is regarded as one of the top course designers in the world, to redo their course at the end of last season. It took 100 truckloads of dirt, but the final result is far more popular among riders and gave the club the sanctioning they need to host the provincial championships in September.
The Squamish BMX club is unique in that its riders don't pay any dues to join, they just have to get a membership in the American Bicycling Association for insurance and to be able to take part in sanctioned events.
The club got a community grant of $8,000 last year which went into the track, and raises money through community fundraisers and their Monday night race series. That money pays for awards, plates and other upgrades to the track. The club is now looking to upgrade its start lights, and to build a bleacher for spectators - a must if the club wants to realize its goal of hosting a nationals event in 2011.
"Hopefully we can get that because it will bring 400 or 500 riders from the Western U.S., from Alberta, from all over the province which would just be great for the club," said Schenk.
The investment in time and energy into the club is also paying off for the riders, she added.
"The more riders we get the better the kids get because they have more people to race against," she said. "That makes us better and more competitive when we go to a nationals event or one of the bigger events. The people who manage the ABA said they can't believe how competitive we are already, bringing 30 kids to these races. Now we're starting to have athletes in the top three at these events."
The Squamish club has a number of Whistler riders taking part in events, like mountain bikers Nick and Xander Geddes, Finn Iles and Finn Finestone.
Schenk says she would like to see clubs form in Whistler and Pemberton as well to create a regional series and build more interest in the sport.
"We'd be really excited to have more tracks in the area - more riders and more events," she said.