The kids in Oklahoma City belonged to the ABA, which sanctions events and provides membership cards, a newsletter and an impressive amount of insurance for an annual fee of $25. About 150,000 BMXers are members of either the ABA or its chief rival, the National Bicycle League. BMX enthusiasts figure there are five million bikers grinding through the sod and smashing into trees. In fact, about 40% of all bikes sold in this country are BMX. And then come the "Aw, gee, Dad, pleeeze" accessories.
Robbie Ward got hooked a year and a half ago. He has already run through seven bikes that cost his old man more than $4,000. Walt Ward, who manages a car rental agency in Dallas, also has shelled out for two helmets ($230), three sets of leathers ($180), two jerseys ($80), three pairs of racing shoes ($90), two sets of goggles ($50), gloves ($8), elbow pads ($20), two sets of lightweight pedals ($220), cranks ($150), hubs ($100) and other replacement and spare parts ($500). "You've got to remember," he says, "I'm a dad who went overboard."
Walt's investment in his son has helped Robbie become the nation's 208th-ranked 13-year-old, according to the latest American BMXer, a monthly tabloid that lists every ABA dues-payer who slammed his feet onto a set of bear-trap pedals. Robbie has amassed 60 trophies and 30 medallions. Only the pros pedal for cash in BMX; everyone else rides for glory. And trophies. On a platform abutting the track at Myriad, hundreds of glittering trophies, many taller than the contestants, stood like the graven images on Easter Island.
Trophies are what lured kids to BMX from the start. By most accounts it all began in 1970 with Scott Breithaupt, a Southern California motorcycle racer who had a cellarful of trophies. After watching Breithaupt practicing near his home, kids around Long Beach began imitating his motocross technique on their modified Schwinn Stingrays. One day Breithaupt did what any racer would do: He organized the kids into history's first bicycle motocross. He charged the contestants 50 cents apiece and gave one of his trophies to the winner. Now, practically every town, village and backwater in America has its own sandlot track and neighborhood hotshot.
The raddest and baddest BMXer on nearly everyone's scale is 21-year-old pro Ronnie Anderson. "To me, rad is a guy jumping off a 12-story building into a bucket of water," he offers.
Anderson, who was last year's national champ, has a spikey glint in his eyes, an imperious thrust to his jaw and a patch on his jacket that reads TUF-E-NUF. Believe it. He won 13 of the 29 events he raced on the 1986 ABA pro tour and just missed winning this year's title by an upset in the finals at the Grandnationals. Still, some of the pros with only half his talent and wins have made four times the $30,000 he says he earned this year in prizes and endorsements.
Anderson may be good, but he's also several degrees beyond rad. His nickname is Crazy Ronnie, though, he says, "I don't like to be called Crazy, because I'm literally not." He is, however, one mean BMXer. He psychs out competitors with false starts, buzzes opponents' back tires, elbows them off turns and checks them into the walls. A typical example: Anderson was leading in the finals of Friday's pro open until Eddy King swooped inside on the final berm. Anderson cut down hard and rammed King's shoulder, maintaining his own balance while sending King careening out of contention. "I'll do anything and everything to destroy an opponent," Anderson says. "None of the other pros knows how to win."
Crowds boo him, and other pros think he's bad for the sport's clean-cut, family image. "As a rider Ronnie's fantastic," says Harry Leary, a balding, 27-year-old pro who is already in the BMX Hall of Fame. "As a person, he's a jerk."
Anderson doesn't totally disagree. "I've raced bikes for 10 years," he says, "and I drank and took drugs for 10 years. I've done it all: pills, acid, cocaine, crack.... About the only thing I haven't done is stick a needle in my arm." But when his girlfriend Tammy moved out of their Pittsburgh apartment with their infant son, Tyler, Anderson decided to straighten up. He claims he has been clean for a month. He wants to marry Tammy. "Now I know drugs are definitely not the thing to do," he says. "I want to be looked up to, by boys and girls."
Even so, parents may not find Crazy Ronnie a suitable role model, and Racey Tracy Sarver, the six-and-under girls' champ, says the last thing she needs is a male hero. "Besides," she reasons, "I'm faster than any gunky boy."