The little girl called Cheeser in the TEAM GUMBY jersey is talking to a rubber Gumby lashed to the handlebars of her runty, knobby-tired dirt bike. She's standing about halfway on and halfway off the ramp leading to the starting gate at Myriad Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
"Get going!" Cheeser tells Gumby.
"Get rad!" she replies for Gumby.
In bicycle motocross argot, rad means awesome. Cheeser, who's in kindergarten, is one of the 2,500 entrants, ages 3 to 46, who came to the American Bicycle Association's Grandnationals over the Thanksgiving weekend to demonstrate their radical toughness. She says she can ride her BMX real rad.
"How rad?" a guy asks.
"Rad," growls her father.
If your dad wore an I'D RATHER BE KILLING COMMUNISTS T-shirt festooned with buttons expressing allegiance to Harley-Davidson and Rambo, you'd better be rad, even in kindergarten. The parents at the Grandnationals were at least as rabidly rad as their kids.
BMXers look like miniature Road Warriors in their goggles, helmets and protective padding. They snake around a loopy, bewildering 1,250-foot track, dipping and bouncing over "camelbacks" (as in double jumps), through "whoop-de-doos" (a series of teeth-rattling corrugations) and up on the "berm" (the banking of 180-degree turns). They're airborne maybe half the time, hurtling off into space like the kids in E.T. There's a new moto, as the heats are called, every 35 seconds...and a crash about every 47 seconds. The weepy victims are trundled to a first aid station and popped back into shape in time for their next moto.
One remarkably resilient BMXer in Myriad was Flyin' Bubba Ryan McQuillan of Wichita. Flyin' Bubba Ryan got into the sport at age four and nearly retired this summer at five. He wiped out at a state meet and suffered a "face plant," which is what BMXers call the act of burying their noses in the dirt. Flyin' Bubba Ryan wound up in the hospital with a broken right arm. "I'm quittin'," he told his father.
But when the McQuillans drove to Oklahoma City the next weekend to watch Flyin' Bubba Ryan's nine-year-old brother, Racin' Jason, Flyin' Bubba had a change of heart. "He cried his eyes out," says his father, James. "So we let him practice with his cast on, but not race." Flyin' Bubba Ryan competed in two events at the Grandnationals, placing seventh in the five-and-under novice class but not qualifying for the finals of the six-and-under open. In all, riders competed in 71 divisions based on age and skill.