Everything you need to know about BMX bikes

Last Updated on October 13, 2021

Everything you need to know about BMX bikes

New to the bike world?

If you’re new to cycling or just want to get into BMX riding, then you’ve come to the right place. Motocross bikes are also known as BMX, is a staple in the street riding community around the world.

If you haven’t tried BMX riding, then you’re missing out in my opinion. We all know these days that not all bikes are made the same. And BMX, is worth a look at.

From freestyling and dirt jumping, to modern-day racing, BMX biking has come a long way since its debut in the late 1960s. Using revolutionary techniques and specific bike geometry to create BMX bikes, it’s much grown in fame since the early days.

That’s not all.

I am going to show you what is BMX riding, what are BMX bikes, and the best BMX bikes that are worth investing in that are really worth investing in. You’ll know whether BMX riding is the style for you, or if you’re into a different type of cycling.

Let’s get to it!

What is a BMX bike?

BMX stands for ‘Bicycle Motocross’ so its no surprise that these bikes are best known for doing jumps and off-road racing. Since their early 70s, they’ve come a long way from kids who would imitate motocross racing on their bicycles on dirt tracks and racing their friends.

With time, this kid’s hobby became more competitive and there was now a demand for more actual motocross riding and specialized street and freestyle racing BMX. With more subcultures and specialized equipment than ever before, BMX is a world of its own.

BMX is now part of UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) and is also featured in the Olympic Games with professional riders and teams in the many subforms of BMX riding. There is also flatland BMX competition and halfpipe or vert riding styles.

From the type of BMX riding you can do, to what makes these bikes different from others, you’ll know all the differences and knowledge you need to start off on the right foot in BMX riding.

 

Types of BMX riding

When it comes to freestyle bike riding, BMX bikes have been designed to deal with pressure from performing street stunts, dirt jumps, and skate parks. Unlike a regular bike, the frame geometry and materials, wheels, and other components are enhanced for strength and performance.

BMX bikes that are used for racing are slightly different. Unlike freestyling, these bikes are optimized for speed so they may not be as strong, due to using lighter and more stiff frame materials and a streamlined geometry for stability. Check out these BMX bike types:

The freestyle world of BMX has many sub disciplines that are still categorized as “freestyle” but are more specific.

Park/Vert– Park riding is essentially riding in skate parks, or ramps used by BMX bikers. These can be outdoor or indoor.

Flatland– Flatland is a bit different to the other subcategories, as all of the stunts are performed without using external surroundings. Usually referred to as breakdancing, the rider uses the bike itself on a hard flat surface to perform stunts, so they often will have a different bike geometry specifically for this.

Trails/dirt jumping– This is doing stunts on dirt jumps, berms, and ramps. These bike riders often do big jumps in the air and linking up jumps to do stunts or tricks.

Street– Just like the name itself, street riders use urban surroundings like rails, stairs, and roads to perform stunts. It’s popular for city kids who want to try out new tricks in their neighborhood.

BMX racing occurs on purpose-built courses that are made from hard-packed, well-groomed dirt or bitumen and often feature a mixture of undulating terrain and long jumps. Because BMX race bikes are designed with a sole purpose in mind, they are often unsuitable for use in other BMX riding disciplines.

Race– BMX racing will be done of racecourses specifically built for that purpose, made from hard-packed dirt or even bitumen, and will have flat terrain as well more uneven, undulating terrain and long jumps. BMX bikes can be designed specifically for picking up speed rather than freestyling.

Types of BMX bikes

If you’re into freestyling, then a freestyle BMX bike will usually cover everything as most subdisciplines overlap each other. You can also find a BMX flatland-specific bike or a BMX race bike for racing.

pair of black VANS Original shoes beside BMX bike

Racing BMX bikes

Racing BMX bikes are made to pick up speed, hold up on jumps, turns and in general go through an action-packed racecourse very quickly.

They will be built to be lightweight but also allow the BMX riders to have maneuverability and needs to be stable for control as well as speed. The bike frame in this case will have bmx riders seated in an upright and taller position so that they can see and have more control.

When it comes to the tires on a racing bmx bike, the wheels will always be 20inches with thin, low-profile tires that have enough tread to go on a dirt course but won’t slow you down. They will have a longer crank for more pedal power, a small seat, and a strong rear hand brake for quick stops and control when braking.

These bikes are great for racing and as they have some versatility you can also use them for casual riding, but if you’re more into street or freestyle riding, then check out the other bikes below.

Street Freestyle Bmx bike

Freestyle BMX bikes are super versatile in the sense that you can use them for many riding styles like street or park. They are not speed orientated like racing bikes. They are made to focus on stunts and airs instead of speeds or doing jumps on a racing course or freestyle riding.

Since they can be used for street riding, these freestyle bikes have smoother tires so you can get the best traction and speed. The frame in general is heavier for more strength so it can deal with the impact from stunts. These bikes often have front and rear brakes for efficient braking. Especially for park, the bikes will also have a smaller crank and cassette. An interesting feature they will also have pegs on the front and rear wheel hubs so you can do stalls, grinds, and stand them up.

If you like to do park riding, then general freestyle BMX bikes are quite strong and have smooth tires so will work well.

Dirt jump bikes

You can also get dirt jump BMX bikes that are made to handle jumps on a dirt track. Essentially it’s a combination of race bikes with freestyle bikes, where you get the speed with the lighter weight, as well as tires with much more tread to grip the dirt.

They will be able to deal with dirt, take hard landings and go higher with less effort. As a plus, you can also get dirt bikes as electric dirt bikes for even more power.

Flatland BMX bikes

This type of bike riding is completely different from freestyle jumps or racing. Since the rider is on a flat surface and will perform tricks on the ground, the goal is maneuverability. Usually, the bike is moving at a low speed, then will just twist and spin for example walking across the frame and spinning the bike on one wheel.

The flatland bike will have a frame that us more compact and smaller, with the top and bottom tubes closer together to give the rider sufficient clearance to perform tricks.

These bikes will also have a zero offset fork to put more pressure onto the handlebars and front wheel axle for improved balance. The freecoaster hub means the back wheel can spin backward without turning the cranks. This is useful as the rider can roll in any direction whilst still being balanced.

Flatland bikes will have pegs, usually four pegs of a longer length. They will also have a variety of brake types, like front and rear U-brakes or just a rear brake. Sometimes the bikes will come with a cable detangler to prevent the front brake cable from going around the frame, especially during handlebar spins.

The flatland bikes will also have a longer Seatpost than usual, with smooth tires that are very inflated.

These are the types of BMX bikes available, it all depends on the style of riding you enjoy, but if you’re not sure my recommendation would be to go for a Freestyle BMX bike as this will cover most categories of BMX biking.

man riding on bicycle while doing freestyle

BMX bike sizing

Bike sizes have a wide range, depending on your height. It can make a big difference getting the right size for you especially if you’re performing stunts.

You’ll find that most bike brands will make kids style bmx bikes that are smaller anyway. Here is an idea of what size to get for your height:

BMX Bike Sizes

4’4 & above
  • Mini
  • Top tube length of 15″-16.5″
  • Stem Length of 30mm-40mm
  • Bar width of 21″-35.5″
  • Gearing of 41-43/16

 

4’6″-5’1″
  • Junior
  • Top tube length of 17″ -18.5″
  • Stem length of 40mm-45mm
  • Bar width of 22″-25″
  • Gearing of 42-43/16

 

5’2″-5’6
  • Expert
  • 18.5″-20″
  • Stem length of 43mm-48mm
  • Bar width of 25.5″-27″
  • Gearing of 42-43 / 16

 

5’7″ – 6’0″+
  • Pro
  • Top tube length of 20.75″-21.25″
  • Stem length of 50mm-55mm
  • Bar width of 28″
  • Gearing of 44 / 16& over

 

Sizing up for your first modern BMX bike can be daunting, but it’s all a question of trying out what riding style works for you. Not every BMX bike is the same, these sizes are suggestions based on the height of the rider, but at the need of the day, everyone is different.

Bike Frame Fork

A BMX fork is the part of the bike that connects to the handlebars, stem, and the rest of the front of the frame. The fork will impact how responsive the bike is, as well as how it performs. They may not always be made from the same material as the rest of the frame, depending on the characteristics you want.

Aside from selecting the material, you also need to decide if it has brake mounts. Not all BMX bikes need front brakes unless you’re doing flatland or street that may need double brakes.

BMX bike components

man riding on bicycle

Here we’re going to run through piece by piece every section of a BMX bike so you know what to look for when buying your own.

BMX Frames

The bike frame on any bike is one of the most important, but on a BMX it can be what differentiates it from a regular bike. BMX has now got various subcategories, so the frame design will also vary for each of them.

For BMX racing, the bikes are designed for speed. The bike frame in this case will have a geometry that is optimized for fast acceleration and stability. The frame will usually be very lightweight and stiff, made from aluminum or more expensive ones will be carbon fiber. . Race frames often have v-brakes and hold smaller rear axles.

For Freestyle riders or Dirt jumping, the bikes will often be used in park, street and dirt jumping so the frame needs to be strong and heavier. Most frames in this case are made from steel with large rear wheel axles. The frames can often have removable brake mounts or even brakeless versions with no mounts.

For flatland riding, the frames are usually made from lighter steel, with short top tube lengths, and have a tight geometry with small rear axles. These frames are good for more clearance and weight distribution, so they’re not ideal for freestyle or racing.

Bike Frame Materials

The frame material can differ depending on the type of BMX bike

Chromoly

Considered the best material, many entry level race BMX bikes and freestyle have a steel composition such as Chromoly 4130 (CrMo) which is an alloyed steel with superior strength properties when compared with Hi-tensile steel. Chromo is ‘butted’ so it can be thinner and lighter in the middle with reinforced ends and joins for strength. Best used for high-impact riding, due to its durability. Some bikes combine Chromoly and steel to make them more affordable.

Steel

Most commonly used in street and freestyle bikes, steel is often used due to its resistance to fatigue from all the hits, and it’s easy to fix if it gets damaged. It also provides a bit more compliance to the ride for more comfort and less pressure. It is a bit heavier than other materials but unless you’re racing this shouldn’t matter much. Better BMX bikes will use high tensile steel which is lighter.

Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is the best as it is very strong but lightweight, and has vibration dampening properties. The more expensive BMX race bikes will use carbon fiber.

Aluminum

Many kinds of BMX bikes use aluminum to keep things affordable. They are considered the most useful for racing, since it is lightweight. The drawback is they have a low-stress rating so they cant take many hits. If your goal is to pick up some speed, this is a good choice.

Other Bike components

black and white mountain bike

Seat Angle (SA)

This is the tube that the seat post goes into. Usually the angle will be 71*. The SA is what positions the bottom bracket in relation to the rest of the frame, as well as your seat. A steep SA will have the seat more forward for more room when standing on the pedals.

Head Angle (HA)

This is the angle at which the head tube is positioned for steering. Freestyle frames will usually have an angle of 75*. To make it more responsive when steering, go for a steeper angle of 75.5*, especially if you are a technical rider and do lots of tricks needing front wheel orientation. An angle of 74.5 will offer more stability preferred by dirt jumpers and park that need stability for air and landings.

Chainstay(CS)

CS positions the back wheel relative to the rest of the frame. With a longer wheelbase you’ll get more stability, but short CS will provide a more responsive frame that is less stable.

Top Tube (TT)

The top tube length is what decides the overall length of the frame. When sizing, this is one of the main dimensions to select.

Seat tube(ST)

This will determine the stand-over height. Some riders prefer a short ST for more freedom of movement above the top tube, such as with flatland bikes. Wondering what are the best BMX saddles?

Bottom Bracket (BB)

The bottom bracket can also affect the frame a lot. A lower BB will have more stability, with a higher BB will be more responsive. The bottom bracket will connect the crankset to the bike, so it can rotate freely. It contains a spindle that the crankset attaches to and bearings that allow the spindle and cranks to rotate. The pedals and sprocket attach to the crank shaft.

Sprocket and crankset

The crankset is a set of tubes that connect pedals to the sprocket. You can get them in different lengths and materials. The sprocket is also called the chainring, as it holds the chain where the pedals and crankset are. Sprockets can have 36 teeth or less such as 23, depending on the gearing.

Pedals

The platforms attached to the crankset, and used to power the drivetrain using your feet.

Rear Hub

this is the contact point for the chain along with the rear cassette. This is what turns the rear wheel. When you get freecoaster hubs you can travel backward without needing to pedal backward.

Chain

The metal links you see on the bike that runs along with the sprocket and rear cassette are there to power the drivetrain, in turn, the back tire. You can get different chain types and gearing.

Wheels

The wheels hold the tires. You can get different weight, spokes and rim size. In general 20 inches is the right size for BMX, but shorter riders will prefer to use 16 or 18-inch sizes. You can get larger 22inch or 24 inc for trail BMX bikes for dirt jumping. For street riders, check out the best street tires.

For racing, you also use aero bike wheels 20inch size unless you use a cruiser bike that is 24inch like mountain bikes. Cruiser bikes offer better stability and are great if you’re taller or older. The wheels will be lighter in racing than freestyle to enable you to pick up some speed.

Rims

There are two types of BMX rims- single wall or double wall. If you’re looking for strength, go for double wall. Aluminum is usually what’s used for rims.

Spokes and hubs

Spokes reinforce the wheels and stabilize the bike. Most bikes use 36 spokes that are thick but light. Freestyle or jump bikes use 48 spokes. Hubs connect the center of the wheels to the fork and rear of the frame.

Tires

Flatland BMX bikes use smooth tread tires, inflated to the max PSI. Dirt jumping tires have a lot of tread but BMX racers who have race bikes will use thin tires with moderate tread so they can have grip and speed.

Most BMX bikes for street or freestyle tend to have minimal tread, and they have thicker tires for shock absorption when landing on dirt trails.

Brake setups

Operated with hand levers. U brakes provide control and leeway but don’t have as much stopping power as linear brakes. BMX bikes tend to have one rear brake, but some have front brakes as well eg flatland.

Seat

Not the most comfortable, BMX seats are made to save weight so have a streamlined shape often.

BMX Bike Gearing

Unlike road or mountain bikes, BMX bikes will usually have one gear, but with different configuration depending on the ride type.

A taller hear will get you a larger ratio between the teeth count of the rear cog and the sprocket. It’s harder to pedal, fewer cranks are needed to get speed. Usually, racers prefer this.

Short gearing is the opposite and is easier to pedal needing more cranks to get some speed. Often flatland prefers this. There is also more ground clearance which can help when doing street.

A rule of thumb- fewer teeth in sprocket means shorter gear ratio.

Popular BMX brands

So it’s time to make your first purchase. What are the best BMX bike brands out there? Here are my top 5:

  • Mongoose-Find them in department stores for entry level BMX bikes, and online for higher end bikes.
  • Diamondback– Sells quality and affordable BMX bikes
  • WeThePeople-make high level BMX bikes
  • Haro– Specialists for freestyle BMX bikes
  • Kink– Offer replacement/upgrade parts, and BMX bikes

How much will a BMX bike cost? On average $500 is a good price for a good BMX. You can find cheaper alternatives around $300 or more expensive for higher end bikes.

 

Final Thoughts

When buying your first BMX bike, you want to know as much as you can to select what’s right for you. BMX focuses on either freestyle or racing, so you can find what you’re into and get a bike that is appropriate. BMX bikes have earned their spot in the biking community, and it’s easy to see why.

BMX bikes use a design that makes it easy to race or freestyle from the bike’s geometry all the way down to the brakes. Street BMX bikes are made to withstand falls and are stronger, whilst racing bikes are light and can pick up speed easily.

Apart from flatland riders, you can use a freestyle bike to cover everything but racing. Whether you’re going for inexpensive BMX bikes or modern BMX bikes, and once you’ve decided if you want freestyle or race riding you need to check the size. They differ from a mountain bike and you can get best kids BMX bikes for small riders.

What are your thoughts on BMX bikes?

 

 

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