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BMX still kicking in SK

Bikes have come a long way since the days when girls begged for pastel banana seats and wide handlebars and boys pleaded for 10-speeds marked with racing stripes.

The coveted bike of today is plain by comparison. There are no fancy gears or embellishments. It’s light and compact, made of titanium.

It also costs $2,000.

Biking for sport is not a new concept. Triathlons, grueling races such as the recent Tour de France and even rugged mountain trails have cemented bicycle sports in popular culture and legitimized the bicycle as a serious fitness tool for both athletes and those pursuing a regular exercise routine.

But a different kind of biking competition is nudging into the spotlight.

There are no mountains, no countries separating the start from the finish. Those seeking a slow and steady test of endurance need not apply.

Riders must be agile. Riders must be fast. And then there’s the track, a circle of steep inclines and wide jumps. Riders start out of the gates much like horses on opening day at the races. The crowd cheers.

BMX is here.

Steve Owen and his son Logan, of Bremerton, live and breathe the sport of Bicycle Motorcross, or BMX, a sport that’s been gaining in popularity since its beginnings in Southern California in the mid-1970s.

On Wednesday, 9-year-old Logan was practicing at the River Valley BMX track in Sumner. According to his father, Logan needs to stay sharp.

After all, he is currently the best BMX racer in the United States.

His bike, a $2,000 titanium Redline, belies the fact he is a spokesperson for the company — that’s right, endorsements.

Redlines, Steve Owen said, are “race-ready,” with models available for as low as $300.

Owen is quick to point out the benefits of the sport for all families and all riders, regardless of age or ability level.

“No one sits on the bench,” Owen said, explaining that everyone gets to participate at their own level. “I’ve seen kids (race) as young as two and a half years old.”

Logan said he’s witnessed a 70-year-old man on a BMX track.

Logan started racing at four-years-old. Although both father and son acknowledge that the sport is dangerous, Logan said his injuries have not been bad — a cut knee and a chipped elbow.

“The majority of the injuries are skinned elbows and knees,” said Owen.

Protection is required in all BMX races, including helmets, long sleeves and pants.

Although BMX originated in the United States it quickly became a worldwide sport, popular in Australia, South America, Mexico, Canada and across Europe.

However, there is a piece of BMX history right here at home.

According to track operator Mike Raich, the indoor track in Port Orchard is believed to be the oldest continually operating winter indoor BMX facility in the world.

Raich is the president of Peninsula Indoor BMX, a nonprofit that has made indoor BMX racing available to the region since 1980. Raich is also the track manager of the River Valley track.

“The Peninsula indoor track runs from October through March,” Raich said. “It’s a horse arena.”

Preparing for his 25th season of indoor racing at the facility, located at 5867 Dogwood Road, he explained the art of the BMX race.

“Bicycle motocross is a very short, sprint-type race over obstacles,” Raich said.

According to Raich, races last only between 30 and 45 seconds. Riders race their opponents three times to determine who wins the overall race.

American BMX is divided into two groups: the National Bicycle League (NBL) and the American Bicycle Association (ABA). NBL tracks are located predominantly in the eastern half of the country, ABA on the western, although Raich said it is not the rule.

Owen explained that riders usually race at three skill levels: novice, intermediate and expert. A rider must win six races to move to intermediate, 25 to move from intermediate to expert.

Owen said riders are usually grouped by age within their skill level.

Logan is preparing for the ABA “Grands” in November in Tulsa, Okla. He won the NBL Grands in Louisville, Kentucky earlier this year. Owen is looking ahead to 2008 when BMX racing will be included in the Olympics.

“It’s the kids involved in the sport now that will go on in the future,” Owen said.

Port Orchard racer Daniel Mazuti recently won the Washington State Champion Race, held in Walla Walla.

Raich also operated an outdoor facility during the summer months located in South Kitsap Community Park, but “bad communication” with the commissioners along with low rider turnout caused Raich to close the track.

“The first 10 years at the outdoor were really, really good,” Raich said. “But for the last three years, ridership was dropping off. We were (also) having trouble with communication with the commissioners. They’ve had a totally different outlook for what they want from the park.”

According to Raich, riders pay entry fees to race. The entry fees are largely consumed with trophy bills, insurance and fees that are paid to the ABA. The money was not coming in on the outdoor track.

Larry Walker, chair of the South Kitsap Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners, said he is unaware of exactly why Raich closed the track.

“It was a lot of bad communication,” Walker said. “I’m not sure what their motivations were on moving out. They were saying we were trying to run them out which was wrong.”

For more information on local BMX racing, including race schedules and information, call Mike Raich at (206) 246-2661, e-mail to mike@gobmx.com or visit www.Gobmx.com.

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