Riders roll through free BMX event

During the last race on a hot summer day, rider Austin Eng, 16, catches some fresh air up high off a jump just before the second turn on the Walla Walla BMX track Saturday afternoon. Eng was one of a small group of riders participating in a day of free races on the track.

During the last race on a hot summer day, rider Austin Eng, 16, catches some fresh air up high off a jump just before the second turn on the Walla Walla BMX track Saturday afternoon. Eng was one of a small group of riders participating in a day of free races on the track. Photo by Matthew Zimmerman Banderas.

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— Four berms and a dozen moguls provided mounds of fun for 13 BMX riders on Saturday, including two first-timers who got to ride for free.

“He’s been wanting to do it for quite a while,” Donna Abel said, only a few minutes before her grandson’s first race at the Walla Walla Valley BMX Track.

Gideon Abel, 10, had been practicing on the track for almost six months with a family friend.

“Whenever I come back from it, I always tell my grandma that I really want to start BMXing,” Gideon said.

At 2 p.m. Saturday in the sweltering heat, Gideon took part in his first official USA BMX race for free as part of a national USA BMX program for first-time riders.

“We have had two free days and we have gotten quite a few new kids down there, and of course we would like to have a lot more because it is a lot of fun,” BMX track manager Rod Forss said.

The normal cost to ride in a moto, which is a set of three BMX races, is $8.

A $45 yearly membership fee is also required, but the club offers trial memberships.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot of exercise,” Gideon said.

“It takes some of the energy out of him,” his grandmother added.

Saturday’s riders ranged from 4 to 17, and there was even a 2-year-old who rode a strider bike up and down a few moguls.

The official starting age is 4, with no cap on how old you can be.

“We do have the oldest kid right now who is 19, and there are a couple dads too. They race the cruiser class,” Forss said.

Parents be warned; crashes do occur.

“That’s part of any sport. You are going to have injuries,” Forss said, as one boy fell down a mogul.

The announcer immediately asked if he was OK.

The boy nodded his head as he stood, got back on his bike and finished the race.

“Most of the time they get right back up,” Forss added.

Parents should also be prepared, in case their kids decide on riding in more than just the one free race day.

A bike helmet, a long-sleeve shirt and pants are required, as well as a bike with 20-inch tires. Though the size of the bike is sometimes overlooked for the first day.

Should parents decide to furnish all the standard gear, an optional full-face helmet, which is preferred over the standard half helmet, goes for about $60.

An official set of riding jersey and pants can be found online as low as $15 and $50, respectively.

Then there’s the bike to consider.

Forss said a good used lightweight BMX bike costs around $200, a new one around $400.

Or a parent can supply a department store model, again with 20-inch wheels, for about $100.

The kickstand, chain guard and reflectors will have to been removed.

The only other element parents and their children need to be prepared for is the track.

The moguls and berms are steep in parts, especially the beginning ramp.

“Some of the kids get a little scared, but we got some old-time riders out there. And what I really like about this sport is they take kids under their wing, show them the ropes and help them get rid of their fears,” Forss said.

Though the races are held during the hottest part of the day, they take less than an hour for all motos to finish.

Except for official BMX events, the park is open for anyone to try out.

Occasionally. the Walla Walla Valley BMX club holds clinics and gate practices, which is where kids get to try the opening ramp without the pressure of being in a race.

Today, the Walla Walla BMX club will hold a second day of races starting at 2 p.m.

Sign-up is from 1-2 p.m, and first-time racers can enter for free.

On Monday, the club will hold a gate practice from 6-7 p.m. Cost for gate practice is $2 per rider.

To learn more about the Walla Walla Valley BMX Track, go online to wallawallavalleybmx.com.

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