The extreme sport of BMX has two styles -- racing and freestyle, but only the racing side has designated places in Bakersfield for enthusiasts to ride.
Racing BMX has attracted thousands of people to Metro BMX, one of the tracks in Bakersfield, and this weekend will be no exception because the U.S. Nationals are in town.
There are several local racing BMX tracks, but when it comes to freestyle, Kern County, especially Bakersfield, lacks places for riders to do tricks and stunts.
"They'll get busted at Beach Park, get a ticket and go to various places," said Jim Snider, owner of Snider's Cyclery.
Freestyle BMX riders say those places include schools, businesses, and streets -- and then they'll often end up again at Beach Park.
Yet several freestylers acknowledge they really haven't done anything to establish a park in Bakersfield just for them, as the public did in Fresno.
A petition for freestylers to get their own place to ride started about five years ago, but it fell through, said Matt Renois, 32, known as "Splat" among fellow riders.
What they do
The skatepark at Beach Park opened in 2000 for skateboarders and rollerbladers. Posted signs are supposed to remind bicyclists and those with scooters they are not allowed, but often rules are ignored.
Freestyle BMX professional Quincy Dean has been riding for nine years and has broken the rules a few times. On Nov. 5, 2008, Beach Park Skate Park reopened after approximately 4,300 square feet of expansion. Dean said that when Mayor Harvey Hall and Councilwoman Sue Benham finished the ribbon cutting, Dean picked up his bike and protested by performing tricks.
According to Dean, 24, the cops chased him around the skatepark, he hit the quarter pipe in his last lap, set his bike down and waited to be arrested.
"There is nothing to offer in Bakersfield. We get kicked out of the skatepark and the BMX tracks are only for racing. We ride street (style) around town, but we get kicked out of businesses and get tickets," Dean said.
Officer Matt Roy of the Bakersfield Police Department patrols the bike path and Kern River bed four days a week on an offroad motorcycle.
Roy said he and his partner together give an average of close to 30 tickets per month -- half for skateboarders and freestylers riding without proper protective gear and the other half for bikes ridden in the skatepark.
"We have 2008 tickets that haven't been entered yet," Sgt. Mary DeGeare said. An exact number wasn't available because the computer system is not up to date.
Due to police department budget cuts, clerical employees were let go, so fewer people are entering numbers into the system, DeGeare said.
According to Lt. Scott McDonald, juveniles get the most tickers, but there are a number of 20-to-30 year olds who continue to ride around town.
What they'd like to see
"It's a really fun sport -- I wish it was more recognized than it already is ... It would be nice just to ride. Another park would be useful," said Kordell Tomlin, a BMX freestyle rider.
Tomlin, 14, said he rides at Beach Park every weekend and thinks an indoor bike park would be a good idea, especially since Big City Skateboards Skatepark opened last June. Owner Rick Peralez said the 15,000-square-foot building houses ramps built for both skateboarders and BMX riders, but he cannot open his building to bikers because his insurance won't cover bikes.
"BMX is bigger than skateboarding here. It's unfortunate they don't have anything," Peralez said.
Without a specific park, freestylers have made the city their playground and roam the streets looking for challenging spots to attempt the latest trick. Riders believe a park for them would cut down on some businesses that are damaged from riders grinding on benches and curbs.
The BMX racing community also recognize freestylers do not have a special place to ride. April Anderson, the mother of BMX racer Jordan Miranda, who is training for the 2016 Olympics, said kids are getting into trouble for pursuing their passion, while Miranda said he thinks it's important for the talented kids to improve and achieve their goals.
"There are so many talented kids who race BMX and even freestyle. There needs to be a full-on area for all kids to ride. Other cities provide this for their kids and Bakersfield doesn't and that's sad," Anderson said.
Popularity of freestyle
Action Sports bike shop manager Jerry Campbell said they sold about 1,200 freestyle BMX bikes last year, which is equivalent to 40 freestyle bikes to every one race bike, but the numbers fluctuate. Since the beginning of this year, the shop's ratio of freestyle to race bikes sold is currently close to 10 freestyle bikes to every one race. Campbell believes this ratio change could be due to this weekend's race.
Snider said his shop sold about 450 freestyle and jumping bikes and 100 racing bikes last year.
Gema Bradley, owner of Finish Line Bicycles said her shop's BMX sales are 95 percent freestyle and 5 percent racing bikes.
Snider said riders drive nearly an hour or more in both directions to ride parks in Taft, Visalia and even Fresno.
How Fresno did it
Fresno is one of the popular destinations because it offers both racing and freestyle venues.
"We have a lot of bikers from Bakersfield who come on a weekly basis to ride. It's so good for the riders -- that's why people travel to ride on the weekend," said Ryan Garcia, a specialist in these sports for Fresno's Parks, After School, Recreation & Community Services Department.
The largest public BMX concrete bike park in the country, Fresno's Mosqueda Bike Park, opened in July 2009 and has 30,000 square feet of concrete. Garcia said about 75 kids a day visit the park.
"It's effortless. BMXers are respectful and appreciative of it and have taken ownership," Garcia said.
Before there were designated bike parks, Garcia said, people contacted his department about being able to use the city's Lions Den facility, a skateboard-only park. The bike community wanted a spot of its own, and the department took note. There are also a few ramp parks in Fresno that skateboarders and BMX riders share.
What Bakersfield could do
Skateboarders in Bakersfield got their park because community members spoke out and helped raise some of the funds, said Dianne Hoover, director of the city of Bakersfield Recreation and Parks Department.
"A lot of the parents of the young men came to us and said, 'We really want the city to provide this,'" Hoover said.
If riders and parents want a park, they could form a group, gather petitions and attend a City Council meeting to seek action, said Bakersfield city attorney Virginia Gennaro.