BMX Frame Guide: Not All Bikes Are Framed Equal

If there were one discipline of cycling that emphasized how much the more things changed the more likely they were to stay the same, then it would probably be BMX’ing.

Born out of the motocross subculture of the late ’60s, and during a period when the need to “customize” anything on wheels reigned supreme; the hugely popular chopper-style children’s bikes of the time – with their extended banana seats and over-sized handlebars – were the perfect platforms for performing pedal-powered stunts on either country dirt trails or inner-city parking lots.

It’d have been unimaginable at the time that what started as purely amusement – the hot-wheeled rite of passage for almost an entire generation waiting to get their driver’s license – would evolve into an international phenomenon (not to mention an Olympic freestyle event), but that’s precisely what happened.

Fast forward more than half a century, and the love for this “amusement” is stronger than it’s ever been … driver’s license or not. The equipment, however, is light years ahead of what it used to be. So, let’s take a look at what makes the modern BMX bike, the modern extreme sports bike.

2 Wheels and Some Attitude

drive a BMX bike
Source: graysharbortalk.com

We may all understand that while it takes more than 2 wheels to build a bike, it takes modern BMX parts designed to be tougher, lighter, and infinitely more specialized than they’ve ever been to perform the kinds of tricks it takes to command the attention of fans, sponsors and fellow riders today.

From their variable weight and geometry frames to the precision machined hubs, a top-performing BMX bike – even one that’s purchased complete – has to be dialled in to match the rider, their riding style, as well as the type of riding they plan on doing.

Even when it comes to those 2 otherwise benign wheels: the choices can vary from thin, single-walled 48-spoke rims right up to heavy-duty 36-spoke triple-walled ones… or, a slick, fast-moving pavement tire right across to a knobby, extra-grip dirt tire. Starting with the best parts yields the best results.

And let’s be honest here, too: BMX is also as much about appearance as it is about performance. Style and flair count – because even if you’ve perfected landing 360 Tailwhips blindfolded, if your bike doesn’t look the part, then you’ve clearly missed something. Handlebars, pegs, and seats all have to look like they mean business; so that when it’s time to ride, you can bring some attitude along with those 2 wheels.

You’ve Been Framed

For non-riders, it’d be easy to assume that aside from swapping tyres, all BMX bikes are the same – but nothing could be further from the truth. What really distinguishes one type of bike from the other is the frame, and what most readily sets frames apart is the material they’re made from. The list of possible materials BMX frames can be constructed from is almost as long as the lists of tricks that can be done on the bike itself, but 3 materials are most commonly used today that make up the bulk of frame construction.

Chromoly Steel

Chromoly Steel bike
Source: gumtree.com.au

Composed of chromium and molybdenum, Chromoly alloy frames are strong and hard, yet far lighter than standard steel, making them ideal for practically all types of riding. Chromoly is, in fact, the standard choice for striking the best balance between durability and cost, and is sometimes combined with other metals as well to create hybrid frames that can withstand shocks, impacts or corrosion even better.

Carbon Fibre

These polymer-based frames are known for being extra lightweight, which makes them especially valuable for getting extra height on launches or for extra fast acceleration. They also possess a natural dampening effect which lowers the harshness of impacts, but it comes at a cost, literally. Carbon fibre frames are noticeably more expensive than metal frames; and although they can absorb impact, they simply can’t take the abuse of their metal counterparts.

Aluminium

Offering lightweight and strength, aluminium frames reside comfortably in the middle between Chromoly and carbon fibre. They’re optimal for strength to weight balance, but lack the strength of steel, and depending on the aggressiveness of the rider, will certainly break before they bend. These 3 materials pretty much cover any of the 5 styles of BMX bikes there are, of which the ever-popular freestyle riding is a marvellous mash-up of them all.

  • Park bikes – Used at skate parks on deliberately transitioned ramps and surfaces
  • Dirt bikes – The off-road warrior for trick riding on dirt ramps and surfaces
  • Street bikes – The urban warrior for trick riding over and across typically urban obstacles
  • Race bikes – Made for speeding over and across a series of obstacles
  • Flatland bikes – Made for performing tricks strictly on flat surfaces

Ultimately, it’s the lengths and angles of the tubes used in frame construction that determine whether a bike is best suited for aggressively hopping along stairway railings or for coming down steadily in loose dirt; but it’s the material the frame is constructed out of that decides just how well and how reliably either one can be achieved.

Sick Bike, Feelin’ Good

Drive a bike
Source: blog.mapmyrun.com

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter which type of riding you enjoy doing, the most important thing to remember is this: the best ride is inevitably going to begin with the best parts. Choosing the right BMX parts to build or modify your bike at the start guarantees you’ll get the most enjoyment out of riding, and that you’ll also have a safe riding experience too.

If you rode one when you were younger, now’s a great time to get involved again – the thrill hasn’t changed a bit since then – and if you’ve never ridden a BMX bike, now’s a great time to try it. Getting sick ( … the cool kind) on a bike never felt so good – you’ll be surprised how just how much fun you can have on only 2 wheels without having to go very far at all.