What Is Meant by BMX?
Before we delve into the depths of the review, let’s look at what a BMX is exactly and how it differs from a regular bike.
BMX bikes first came on the scene in early 1970s America. They were originally designed as a way for young kids to step into motocross, but it quickly became a sport all of its own.
In fact, BMX is short for ‘Bicycle Motocross’. It went over to Britain almost a decade later as the manufacturers cottoned on to producing ready-made BMX bikes as starter model bikes for youngsters. Their compactness and simplicity are what made them surge in the market.
BMX bikes typically have 20” wheels although other sizes do exist on racing BMXs. The bikes have a rigid fork and frame with high-rise handlebars and only one cassette gear. It’s this simple construction that makes them strong and easy to understand and maintain.
BMX as a sport has two different types: freestyle and racing. BMXing first began with the racing side of things and freestyle came along later as a new group of riders began to specialize in bike handling and doing tricks rather than concentrating on speed. But both types of BMXing offer great fun!
BMX Bikes - A Comprehensive Buying Guide
So, what is it that you should be looking for and considering when buying a BMX bike? Let’s take a look.
Firstly, you need to decide what type of BMX bike you need. Do you want a racing true BMX or a freestyle bike? What about street/jumping/dirt/park BMX? Have you heard of a flatland BMX?
1. Race BMX bikes
As the name suggestions, these are designed with acceleration and speed in mind, so they are often lighter and have different geometry in order to ensure that they are both nimble and stable at high speed. Race BMX bikes are usually unsuitable for Freestyle BMXing, regardless of the sub-type.
2. Freestyle BMX bikes
Freestyle BMXs are designed with stunts in mind and are strong enough to withstand repeated stress such as at skate parks and dirt jumps. The wheels, components and frame materials are equally optimized for maneuverability and strength alike. You can easily manual on a BMX bike if you have any of the Freestyle BMXs.
Freestyle bikes have many sub-divisions which come under the freestyle type. Apart from flatland, the different disciplines have a crossover of features and so an all-rounder freestyle bike is often a good and versatile choice.
- Park: Park BMX riding means riding in a skate park. Despite their name, skateparks are often visited by BMX bikers nearly as much as skaters themselves. Park BMXing also includes using indoor rider parks that are specifically for BMXing. These parks are commonly known as ‘ramps.’
- Dirt Jumping/Trails: This type of BMXing happens on specially built dirt berms and jumps. Riders try to get big air as well as link up their jumps and perform tricks.
- Street: Street riders are creative BMXers, using urban features and infrastructure to perform tricks and turns such as on rails and stairs. Riders are always seeking new good places to try their tricks.
- Flatland BMX: This is rather a nice type of BMXing. With flatland, there aren’t any external features and the rider performs tricks with the bike alone. It has even been nicknamed as ‘BMX breakdancing.’ The rider balances and pivots the bike on hard, flat surfaces.
3. Basic BMX Components
When looking at the parts that make up a BMX bike you need to consider elements like the frame, the forks, the handlebars, the headset, the brakes, bearings (and whether they are unsealed or sealed), the bars and stem, the gears and speed, the pedals, the materials, and the wheels, rims and tires.
Most starting race BMXs and freestyle BMX bikes have a predominantly steel composition which is called ‘chromo’ (short for Chromoly 4130). This material provides real strength as it is an alloyed steel, especially in comparison to cheaper steels (‘hi-tensile’) that are usually found in lower end bikes such as those found in department stores. Chromo can be ‘butted’, which means it is possible to make it lighter and thinner on the inside of the tubes as well as reinforced at the joins and ends for added strength.
The best choice material for BMX bikes is steel thanks to it being highly resistant and easy to repair. This is important given the battering that these bikes can take! Steel also gives more compliance when riding which is more comfortable for the rider as there is reduced pressure on their body.
For racing with a BMX, people prefer the lightweight, stiffer frame and therefore aluminum is what most racing BMX bikes are made from. However, serious riders who want an added edge on their race-mates choose carbon fiber frames as the weight is even more reduced and the vibrations are also reduced in comparison with aluminum.
Usually, Freestyle BMXers incorporate both kids, adolescents and adults too, although the size of the wheels is similar across the bikes, the size of the frame can be subtly different to suit the rider’s height and riding style. The majority of freestyle BMX bikes bought in stores come with a top tube that’s 21” meaning riders can swing the bike beneath them if they are performing tricks that are airborne. The seat stays are often shorter too so that they are easy to whip underneath.
A flatland BMX frame is usually an exception to this as they are often lighter with shorter tubing so that it’s easier to control and balance. The head angle is also much steeper and there are 3/8” dropouts for the smaller axles at the rear.
Racing BMXs have a longer wheelbase and a head angle that is slacker, putting the rider further toward the back of the bike. This offers better handling and stability at speed. There is also a larger range of frame sizes to suit the different ages of BMX racers.
Usually, BMX wheels measure 20” as standard. This is much smaller than the wheels of a road bike or a mountain bike. Smaller wheels are usually seen on children’s bikes and larger on ‘trail’ BMXs used in dirt jumping. As a general rule, you can assume that most BMX bikes will have 20” wheels.
Racing BMX bikes usually have two different wheel sizes. The standard 20” wheel diameter, as mentioned above, and the second size of 24”, which is also known as a ‘cruiser’ size. Cruiser BMX bikes give more stability and are more popular for older or taller riders. The wheels in racer BMX bikes are lighter due to them needing to be quick out of the starting gates.
Rim widths on freestyle BMX bikes come in at 32mm as standard. Riders who put in more hard-hits to the wheels can choose 36mm rims. The rims are aluminum and can have different numbers of layers to provide more support structurally. However, they also add more weight. A standard ideal for most riders is a double walled rim as this is a nice balance between the weight and the strength.
Tires are the contact point of the ride and the choice of tire affects how fast you can go as well as the handling and grip that the bike has. For riding in the park and street, wider and smooth rolling tires are a better choice. A premium choice of BMX tires will accept greater pressures up to 110psi. These roll at an increased speed in comparison to lower-inflated tires and protect the rim when landing hard.
Dirt jumpers need something that has an increased tread so there’s more traction. They also have tires that have lower pressure for an improved grip. They are wider than race tires so need to be 20” x 2.1 for the increased surface area and stability. Tires can be changed and swapped easily, so you can opt to change tires if you want.
BMX bikes must be sold with a front and rear brake by law. However, normally racers remove the front brake so that they can be as smooth and fast as possible. The break at the rear is usually a V-style brake as they are powerful yet light.
Freestyle BMX bikes have both rear and front brakes. Some models also have a gyro. A gyro is a mix of bearings and cups that are placed under the stem which allows the bars a 360-degree spinning motion without causing brake cable tangling.
BMX bikes do not have more than one gear. But, the teeth numbers on the sprocket and chain ring and their pairing is known as a ‘gear ratio’. Working out a gear ratio is a simple case of mathematics. You need to divide the chainring teeth number (for example, 25) by the number that’s on the sprocket (e.g. nine).
In our example, you end up with the number 2.78. This means that the wheel at the rear will turn 2 ¾ times for every chainring rotation. The smaller the number, the easier the bike is to pedal. If the number is higher, it means you will need more force to pedal it.
Freestyle BMX bikes have a smaller ratio than racing BMXs. A larger chain ring is used in racing bikes as they need more explosive power.
The handlebars on freestyle BMX bikes have a steeper rise than racing BMXs so that they can be maneuvered more easily. The handlebars on a flatland BMX have a minimal sweep so that they look and feel the same regardless of the direction in which they are pointing. They also have a lower crossbar to enable the rider to perform tricks more easily.
4. Bike Size and Skill Levels
When it’s about kid’s bikes, for riders under 4’ or 122cm, you should opt for a bike frame size between 15-16”, also known as a Micro Mini size. Between 4’ and 4’6”, a Mini size of 16-17” is better. For the slightly older or taller child, you can choose the Junior size of BMX which is a frame that’s between 17-18.5”. These generally suit children between 4’4” and 4’10”.
Bigger kids and adolescents can often get away with the standard size BMX bikes as they tend to be small bikes to start off with if you compare them to road bikes or mountain bikes. However, generally, a BMX with a frame size of 18.5-19.5” inches (the Expert size) is a good bet. This suits bigger kids or smaller adults with a height between 4’8” and 5’4”.
Most pros have a good idea of what to look for in a BMX bike and usually have a little more to spend on their bike budget too! In terms of size, a Pro size bike usually has a frame of at least 20” and this suits riders of between 5’4” and 5’10”. If you are over 5’10”, you will probably need a Pro XL size, with a frame of 20.5” or greater.
5. Your Budget
If you are aiming to spend between $200-$500, most kid’s BMX bikes will come into this category. The lower end of the price range will offer hi-tensile steel framed bikes with one-piece cranks and beginner-level gear system. You might only have sealed bearings in the rear hub or not at all. The rims will be single-walled the lower the price you pay.
If your budget stretches a bit further between $500-800, Chromoly frames are much more common. Two- and three-piece cranks also feature along with stunt pegs and other accessories. At the upper end of this price range the bikes may have smaller and lighter chainrings with wheel hubs and bottom brackets with sealed bearings. There may also be Gyro brakes.
If you have a relatively unlimited budget, there is the option of a custom-built BMX. This will be top-end with the strongest and lightest Chromoly frame and parts. There’ll be stronger rims, sealed bearings in the bottom bracket, headset and hubs. The hubs will be lighter too. If BMXing is taking over your life and your riding is more and more progressive, you’ll definitely need the best BMX bike.
Accessories (Safety, Security, and Comforts)
For any BMX rider, there are certain accessories that are essential (some by law) and others that are nice to have for comfort and convenience. Let’s have a look at those all-important accessories.
Despite how cool you want to look when riding, you certainly won’t look cool if you’re (at best) injured or, at worst, killed due to a head injury. We cannot stress enough the importance of wearing a bike helmet.
For BMX freestyle, the helmets have a more ‘bowl’ shape in comparison to the lower-profile cycling helmets used in general riding and racing. Freestyle helmets have fewer vents and usually cover your ears too. This is due to the fact that BMX riders are more likely to fall at a peculiar angle when doing a trick and could land ear-side down. In racing, there are certain rules that BMXers have to follow including wearing a full-face helmet.
Full-finger gloves are a good thing when it comes to BMX biking, regardless of whether you are racing or riding freestyle. You can get special BMX gloves that have a grip on the palms right through to the fingertips to give you that all important grip, especially if you are prone to sweaty palms or the weather is hot.
When cycling long distance then padding is essential in your shorts. The last thing you want is a sore rear end (and, believe me, it can get really sore!). However, most BMX riders use their bikes for tricks which don’t require sitting so padding on the butt isn’t really an essential.
If you are racing or doing tricks you really need protection as well as your helmet in the form of knee pads and elbow pads in case you take a tumble – and everyone does at some point, regardless of ability.
4. Bike Bells
In some countries, the UK included, bikes should be sold with a bell. Normally, the bell is pretty standard and looks boring, but you can buy some pretty cool bike bell designs these days.
Unfortunately, bike theft is not rare in any kind of cycling. The last thing you want to be is a victim yourself, so a good bike lock is essential. A lot of bike locks have been independently tested by companies, such as Sold Secure with ratings of Bronze, Silver and Gold. Gold-rated locks withstand attempts with many high-level tools such as hacksaws and bold cutters used for at least five minutes many times.
There are many kinds of locks. D and U locks are popular because they are hard for any would-be thief to get leverage. But you can often team it up with a cable lock too for extra security.
6. Water Bottle and Cage
If you are going on long rides, then being hydrated is essential. You can get water bottles and cages for this purpose, but you will need to be mindful of the weight when racing and the security and stability of it when attempting jumps and tricks in freestyle BMXing.
7. Phone Mount
For the adults among us, using a phone mount has several uses when riding. For those racing, it can be used alongside an app to show speed rather like a bike riding computer. One thing you need to remember with BMX riding in particular is that a lot of it is about weight and balance.
In racing, a phone mount and phone will add extra weight and will slow you down. In freestyle riding, the phone mount would need to be extra secure due to tricks and jumps. For some, a phone mount is just not practical.
8. Seat Cover
Nobody wants to return to their bike to find the saddle all cold and wet, which is why you should invest in a waterproof seat cover. There are also novelty ones too for those of us with a quirky sense of humor.
9. Luggage Rack
A luggage rack is something that most long-distance cyclists use to store their belongings. They’re not too often seen in BMX riding due to the weight problem in racing and the stability in freestyle.
10. Bike Lights
In darkness, it is actually a legal requirement for your bike to have a white light at the front and a red light at the rear so that you can be seen. Yes, it might not look ‘cool’ but you cannot argue that it is a sensible idea. The light’s brightness is usually labelled in lumens.
There are two groups for front lights – lights that make you visible and ones that allow you to see where you are going. The former usually can be anything from 100 lumens upwards. Lights to show you the road ahead will need to be above 500 lumens at least, with many reaching above 1000.
Rear lights are not usually as bright and can be from 30 lumens upwards. These days, most lights are rechargeable via USB, but you should always have a back-up battery-powered light just in case.
Your tires are going to take a hit whether you are racing or jumping and doing tricks. You will need a pump to make sure your tire pressure is at a safe level, helping you do avoid those dreaded punctures.
11. Cycling Shorts
We mentioned shorts above in the padding section. You usually don’t need bike shorts for BMX riding, but it does depend on how you use your bike. A good pair will protect you from discomfort and the fabric will be quick drying too to wick away moisture.
12. Waterproof Jacket
Cycling of any kind comes with a lot of kit. If you are wanting to ride throughout the autumn and winter months, a waterproof coat is a must. You should look for breathability, taped seams and close-fitting collars and sleeves. Reflective parts are a good idea as well.
13. Multi-tool Box
This all depends on how much maintenance you are looking to do! But all BMX bikes will need a bit of tinkering from time to time. Having a multi-tool box will help you with these little jobs. You can get Allen key sets and multi-tools (rather like a bike version of a Swiss Army Knife!) which is small enough to fit in a pocket.
14. Cycling Gadget
Cycling computers are not essential but they are nice to have. Garmin makes a range of cycling computers which measure distance, speed, elevation and calories burned. But, for freestyle BMXing, most of the features are rather pointless and a gadget will add weight and may unbalance your bike.
A regular bike, mountain bike or BMX bike, no matter what kind of bike you are riding, always take safety measures for your own protection.
We hope that the bikes in our best BMX bikes list are built to last but we know that most won’t last forever. However, proper maintenance and care is essential and will allow you to get the best out of your bike for the longest time.
1. Check tire pressure
This is an essential part of BMX maintenance. Although you may not know this, you can overfill BMX tires with air. They will feel really hard, which is not good! You need to fill up your tires with the right amount of air for your tire type. You should also check the tires once a week at least to make sure that they are inflated correctly.
2. Grease the Chain and Bearings
You should be doing this regularly as the bearings and chain are the most important parts of your bike. Doing this will mean that they are functioning at their best and are safe from malfunctions.
3. Pedal Tightening
Some BMXs have metal pedals. These usually make a little more noise than their plastic counterparts. The noise is pretty annoying so you might want to try and stop it. If you tighten the screws, you will hopefully eliminate the issue. If it’s still a problem, switching to plastic pedals may help as they do not tend to squeak.
4. True the Wheels
In truing the wheels can be difficult if you don’t know what you are doing. But it is essential for their functionality. It might be wise to get professional help to do this, at least the first time.
5. Keep Bars Tight
The bars and the stem of your bike are under constant pressure so understandably they will become loose over time. You should use a wrench to tighten them from time to time. This will improve your safety, especially when landing jumps.
So, the time has come for you to make your choice. Throughout our BMX bike reviews we have tried to give you an analytical, detailed and comprehensive guide to choosing the right BMX bike for your needs.
Whether you are wanting a freestyle bike such as our Editor’s Pick, the Mongoose Legion L80 or a racing bike like our Redline PM 26 Cruiser bike, whether you’re a beginner or an advanced rider, we hope that we have covered everything. We’ve even put in some recommendations for kids so that you can get them riding along with you.
Happy BMX riding, whatever part of your BMX bike riding journey that you are on.