Originally created 07/24/01

Rough riders



Sure, it can be dirty and painful - but sometimes you can "slip the surly bonds of Earth" and almost fly.

Suspended in the air and then free-falling, there's nothing quite like the feeling of betraying gravity for that one moment poised at the tip of the arc, the bike falling away beneath you.

For BMX freestylers, the rush can be addictive.

"It's just fun," says Lee Vaughn, a 16-year-old Evans High School student who's been building ramps in his back yard and practically living on his bike for the past couple of years. "I saw it on TV one day and it looked cool, and I wanted to do it."

He's not able to stay still long, veering off to wheel in circles on his bike during the conversation. His mother, Linda Vaughn, says he loves his bike more than anything - maybe even her.

"He told me that bike is the most important thing in the world," she says with a laugh.

Lee focuses on freestyling - the bicycle equivalent of skateboarding - with tricks such as tail whips, sprocket grinds and various jumps. BMX also can involve racing - hence BMX, which stands for bicycle motocross. Like traditional motocross, BMX races involve lots of dirt, jumps and aggressive riding.

Lee's mom has some concerns about her son's BMX activities. Maintaining a BMX bicycle can be expensive, and riding can be dangerous. Taking off into the air also means the possibility of slamming back to Earth, and Lee's limbs are covered with scratches and scrapes. He's also broken fingers. Some BMX riders suggest practicing more advanced aerial stunts over a trampoline first - or even over water.

And always wear your safety gear, they say.

"I was riding up at the high school about three years ago, and I jumped the curb. There was a chain across it, and you know how when a chain gets rusty, it's harder to see against the dirt?" asks Jeremy Davis, another 16-year-old Evans student. "Yeah. I ran into that. I cut my head open and had to get 14 (surgical) staples. After that, my mom didn't want me riding without a helmet anymore - which I'd been doing, like a little dipstick."

Jeremy also races, showing up for events sponsored by BMX Augusta, an organization affiliated with the National Bicycle League.

He got involved in BMX racing after the Georgia Games brought the event to Augusta two years ago.

"It's fun, it's competitive - and you get money when you win," he says with a laugh.

The BMX racing season runs from March until November. Jeremy finished last season ranked 23rd in the nation. He put in a lot of practice before racing in the Fall Classic in Albany, Ga. Since his showing in that event, he's been ranked eighth in his class nationally.

His mother likes the local races, but after seeing a competition in North Carolina, she decided not to go to any others. Watching riders take jumps up to 30 feet was too nerve-wracking for her, Jeremy says.

"It's an extreme sport," he says. "Something like motocross."

It's also a sport that's becoming more popular, says Philip Hart, who heads BMX Augusta. The organization doesn't do much advertising but is growing steadily through word of mouth. The group has an Internet site that's linked from http://cycleaugusta.com, and will be sponsoring regional qualifying races at the BMX track on Wood Street this weekend for the state championships. Races will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday.

The group also will be the host for the state championships in November.

Jeremy has noticed how popular the sport has become. Most of his friends are getting involved, even if they're not racing.

"Most friends of mine ride 'street' - which is illegal," he says with a laugh.

BMX event

What: BMX Regional Qualifier Bike Race

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. Sunday

Where: BMX Track, Wood Street (across from Lake Olmstead)

For more information, call the Greater Augusta Sports Council, 722-8326

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.