When he was a small fry growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs, Greg Hill remembers balancing atop his first racing bike, a candy-apple red Schwinn Apple Krate — the one with shock absorbers and a gear shift — and a mailbox. And then wobbling along, in the lowest of gears, until the next mailbox.
Eventually he fell, skinning his knees and elbows. And then he probably got into trouble with his mom for picking at the scabs.
So when the Strider company, which manufactures tiny BMX-style bicycles for tiny BMX-style bicycle riders, was looking for a consultant, Hill pedaled like one of those Cutter boys in “Breaking Away.” Because growing up is hard enough without ooze from a skinned knee hermetically sealing one’s pant leg to one’s open wound.
And also because training wheels are for nerds, and if your parents insist you use them, the big kids will make fun of you.
At 49, Greg Hill still is sort of a big kid. He made a lot of money racing BMX bicycles and now he makes a lot of money selling them, because his high-performance GHP bikes cost $579 each.
The Strider bikes, which weigh just 5.9 pounds, cost around $109. A Big Wheel at Toys R Us lists for $99.99. A 1971 Schwinn Apple Krate goes for around $2,025 on eBay. It’s expensive being a kid.
Hill became enamored of the Strider bikes after purchasing a couple for his granddaughter and grandson, ages 5 and 3.
At first, the kids mostly played with the boxes.
But Hill said before long, granddaughter was pushing grandson around the BMX track out back. The little guy immediately got the hang of it, because Strider bikes do not have pedals. That makes it easy to balance. Then it’s just a matter of time before wheelies are popped, and ramps are built, and you are jumping over old Buicks.
There was unsupervised laughter coming from the backyard, which is the best kind, and then Greg Hill knew it was OK to throw away the boxes.
“The first time they figure out how to balance, it’s over,” Hill said, with “over” being the BMX term for “just beginning” or “cha-ching.”
After Saturday’s practice runs for the USA BMX Nationals at South Point Arena, the big kids mostly were chatting up the Malibu Barbies in Section 107. A lot of the big kids had their brightly colored BMX jerseys tied around their waists, probably to show off tattoos, something Malibu Ken never would do.
So the little kids got to race first, in the Strider World Cup.
With their little torsos and giant crash helmets, the starting line looked like a Great Gazoo convention, if you recall the little green man who traveled through time on “The Flintstones.”
A little girl in a pink ballerina tutu crossed the imaginary finish line first. Her dad crossed the imaginary line second, and nearly blew out a flip-flop.
This was Thai “Spicy” Martin, 2, and Jeff Martin, 35, who teaches physical education at Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif. Jeff Martin said Thai understands about winning, but it’s mostly about fun when you are 2, and about Thai getting to emulate her brother, Troy, who rides in the 5-year-old classes.
Jeff Martin said he had about $1,000 tied up in the Las Vegas BMX weekend, which seems a lot. But as of June 2, it costs $92 for a Disneyland admission, and the lines for Space Mountain sometimes stretch all the way to Frontierland. Plus, nobody gets a trophy for riding Space Mountain. Everybody gets a trophy for riding in the Strider World Cup.
The field in one of the heats was short a couple of riders, who either didn’t show or were in Timeout. But the people in the stands mostly took pictures with their cellphones, because little kids racing little bicycles on a big track are irresistible. Same with little kids playing hockey.
None of the winners sprayed Juicy Juice from a sippy cup, or thanked their sponsors, or blamed one of the Busch brothers for causing a wreck before it was nap time.
Rider No. 270, Arlo Sexton of Eagle, Idaho, slept through the trophy presentation with his helmetless head tucked safely into his father’s shoulder. Jesse Sexton, who operates a BMX track up where the trees are evergreen, said he has an older son, Clive, who rides in the 7-expert class. So he’s also in for about $1,000 this weekend.
“We’re broke, but at least we’re making memories,” Jesse Sexton said, and that’s not a bad way to look at it.
While most of the pint-sized riders were from out of town, 2-year-old Carson Conway’s parents, Adam and Krista, came from Boulder City. Carson Conway has a head of blond curls and huge blue eyes. Unlike little Arlo Sexton, he had a G.I. Joe-with-the-Kung-Fu-grip clutch on his trophy.
Adam Conway says he wants his son to become a supercross rider, so you probably can put the Conways down for one of Greg Hill’s $549 high-performance BMX bicycles at some point.
As for the skinned knees and elbows, little Carson Conway soon should discover that Bactine kills and relieves pain on contact, and only stings for a little while.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.