The thrill of riding a bike down the steep slope between escalators may strike many as not worth the risk. The desire to survive is one reason many of us may never attempt to ride our bikes up tree trunks, do wheelies down handrails, and leap from rooftops. Yet Brad Simms and Colin Varanyak, adidas-sponsored BMX riders, claim that their sport has helped them live longer and better.
During their visit to the adidas campus, I got Brad and Colin off their bikes (and onto a fluffy couch) long enough to explain why BMX riding was the less risky option. They also shared their thoughts on escaping “the valley of despair,” the importance of patience, making BMX riding as inclusive as possible, and the bounties of fear.
Using fear to guide and improve
“No human is impervious to fear,” Brad says plainly. “BMX riders have ways to manage it. My approach to fear is metacognitive. I’ll run a trick in my head five times before trying it. I’ll run me slipping a pedal, crashing, sliding out. When I pull a trick in my head, that’s when I go.”
Unfamiliar with the lingo, I looked up “pull a trick.” According to the BMX Terms Dictionary, it means to successfully complete a trick.
Colin also assesses what might go wrong before attempting a trick. “You have to think about the risks and make sure what you’re doing is worth it. When I assess the situation, I make sure I have the ability to do the trick, and the confidence, too. You have a vision for something and want to accomplish it. There’s definitely that athlete in us that wants to get stuff done. And when we get it right, we get a rush, too.”
“The rush is cool,” Brad agrees. “We’re all crazy in our own way. Colin would do something I’d probably never do, and vice versa. Like that trick he did off of the container – I’d never do that.”
“Yeah, riding up the tree trunk – that’s something I’d never do,” Colin adds.
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All the world’s a setup
In BMX terms, setups are physical features that a rider uses for tricks. For example, a rider might look at a wall, a stairway, and a rail and come up with an exciting series of jumps, spins, and grinds. This is where the sport gets really creative. BMX riders seem to be in a constant state of scouting for setups. And each is inspired by entirely different elements.
It’s this creativity that drew Colin into BMX riding. “When you’re out riding, the world is a blank canvas. You can try things nobody else has thought of. Each rider has their style. Their way of riding that is so them. There’s so much room to be creative.”
Brad agrees. “Some riders just have boundless ingenuity. They could make a setup out of nothing – and make it good. You can put five people in one spot, and all of us will do something different. There might be one person who would do something at a spot that the rest of us couldn’t even fathom.”
Overcoming shiny object syndrome
“Patience and persistence are at the top of the list for me,” Colin says when asked what key traits a BMX rider needs. “Learning a new trick or a new skill – it all takes time.”
“The problem a lot of people experience is ‘shiny object syndrome,’” Brad adds. “Say, you have a horseshoe. And you start out here in the low point, in the trough, but you see what’s at the top, and you’re like, ‘I can do that.’ You reach or jump and get about halfway up before sliding back down to the valley of despair. You hang out there and think, ‘You know what? I can’t do this.’
“What we need to do, instead, is take the hard slog up the steep incline of the horseshoe. When you get to the top that way, you build up strength and skills. This way up is slow, but it’s better than being stuck. And it’s better than despair.”
Colin nods in agreement. “The river twists and turns. It’s the natural flow of things,” he says. “One of the best things riding has taught me is that nothing happens overnight.”
How bikes changed their lives
“Bikes steered me in the right direction,” Brad said. “In a way I’d say they extended my life. Before I started riding, I got in trouble quite a bit. Bikes set me on the right path.” He started riding when he was 11. Brad saw his uncle jump a bike off a curb and asked if he could try it. Jumping on a bike came easily to him.
After doing his first bunny hop, Brad went to football practice. “It was never the same,” he said. He couldn’t stop thinking about what it felt like to be airborne on a bike. “I think I went to two or three more practices, and after that I said goodbye to football. I just wanted to ride.”
Finding a sport that suited his personality allowed Brad to focus on something he loved. “I enjoyed the autonomy of riding,” he said. This consuming focus enabled him to end his involvement in other, less constructive activities.
For Colin, too, riding a bike was a transformative experience. When he was three, he convinced his parents to remove the training wheels from his bike, and that moment was incredible. “It felt like freedom to be able to move on two wheels, going so fast, pedaling, balancing, completely engaged.”
Like Brad, Colin claims that BMX riding offered the excitement and risk that he needed. And the sport offered these elements in a relatively pro-social form.
Paying it forward
“Joining the adidas team has been life changing,” Brad said. “This sponsorship allowed me to be able to invest in my future and take care of myself.”
Now he is committed to supporting others who show promise and are serious about BMX. “I want to help talented riders get in a position where they can ride full-time, take care of themselves, and be able to invest in themselves,” Brad said. “This will allow them to become independent down the road when it’s not feasible to financially rely on athleticism.”
His platform as an adidas-sponsored athlete enables him to elevate other BMX riders. “This sponsorship has positioned me to help other people to live out their dreams and accomplish some of their goals. I want to make BMX more accessible to more communities.”
Colin also wants to use his role with the brand to support others. “My biggest goal with this opportunity is to build community. I think bringing people together will grow the sport. That’ll grow adidas within the sport, let the two complement each other.”
“Culturally, I’ve learned so much from riding, because it’s given me the opportunity to have friends from all over the world. If I can help give back and give people a similar experience to myself, I think a lot of people would start to see the world for what it is, and that we’re all a lot more similar than we think sometimes.”