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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  3/1/2005

BMX: No Longer A Little Girl's Game

When she was six years old, Laurie Chaskin experienced her first biking thrill -- riding without training wheels. That's when things really started to speed up for her. In just a couple of months she was riding in her first BMX race at the Santa Clara, California, Police Athletic League track.

For the next nine years Laurie proceeded to burn up tracks all over Northern California and Nevada doing what seemed natural to her -- riding, competing and winning. She was NBL state champion six years running, and ABA champ for seven years. But, as often happens when kids reach high school, she quit riding at 15.

Six years later, "I'm back!" she declares with a sly, typically Chaskin grin. Last August while visiting the friend of a friend, she spotted a BMX bike in his garage. She went home, pulled her old "antique" bike out of the garage and got back on the track.

Full disclosure: Laurie is a good friend of mine. In fact, she's Jim's daughter. But I must admit I've yet to see her race. And I'm relying on her dad for a bit of technical background.

BMX for Dummies (like me)

Jim tells me that the National Bicycle League (NBL) and American Bicycle Association (ABA) are competing BMX race sanctioning organizations. Both have their own state and national competitions. But the NBL is the only one officially recognized by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the worldwide governing body of international cycling. So BMX riders who want to compete for a shot at the world championships must be NBL members. According to Jim, the NBL seems to be more family oriented. "They're a bit more mellow, more laid back in attitude" than the ABA, he believes. But the majority of BMX tracks in the western states are ABA sanctioned.

ABA divisions include amateur classes that Laurie can compete in riding her 20-inch-wheel bike, which she prefers to a 24-inch "Cruiser." The NBL offers amateur race categories only for Cruisers, so Laurie would have to give up her amateur status to ride in the NBL. And she doesn't want to turn pro...at least not yet.

BMX racing classes are also divided into age and experience ranges. The kids -- both boys and girls -- race in age groups of five to six, six to seven, and on up. Boys (and adult men) are also classed as Novice, Intermediate or Expert. As for the adult women, age 17 to 27, "you're a girl, that's all," says Laurie.

Meanwhile, back at the track

Late last year, after a couple of months riding, training and hanging at the PAL track, Laurie was picked up by Team Impact/Profile Racing. It's strictly a local team, sponsored by nationally prominent BMX bike companies Impact Racing Products and Profile Racing. Other sponsors include Red Bull (a Generation Y beverage of choice), Sun Ringle BMX components, Fox Racing, O'Neal clothing, a few other BMX suppliers and a handful of local family-owned companies with kids on the team.

Laurie is one of only three women on the team, among some 20 to 25 guys. "They help me out a lot," she says. When she was a kid competing against other kids, "there were lots more girls," she recalls. "I was everyone's little sister." But today her general take on BMX is that it's "a lot less girly."

She's experiencing "no special problems" as a girl in a typically guy's sport, no doubt due to her unprissy attitude. "You can't spend hours working on your hair, then put on a helmet and sweat all the way through a race." she declares. Trying too hard to get their attention just turns the guys off, she believes. The fellows just are not interested. Neither is Laurie; she's out there to get better on the bike. "The most respected position for a girl," she says, "is to be a rider."

And Laurie intends to be the best rider she can. She takes training seriously. Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays she's out on the track. Rainy days she joins other riders for sprints in an unused parking garage in San Jose. Or she rides sprints on her residential street in Mountain View. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays she works out at the gym, doing mostly endurance/cardio routines with a little weight training thrown in.

There are some new limits, however. "As a kid I just flew over the jumps," she says, "but I don't jump as much now. I'm not as fearless; it hurts more when I crash." But when Laurie crashes, she just gets up and keeps on going. I can attest: Last year, while road riding with me and her father, Laurie skidded on some wet tar going downhill and hit the pavement hard. She bounced up, jumped back on her Bianchi and caught up to us.

When she crashed at the Nationals in Reno, she heard someone (it could have been the announcer) say, "Wow! She just got up and went faster than the rest!" Not a bad performance for a racer who had joined her team just a month earlier. She came in eighth on that day, then came back the next to take fifth. "I could have done better," she says ruefully. Which is exactly what she intends to do at the Northwest Nationals in Pasco, WA March 18-20. "I want to place in the top four," she says. "I want to take Sandy," her closest racing buddy and fiercest competitor, who placed fourth at Reno for rival team BMXTC.

Laurie was lucky to have a good BMX bike already sitting in her garage. In its day it was the best ride she could have, but it no longer fits. "I rode that bike when I was five-foot-one," she says. Now she's over 5'6". "Everyone says I look like I'm about to go over the bars on it. When the starting gate goes down, they say, Laurie does too."

So she traded up to a Cheetah 20"-wheeler. "I like the way it rides, but what I'd really like is a bike I can say I built from the ground up. That's ownership." Her dream bike will be a Staats or Intense frame with carbon fiber forks. But Dad gives a thumbs-down to the carbon fiber. "You'll destroy them on the first crash," he warned her. "Carbon fiber forks have two modes: OK and failed." Some of the other components on her wish list -- er, spec sheet -- are a Chris King headset and seatpost.

Glad Dad

Other than barring carbon fiber from her forks, Jim is tickled pink that Laurie has rediscovered her passion for the track. "I'm very proud of her and want her to keep her face intact," he told me. "She has a natural talent, with very good reactions. In BMX there's no time to think things out, you have to react instinctively, and she does."

Her team notices too. She's the only one, they say, who can block the squirreliest riders at the track without dire results. It also helps, she confesses, that Dad once raced BMX too and is a professional bike mechanic to boot. She values his advice. And his hands-on fix-it abilities.

Most of all she values both the thrill of BMX racing and the spirit of competition. "It's hard to separate the two," she reflects. "For me riding is a combination of the hard physical challenge and beating the others at their game. It definitely feels better to spend two to three hours riding my bike than two to three hours watching TV."

There's the bonus. Not only has Laurie managed to return to the lifestyle she had loved as a kid, she's also found the best way she knows to get -- and stay -- in good physical shape.

Laurie, you rock!

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net

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