More Than Just The Riding – The Modern Progression Of Flatland

With the addition of flatland to Jomopro, my recent trip to the Ninja Spin contest, the influx of good flatland Web videos popping up, and numerous conversations with industry heads recently, I’ve been thinking about flatland a lot. And not just thoughts of backwards steamrollers and hitchhikers, but thoughts with substance that have led to actual conclusions.

Justin Miller, pushing flatland riding in sub-freezing temperatures. Photo by Fat.

Over the past several years, I have become extremely close with a handful of the world’s top professional flatland riders, used my own money to travel to flatland events all around the world, and even built a flatland bike that sees its fair share of solo parking lot sessions. And as one of the few riders in the world of BMX media that has such a strong connection to flatland, I often feel a bit of an obligation to put flatland on this site and get it into the magazine, fearing if I don’t, then perhaps no one else will. But even with journalistic obligations aside, I feel that if I can get more people to see what I see in flatland, and what so many others see in it, then maybe it will start to rise up from the minority status it has acquired in the freestyle world. But before pulling it from the depths that may be, I think it is important to first look at why it fell so far behind in the first place.

Ten years ago flatland looked distinctly different than it does today. Sure it’s still a guy on a bike going in circles, but hear me out. Back then, if mainstream audiences saw flatland on television (see the BS contests and X Games below), they saw a huge slab of blacktop under the scorching sun with one guy in the middle of the vast openness. It was rare if the viewer ever saw far enough behind the rider to make out an audience. And to the viewer, the rider was slowly touching his foot on the tire to make his bike roll a few inches before stopping and starting again. There was very little excitement in the sport and it was presented to the public in what may have been the worst way possible. Giving the riders, contest organizers, and TV producers the benefit of the doubt, I’ll attribute the shortcomings to how young and underdeveloped flatland was at the time, and how new television was to showing action sports to a mainstream audience.

The old way people saw flatland contests. Images via Google.

Today, flatland event organizers have figured out what needs to be done in order for flatland to be as much of a spectator sport as dirt jumping or ramp riding. By putting the crowd very close to the riders, creating a venue that is exciting and at times dramatic, and getting announcers that understand the rider and audience interaction, flatland events have finally started to be what I would call successful. And of course the riding is now at such a level that it is actually entertaining to watch. Today’s top professional flatland riders can hit the pavement just as hard as someone coming down from a quarter pipe or box jump, so the element of “danger” is there, they spin and roll faster than the audience can keep up with, and they actually have good style on their bikes—and some of them even have style off their bikes, which brings me to my next point.

The new way people see flatland contests. Images via Google.

Like it or not, freestyle bike riding is, to an extent, image-based. Why else is Edwin DeLaRosa still so popular after all these years? It’s not because he just put out a handful of amazing Web edits or won a series of contests. It is because he has a cool image that other riders admire. He looks cool doing what he does, and let’s face it…every kid out there wants to look and feel cool. Show me a kid who says he doesn’t care about looking cool and I’ll show you a kid who is saying that just to look cool. Get it? No offense to Trevor Meyer or Andrew Faris, but when I watched the X Games flatland contest on ESPN in 2000, I didn’t see anyone that looked cool or that I wanted to be like. However, at Ninja Spin a few weeks ago there were more than a handful of guys who had a good, unique sense of fashion, good style, and carried themselves like rock stars. Having pros that younger riders admire and may actually want to imitate is a huge step in the right direction for a sport like ours.

Photo by Christian. Taken from matthiasdandois.com.

Now that flatland is being presented to audiences in a fun, exciting manner, the riding is at a level that is really entertaining to watch, and riders are trendsetters, how long until flatland is back in the mainstream limelight? And how will it get there? I don’t have the answer to these questions yet, but hopefully it happens sooner than later, and hopefully I am somehow a part of it because this stuff is fun as hell!
– Fat

Leave your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear other people’s take on this!

How you saw flatland on TV in 2000… (From ESPN)

How you see flatland on TV now… (From MTV Japan)