SOUTH LEBANON – You don’t have to be a daredevil. But you have to be strong of nerve and will.
You don’t have to be super athletic. But you have to be coordinated.
You don’t have to be a kid. But you must be young at heart.
You don’t have to be thrilled. But you’re going to have fun.
Bicycle motocross isn’t just for anyone! Or is it?
Some 30 years old, BMX racing in Lebanon County was an extreme sport before the X-Games existed. And while it’s certainly experienced its ‘ups and downs’ locally, for the most part it is still going strong.
The Lebanon Area Fairgrounds, located on Cornwall Road in South Lebanon, is the home to the Lebanon Valley BMX track.
To outsiders, the series of hills, jumps, bumps and turns is little more than manicured lumps of dirt and clay. But to the trained eye of the 100 or so thrill seekers who frequent the experience, the Lebanon Valley BMX track is a challenge, a race against Mother Earth, gravity and oneself.
“It’s bicycle motocross,” explained Steve Skishalley, the operator of Lebanon Valley BMX. “It’s the same as some of the motorcycle tracks. It’s a predetermined course and the competition is divided by skill and age. It’s just an easy sport to get into. It’s an individual sport. Just come out, watch and see what some of these kids can do.”
“I’ve been doing it since I was four,” said Devon Enck, a nine-year-old from Lebanon. “My dad used to race when he was a kid. He wanted to see if I could do it. The day I was off training wheels, I was on the track. Now I’ve gotten better and better.”
Races at Lebanon Valley BMX track are contested most Tuesdays and Sundays, from March to December, weather permitting. The competition is broken down by age and into divisions, the novice class, the intermediate class and the expert class.
At the conclusion of the racing year, awards are handed out to those who accumulate the most track points.
“To me, it’s a fun sport,” said Skishalley. “I raced since I was a kid. My daughter took an interest in it, so I got back into it. I’ve got a good group of people out here supporting me. It’s a good family sport.
“The more speed, the more danger there is,” Skishalley added. “There definitely is skill to racing, just knowing how to go over a jump or how to jump. There are things you’ve got to know. It’s all good as long as you keep it fun.”
“The only time when it’s scary is when you feel like you’re going to fall,” said Enck. “And then you fall. But no, I’m not afraid of it at all.”
Lebanon Valley BMX was initially established in 1982 under the name of South Hills BMX. For years, the track was the home to the Lebanon Crankers before only recently taking on its current title.
“A lot of the kids play other sports,” said Skishalley. “Soccer, track, football. The newest, biggest thing is a lot of them are playing lacrosse. Each one has its season.
“For us, this is a summer sport,” added Skishalley. “It’s individual racing. You’re your own person. And it’s good exercise”
“I also do karate and baseball,” said Enck. “But I like bike racing because I can jump and stuff. It’s real fun. It’s just a really cool sport. My favorite sport would be BMX racing.”
Lebanon Valley BMX is the only track of its kind within a 40-mile radius. And while riders come from nearly as far away to test their skills on it, the majority of the competitors are ‘bologna eaters’.
“Our biggest numbers come from Lebanon County,” said Skishalley. “I’d say over half. But we do pull some racers from outside of Lebanon County who like the track.
“It’s a considerably fast track,” Skishalley continued. “It’s all downhill. But it’s a lot of pedaling.”
“I have a trainer who trains me,” said Enck. “He teaches me how to pump harder, how to pedal through the turns, how to take the turns harder. Now I’m real fast.
“You’ve got to take the gates real good,” continued Enck. “And you have to pump down real hard on your landing.”
Lebanon Valley BMX is home to die-hards from ages six to in their late 40s. Sometimes it seems the only thing they have in common is that they have racing in their blood.
“Yes, there’s a lot of money that can be put into it,” said Skishalley. “It all depends on what you want. From $200 to $300 on up, depending on what kind of gear you want. As far as bikes go, you can spend $200 to $300 and be competitive.
“I’m honestly surprised,” continued Skishalley. “We’ve been here for 30 years and the popularity of the sport is coming back. With some of the school sports and the youth sports, you can’t make the team. Out here, it’s you against the track. But some of these guys are just here, and having fun.”
“If I was going to show someone about BMX racing for the first time, first I would ride with them so they could get used to it,” said Enck. “I would tell them to keep your elbows out when you’re racing. ‘And stay in your spot and keep your timing.'”
There you have it.