It’s not just a sport: when BMX riding becomes art

Nathan’s art comes alive at the skatepark. Picture by Ashley Bell.
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Grimy and graffitied skateparks seem like the last place to find artistic freedom. But interesting stunts and tricks are how BMX rider Nathan Leech expresses his creativity. Ashley Bell reports

While some see riding BMX as a sport, Nathan Leech describes it as an art form.

“I like doing big drops, bar spins, things that look a little rougher and not as smooth, but have their own expressive value,” Nathan says.

“I’m in it to have fun and not fall off too much.”

Riding bikes of every shape and size since he can remember, Nathan’s journey to riding BMX began with borrowing his friend’s bike.

“Me and my mate would go to the dirt jumps near our house. He would ride his mountain bike and I would borrow his BMX. That was where it started. From there we gradually got more into the BMX scene and gravitated toward skateparks,” Nathan says.

For Nathan, riding his bike represents more than exercise.

“I don’t really see [BMX] as a sport. It’s a way of expression in an artistic way. I’m not in it to score big in contests or earn a lot of money,” he says.

It’s not just a sport: when BMX riding becomes art
BMX rider Nathan Leech. Picture by Ashley Bell.

Nathan is one of a growing number of riders who see BMX as more than sport or exercise. In a 2019 BMX edit titled BMX A Form of Art, professional BMX rider David Krone promotes the sport as a means of creative expression.

“I’d describe BMX as a kind of art form where you can master it and make it your own,” he says.

“It’s the same as art, when you’re painting a photo you have this idea in your head that comes alive on the paper. You can do the same with riding.”

It is this artistic expression that drew Nathan into riding. He had played team sport for most of his life, but struggled to find a sense of individuality. BMX provided that.

“I actually stopped playing all team sport and decided to just ride BMX, and I was having more fun than I’d ever had doing organised sport because I was able to do what I want to do,” Nathan says.

“At a skatepark you’ve got an infinite amount of possibilities to ride the way you want to ride. So I really enjoyed that, it’s the level of freedom you get.”

It’s not just a sport: when BMX riding becomes art
Performing tricks is part of the art. Picture by Ashley Bell.

In BMX A Form of Art, street style BMX rider Kittrell Eberwine says street riding is more of an art than riding in a skatepark.

“These obstacles are not there to ride, it’s not built to ride. You have to creatively look at something that’s not meant to be ridden and make something of it,” Kittrell says.

When Melbourne’s lockdowns closed skateparks, Nathan transitioned to riding on the street, and found that strengthened his creativity, pushing him to make art out of speed bumps and curbs.

“I’ve transferred what I would do in a skatepark to what I can do on a street. You just try to find something that works. I try to be creative on whatever obstacles I can find in the street wether that’s a speed bump or someone else’s driveway,” Nathan says.

Seeing skateparks put under lock and key, disappointed Nathan.

“For me BMX holds so much therapeutic value and to have that literally locked in a cage with chains put around it it can be really devastating, especially on the bad days,” Nathan says.

It’s not just a sport: when BMX riding becomes art
Nathan’s paintbrush, his BMX bike. Picture by Ashley Bell.

Pushing himself to continuing riding during lockdown was the hardest part, however his passion and love for BMX couldn’t be quelled.

Best mate and BMX rider Elan Crowe says there is nothing that could stop Nathan from riding.

“There was still tons [to ride]. We just had to change our riding styles a little bit,” Elan says.

The change from skateparks to street has further ignited Nathan’s passion to express his creativity through the sport.

“You don’t have to be a pro to have artistic direction in the sport, anything you do can be art,” Nathan says.

Asked to give one piece of advice to anyone starting out or wanting to get into BMX Nathan says: “Wear a helmet.”