Five minutes with Lauren Smith, co-founder of GoBMX

Lauren Smith is committed to offering the same opportunities in BMX to girls and women by starting GoBMX.

Lauren Smith is one busy woman, not only does she have a full time job in the bike industry she heads up GoBMX, offering girls only BMX coaching sessions for all ages and abilities.

We managed to catch five minutes with Lauren, a British Cycling Level 2 BMX coach, between her many commitments to hear about the exciting world of BMX.

I started riding a bike about when I was 4 or 5-years-old, as most kids do. Then my Dad took me to the local BMX track in Peterborough in 1996, when I was 8. He took me down there, I sort of had a go, had a couple of crashes, cried a little. Then, I think I had a go on someone else’s bike and it was much better.  Yeah, I went back a couple of times to the track and borrowed another bike, and then I think I was kind of hooked from there.

Lauren runs GoBMX with Ellie Dewdney, coaching BMX skills to girls and women of all abilities.

The leg speed for BMX is unreal. My legs are quite slow to be honest, and that’s why I struggle a bit more, because you’ve got the younger girls at about 14-years-old who have such quick legs. I race clipped in, but I don’t train clipped in. There’s a love, hate relationship with clips in BMX. You need them for the speed and to progress, but kids try to put them on too early or beginners put them on too early, because they see that’s what the elite riders are using, even though they’ve got no bike control or skill. Clips mask things, if you haven’t got the skill you can do a bit better than what you could.

Shanaze Reade and the Olympics may have raised the profile among the public, but Lauren feels it has not had a lasting effect on getting women to try BMXing. Image by Smokeghost.

The Olympics put a false view on BMXing, because the Olympics track was big, it’s scary; it had a massive start hill. Where as your local track, might just be a pump track, so it will be nice and small and not as intimidating. I think Shanaze Reade and the Olympics didn’t have much of an effect on women, for kids it has, because they saw it. We’re always getting new kids to the track, some come and go, some stick to it.

I’ve got a sister, but she was in to ballet, so my Mum forced me to go to ballet and I think in the end I started racing BMX and my Dad was like, “look I don’t think Lauren really wants to go to ballet any more”.  But I think my Mum just wanted to give us the same opportunities, so I went to ballet, quit that for BMX and never went back to ballet again.

I took part in regionals, nationals, European and World Championships. I haven’t done much in the last couple of years racing wise, just because I’ve been coaching and you don’t find time to ride yourself, I progressively got slower and I didn’t like getting beaten really. The competitive streak is still there, so I’m going to try and race in a couple of weeks in Kent, a National round.

When I moved up to Derby, I then started coaching just cycling in general in schools, and then there wasn’t really a club up here but there was a track, so then I started a club at the local track here. Both boys and girls, just in general to get a club up in Derby going because obviously I’d left one in Peterborough and I didn’t want to stop the racing.

So we started that going, just doing free coaching and it grew bigger and bigger and then we got some funding through to renew the track up to National Standard, from Cycling England. The club runs itself now, I’m still involved but we’ve got lots of parents that help and then came the girls BMX coaching.

Lauren coaching one of the young girls attending a GoBMX session.

GoBMX, is girls only coaching, BMX coaching, which some people still don’t get. So it was me, and Ellie, who’s also involved in this – she only started riding about 3 years ago, I think she hurt her leg at judo and then saw this and thought ‘I’ll come and have a go of that.’ She just kind of got hooked on it as well, so then I dragged her into coaching because we had too many kids for me to handle alone.

We were running mixed academy sessions for the midlands, and we noticed that there were so many girls there that had no bike control at all or skill. We thought it was mainly because they were joining in with boys sessions and not being up to speed. We see it ourselves, you start progressing the mixed sessions so quickly because the boys progress fast, and you don’t want them to get bored, but the girls haven’t quite got there yet but they just get togged along. Because we didn’t have time to focus on them really, which is a bit of a shame, so we saw that there was probably a need here, to try and get these girls more skillful on their BMXs.

People don’t often appreciate how social BMX riding is. Hosted on a closed circuit means the riders and spectators get to spend time together in between laps.

We just started running some skills only sessions for girls, just basing it on, a ‘manual’ in one week, then the next session we looked at jumping, and then we got the women’s World Champion, Joey Gough, who’s world champion for 17+ women, we got her involved in the jumping as a guest rider, because she’s really good at that. You know, just to throw in a few more tips, and just look at it from another perspective and we ended up getting some women on the courses; one woman was probably nearly in her 50s. She absolutely loved it, she was from Braintree so came all the way up to Leicester for the session. On another session we had a woman join in with her little girl, and she’s got into it.

The main difference between mountain biking and BMX is obviously the size of the bike, sounds stupid, but it is. Because they both involve quite a lot of the same skills, because you pump on a mountain bike, you pump on a BMX. I think it’s also the intensity of BMX, it’s all short bursts, and it’s as fast as you can go. I’d probably say it’s, on a mountain bike it’s probably quite sociable as well, but BMX, you’re at the track and it’s all contained within a small area, so it’s quite sociable, you’ll do a little lap, stop, have a chat and then you’ll go again. Probably the main differences between mountain bike and BMX are, the size of the bike and the intensity of it, because everything with BMX is flat out.

We just did a beginners session for the girls whose brothers do it, they normally sit in their little tent and colour in. Ellie and I were like, ‘come on!’ We got them to ride, they were quite excited and I think they enjoyed it. I had one little girl, she was only 4-years-old and she really crashed hard twice and she just got back up, she had no sense of pain or whatever!

BMX is accessible to women of all ages, from the very young, to those who have retired and want a challenge.

BMX is a sport open to women of all ages, there’s quite a strong class at the National’s with 30+ year-old women and at Regional’s there’s quite a big contingency, more down south I would say. But we are looking at doing some Mum sessions. We wanted to leave the younger one’s in their own session, because they like their fun and games and we didn’t want to patronise the women. So there are quite a lot of Mums looking into it. We did a 100-lap challenge at the track the other day and a lot of the Mums were jumping in when their kid was tired, you could see how much they enjoyed it.

Mariana Pajón is a heroine of Lauren’s and makes BMXing look effortless. Image by yonolatengo.

My favourite rider at the moment has got to be Mariana Pajón, who won the Olympics, just for her style, how she’s just so smooth and how she makes it look just effortless, it’s really nice to see. Then when I was younger, the girls I looked up to aren’t actually in the sport any more. I remember going to a race and Kerri Edgworth came up to me and gave me a signed team top and I had a PowerLite, the same bike she used to ride.

I think there were more females involved in BMXing in the 80s than what there is now. It died and now it’s slowly picking up again. There are quite a few women booked on to our next sessions, we’ve got Lauren Reynolds, she’s Australian professional rider who rode at the Olympics, she’s coming to do a couple of sessions. We’re going to do a track and coffee morning soon, because there’s actually a café in the park at Derby. So we’ll do a ride and then we’ll all go to the café and have some cake and tea, to emphasize the social aspect of BMXing for women.

My love of BMX has changed over the years; I used to enjoy the winning and the competitive aspect. I think now I enjoy the coaching and watching the kids and the riders develop, you know watching them achieve something they’ve been working on. Whether it’s winning a race or practicing their jump, or practicing their gate technique, knowing you’ve helped them reach that.

Fancy giving BMX a whirl? Lauren is running a coaching session on Sunday 24th November 2013 at Burgess Park, Peckham from 1-3pm.

Visit the GoBMX Facebook page for more information.


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