If you've spent a couple of years riding BMX, you've had illusions of grandeur. Thoughts of what it would be like to be a pro. Hell, you may even be striving for it. In my case, that was never really an option. I grew up riding alongside Gary Young, so I figured out from a very early age that I really wasn’t that good at riding BMX. I guess I had my moments, though…a couple of companies that would give me free stuff and even had a couple photos in a magazine and clips in Props. But, even still, I knew I’d never be a pro. I never had an option, but there will come a time in most people’s lives where a choice will have to be made about what direction you want to go in life. And generally, that involves what you want to do versus what you should do. And if you think this BMX stuff is for you, maybe some words from people that have already been down the path will help you out. Hell, even if being a pro isn’t for you, a lot of what is put down here from the likes of Tony Hamlin, Brian Kachinsky, Ben Hucke, KC Badger, Troy Merkle, Mike Ardelean, Daniel Dhers, and more could be transferred into other aspects of life.
Forewarning: This article is pretty one-sided. No one is going to respond to my e-mail and be like, "Yeah, I regret the path I chose in life." For every success story, I’m sure there’s countless failures and you have to stay grounded about that…
“Was there ever a point when you had to choose being a pro and getting a ‘real’ job and would you take anything back if you could do it over again?”
"I guess I have ran into this point twice in my life. The first time was choosing between being a pro, and going to college full time. I have this conversation from time to time, and I feel like, in hindsight, I made the wrong choice. The wrong choice was that I didn't chose one side or the other—I tried to go to college and be a pro. I really feel like this hurt me on both sides of life. Going to college full time as well as trying to ride everyday, travel, film, shoot photos, etc. caused me to really half ass both of them. I turned down a lot of trips/opportunities because of school, and I also got dropped from more than a few classes from missing too many days going on trips and taking opportunities. College ended up taking me way longer than it ever should have, and all of those missed opportunities really stacked up. I sometimes feel like trying to accomplish both—earning a college degree as well as being a "professional" bike rider—really hurt my progression in both. I just didn't have the time to really focus on either wholeheartedly.
"I have this conversation from time to time, and I feel like, in hindsight, I made the wrong choice."
That being said, I wouldn't change a thing. Being a professional bike rider while going to college was an amazing experience, I got to travel the world with my best friends, see completely different cultures, societies, and ways of life, things that I got to live, instead of just sitting in a classroom reading about them. It all really influenced me as a person, as well as the work I was creating while in college (I was a fine art major). It's really hard to say where I would be if I had chosen one side over the other, and I'm not really sure if choosing either side would have made too much of a difference in where I am in life currently. But, the mind can only wonder, right?
The second time was quite recent. I now have a 'real' job…or at least one that I have to be at 40 plus hours a week. But I didn't really have to make a choice. I'm not the same person I was ten years ago when this conundrum first arose. I'm older now (31!) and my passion and drive for riding my bike is not the same as it was back then. I have other passions, as well as other life goals to achieve, and riding no longer cures these itches so to speak. It's not that I don't love riding, I can honestly see myself riding for as long as I can walk, it's just that at some point we all have to grow up or find other things to keep us young. Sometimes you have to do both! Personally, I've always been a person that has had a ton of hobbies, and I am constantly trying to find the time to do them all. And going back to what I said earlier, maybe this is my character flaw. Or maybe this is just what makes me the person I am, for better or for worse… 'Mediocre at everything,' thanks Ryan Chadwick [laughs]." —KC Badger
"When I graduated college it was time to go one way or the other. I had attended some career fairs and didn't find anything appealing. I even organized some career and interview workshops for other students, as I was President of a major student organization. Despite all of this I still was more inclined to go my own way. It's been almost a decade since then.
"I'm probably making less money than most of the people I graduated college with, but I wake up everyday excited to do what I do."
I'm probably making less money than most of the people I graduated college with, but I wake up everyday excited to do what I do. I also make it a goal to utilize my education and experiences to better the companies and industry around me."
"Dude awesome question. Yup, and I can say that was the best decision of my life. Jay Roe gave me a call while I was working as a shipper/Machine operator at Jam Industries 'Dude we want you to ride for Kink and film a full part for Safety First… We have a trip next week through northeast, can you go on it?' I literal told my boss after I got off the phone and he was stoked, but said I wouldn't be able to hold down a job there anymore.
"I went from wishing time away to wishing I had more."
I would never take that back. The experiences that I've gained through bike riding and traveling have no monetary value. I went from wishing time away to wishing I had more."
"Well, this is a timely question; I'm currently making a resume to join the City of Buffalo Pedestrian and Cyclist Advisory Board. I'm currently stuck at the point of listing my unfinished Master's Degree on the resume. I feel it's very relevant to the position, but how do I explain that I was 22 credits short and left to become a professional BMX bike rider? There's just not enough room to explain it.
After graduating college, it took me working a dead end job, squatting in a skatepark and surviving a failed move to California to realize I needed to make a decision on what I was going to do with my life. So, in 1998, I decided to go to grad school for Urban Planning. I lived in a city with many problems that I wanted to learn how to solve. The program was only two years, but in that period of time my life changed so much. BMX and grad school were full time jobs and I was having major difficulty keeping up with both of them.
"For so long, I was under the belief that I made the best decision and there's very little anyone could say that would've made me think twice, but right now I wish I could say Master's Degree Urban Planning 2000 on this resume."
Urban Planning answered the many questions I had about the city I lived in and opened up this world of ideas and opportunities. There was no sense of what BMX was going to offer me, but I could tell something was up. There was a line in a Jay Miron interview in Ride way back that said something like 'You don't want to be one of those 28 year old guys still thinking they are going to make the NHL.' I realized that this would be my one and only chance to at becoming a professional BMX rider. Opportunities like these are very rare especially for a guy who was getting very close to being 28 years old.
Since you are reading about me on a BMX website then you've figured out that I chose BMX over grad school. For so long, I was under the belief that I made the best decision and there's very little anyone could say that would've made me think twice, but right now I wish I could say Master's Degree Urban Planning 2000 on this resume."
"My choice was more like: 'If I don't quit my 'real' job I will never be a pro.' I was a plumber and making good money doing it. My boss was awesome and treated me really well but it really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life. I remember the day so vividly; I was on a remodeling job and looked around at everyone else working. No one really had that spark of life in them and just seemed content in what they were doing. Not that that is a bad thing but I really wanted to ride my bike and see the world.
"I worked at Play Clothes for an eighth of what I used to make, but that was the start of me being a Pro."
So I just upped and quit that day. My boss was really bummed but understood. Next thing I knew I was driving four hours to live with Hal Brindley and Steve Buddendeck. I worked at Play Clothes for an eighth of what I used to make, but that was the start of me being a Pro. From there I started riding for DK and other brands. While I can honestly say I still have never made the same money I did being a plumber but the memories and friends I made from being a broke BMX pro are worth every penny I didn’t make."
"I've wanted to be a pro BMX rider for as long as I can remember. However, it never happened—I've always worked a non-BMX job and that is fine with me.
"I've wanted to be a pro BMX rider for as long as I can remember. However, it never happened."
Having responsibilities before BMX has made me appreciate the time I've had on my bike and amazing opportunities I have had in the BMX world. 'Pro' or not, I'm gonna continue to push my riding and enjoy myself for as long as my body can take it."
"I grew up in BMX when BMX was dead. Ahh, the good years. Those were the years that true riders rode, for the love of it. Being dead, there was no money to be made and people shredded for the purpose of shredding. This is where I learned that working is a part of BMX. Money allows you to ride, eat, travel and be a bit more individual as a rider.
"Get a job, ya pussies."
If you love to ride you will ride with a job just as much as the guy without the job, you may even appreciate BMX more and ride harder. Pussy worthless kids that can't get a job and ride are usually the ones that don't dig at the trails, get into partying, and eventually stop riding. PS, there is no money in BMX forever and if you’re getting paid, it’s most likely crap and less than working at McDonald's. Get a job, ya pussies."
"When my sponsors dried up I had to get a full time real job in photography, but it seemed like a natural transition, since I was already pulling double duty as a BMX pro and freelancer. I wouldn't change it for the world and had my time as a rider. Change is good and it's fine to move on and let the younger kids have a go, no point in milking it."
"I always had a few 'jobs' while I spent time as a 'pro' (if I could even have been considered that.) I also went to college straight out of high school, and even though my riding suffered because of it, I knew I needed to get it out of the way before I could put everything I wanted into riding BMX. After college, even when I was putting everything I could into riding 5-6 hours a day, I was still working full or part time jobs and basically just scraping by to take trips, go to contests, etc.
"I see a lot of the younger pros not even finishing high school and killing themselves to put out one web video a month for a few hundred bucks a month, and no one wants to tell them that it's all gonna come crashing down in a few short years."
I'm glad I continued working because the time spent off my bike motivated me to want to ride. Nowadays, I see a lot of the younger pros not even finishing high school and killing themselves to put out one web video a month for a few hundred bucks a month (if they're extremely lucky), and no one wants to tell them that it's all gonna come crashing down in a few short years. Well, it is, and everyone should have a backup plan because of that."
"I was never forced to choose, but after a few years of living the dream I got antsy. My favorite BMXers had other things going on, and I wanted to be like them. My new dream was to have a cool job and just ride for fun. Just my personal opinion and experience, but I would choose 'real job' every time."
"2006. My dad wanted me to work with him since I wasn't really making any money more than the day to day for two or three years. I asked him to just give me one more year. He agreed and I ended up winning Dew Tour on my first year riding it. So I told him thanks, but BMX was what I wanted to do and I now could make a living of it."
"Right now, I need a job or I'm going to be screwed. If I could have done anything different when I was younger it would definitely have been to push myself harder. I was young and lazy and now I'm out of my teens and into real life."
"In high school I always wanted to be a pro bike rider, but at the same time I knew that riding bikes alone probably wouldn't be a secure job. Instead of getting a real 9-5 job and giving up on my goals I decided to start making websites and doing freelance work with that. I'm lucky I chose that path because now I can ride bikes full time and work on the side instead of doing the reverse.
"If you're looking to be a pro bike rider, go for it, but I recommend dialing in some skills that you can earn a side income with."
If you're looking to be a pro bike rider, go for it, but I recommend dialing in some skills that you can earn a side income with. That way BMX stays fun since you don't have to rely on winning contests or having a constant stream of coverage to pay the bills."
"I was balls deep in school. Taking college courses in high school like business calculus and shit. Was fully set up to go to college and opted out. Best choice I've ever made and wouldn't change it for the world. Nothing beats riding and traveling. Regardless of income or possessions, I am a wealthy man."
"A couple times I've sat down and had to make this choice. At 20 years old I had nothing. BMX was pretty idle for me, I wasn't a contest dude, I was pretty broke, and on a bad path. I chose to join the military, which at the time I'd say saved my life. Four years later I was back on my feet I decided that wasn't what I wanted to keep on doing. I entered back into the BMX life, living with friends, riding all of the time and having random odd jobs here and there. After a few years I ended up with a pretty solid job working on cars, which I enjoyed. About a year or so later I found out I was going to be a dad; working 50-60hrs a week and coming home tired and beat from work wasn't how I wanted my son to see me.
"I'd compare it to winning the lottery where you win enough money to live an average to below average lifestyle."
I lived that life growing up and I respect my father for taking that route and providing for us, but it wasn't a ton of fun. I figured if I put as much effort into BMX as I did my job, there was no reason I couldn't make a living in BMX and spending all my free time being a Dad. I got lucky. It's not the crazy life some might imagine, but not everyone gets this chance so you take it. It's what you love to do, so it doesn't matter. I'd compare it to winning the lottery where you win enough money to live an average to below average lifestyle. I'll never forget the day I had to call my job and tell them I have to quit because BMX had taken over my life. I will always work in BMX in someway, somehow and to me that will never be working a real job again."
"[Laughs] good question. I somewhat have an answer. In 2002 after losing almost of my sponsors and working a 9-5 I had the invite to live in Southern California with some awesome people. But with no money in the bank and a family willing to pay for college completely if I didn't flunk out, I took the chance on getting an education. Bad idea. Literally the day I graduated the economy took a nosedive, there were no jobs and I found myself full of regret.
"If I had any advice for anyone it would be to never second-guess yourself—you will regret it."
The biggest mistake anyone can make in this world is not taking the gamble on yourself. It is hard to go to school, have a full or part time job and put 100% into progressing the way you want to. I do understand that some people can, but in my case, it was too much. If I had any advice for anyone it would be to never second-guess yourself—you will regret it. I have a nice house, new car, motorcycle and decent life, but I would trade it all to have just packed up and moved in with Murray and Nasty all those years ago."