Don't Mess With BMXas

Honed in the streets, Aaron's skills maintain in front of the crowds. 270 bar spin. Walter Pieringer

Aaron Ross has an earache, a bad one, a leaker. He picked it up along with a bronze medal at X Games Brazil, and it's the worst pain he can remember. This memory spans his 21 years and, as a pain-threshold indicator, includes the countless rail and street-corner wrecks required of his profession as a top BMX street specialist.

"I've been pretty lucky," he says of injuries. "But this?!"

Ross, originally from Corpus Christie, lives in Austin. But at the moment he's in Las Vegas, against his wishes. "Worst place ever," he grumbles. "I've been sitting in the hotel room, just wanting to go back to Austin, home. But I literally could not take it. So I went to the hospital."

Earache and medications aside, Ross isn't known for being a complainer. It's just that he would prefer to be on his bike in his preferred habitat—the urban streetscape. Here, obstacles like stairs, terraces and curbs are just places to punctuate his famed two-wheeled traverses. Documentation of Ross' skill and creativity is ubiquitous on YouTube, but street riders—until now—have remained largely underground. Now, with a pure street event on deck for the first time at this summer's X Games in L.A., things are beginning to change.

"Bike riding started in the street, years ago," says Ross. "And then it went to the ramps and vert—what you always see on TV. But it's always stayed core on the street. The video parts you see are some of the most insane bicycle stunts you can do, and we'll meet vert guys who'll say, 'I don't know how you guys do this stuff.' It's always been like that, and it's nice to see that it's finally come to the same place."

Since September, Ross has competed in street at three international X Games events: Dubai, Mexico City, and, most recently, Brazil. He also collected three podium finishes (two silvers and a bronze). A native of Corpus Christi, Ross grew up riding bikes. At age 11, "I really got into BMX," he says. "And from that point on, I was into it. Never quit. Never."

Every Sunday, when he's home in Austin, Ross races at a local BMX track, and he's a regular trail rider as well. "For some of us, it never gets old. You go outside and you ride a kid's bike," he says. "Street riding was just the most interesting to me in terms of progression. When I ride street, my mind is always going crazy. I want to do this. I want to try that. My favorites? Bunny hop 360s and jumping down big sets of stairs and riding big technical lines; long, long lines that revolve around different technical things. That's what I've always been really into."

"It's all about finding good spots—stairs, rails, ledges, anything you'd find downtown—and seeing what's possible and trying to put it all together. It's all about creativity and how you use your mind, and that's what sets it apart. It's gotten to the point where you don't even have to do the best tricks, but as long as it's a fun-looking, creative line, it's awesome."

A year-and-a-half ago, Ross moved to Austin lured by the burgeoning bike scene there. "Hundreds of bike riders here, a really good scene," he says. He shares a big house with five other young guys—fellow BMX riders Chase Hawk, Dennis Dombrow and Tony Cardona, photographer Devon Hutchins and designer Adam Roye. "Everyone rides bikes, so there's always something to do and there's always someone to ride with," says Ross.

And that's what Ross does every day. He gets up and rides his fluorescent colored bikes. It is, after all, his job. "Street is the biggest trend in BMX at the moment—more kids get into it now because they see the freedom of it. You're not paying to go into parks, you're just going out, riding around the city and doing tricks. You're just a group of friends and maybe you hit your favorite restaurant on the way. You just go, and it's fun," he says.

Ross doesn't drink or party. He tries to stay off the computer and Internet, as well. "I do watch a lot of movies," he says, "big movie person. And I'm always interested in seeing the end of them. I always watch 'em to the end. That's interesting to me. And I guess I've always been about BMX in a similar, real nerdy way. But I do consider myself really lucky to be able to get up in the morning and all I have to worry about is riding bikes."

That, and the residual effects of the earache. But at the moment, with Ross heading back home finally, the prognosis is good, very good.