In late March, the BMX world was introduced to the "Special Flip," a new type of backflip, landed for the first time at the Nitro Circus Live show by "Special" Greg Powell, esteemed Nitro Circus member and by his own admittances, a "conventional" athlete that only rode BMX bikes while visiting with his cousin, all-around action sports phenomenon Travis Pastrana.
The trick, an off-axis backflip done by the rider while the bike stays upright in the air, was pulled over the 32-foot gap during the Nitro Circus Live Australian tour. Powell, 27, who joined the cast of "Nitro Circus" in 2009, had been attempting the trick for eight years, finally riding away somewhat clean on the night of March 19. (He didn't get both feet back on the pedals, but he definitely rolled away from the trick.)
According to Powell, "So far, I've rode away from it three times. The wheels were under me, and my body was somehow on the bike. That doesn't mean my feet were on the pedals and my hands were on the bars though." Still though, on that very night, Powell rolled down the landing, visually ecstatic that something very dangerous he had been attempting for the past eight years was finally realized.
And then the naysayers chimed in. Was the trick "pulled" even if his foot didn't get back on the pedal? According to Kink pro Tony Hamlin, the "Special Flip" was "Not pulled." But if we're going to be that strict, then Mat Hoffman's first flair, which he also landed with one foot blowing off the pedal, wasn't pulled. And I don't think anyone is going to argue against the legitimacy of the first flair or the revolution it started within BMX.
And it's not just the flair either. There's a laundry list of BMX firsts that were landed somewhat sketchy, including tailwhips, 360 whips, 900s and handrail grinds. A foot might've slipped the pedal, the rider might have landed on the frame, etc. But for the sake of progression in BMX, pulling the trick as clean as possible didn't matter. The trick was pulled, the sport progressed, and eventually, new riders learned the new tricks and learned to land them smooth. In essence, someone had to take the first step in a new direction for the rest of BMX to benefit, and sometimes that first step meant slipping a pedal and riding away one-footed.
The "Special Flip" is a different beast though. Obviously, it's an amazing trick, one that is dangerous and incredibly nuts to witness. No one is arguing against that. But the question on many BMXer's minds after the trick's unveiling was, is the traveling mega-resi ramp used by the Nitro Circus Live crew "helping BMX?"
According to BMX park and dirt pro Rob Darden, it's not. "I don't see this helping kids get into BMX," he said via Twitter after the "Special Flip" was revealed to the greater public. And while I can see Rob's point, I'm also torn down the middle. Yes, young people witnessing a traveling mega-resi jump and then wanting to pursue that area of riding are going to have a rude awakening when they discover that there are only a handful of mega-style jumps in existence throughout the world. And yes, wanting to pursue riding any type of mega-resi isn't something you can just grab a BMX bike and decide to try. But if new people see the Nitro Circus Live and are inspired by Andy Buckworth, Jaie Toohey or Special Greg enough to want to ride a BMX bike in any way, shape or form, then it is helping people get into BMX.
I look at it this way. Tons of riders, including current pros, needed just one tiny bit of exposure to the world of BMX to want to ride. From there, they got a bike, started following the scene and eventually figured out their niche in the spectrum of riding BMX. Dave Mirra started out riding flatland because he was exposed to Kevin Jones and the Plywood Hoods. Gary Young started riding because he saw the movie "Rad." And riders such as Dave Osato, Mike Aitken and Van Homan started out racing at their local track and then discovered that turndowns were more fun than beating their friends in races.
My point is this: people are witnessing what's being done at the Nitro Circus Live show and are being exposed to a very insane side of BMX, and that one spark will hopefully encourage them to become interested in riding BMX. To date, Special Greg's "Special Flip" has been viewed on YouTube over 1,807,375 times. And that's a lot of new people being exposed to BMX.
Admittedly, I never thought that BMX's latest ambassador would be Special Greg Powell and the "Special Flip," but I believe that BMX should be thankful for Greg's very crazy contribution to BMX, along with the added outside interest Greg has given to the greater sport of BMX.
Even if his foot didn't get back on the pedal.