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Lost and Found

Daniel Dhers doesn't have a problem with casual tailwhips at height. Rather, his white whale takes the form of a 720, which he's had to relearn nine times. Justin Kosman/Red Bull Photofiles

Last night, I posed a question on Facebook to my BMX friends. Here's how it went: "BMX people, ever had a trick you could do at one point and then lost some time after? What was the trick and why do you think you lost it?"

I wasn't really sure what I was going to come back with, but I've been curious about the subject for a long time. Mainly because it involves myself and the dreaded tailwhip. A few years back, I was able to successfully do 9 out of 10 tailwhips I tried. Admittedly, they were gross looking and I was landing on the frame more often than not, but my brain and my body were working together to make sure that I was riding away from the trick. Then one day, that stopped. And for no specific reason either. I didn't get hurt trying them, I just lost the ability to make the trick happen consistently. But rather than torture myself trying to regain the trick, I took a step back from it, decided to give it a rest and figured that I would come back to it when my brain wasn't over-thinking the process.

I don't do the trick much anymore, but a few times a year, I can convince my brain and body to work together enough to actually pull a few tailwhips. I'm not afraid of falling on the trick, and I know what it takes to make it happen. But something in my brain really has a hard time wrapping itself around the trick. Informally, it's known as a "Mental Block," and though that term is thrown about the business world much more often than BMX, I believe that it's got a presence throughout BMX.

So why did I actually develop a mental block against tailwhips? Well, it's two reasons. First and foremost is the concept of impossibility. When I first started riding, the tailwhip had not been done yet. It was imprinted as an impossibility in my brain at the very influential age of 14, and stayed there for a long, long time. I often told myself, "There is no way in hell you will ever be able to learn that trick." And even after learning the trick, the concept of impossibility was still more embedded in my brain than the actual elation of pulling the trick. Granted, it had spent a lot more time in my brain than overcoming the impossibility. It was comfortable there. And it continued to rear its ugly head months after riding away from my first pulled tailwhip.

You know that saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks?" It's directly related to that concept, and also the reason why the older generations of riders seem to have a tougher time learning tailwhips. When the older generation's brains were at their spongiest, most influential age, tailwhips weren't around to try. Doing them after the fact necessitated overcoming the impossibility barrier. It's possible, but it's one heck of a battle. And once the initial battle is won, it only seems to get tougher to fight. That's my number one reason. I still fight the concept of impossibility in regards to tailwhips every time I commit to do them.

Next up in my battle against the tailwhip, and this is probably related neurologically to reason number one, is foot-down-itis. I put my foot down, a lot. When you break down a tailwhip, at least for myself, there's a lot going on. You're kicking the bike around, the bike is spinning around and you've somehow got to get your feet back on the bike at precisely the time when the bike swings underneath you. Someone like Dennis Enarson can close his eyes and just do it without worry, but for the rest of us, it's not always that easy. It's a complicated process, and the very last part of that process is essentially the toughest: committing to pulling that outside foot up and landing it back on the pedal. There's no clear cut answer to this dilemma though. I've found that the easiest way to commit is to pull that foot up and crash a few tailwhips along the way. But still, I can swing that bike around and get one foot back on ten out of ten times. It's that one foot that never wants to cooperate, until I go down with the ship and realize that I'm not saving myself by putting my foot down, I'm only frustrating myself, which then makes the process even more complicated. Ugh, sometimes I really hate my right foot. But that battle, again, is also winnable.

In the end, tailwhips are always going to be an issue for myself. I'll struggle with them and still do them, and that's good enough. Winning that mental battle a few times a year is a victory in itself. But going back to what I started on, I wanted to see if the same issues were present across a random subsection of the BMX world. So I asked the question on Facebook, and realized that it's not always as complicated as I make it out to be. Of course, I asked the question at 10:30 PM on a weekday night, so before you take these answers as completely factual, realize that a third of the people that answered were probably a few sheets to the wind or just bored. And now, without further Gladwellian analysis on my part, I present the answers.

BMX people: Ever had a trick you could do at one point and then lost some time after? What was it and why do you think you lost it?

Brad Puck Byrne: Lots of them. Because I got fat and lazy. Or at least fatter and lazier.

Andrew Jansen: I'm pretty sure everyone is going to say barspins. I get them all the time, crash bad on one, then get lame and can't throw them for an age.

Oliver Jeans: Barspins because my bars got too big and my seat got too low and small.

Daniel Dhers: 720s. I relearned them like nine times. I think my brain had a really bad brain fart.

Jimmy Flaherty: Toboggans. Got old and turned wimpy.

Ben Hucke: Nothings. I'm scared now!

Aaron Behnke: One-handed tables. If I don't do a trick often, it just goes away.

Brien Kielb: Toothpicks. Too much time on the disabled list.

Aaron Buckley: Tuck no-hander. The East Coast Terminal spine took me out. I couldn't lift my arm over my shoulder for two weeks, and I never got over it.

Jim Cielencki: Track stands.

Eddie Chan: Rolling fakie down stairs.

Kieran Chapman: I had a bad experience with decades years ago, so now I avoid doing them completely.

Chris McLean: Whoppers. Tried one after two years the other day and ate it. It is the familiarity of doing the trick often that you forget. Over time, your brain forgets the little pieces that make the whole.

Maurice Meyer: The last time I thought about doing a decade, I couldn't remember which direction I used to go.

Mike Purcell: Barspins. Hurt my hand and haven't been able to catch them right since.

Sandy Carson: Barspins as well. My bars cooled off and I no longer had to keep spinning those hot bars.

Jared Butler: I'll have to go with barspins. Learned them and then shortly after hurt my wrist.

John Supes Skvarla: I lost about 50% of the tricks I used to do mainly because we used to have trails with trick jumps and soft landings on flat ground. Now trails are downhill, fast and gnarly.

[So it looks like barspins are more of a problem than my dreaded tailwhip. Who would've known? Regardless, the mental block is here to stay in BMX in one form or another, so clear your head, think positive and get down to the local skatepark until you've succesfully overcome whatever it might be standing in your way.]