BMX – from a 1970s California bike craze to an Olympic sport

The origins of BMX (an abbreviation of Bicycle Motocross) can be traced to the early 1970s in southern California when children adapted their road bikes for the thrill of dirt track racing. Manufacturers soon took advantage of the craze and began selling specially-made bikes. By the early 1980s, BMX had become hugely popular not just in the US but in Europe and other countries.

International timeline:

  • 1977. The American Bicycle Association (ABA) is organised as a national governing body for the growing interest in BMX.
  • 1981. The International BMX Federation is formed and holds its first BMX World Championship the following year.
  • 1993. BMX is recognised and integrated into the Union Cycliste Internationale.
  • 2003. BMX becomes an Olympic full-medal discipline, marking its debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

TVTA is pleased to present a gallery of international print images featuring BMX bikes, clothing, accessories, and promotions as advertised throughout the 1970s and 1980s.


Quick off the mark by Halfords. This 1980 UK advert illustrates perfectly how the BMX craze was about to expand into Europe following its birth in the US.

Raleigh Night Burner. 1983. France.

BMX T-shirts and sweat-shirts. UK. 1984.


Birthday BMX Club prize promo. UK. 1984.

Barratt Sherbet BMX prize promo. UK. 1983.


Thank you for spinning your handlebars 360 degrees with us 🙂 

16 thoughts on “BMX – from a 1970s California bike craze to an Olympic sport

    • Thanks Gray, so lucky you got a Burner! One of my brothers had the Tough Burner for Christmas – such a good-looking bike with its blue and yellow trim, and I admit I was a little envious. Being the eldest, Santa got me a Raleigh 10 speed racer, which turned out to be a really good bike for the country lanes where we lived at the time.

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  1. Oh you guys are gonna hate me…I had a Diamondback Pro BMX bike with full headstock and stunt peg set-up. My brother shared a house with the British Freestyle BMX champ at the time and he hooked me up with one of his ex bikes. The guy called round to deliver the bike and we were sat in my lounge when he said “Do you know what a Cherrypicker is?” I said no to which he promptly stood up grabbed the bike and performed the stunt in my front room! (This trick involved balancing on the back wheel while you stepped over and straddled the front forks and, standing on the pedals bounced up and down as if on a Pogo-Stick 🙂 ) I never got to that level but did have loads of fun and “Road Rash” burns!

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  2. This is great,thanks. Great ads. I got a Night Burner, Xmas ’83 – still the best gift I’ve received, probably. I still have the frame. And a lovely Haro FST F&F too. The Halfords ad is especially evocative. Best wishes …

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    • Brilliant. Thanks, Don, for commenting, and you are so lucky to have that great Christmas memory. One of my brothers had a Burner for Christmas, was such a good-looking bike, as are all them really. I love the Halfords ad too – as it’s one of the first (to my knowledge) BMX ads to come out when the craze hit Britain.

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  3. I just saw this article. Good stuff. I rode BMX in Southern California from 1970 through 1978. I rode a Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat, then a Webco with Motomags. We had some great places to ride near the L.A. Airport, and in Santa Ana and Orange in Orange County.

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    • Hi Brad. Thanks for sharing those memories of the pioneering days of BMX! So lucky you were there to experience it. In the late 70s in the UK it was such a craze, with cereal, chips and popsicle promotions galore! I didn’t experience an actual BMX bike until around 1980 / 81 when one of my younger brothers had a Raleigh Burner for Christmas – such a cool-looing bike.
      Cheers, TVTA.

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      • Thanks for getting back to me. I can send photos of my bikes, if there’s a way to do that or a site to send them to. They’re kind of blurry, but you should be able to see them. Great to hear from you. The wonderful thing about Southern California was you could do BMX, surf, skateboard, snow ski, and play football and baseball all in the same general area.

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      • That sounds such a treat to be able to do all those sports and activities in the same general area… plus I imagine you had good weather most of the time! I think it took the UK and even France where I live now a while to get it together to make skateparks and BMX circuits, although I do remember a really cool artificial ski park we had as a teen. I enjoyed the toboganning a lot!
        Would love to see the bike pics, thanks! You can send to my blog email: thevintagetoyadvertiser@zoho.com

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