Can BMX Bikes Pedal Backwards?

The first time I watched a pro BMX biker put on a show, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. How did this guy take something that I can’t even carry onto a train gracefully and casually pirouette with it?

I was utterly entranced and, from that day, I’ve been obsessed with BMX tricks like the Triple BarSpin, Superman, Candy Bar and Fakie Tailwhip.

In the years since, I’ve learned a lot about stunt riding and even learned a BMX trick or two of my own (no, really). One of the biggest surprises was how difficult some of the simpler looking tricks turned out to be.

Take fakies, for example. The pedals on a BMX bike will move backwards but, without a reverse gear, you’re going nowhere fast.

So, how do trick riders pull off the BMX equivalent of a moonwalk? Can BMX bikes pedal backwards or is it just a clever illusion? In this article, we’re going to get to the bottom of the fakie and maybe even learn how to do it for ourselves.

For Real Though, Can BMX Bikes Pedal Backwards?

Technically, yes. But not on their own. The pedals on a BMX bike do move backwards but, without a reverse gear, they can’t move the rider in a backwards direction. You can try it for yourself. You’ll spin the pedals but the bike will stay in one spot.

To move backwards with the pedals, you need a gadget known as a cassette rear hub. Any stunt rider worth their salt has a hub like this because you can’t do a fakie without one.

A cassette rear hub allows a rider to pedal (and move) backwards as freely as forwards.

I should mention, you can also do this with a freecoaster hub but, technically, there’s no pedalling backwards. Freecoasting is when the bike essentially rolls backwards but the cranks don’t turn and pedalling isn’t needed.

To actually pedal backwards, your BMX bike needs a cassette rear hub. But why is any of this important?

Why Would I Even Need to Pedal Backwards?

Uh, because it looks cool.

For stunt riders, pedalling backwards is really important. Since the emergence of BMX freestyling in the seventies, pro riders have continued to push the boundaries and find exciting new ways to whip, spin, rail, bounce and launch themselves into the air. Many of the classic BMX stunts were inspired by skateboarders and surfers who seemed so much more agile and creative with their combinations.

BMXing became just as impressive once riders learned how to use backwards pedalling as a transition between tricks and stunts.

Today, it’s a core skill that’s essential for jumping over obstacles, moving between tricks, using walls and riding down half and quarter pipes. If you want to pull off gravity defying stunts, get good at pedalling backwards.

The Fakie

The fakie is ubiquitous in BMX circles these days but, like everything else, it had to be developed.

A fakie is when a rider moves his bike backwards without turning it. He faces forwards but pedals backwards. The bike’s cassette rear hub allows it to roll backwards in a controlled manner.

It looks simple but it’s essential for pulling off balletic moves such as the walltop which sees a rider bounce onto a wall and kick off.

Fakies are especially important for flatlands BMXing because the discipline is all about fluidity, lightness and artistic expression. These pros aren’t trying to be the strongest or fastest riders on the track. They’re trying to make 18lbs of metal dance.

We’ll talk about how to perform a fakie later. For now, let’s focus on some technical details.

What Makes a BMX Bike Pedal Backwards?

I’ve already mentioned the importance of having a good cassette rear hub. Without one, you can pedal backwards with enthusiasm but you’re not going to move anywhere.

BMX bikes move because two things happen: the rider turns the pedals and this rotates the crank. The sprocket is engaged and the bike begins to roll forward.

At the rear of the bike, you have the rear hub and rear axle. The rear hub is operated by the chain’s driving action as it rotates the rear wheel through the transfer of a rider’s pedal-power to the rear hub.

As BMX bikes are made with a single fixed gear, all of this action can only move the bike forwards. That is, unless it’s been intentionally modified with a cassette rear hub.

This gadget uses an independent cog to propel the rear wheel forwards or backwards via the chain action and crank. When the rider pedals backwards, the bike now rolls backwards as well.

As already mentioned, you can also ride backwards with a freecoaster hub. The end result is the same but a BMX rider does not need to pedal backwards when using one of these. If a cassette rear hub is used, the rider must rotate the pedals to get any backwards movement out of the bike.

Are You Ever Gonna Teach Me How to Fakie?

Alright, let’s get down to it. The fakie is a BMX skill that feels a little tricky at first – it may take you an hour or two to move confidently – but once you’ve grasped it, it will feel as natural as riding forwards. As with all good bicycle stunts, the key is balance.

I recommend lifting your seat while you’re learning so you can sit down and get familiar with driving the bike backwards. Then, when you’re moving with a little more fluidity, you can reposition the seat and focus on balancing at the same time.

If you can, start practising on a slight incline. It shouldn’t be too steep or you may struggle to maintain control.

Use your legs to slowly pedal backwards and gently roll your bike down the incline. It’s important to do this slowly at first so you learn to feel the engagement point of the cranks and the rear hub. Keep repeating the action until you can easily identify when the engagement happens.

To control the speed of your bike’s backward movement, you need to adjust the degree of pressure placed on the pedals. As with regular old forwards pedalling, you’re going to shoot down the hill at speed if you push down hard.

To improve your balance while pedalling backwards, gently tilt your body towards the back wheel. This will move your weight further towards the back of the bike making it much easier to countersteer and keep the whole thing upright.

Once you’re feeling confident riding on the incline, switch to a flatter terrain and repeat the process. Some riders find the transition tricky at first because that slight momentum from the downwards incline is no longer there.

It’s important you don’t start using your feet to kick off from the ground as that isn’t a proper fakie. The more you begin to rely on a manual push, the harder it’ll be to make the bike do the work for you.

Fakies are such a crucial transition movement for BMX stunt riders. To have any chance of linking them smoothly to other tricks, your feet must stay off the ground.

Fortunately, there is a trick you can try if you’re struggling. Ride up to a wall, curb or other solid obstacle that can give you leverage.

Your front wheel should be close enough to touch the surface. Gently lift the front wheel so that it’s propped against the surface, not too high but clearly off the ground. If you can, keep your feet resting on the pedals while you lift it and just use your weight to maintain balance and control.

Then, transfer your weight smoothly from the back to the front wheel. Push gently off the surface by pivoting your weight backwards again as the wheel returns to the ground.

Now, you’ve got the momentum to start moving backwards in a controlled manner. Use your feet to reverse push the pedals. Don’t forget, if you’ve got a cassette rear hub, you need to pedal backwards or you’ll stop moving altogether.

If you do freeze up, just return to the wall or curb and try again. The beauty of using a cassette rear hub is you won’t go anywhere or spin out of control if you stop backwards pedalling. Your bike will simply refuse to move.

That Sounds Harder Than I Thought, Do You Think I’m Ready?

If you’re familiar with BMX riding, you’ll know even the simplest of movements can sound complicated on paper. As long as you’re practising in a safe environment without too much traffic, you can pull off terrible fakies all day long until you get it right. There’s no real danger associated with this trick.

My advice is to stick with gentle inclines. You may think that a big hill is the best place to build momentum but it’s also a good way to career out of control. The objective isn’t to ride backwards really fast. You should aim to remove the incline and, eventually, pedal backwards on flat surfaces.

The fakie isn’t the most glamorous of BMX tricks but it’s the glue that holds great routines together. If you want to combine whips, bounces, grinds and rails like a pro, this is where you start.

Here are some quick tips to remember:

  • On flat ground, you can use a wall or even a pole for momentum if you prop the front wheel against it.
  • Before you pivot and push off, push into the wall to build up inertia for the backward movement.
  • As you’re pushing the bike off and away, keep your arms straight, knees bent, and backside toward the rear wheel.
  • When the bike is moving backward, reverse pedal slightly faster than the hub is moving.
  • If you wobble to one side, lean the opposite knee outwards to counterbalance.
  • Don’t forget to check for people and obstacles behind you!

In Conclusion

I hope you found this post fun as well as helpful. Have got any questions? Let me know in the comments section down below!!!!!

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