Photos: Jeff Zielinski
Magnatek, Franklin Industrial, Electric Avenue, The Northside, 7-UP Banks, New Berlin Hips… All funny names for places in the Midwest that fall under the category of “industrial areas.” Interestingly, though similar in many ways—especially as they are all “street spots”—these areas are extremely diverse. Even if you only rode those Midwestern industrial areas, you would find that you are in-line with the popular call to “ride everything.” More on that later, but first, some history (my favorite).
Growing up in the Midwest in the early 90s, the few videos we saw portrayed California as the promised land of BMX. From backyard ramps to iconic schoolyards, it seemed that California was the place to be. And by default, California spots were the things we wanted to ride. For a while it seemed as if all we did was hunt for similar spots in the Midwest. And for the most part we failed. Not too much later, East Coast videos began to expand our ideas of ideal spots and they certainly looked different from the palm tree-encircled pristine schoolyards of SoCal. Grimy alleys and rusted-out factories were a definite contrast to what we had seen in most videos, but not too far away from what we saw in our daily lives. These videos were not the first time we had seen and thought about riding rusted out industry, but they certainly were a validation that what we had begun to do was more than just us “making do” with what we had.
Industrial parks and old Rust Belt infrastructure had already become a major part of our street spot portfolio by the time iconic East Coast videos canonized that type of riding. That’s not to say we were revolutionary or there first, but rather that we had been riding what we had for a few years because, after all, it was what we had. We also had been riding schools. And plazas. And downtowns. And small town centers. And malls. And DIY spots. And ditches. And… The list goes on and on. We had been riding everything… because it was all we had. For six years, I rode predominantly street, not because I made a decision to be a “street rider” and nothing else, but because we were riding everything… everything available to us. The closest skatepark was over an hour away and real trails were not a reality for us city slickers living through Midwestern winter. Yet, we all felt that we did “ride everything.” We rode anything we could find. And industrial parks happened to be a lot of what we found.
Aside from conforming to the reality of our surroundings, we grew to love industrial areas for an assortment of reasons. There is nothing quite so captivating and enthralling as the feeling of adventure one gets when alone in the wasteland of industry. The same excitement that urban explorers and graffiti artists chase is what makes industrial parks such exciting places to ride BMX. Late at night or on a Sunday afternoon the empty silence of hulking brick and steel buildings or the strangely natural vibe of cricket-filled fields stretching between warehouses is enough to make anyone feel they have slipped into an epic adventure of hazards and discoveries. There is something magical about the hunt (especially a hunt that no one else has undertaken). And in this wasteland we discover treasure. Our treasure is almost certainly another man’s garbage, but the unique setup or the just-barely doable jib will make you shout out loud in excitement: “Found something!”
Our Midwestern industrial parks resemble almost all industrial parks in the United States, yet in the many ways they are similar, they are also different. Density, building materials, age, safety, accessibility, types of obstacles, and general vibes vary from state to state, city to city, and neighborhood to neighborhood. Following the mantra of “ride everything” is easy, when you can find almost anything in an industrial area at one point or another. Moreover, riding other “anything” becomes easier when you are accustomed to industrial areas, because, unlike the West Coast schoolyard or the local skatepark, industrial areas are often times simply fucked up. “No Cigar” spots are everywhere and bumps, cracks, nails, dumpsters, gas meters, gravel, dead animals, and toxic sludge certainly don’t make the spots the easiest to ride. But, when you make something work, the feeling is like no other. You found it. You planned it. You tried it. And you pulled it. And when you find the “perfect setup,” its just as rewarding. Sometimes the “perfect setup” is actually fucked up. And sometimes, it’s flawless. But, in the end, both are what makes the diverse session in industrial areas what it is.
The vibe of the industrial area is enticing, yet, it is not all encompassing, because just as the diversity within industrial areas is what makes them so desirable, the diversity of all spots is what makes BMX so enthralling. You better have a backpack full of snacks and patches when rolling into these areas because that ghost town vibe is for real in many ways. The liveliness of downtowns, college campuses, and public plazas is missing from the industrial park session. As such, the industrial park has never been my exclusive choice for riding. It is one of many options on the list of possible sessions on a daily basis. I have been through phases when I rode industrial areas every weekend for a season and others where I didn’t leave downtown the whole summer. Yet, the desire to ride everything has always driven me to hunt for new spots as opposed to riding old spots. As such, I will go where the fruit is ready to be picked or the treasure is ready to be found. Repetitiveness in riding has always bothered me and I have dealt with that by continuing to hunt and consume new spots. My insatiable desire to ride new things has lead me down many pot-holed warehouse districts and across many manicured college common grounds. It has had me ripping tires off the rim on sharp rusted angle iron and chipping paint off of fresh new handrails. Industrial parks do offer a large diversity of spots and that is what makes them so great, but they are part of a larger totality that is BMX street riding. They are important, yet only a few slices of the bigger street riding pie.
The media accompanying this piece can’t possibly convey a full picture of the vibe of the session we recently had in a Los Angles industrial area. On one hand, you really need to put your tires on the pavement and push your pedals through the streets to connect to a spot and on the other hand, you can identify with a place like the one shown here if you have ever ridden any industrial area. The spots were rusty. The ground was rough. Some spots didn’t work out. And others drew out the “Look at this setup!” At the end of the day, we rode some awesome stuff and put our diverse ideas and skills to the test. Did it feel like the Midwestern spots I grew up riding? Nope. And yup. And that’s what makes this type of riding so enduring and so captivating. I may be on a different continent as I write this and the industrial areas here may be dramatically different in many ways, but the one thing I can still find here is the adventure of exploration while on the hunt for BMX treasure. And of course, rusty old angle iron.