Words & Photos by Joanne Coates
“It’s my life" says Sophie, a 12 year-old from Manchester, when I ask her what BMX means to her.
It's a dark, rainy, winter's day at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester and I'm here to photograph the girls BMX team. I catch glimpses of them as they whizz around the track with seemingly no fear. They all have a real passion for this sport - and it shows.
“I feel more confident performing in all parts of my life, BMX has given me this..."
Olivia, aged 15, has long brown hair. She's smart, confident and has just been around the track a few times. Her smile is evidence of how much she loves it.
Olivia first got into BMX after watching her older brother race - and knew it was the sport for her. But what does she think of the female scene?
"It's not that it's harder for girls to get into the sport," she says. "Girls just need a little more motivation. The UK scene is underrated. BMX gives you new knowledges. When you come to the track, you leave knowing you've learnt something new that day."
The passion here is something that leaves a lasting impression. Molly, 14, came all the way from Scotland just to get some time on the track.
Many of the girls got into BMX through the Go-Ride scheme, a new programme that aims to introduce young people into the bike world. Morgan, 13, is one of these girls. She wears a fluorescent pink racing top with her name across the back and comes over with a beaming smile.
"It's tiring, but fun and inspiring!" she says, panting as she's just come off the track. Morgan couldn’t ride for ten weeks due to an injury. She learnt during that time just how much BMX had come to mean to her.
There's still a stigma among girls that BMX is scary or dangerous, but seeing these young girls' confidence is more than enough to convince me that BMX isn't as daunting as we might think.
“What does BMX mean to you?" I’m now speaking with Leanne who lives down the road in Ardwick. At 14, she’s been racing for two years. The facilities here inspired her to give BMX a go. She's out with her bike any chance she gets. “I feel more confident performing in all parts of my life, BMX has given me this."
Eight-year-old Alisha is the youngest girl I meet. She comes over to me and looks over longingly at the other girls racing. Alisha tells me she has made many friends through BMX, and it’s taught her to believe in herself.
It's easy to see that BMX has a real effect on these girls' confidence, thanks to the huge support networks like this at the National Cycling Centre provides.
“"It's not harder for girls to get into BMX. Girls just need a little more motivation..."
Each girl I spoke to said how important friendship was when talking about BMX. It's a sport that creates companionship which is missing in more solitary sports. Charlotte, nine, summed up BMX perfectly, “Fun, Fast, Friends."
Fear isn't really a thought that goes through these girls’ minds. They see BMX as a fun sport, a way of life, a good social activity. They don’t see the difference male and female, not while they are out on the track doing what they enjoy the most.
So what for the future of girls BMX? Right now, the sport is going through a resurgence, but there still needs to be more events for girls and more press coverage of women in the sport.
You can see more of Joanne's work on her website: joannecoates.co.uk