By Nicole Dial
City News Reporter

With fingers gripping the chain-link fence of the Bicycle Trip Bike Park on Pacific Avenue, onlookers cheered as bicycle riders caught some major air, flying high as they rocketed off the ramps while executing wild tricks and stunts.

The spectators watched as a group of 75 competitors rode in the Santa Cruz Bike Fest Jump Jam last Saturday and Sunday. The event attracted both amateur and professional riders, ages 14 through 38, to compete in the bicycle motocross (BMX) and mountain bike categories.

There was a one-minute qualifying trial for each rider before the group jam, in which groups of riders competed together in the course for three minutes trying to catch the eye of the judges.

The top riders in the amateur competition advanced to compete in the professional bracket for a chance to win cash prizes.

Though the competition pitted rider against rider, all the participants cheered for one another. Professional downhill rider Evan Turpen said the event had a relaxed atmosphere.

“The competition is more about hanging out with friends,” Turpen said. “It’s less stressful than racing and much more mellow here.”

The Bicycle Trip bike shop on Soquel Drive sponsored the event and put up the cash prize of $1,000 for each competition. The proceeds of the event went to fund Bike Shop at School, a program that promotes bike maintenance at local high schools as an alternative to auto shop.

Julie Mitchell, the event coordinator for the Jump Jam, said it is a chance to give riders a place to demonstrate their skills.

“This is a community event and a really good place for kids — it encourages them to ride and compete,” Mitchell said.

Along with local riders, the competition drew out-of-town competitors like Mike Montgomery, a San Diego native, who won first place in the pro BMX category and second place in pro mountain bike.

“The competition is a different experience than a 9-to-5 job,” Montgomery said. “It’s laid-back and there’s no pressure.”

The Mountain Bike competition, which was held last Saturday, featured bikes with 26-inch wheels and a suspension fork that had riders zooming into the air with stunts that seemed to defy the laws of gravity.

BMX bikes are smaller in size, with 20-inch wheels allowing riders to perform intricate stunts such as a 720-degree spins, wheelies, riding backwards and whipping the bike from side to side while flying through the air.

The BMX competition on Sunday drew the largest crowd, which circled the bike park and spilled up to the railroad track bridge behind the course.

“BMX is spectator fun,” Mitchell said between her own cheering.

Circling the course and cutting their own lines through the obstacles, the riders narrowly missed one another, gracefully zipping through the air, moving as part of their bicycles.

The riders did not always successfully avoid one another. During one BMX practice, a collision resulted in a leg injury.

Kevin Huffman, who won in the mountain bike amateur and rode in the pro competition, had to stop riding BMX because of the number of injuries he sustained.

“Mountain bikes are not as hard on the body,” Huffman said. “I’ve broken my wrist nine times in BMX.”

During the competition, riders fell several times, only to pick themselves up again and continue riding. Montgomery said that the sport was risky, but that it was all part of pushing yourself.

“If you’re not falling,” he said, “you’re not trying hard enough.”