Like himself on bicycle, local BMX racer’s career moving along at fast rate of speed

Paul Bickel, of Huntington, stands surrounded by trophies he’s won since becoming a BMX racer a year ago. While the 22-year-old travels around the country to races, he also works to raise the sport’s profile in Huntington, having helped build the new BMX track in Yeoman Park.
Paul Bickel, of Huntington, stands surrounded by trophies he’s won since becoming a BMX racer a year ago. While the 22-year-old travels around the country to races, he also works to raise the sport’s profile in Huntington, having helped build the new BMX track in Yeoman Park. Photo by Steve Clark.

Originally published July 6, 2017.

Paul Bickel moves fast on a bicycle.

As a result, his career in bicycle motocross has moved fast, too.

Bickel, a Huntington native, has competed in over 50 events. He’s raced in places as far-flung as Australia. He’s upped his proficiency from intermediate to expert.

And he’s done it all in just 12 months.

Bickel was enamored with the sport – commonly known as BMX – when he was a child. But he ended up getting into skateboarding instead. It wasn’t until last June that he rediscovered his interest in the two-wheeled sport.

“As I grew up and became an adult, I ended up dating this girl and her family was pretty big into the sport and I went and watched a race and I thought, ‘That’d be a lot of fun,’” recounts the 22-year-old. “And I remember thinking about it in my childhood.

“So, I went and tried a race out and I really excelled at it and I’ve just been having fun ever since. I’ve been racing for a year now.”

During that time, Bickel has traveled to races all over the United States. His biggest trip, though, has been his excursion to Australia.

After some friends mentioned they had a buddy there who would be willing to provide housing, Bickel jumped at the chance to race in such an exotic locale. He saved up his money, obtained a passport and bought plane tickets. He departed for the Land Down Under in January.

“Made a lot of good friends,” says Bickel of the trip. “Raced with a lot of fast dudes.”

Bickel was pretty fast himself.

“Ended up taking second place in the series over there,” he says.

For as well as Bickel raced in Australia, he was just as sharp upon returning to the states. In late January, at the Bluegrass Nationals in Louisville, KY, Bickel won his age group twice. Two months later, in mid-March, he repeated the feat at the Cajun Nationals in Monroe, LA.

In April, Bickel ventured out to the Great Northwest Nationals in Redmond, OR, with the dream of qualifying for the biggest race on the sport’s calendar, the Union Cycliste Internationale BMX World Championships, set for July.

By the time Bickel left the Beaver State, he’d made that dream a reality.

“There’s 120 riders in my class that tried – and they only took 32,” he shares. “I was fortunate to be an intermediate that was able to qualify against some kids that have been racing their entire (lives) that are just unbelievably fast.”

While Bickel had been competing as an intermediate racer since getting involved with the sport, which is governed nationally by USA BMX, winning five national-level races qualifies one to compete as an expert. After his victories in Kentucky and Louisiana, Bickel stood just a win away from taking a big step forward in his young career.

Bickel traveled to Rockford, IL, for Midwest Nationals, which took place from June 16 to 18. And on the second day of the competition, he captured his fifth win.

“Other people were pretty excited about it and kind of shocked that I went expert so fast,” says Bickel. “I’m super excited.”

Next up for Bickel is competing for a world championship. He’ll be racing in the 17 to 24-year-old age group at the international event, which will take place in Rock Hill, SC, from July 25 to 29. This year marks the first time the competition has been held in the U.S. in 16 years.

While Bickel has spent much of his BMX career on the road, he’s committed to raising awareness for the sport in Huntington. To that end, he recently assisted with the construction of the town’s new BMX course, the Huntington Parks Pump Track, located in Yeoman Park.

“Steve Yoder told me it took nearly two years from the first email that was sent out to get this accomplished,” says Bickel of the track, referencing Yoder, the Huntington City Services assistant superintendent for parks. “This is going to be here for years
to come.”

PumpTrax USA, a company that has built BMX tracks at the last three Summer Olympics, helped design Huntington’s track,
with Yoder providing input. Construction on the track started in mid-May and lasted two weeks. It’s open now, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony set for Tuesday, July 18.

Bickel enjoyed the process of working on the track so much that he accompanied PumpTrax USA out to Salem, OR, toward the end of June to help them build a track out there.

While Bickel wants people to enjoy the tracks, he hopes they do so while wearing the proper safety gear. Bickel says he rarely hops on his bike without wearing a half-shell helmet and a mouth guard, at minimum. One of his biggest priorities is to help dispel the notion some children might have that wearing safety gear is “uncool.”

“I’m up here earlier this week and a mom was with her young kid and she was saying how he was so embarrassed to wear a helmet up at the track and he refused to go,” shares Bickel. “Then she said, ‘Then we saw you roll up’ and she looked at me and said, ‘Hey, that kid’s got tattoos and a helmet on – is he cool?’

“And it kind of changed the way he looked at it. So, wearing pads is cool and it saves lives.”

Bickel knows that being safe and the peace of mind it offers just makes BMX that much more enjoyable. And even over going fast, that’s his main goal: Having a good time.

“I’m going to go out and have fun,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ll win – but I’ll definitely smile the entire time.”