Detroit native Tyler Fernengel, 18, is a world-class BMX rider and one of the few rising stars in that sport from Michigan. While he recently moved on to a sunnier locale to pursue his career, he returned home to visit friends and family before heading to the Red Bull Dreamline, a competition that will be held outside of Asheville, North Carolina on Oct. 11. We took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about BMX riding while he was in town.
Metro times: Where have you been, Tyler?
Tyler Fernengel: I moved to San Diego, California six months ago. Since then, I've been to Japan and Malaysia. I just got back from Malaysia a few weeks ago. I went to Brooklyn, New York for the Dew Tour. I flew back to Detroit right after that.
MT: How would you describe BMX to someone who doesn't know anything about it?
Fernengel: Hmmm. I guess I would say it's a bunch of guys on little bikes doing a bunch of tricks and having a good time. The best way to compare it is we're pretty much doing the same thing that people are on skateboards, we're just on bikes. That's the easiest way to compare it.
MT: When did you get started doing BMX?
Fernengel: I started with motocross when I turned three. Then I did that for about ten years. I slowly stopped racing just because it's really expensive. My family couldn't afford it anymore. I always had a BMX bike, though. Once I stopped racing I started going to the local skate parks by my house more and more. I was about 11 or 12 at that time. Eventually we weren't racing at all and that was just the next thing. I was really into it, and that was all I had, so I just stuck with it.
MT: You started motocross at three? That seems pretty insane. How do you get a three-year old on a motorized bike?
Fernengel: Obviously it’s a really small dirtbike. A Yamaha CW-50 was my first bike. It’s the same size as a pedal bike that you would put a three-year old on. My training wheels came off my bike when I was two, and on my third birthday my dad showed up to preschool with a dirtbike. Everything I’m doing now started with that day.
MT: When did you realize that's what you wanted to do?
Fernengel: It wasn't a decision I made. Before I knew it I had turned 13 and I had a sponsor. That kept progressing really quickly. Every month I put out a video or some pictures and people would be asking who I was. Not too many people (in BMX) come out of Michigan. There haven't been that many professional bike riders out of here.
MT: Why do you think it is? The weather?
Fernengel: Well, a nice bike isn't really that cheap. That's why skateboarding is more popular. It's a lot easier for a kid to get a skateboard rather than a complete bike. They could go anywhere from $500 to $1,300. That's a lot of money for a kid.
MT: Where do you go BMX riding in Michigan? Do you ride at Brush Park?
Fernengel: Yeah, I ride there. That was something that people really had to put a lot of work into. When winter time comes around you can't keep going out there, so a lot of hard work goes down the drain a little bit. There's a new spot called Community Park. There's a bunch of skateboarders and bike riders in the community building ledges and rails. It's in an old basketball court about a mile from Brush Park.
MT: Do you ride anywhere else in Detroit?
Fernengel: Right now BMX is going through a big street phase. It's popular to ride through cities and find your own spots, not ramps that were built for us. I ride through the city all the time. It's an amazing city to ride around in Detroit. Just riding through the city at night is one of the best times. I could do that every day.
MT: It always seemed like Hart Plaza was designed for skateboarding.
Fernengel: And BMX! I actually was on the cover of a magazine. You know the fountain in the middle of Hart Plaza? I rolled in on it on my bike from the top and that's the cover of the magazine. That was Big BMX. If you look it up, that was issue 96. It's got the (Renaissance Center) in the background.
Hart Plaza is so fun to ride, but they give tickets out pretty quick every time. They have security on bikes come by and tell us we can't ride there. They're really nice about it, though. Honestly, they seem like they don't actually care, it's just their boss telling them. We don't really ride there. We'll do it at night because they don't come as quickly, but they definitely don't allow it.
MT: What's the Red Bull Dreamline like?
Fernengel: It's the most unreal dirt-jumping contest in the entire world. It's the biggest jump they've ever built. There's nothing else like it, it's the next level for dirt jumping. If you're standing on the ground, the place where the jump is like 12 feet off the ground. And that's just where you take off. It's another 10 to 20 feet into the air, so you're 30 to 40 feet off the ground. It's pretty crazy. Every year it's held at an amazing place. It's a great place to visit, even if you're not into BMX. Red Bull has really amazing filmmakers, so the videos will be really appealing to anybody, I think.
MT: What's a typical day in the life of a sponsored BMX rider?
Fernengel: This is my job, technically. I don't have to get up at any specific time. I usually get up between 9 a.m. and noon and send out a group text to all my friends who live there and pretty much go ride all day long. Sometimes if it's too hot we go to the beach. That's about it. I ride every single day for hours. There's not really much to it.
When I'm in San Diego, I'm always working on new video parts. When we go out and ride, I'm not just riding all the time. I'm filming as well. Photographers come out and I'll be shooting photos for ads and stuff. I'm always busy with that — mt
The Red Bull Dreamline will be held on Oct. 11. See redbull.com/dreamline for more information.