The Jam That Matters More Than You Probably Think...
Milwaukee's Last Ghetto-ER Street Jam
15 Sep 2015
Words and Photos by Matt Coplon Additional photos by Luke Mouradian
Mike Hinkens has been an integral part of the Milwaukee scene since time immemorial. Well, at least it seems that way. With a move, imminent on the horizon, one of Mike’s last hurrah’s was this: The 8th annual Milwaukee, GhettoER street jam. The beginning to his closing actions, a culmination of events going on this month as he and his wife pack up to leave the state, and soon after, to leave the country.
I had attended one years ago. It might have been the third or fourth. Controlled chaos: pegs ejecting off a beveled ledge in the midst of way too much speed via “The longest peg grind,” spokes snapping, frames getting severely bent during the massive game of foot down, and the inevitable, high speed, dead sailor during the long jump. We should all know by now that a launch less than the length of your bike is a recipe for bodily harm.
All of this amidst dodging families indulging in their Sunday bike ride, joggers, and the occasional elderly man who was too stubborn to walk around the event. Stoic he was, darting straight through the 100 or so BMX kids swirling on a bridge, en masse, at the height of a humid Wisconsin summer.
So it goes... Three hours - Five events - A farewell to Mike... and a call to pass the BMX organizational torch.
Here’s a little insight into a kick ass day…
MIKE HINKENS - JAM ORGANISER
What is this jam? When did it start? How many have there been?
GhettoER Street was a simple rip off of the FBM Ghetto Jams. In 2004 I held the first and this summer, in 2015, we just had, what may have been the last of them: Number VIII.
Why did you start doing these events? Why do you think this kind of event is important?
Growing up riding in the 90’s was strange for a kid who only rode street. I initially rode street because it was all we had, but eventually it became my love. It was the 90’s though, so everyone rode everything and as such I ended up at faraway parks and sketchy trails and often entered contests with my friends. Though I probably placed low because of my actual skill, ha, I often lamented at how tech grinds, setup usages, and other street skills were overshadowed by flyouts and box jump sessions. (Ironically, the first event I held was almost all ramps minus a boxjump!). The change came when FBM’s Ghetto Jams came into picture. I saw an event where a different set of skills was focused on. Those happened to be the skills that street riding often employed: riding junk, making do, and hopping. I got to thinking and realized, an event could be even simpler. Some of the best sessions I have ever had were riding “nothing.” From a crack to a curb to a bump, most of the time, chilling with friends and using the basics of bike riding made up my best sessions. Using the FBM Jams as inspiration and looking to make something simple and fun, I came up with a jam that was a simple as could be. I ripped off the FBM name (Sorry Crandall!) and made a 5 event contest: one where everyone could get involved regardless of age or skill level. Though events have come and gone from the jam, the mainstays have always been: High Hop, Long Grind, Slow Manual, Long Jump, and Foot Down. To this day, 11 years later, we are still riding the same spot and competing in the same events.
"Getting a random person in middle America psyched on a flip as seen on the Xgames is not the kind of growth that really helps BMX all that much" - Mike Hinkens
How is this jam different or similar from other jams and contests?
On one hand, the core of this jam is like all other events (I hope). I try to bring as many friends together as possible to ride bikes and have fun. In addition, it has competitive aspects as well as freeforall portions. It’s different from many jams and contests in that it is entirely free, designed to allow any one to compete in a classless event, or designed to allow anyone to ride the events with no pressure to compete. You can come and try to bunnyhop higher than everyone else or you can come and ride a bunnyhop bar to push yourself. You can sit back and watch people send it off a sketchy kicker or you can see if you can survive a full out pedal and 40 foot gap. Its different from many contests in that there are no real ramps and the basic skills we all have are tested. Its different from most jams in that there is room for friendly competition and progression. On the flip side, its not all that new. We all ride bikes and do cool stuff all the time. I just wanted to make it a recurring event that celebrated these simple parts of what we do on a daily basis.
What should others take away from these events?
First of all: a smile. If you have been to one, I hope you were smiling the whole time and still are because of it. Second of all, If you have not been to one, but have heard of or have seen one, I hope you think: “I don’t need sponsors, product, ramps, money, or a skatepark to have a fun event. I can use basic materials and bring together my scene young and old. I hope that people see events like this as a way to grow BMX in a way that we truly care about. Getting a random person in middle America psyched on a flip as seen on the Xgames is not the kind of growth that really helps BMX all that much; but getting everyone in a city that rides together at one spot and showing them that knowing 4 basic skills and working on them with friends can make BMX amazing will get kids and adults in the scene psyched and cause them to ride more. And that will cause BMX to grow in a way that matters. More kids on bikes. More scenes riding together.
“Longest feeble, highest hop, slowest manual, furthest launch. The basics of BMX, the core of the GhettoER jams, the reason BMXers show no age when holding onto their grips, and a yearly reminder that I'm no good at traditional bike riding.” - Jeff Dowhen
“ The DIY jams that Mike puts on always bring the scene together from all over the state, and even the greater Midwest area. I seriously have more fun during those jams than any other time during the year. More young kids show up to the jams due to the approachable nature, and it's doing awesome things for our scene.” - August Zeratsky
“I’m glad I was brought up in a scene where I had amazing people like Mike Hinkens to show me that after all the stresses of an event, giving back and bringing people together is honestly such an amazing feeling! So thanks Mike for all of the memories, the Milwaukee Scene is going to miss you more than you will ever know!” - Jeff Klugiewicz
From the man behind it all: Will Stroud
"I got kicked out High School for a whole year. Not that bad of a gig."