“The Church Gap”

I remember Jimmy LeVan very well. He and I raced Superclass together at the Louisville BMX track between 1991 and 1994. He was a natural talent, but he was also heedlessly courageous and thoroughly devoted to his craft. Somewhere in my basement is one of the first twenty or so T-shirts that S&M bikes made for him. It was yellow, with a can of Jif on the front that had been redrawn to say “Jim”.

He was braver than I was. Not just because he would try stuff that was obviously stupid and/or risky, but because he lived the BMX lifestyle when I was too much of a coward to join him. While I sat in 400-level classes debating philosophy and poetry, he was on the road, sleeping in a car, doing odd jobs or even panhandling for gas money, traveling the country and riding for the sheer joy of it. I closed my mail-order bike shop on my father’s orders and got a real job, working for Ford Credit. Jimmy started a stunted stub of a BMX brand (Metal Bikes) and toured the world promoting it by doing the stunts and the gap that nobody else would do.

In the video above, you can see Jimmy making “The Church Gap” in Austin. Click the jump to see somebody trying to imitate him, and failing…


This kid has balls, to be sure, and he has luck (pause it at 0:03). But I think Jimmy is still the only rider to make it. And he was the first one. We put a lot of stock in that kind of thing, back then. To find a gap or a drop and be the first one to do it. ‘Cause after one guy did it, you knew it could be done. But until somebody took the chance, it was all up for grabs whether it would be an achievement to remember or a shortcut to a broken neck.

In 2007, I had long since left BMX and I was racing NASA Spec Focus. But Jimmy was still out there riding, still doing the crazy stuff because he knew that he needed to do it in order to sell bikes and keep moving. The big bike companies can pay an endless line of replaceable kids to come in, do the dopest shit, break their skulls, then retire. Look at Dave Mirra. He was just another cog in the machine for Haro. But Jimmy was Metal Bikes, so he just kept riding and doing the stuff himself, at an age when most of us had long stopped taking every risk regardless of rewards.

Jimmy was pretty badly hurt in 2007. He was in a coma. I didn’t know, because I’d sworn off everything related to BMX at that time. I feel guilty. He needed money and help and I was in a position to give him both. But I didn’t know.

We are both in our forties now. I think he’s still riding. Not sure where, not sure what’s going on. He had a house; I don’t know if he still has it. I hope he’s okay. I think about what BMX took from both of us, and what it gave. I don’t know if the scales are balanced for him; I know they are not balanced for me. But I also know that there’s nothing we can do about that.

14 Replies to ““The Church Gap””

  1. Paul Alexander

    What happened to Dave Mirra was sad as hell, he sounded like a wounded animal that just wanted the pain and confusion to end. I wonder how Mat Hoffman’s doing, I remember thinking to myself how awful he looked when I saw him at some ramp event on TV about 10 years ago. Hope you didn’t suffer as much head trauma as those dudes did, man.

      • Disinterested-Observer

        I saw a show about him, I think it was that one. At any rate since there is video of him doing stunts when he was young, you really get to see the progression as he takes more and more concussions.

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      I almost always wore a helmet whenever I was doing anything particularly dangerous. There were times I’d spend an evening at a BMX track jumping with no lid but those times were rare.

      Even as a kid, I intuited that I was likely to make my living with my brain instead of my legs.

  2. nici

    That’s a pretty good gap. The difference between success and serious injury is minimal..

    We used to do some stupid shit on bikes, too. Mostly on dirt jump and downhill bikes. Stair gaps, drops and whatnot. In addition the the DH and four-cross/dual slalom races which some of us raced.

  3. Mental

    Your critics are always quick to point out your failed relationships, falling out with anyone of the automotive, BMX or journalism fields, but they are never around to recognize your loyalty to your past friends and colleagues.

    Neat video. Thanks for sharing.

  4. DirtRoads

    I gotta be honest; the only BMX I ever watched more than once was the intro to “On Any Sunday.”

    *shrug*

  5. Jorge Monteiro

    Hi Jack!
    Probably you don’t remember me, a portuguese bmxer almost on forties now. You were veeeery important for me, because is not easy start to ride a BMX in a BMX Racing track with 24 years old.
    BMX Basics is outstanding.
    Thanks Jack

    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      How could I NOT remember you! We used to email back and forth when I had the original site on Infinet. As I recall, you have a stunning girlfriend/wife who also rode?

      • Jorge Monteiro

        Yeeeeah that’s right. It’s amazing you remeber me.
        I think we stopped chatting because of you knee……. hehehe
        A lot of things happened since…
        New wife… (definitely a better one 🙂 )
        New bike… (Haro 2006 Aluminun!!!! oh no!!!)
        New car… (Honda Civic ’15, Bye bye Ford Escort ’90)
        If you want chat a lil’ bit just mail me to this email.
        Best regards and a strong hug

  6. Ark-med

    I thought The Church Gap was shorthand for the separation between church and state. I’ll have to look for it on my next downtown visit.

    Heading over now to no fixed abode to tuck into the latest serving of red meat.

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