Bike guru Mike King is helping transform Rock Hill, South Carolina, into a cycling mecca.
If you were into BMX racing in the 1980s and 90s, you knew Mike King. Following in the steps of his older brother, King’s uncanny ability for the big pass made him one of the sport’s first kid prodigies. Winning a World Cup, U.S. National Championship—and a slew of less notorious titles—he was a BMX star by the age of 20.
As if that wasn’t enough, in ‘93 King switched to mountain biking and won both NORBA’s Dual Slalom National Championship series and the UCI Downhill World Championship title as a rookie.
By the time he hung up his racing jersey in late 2005, King was a living legend and shoe-in for the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame (he was inducted in 2013). Accordingly, USA Cycling tapped him to direct their national BMX program. From 2006 to 2013, King was responsible for developing, training, and coaching the nation’s top Olympic-level racers. Under his watch, the program netted three Olympic medals, four Pan American medals, five world championship titles, and 14 Supercross World Cup wins.
“I’d been competing since the age of 6,” says King, 49. “For me, switching to an administrative and leadership role was an extension of that. It came naturally and I enjoyed it.”
But when the team underperformed at the London Olympics in 2012, he started thinking about making a change.
“As a racer, the only thing I had to do was show up at the airport on time and perform on a bike,” he explains. “The responsibilities began and ended with me.” Directing an elite program, there were variables he couldn’t control. “It was pretty stressful,” King continues. “And by that point, I’d become a parent. It was important for me to be with my kids as much as possible. I was thinking about quality of life.”
A year or so earlier, King and USA Cycling had visited the small southern city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. There, he’d discussed the city’s plans to build a world-class supercross track that—officials hoped— would enable it to host elite-level events.
“That visit stuck with me,” says King. Rock Hill was striving to create the East Coast’s premier destination for BMXers. And it also seemed like a great place to live. “I was struck by the southern hospitality and how people came across as genuine and respectful,” King adds. “I kept thinking about it and, every now and then, I’d find myself telling my wife, ‘You know, that would be a great place to raise a family.’”
In late 2013, King received a phone call from Rock Hill’s parks, recreation and tourism director and arranged a second visit. By Feb. of 2014, he’d accepted a position as the coordinator of the city’s BMX program and moved his family to South Carolina.
Going on five years later, King describes the move as an excellent decision. Transitioning to the role of cycling supervisor, he’s helped Rock Hill achieve more than its BMX dreams—the area has become no less than an East Coast mecca of cycling.
Folded into the Rock Hill Outdoor Center at Riverwalk are programs for BMX, track cycling, road cycling, and mountain biking. In addition to the supercross complex—with its elite and junior level courses and pump track—the center features a 250-meter velodrome; 1.1-mile closed-circuit cycling course; 3.5 miles of paved riverside trails; and 7 miles of mountain bike trails. Partnerships with local bike clubs and other organizations have resulted in additional mountain bike trails, cycling routes, and support for events like the yearly Bike Bonanza and Bikefest.
Since the supercross track opened in August of 2014, it’s hosted a slew of major events including the USA BMX Gold East Regional Championships, USA BMX Carolina Nationals, USA Cycling National BMX Championships, UCI World Cups (2015 and 2016), and the UCI BMX World Championships in 2017.
The latter attracted 20,000 spectators and 3,700 competitors from 48 different countries. Its direct economic impact was estimated at $19.2 million.
“Not only was this the world’s biggest BMX event, it hadn’t been held on U.S. soil since 2001,” says King. “It was a super exciting opportunity and [we] executed. The event solidified Rock Hill’s position as a world-class center for BMXing and cycling.”
The success has helped fuel a booming educational program. Weekly classes and clinics for riders of all ages and skill levels are offered through the Outdoor Center. King speculates its elite classes may one day produce an Olympian.
Championship prospects aside, he’s just glad to be getting folks outdoors and on bikes. Especially kids.
“It’s the best feeling in the world to watch a kid go from knowing nothing to hitting jumps and competing full steam ahead,” asserts King. “When I was racing, I’d win and the next day it’s forgotten—because there’s always another race. But helping a kid overcome their fears and get better? That’s lasting. That confidence is going to inform the rest of their lives.”