Freestyling can be traced back to 1975 when kids started riding bikes in concrete Escondido reservoir channels in San Diego, California. And, bike riders were seen in 1976 riding at Carlsbad Skatepark in Carlsbad, California. Skateboarder Magazine published photos of kids on bikes riding in empty swimming pools in 1975.
Bob Haro and John Swanguen rode BMX bikes at Skateboard Heaven, a concrete skatepark in San Diego, California in late 1976. Later they transformed freestyle beyond skateparks by creating new bike tricks on flat streets. In the fall of 1977 Bob Haro was hired as a staff artist at BMX Action Magazine where he befriended R.L. Osborn, son of the magazine publisher Bob Osborn. Haro and R.L. often practiced freestyle moves in their free time.
In the summer of 1978, Paramount, Lakewood, and other Southern California skateparks began reserving sessions or whole days exclusively for BMX bikes. BMX racer Tinker Juarez was innovating freestyle moves in vert bowls.
BMX Action Magazine published the first freestyle how-to article in their January/February 1979 issue which showed Bob Haro doing a "rock walk." 
Towards the end of 1979, Bob Haro and R.L. Osborn formed the BMX Action Trick Team and later began performing freestyle shows at BMX races and other events. After the BMXA Trick Team became known, other organized trick teams were founded and quickly gained prominence. The freestyling movement at this point was very much underground. Although several BMX manufacture-sponsored freestyle teams were touring the US, they were promoting the sport of BMX in general, not specifically freestyle.
Bob Osborn founded a slick quarterly magazine devoted solely to freestyle. In the summer of 1984, Freestylin' Magazine made its debut. The BMX world suddenly noticed the sport's massive potential. Manufacturers hurried to the drawing boards to develop new freestyle bikes, components, and accessories, and began searching for talented riders to sponsor. Bike shops began stocking freestyle products. The AFA began to put on organized flatland and quarter-pipe competitions.
Peak and decline in popularity
From 1980 until 1987, the sport of freestyling was at its zenith, with 1987 reaching its highest peak in popularity. During this time period, the sport progressed with new bike models being released all the time, as well as new components and accessories designed strictly for freestyle. For example, Haro released the Haro FST, Sport and Master each year consistently with blazing graphical colors, new look and new frame designs.
In the early 1990s, BMX freestyle suffered a decline in its commercial popularity; subsequently a number of large companies reduced or terminated their investment in the sport. In this economic climate, communities of new rider-owned companies and initiatives began to redefine the sport according to their own needs and interests, paving the way for what is now a largely rider-led industry. This decline and subsequent new phase of the sport's development into an independently driven industry was notably referenced in the introduction to the BMX video Ride On (directed by Eddie Roman).
Freestyle BMX riders participate in several well-established disciplines. As in the other forms of freestyle riding, there are no specific rules; style/aesthetics, skills, and creativity are emphasised.
Street riders make use of urban and public spaces to perform tricks. These tricks can be preformed on curbs, handrails, stairs, ledges, banks, and others. Styles among street riders vary, as riders often depend upon their own differing urban surroundings. BMX street rose to prominence as an increasingly defined discipline in the late 1980s.
Park denotes the BMX discipline of exclusively riding skateparks, often with an emphasis on riding transitions or ramps.
Skateparks are used by BMX riders as well as skateboarders, inline skaters and freestyle scooter-riders. Skateparks themselves can be made of wood, concrete or metal. Styles of riding will depend on the style of the parks. Wood is more suited to a flowing style, with riders searching for gaps and aiming to higher air from the coping. Concrete parks usually tend to contain bowls and pools. However, it is not unusual for riders to merge the two styles in either type of park.
Concrete parks are commonly built outdoors due to their ability to withstand years of exposure to the elements. Concrete parks are also often publicly funded due to their permanent and costly nature. Parks made from wood are popular with commercial skateparks due to ease of construction, availability of materials, cost, and the relative safety associated with falling on wood instead of concrete. Parks designed with BMX use in mind will typically have steel coping that is less prone to damage than concrete or pool coping.
Vert is a freestyle BMX discipline performed in a half pipe consisting of two quarter pipes set facing each other (much like a mini ramp), but at around 10–15 feet tall (around 2.5 to 3.5 meters) high. The biggest ramp ever used in competition is the X-Games big air ramp at 27 feet (8.2 m) tall. Both ‘faces’ of the ramp have an extension to the transition that is vertical, hence the name. Coping is a round metal tube at the lip of the vert that helps freestyle BMXers do grinds, and stalls on the lip of the vert.
Riders go up each jump, performing tricks in the air before landing into the transition having turned 180 degrees (assumptively. variations include 540, 900). A typical run involves going from one side to the other, airing above the coping each side. Also possible are 'lip tricks' - tricks on the platform at the top of the ramps before dropping into the ramp. Many tricks consist of the rider grabbing a part of the bike or removing body parts off the bike.
Trails are lines of jumps built from dirt (heavily compacted). It can also be named as a pack such as a 4 pack, 6 pack and 8 pack. The jumps consist of a steep take off, called a lip, with an often slightly less steep landing. The lip and landing are usually built as separate mounds, divided by a gap. The gap is measured from the topmost part of the lip, horizontally to the topmost part of the far side of the landing. Gaps typically range from only a couple of feet to over twenty feet. A moderate gap is around twelve feet.
Trails riding is sometimes also referred to as “dirt jumping”. Most trails riders maintain that a subtle difference exists in the style and flow of “dirt jumps” and “trails”; trails riders focus more on of a flowing smooth style from one jump to the next while performing more stylish tricks, while dirt jumpers try to perform the craziest tricks they can over larger, less flow-oriented jumps.
Although many regard trails and street as being completely opposite, the attraction is similar — trails riders build their own jumps so their riding is limited only by their creativity and resourcefulness.
Trails riders usually run a rear brake only as they have no use for a front brake, and usually a rotor (gyro) to make it easier to do barspins, so they do not have to spin the bars back the other way to untangle them, which is hard to do on trails. In general, trail/dirt jumping bikes have longer wheelbases (chainstays) than other BMXs to aid with stability, the added stability is important in trails riding.
Flatland BMX occupies a position somewhat removed from the rest of freestyle BMX. People who ride in the above disciplines will generally take part in at least one of the others, but flatlanders tend to only ride flatland. They are often very dedicated and will spend several hours a day perfecting their technique.
Flatland also differs from the others in that the terrain used is nothing but a smooth, flat surface (e.g. an asphalt parking lot, basketball courts, etc.). Tricks are performed by spinning and balancing in a variety of body and bicycle positions. Riders almost always use knurled aluminum pegs to stand on to manipulate the bike into even stranger positions.
Flatland bikes typically have a shorter wheelbase than other freestyle bikes. Flatland bikes differ from dirt jumping bikes and freestyle bikes in one way. The frames are often more heavily reinforced because the people riding flatland often stand on the frames. This shorter wheelbase requires less effort to make the bike spin or to position the bike on one wheel. One of the primary reasons flatlanders often ride only flatland is the decreased stability of a shorter bike on ramps, dirt and street.
A variety of options are commonly found on flatland bikes. The most unifying feature of flatland bikes is the use of four pegs, one on the end of each wheel axle. Flatland riders will choose to run either a front brake, a rear brake, both brakes, or no brakes at all, depending on stylistic preference.
These tricks take place in the air. Freestyle dirt BMX involves many air tricks.
- Tabletop: While in the air the rider will bring the bike up to one side of him/her by turning the handlebars and using body movement making the bike look like it is flat like the top of a table. Commonly confused with the trick, invert, which does not include much turning of the bars, but still executes the move in a tabletop manner.
- Superman: The rider removes both feet and extends them outwards to resemble Superman in flight.
- Superman seat grab: A variation of the superman where the rider takes one hand off and grabs the seat while extending their body before grabbing back on to the bars and landing
- Barspin: Spinning the handle bars one full rotation around while in the air and catching them.
- Tailwhip: The rider throws the bike out to one side while still holding onto the handle bars so that the frame goes 360° around the steering tube; the rider then catches the frame again and stands back on the pedals.
- Decade: Similar to the flatland decade, the riders throw themselves around the bike while still holding on the handlebars before coming back round to meet the bike and land on the pedals.
- Backflip: Both rider and bike do a backward flip while in midair.
- Frontflip: Both rider and bike do a forward flip while in midair.
- Flair: Both rider and bike do a backflip combined with a 180, to land facing back down the ramp. Usually performed on a quarter pipe.
- 180°: The rider and bike spin 180° in the air and land backwards, in what is called fakie (riding backwards).
- 360°: The rider and bike spin 360°.
- 540°: The rider picks up the bike and spins it 540 degrees.
- X-up: The rider turns the bars at least 180 degrees, so the arms are crossed and then turns them back.
- Can can: The rider brings a foot over the bike to the other side.
- No-footed can: The rider does a can can but takes the other foot off the pedal as well, so that both legs are on one side of the bike.
- Tire grab: The rider grabs the front tire.
- Toboggan: The rider takes one hand off the bars and grabs their seat, then returns their hand to the bars before landing.
- Tuck no Hander: The rider tucks in the handlebars and takes both hands off.
- Turn down: The rider will whip the bike out to one side and turn the handle bars into his or her legs wrapping them around their leg.
- Crankflip: The rider bunny hops and kicks the pedals backwards so the crank arms spin one full crank around and then the feet catch back onto the pedals to stop the cranks.
- ET: The rider is in mid air and pedals one full crank as though he is riding normally.
- TE: The rider is in mid air and pedals backwards one full crank quickly. Basically an ET, but in reverse.
- Bikeflip: The rider flips his bicycle without moving his body in mid air. Similar to a tailwhip.
- Truckdriver: The rider spins the bike 360 degrees whilst doing a barspin in mid air.
- Half cab: The rider fakies/rollouts and gives extra pedal pressure to pick up the bike and make a 180 degree rotation, completing the fakie, rollout.
- Full cab: The rider fakies/rollouts and gives extra pedal pressure to pick up the bike and make a 360 degree rotation, making the bike return in the same position, and having to finish the fakie/rollout.
- 540 cab: The rider fakies/rollouts and gives extra pedal pressure to pick up the bike and make a 540 degree rotation, with no need to finish to fakie/rollout.
- Nothing: The rider lets go of the handlebars and pedal at the same time in mid air. 
- Suicide no-hander: The rider lets go of only the handle bars similar to a tuck no-hander, but rather stretches his/her arms out to the sides without tucking the bike. 
Variations and combinations of these tricks also exist, for example a 360° tailwhip would be where the rider spins 360° in one direction and the frame of the bike spins 360° around the steer tube, both bike and rider will then meet again, with the rider catching the pedals, facing the same direction as before the trick.
BMX flatland tricks usually involve much balance, more often than not with only one wheel in contact with the ground.
- Wheelie or Catwalk: The most basic of flatland tricks, the wheelie is when the rider rides the bike on only the back wheel whilst pedaling.
- Endo: Basic flatland trick where the rider uses the front brake or a curb to lift the back wheel and balance on the front tire.
- Front or Back Pogos: Basic flatland trick where the rider stands on the wheel pegs (front or back), locks the wheel's brake, and hops with the other wheel in the air.
- Manual: A step-up from the wheelie, the manual is essentially the same only the rider does not pedal; this makes the trick more difficult to perform as point of balance between the front and back of the bike has to be reached. Professional riders can often do this until their bike runs out of momentum.
- Pogo: The most popular advanced basic trick. Created in the 80's, it is executed by swinging the bike to a vertical position on its rear wheel while the rider sits and hops on it to maintain balance.
- Nose manual: The same concept as a manual, only performed with the back wheel in the air and the front wheel on the ground.
- Bunny hop: A bunny hop is achieved when a rider jumps the bike into the air from flat ground (this can also be done close to the lip of ramp to gain more height) so that neither wheels are touching the ground.
- Miami Hop: Endo to Pogo on front wheel turned sideways rather than on rear wheel upright, best executed with Z-Rims or mags
- Dork manual: When rider puts one foot on the peg, and the other foot in the air, controlling balance, and ride down the street in a manual with the foot on the peg.
- Fork manual: When a rider puts one foot on the front peg and spins the handlebars around, to lift the bike up into a fakie manual, with both feet on pegs.
- Footjam tailwhip: The rider jams his/her foot in the fork to start a foot jam endo then kicks the tail of the bike around. When the tail of the bike goes 360 degrees the rider puts his/her foot back on the pedals. An alternate trick is to jump the frame as it comes around repeatedly until the rider elects to put his/her foot back on the pedals.
- Footjam: The rider jams his foot between the forks and tire, stopping the bike, and he balances with the back tire airborne.
- Hang-5: when the rider does a nose manual whilst having one foot on the front axle peg and the other foot dangling, usually used to keep balance and steady.
- Steamroller: An Advanced trick. The rider stays on front peg, and sends the bike to front with his other foot, then balances on one wheel while holding the body of bike with one hand and moving at front.
- Time machine: An extremely hard trick. Rider stands on one back peg, then starts to make a manual, after balances it, changes hands on bar while manualing and grabs the front peg with his free hand. After that, rider starts to turn at extremely high speed as like hes drawing a "O" on ground.
- Indian giver: This is where the rider naturally or purposely fakies/rollouts in the opposite direction than the way of that they spun in. This is usually easily fixed by learning how to fakie/rollout the correct way, thus making the execution and finishing look cleaner.
- Skateboarder Magazine, February 1980
- Skateboarder Magazine, 1975 Vol 2, #2
- Toshach, Don (1987). Freestyling. New York, NY: Perigee Books. p. 9. ISBN 9780399513336.
- Toshach, Don (1987). Freestyling. New York, NY: Perigee Books. p. 10. ISBN 9780399513336.
- Skateboarder Magazine, February 1980
- BMX Action Magazine, January/February 1979, pg.34
- Skateboarder Magazine, February 1980
- Toshach, Don (1987). Freestyling. New York, NY: Perigee Books. p. 11. ISBN 9780399513336.
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