BY ED GEBERT

Times Bulletin Editor

egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - Lots of children enjoy spending time riding bicycles. Troy Merkle was no different. What does make Merkle different is that he is still riding bikes, and he is a professional rider.

Merkle grew up on Van Wert-Willshire Rd and graduated from Van Wert High School in 2004. He said it was a trip with his father, Richard, that opened his eyes to BMX riding.

"My dad took me to my first race when I was 12 at Franke Park BMX in Fort Wayne, and I got really into it and have been into it ever since," he remembered. "After about three or four years of racing, I got out of that and got more into doing tricks, the freestyle stuff."

Merkle's world features strange terms and tricks like dork wheelies and alley-oop double peg grinders. His days are spent riding around his Dayton neighborhood and at the local BMX park when he isn't on a road trip to ride or at work delivering sandwiches at a deli near downtown Dayton - sometimes making deliveries on bicycle.

Fortunately for Merkle, he got a break that helped him to develop his career.

"When I first moved to Dayton, I had a sponsor that was a smaller bike company, and that kept me riding through college," he said. "After school, I had an offer to ride for a pretty big bike company out in California. I rode for them for two years, and that was a huge stepping stone, and they gave me a lot of good opportunities to do cool things and make a name out there."

For the last three years, Merkle has ridden for Giant Bicycles. The company sponsors him to ride for their team, to use their bike parts and to promote Giant.

"Thanks to them, I've been able to ride more and really focus on being good at it and getting better at it. I just spend as much time as I can on my bike... the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it," Merkle pointed out.

According to Merkle, there are a lot of BMX brands who sponsor riders, but his sponsor is getting a little extra. He and his teammates have spent the last two years filming a video featuring the riders putting the bikes and parts through their paces. Merkle said the video is nearing completion, but there have been plenty of video footage showing up on the Giant website.

Many freestyle riders will concentrate on certain disciplines, but Merkle does not restrict himself to riding only on streets or on dirt. The constant variety means there is always something new to try.

Merkle described it by saying, "It's like a constant learning experience. I'm always trying to learn stuff. The fun part is that once you've done one trick or one move, the next move is to make it harder, and always just try to push yourself to do something harder that no one else designed or some trick that's really hard that you've never done. Or do a trick that's something big and scary that takes courage."

He has two BMX bikes that take the majority of his riding time.

"One is for street riding and trails, and one for riding on flat ground. That one doesn't get abused as much!" he laughed.

The bikes may be abused a bit, but Merkle has taken a little abuse during his riding days. But in a sport where wipeouts can be catastrophic and new tricks can end up with a trip to the hospital, Merkle considers himself fortunate.

"I've had a lot of injuries, but actually I've been relatively lucky compared to what most BMX riders go through," he disclosed. "I've had a few pretty serious injuries, but nothing really major. I broke my collarbone. I broke my elbow when I was 15 and had to get a couple of screws put in it. And I broke my nose really bad when I was like 20. And a couple of knockouts, but for the most part I've been pretty lucky with injury. A lot of it is getting beat up all weekend and then having all week to heal."

Even with the physical toll taken on a rider's body, Merkle is not ready to get off the bike for good. Citing a couple of professional BMX riders in their 50s, he said he still has at least a few more years to keep riding professionally. And there are many challenges which continue to intrigue him.

"It's just never ending," Merkle described freestyle riding. "You can't be perfect at it. There's always something better you can do. I just like traveling and pushing myself to be the best I can at BMX riding. You go out and find something new to ride on or find a new spot."