How many bicycles does your family own?
Most people can answer that simple question without much thought. Chris Thibo is not one of those people. “Very good question. Let me see,” he says while beginning to walk through his Holly home. “We have six in the house and then, let’s step out into the garage so I can count those.”
Less than a minute later, Thibo has a tally. “I’m counting 14 in total,” says the 45-year-old, a hint of amazement in his voice. “Oh, and then there is the BMX bike I raced as a kid and my sister’s childhood bike hanging in the garage. I’ve kept both in one piece because they mean a lot and represent a great time in my life. I’ll break them out for big, group ride events like the Detroit Slow Roll.” The household’s sizable bike collection accommodates the various riding interests and ages of family members, including Thibo’s wife Stephenie and sons Cooper (age ten) and Tripp (three). On the bikes, they pedal around wooded areas of their six-acre property, “catch air” off ramps in the driveway and compete on BMX racing tracks around the state and beyond.
Racing is something Chris developed a love for while growing up in Grand Blanc, first at the now-closed track on Dort Highway south of Flint and then, at Richfield Park BMX north of Davison. He continued until adult responsibilities eventually forced him to step back. As his 40th birthday approached, Chris began feeling nostalgic about his racing career and decided to spend part of that day taking then-five-year-old Cooper to Richfield Park BMX for the first time. “It had a been a few years since I was out there and Cooper was riding his bike really well by then,” he says. The visit rekindled Chris’ passion for BMX racing while igniting Cooper’s.
Five years later, their enthusiasm for the sport still burns bright and has spread to Tripp. He competes against other toddlers on foot-powered balance bikes which have no pedals or brakes. The family acknowledges, however, that Cooper is the star and with good reason. Fairly quickly, he developed into one of the state’s top racers in his age group.
“I just like riding my bike. I’m glad my dad took me out to where he used to race when he was young. Once I tried it, I felt good and thought I would try to win some races.”
Though racing this spring and early summer was curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, Cooper was third in Michigan’s 10 Expert division standings as of August 15 with 79 points, just a point out of second place and four points from first. That is impressive, considering he had only competed in ten races which count toward the standings compared to 26 for the first-place rider and 16 for the second. He was also 51st of more than 500 riders of all levels in the district standings and fourth among 10 Experts. The district includes most of Michigan along with parts of Ohio and Indiana. Cooper was 212th of 271 riders in the national age ten boys’ standings, but one of only eight on the list from Michigan. Last month, he also reached the semifinals of a national event in Toledo, OH.
While he loves winning, Cooper remains modest about success and is appreciative of all the ways BMX racing has enriched his life. “Probably what I like most about it is all the friends I have made,” he says. “I just like riding my bike. I’m glad my dad took me out to where he used to race when he was young. Once I tried it, I felt good and thought I would try to win some races.” Cooper did just that, winning the ten needed to advance from novice to intermediate in less than two years. By age eight, he had won ten more races and graduated to the Expert class.
The Patterson Elementary School student gives a simple answer, however, when asked what race has been most memorable. “There was one at Richfield where I finished first or second and did a pretty cool jump,” says Cooper, who is sponsored by Albe’s Bike Shop in Clawson. “I probably like racing at Waterford BMX the most and then Richfield second. I just like how they are built.” He finished first in the state standings in 2017 and second the next two years. Cooper also progressed from 57th in district standings three years ago to 21st in 2018 and 19th last year. “The fact that Cooper’s dad raced was a benefit to him picking up the sport in a short period of time,” says Richfield Park BMX Manager, Dennis Ybarra. “Cooper learned quickly and was keeping the older kids he raced on their toes. After a few months, anybody could see Cooper would soon start winning races.” Ybarra can’t stress enough how much Cooper has benefited by taking lessons imparted by his father to heart. “Cooper listens to his dad’s advice on how to improve at excelling both on and off the track,” he says. “For example, I have watched Chris help Cooper to perfect his stance while waiting for the starting gate to drop. Also, figuring out how to land without crashing takes quite a few falls for most racers, but Cooper was landing without falling sooner than one would expect.”
Chris Thibo also set an example by winning races himself, at least ten between 2015-2017, including the 2016 State Final Triple where Cooper was second in his age group. Chris finished third in the 2017 Expert 41-45 state standings, as well. He has scaled back on racing in recent years, content to watch Cooper grab the spotlight. “I was very, very serious when I first got back into racing, but now, the best part for me is just riding with Cooper,” he says. “We also travel to races and camp with some great families whose kids also race, so it’s become more of a social thing and racing just comes along with it.”
For Chris, his son’s biggest racing moment thus far was finishing in the top four at Music City BMX Nationals in Nashville, TN soon after moving up to the intermediate ranks. “Just making the final in an event like that is really hard because it attracts the very best from around the country and many of the riders Cooper competed against had far more national-race experience,” he says. “Going from local and state competition to nationals is a big jump because everybody is much faster and more aggressive. No room for error, either, because races are so quick.”
Cooper races on a 20-inch supercross bike and also has a standard 24-inch cruiser bike, a downhill bike for tearing up trails and what is known as a park bike for use on ramps. Come winter, however, a snowboard is his favorite toy. That’s another thrill-seeking activity Chris introduced his son to at an early age on the slopes of Mount Holly. “I just love the jumping and I (gradually) moved up from the bunny hill and now I’m gliding off rails,” Cooper says. “I’m glad dad took me out one day to show me snowboarding, too.” After putting away his snowboard for the season, Cooper broke out the bikes and resumed pursuit of his BMX goals. “I would like to win a national race someday and do a few more jumps in races,” he says. “I want to score more points, too.”
Ybarra will be among those watching. “Only time will tell how far Cooper will advance in BMX,” he says. “If he keeps racing, showing up for gate practice and riding, I feel he could eventually wind up at the Olympic Training Center for BMX in Chula Vista, California as a possible contender for a future spot on the Olympic team.”