Contents — Issue Five, December ‘11 34
Backyard Jam The First Seven Years
Hoang Tran The Scenic Route
Chris Doyle The Weather Man
Farren Downes Falling Down
Aaron Ross Rainbow Piss
Gabe Brooks Nigguh With Attitude
George French The Brains Behind GSport
10 14 18 22 26 28 114 128
Keep Your Powder Dry Departure: Quintin Hat Co. in Mexico Video Days: Cru Jones History: Pegs Soapbox: The Count Colts: Addy Snowdon Strays Quitters: Bowlhead
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Keep Your Powder Dry The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe, and it’s a fight we’ve given our all. At times it’s been hard and we’ve been lonely often, and some times frightened.The five tallies on the cover of this magazine represent the blood, sweat and tears we’ve put in over the last ten months. At the end of every issue, as our print deadline approaches, we convene on a small flat in South London and we don’t leave its confines until the last page of the magazine is sent off to print. We work long into the night in our temporary makeshift studio with the only respite from the glaring computer screens and piles of printouts being a cup of strong coffee every few hours, drunk in the relatively stress-free confines of a small brick-walled yard out back. It’s out here we come to clear our minds and reflect on what it is we’re doing, and it’s here where we carved the first line into the wall after our completion of issue one. Since that first symbolic scar, after each issue of The Albion has been put to bed, we sit in the yard and crack a beer. We sit and we drink and we chat and we plan the next issue, and one of us carves another line into the wall. There are now five lines etched into the brickwork of George’s landlord’s wall and in carving this latest one it feels like we’ve reached a milestone. In that final diagonal strike across the other lines, we see a mark of accomplishment and a mark of undeniable permanence. It’s been a slog, but we’re proud of what we’ve achieved, and we can now safely attest that “no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” Throughout our first five issues it has been our goal to transcend the banal commercial reality of the brightly coloured, sugar coated BMX that is widely peddled to the masses and discover what really makes people tick. Our everyday lives – with all their glorious twists and turns and trials and tribulations – don’t have an artificial veneer of harmony and, as our personal lives are so inextricably intertwined with riding bikes, we see no reason why BMX should have one either. It’s the vast array of textures and imperfections that make life so interesting, and it’s this unexplored depth in BMX that we want to acknowledge and celebrate, the last thing we want to do is emulsion over it. Since we started this project we’ve received a deluge of feedback, the overwhelming majority of which has been positive and full of gratitude for giving the world of BMX the shake up it was asking for. It feels nice to know people are behind us, but we’ll not stop there.We consider it our duty to showcase BMX from the ground up, that is our contribution in the fight to preserve BMX’s most valuable assets – fun, honesty and free-thinking. Lose those assets and we may as well all hang up our boots and take a long swig of the Kool-Aid. If you don’t stand for something then you’ll fall for anything. Keep your powder dry, for tomorrow we ride at dawn.
Masthead Editor Daniel Benson email@example.com Publisher Tim March firstname.lastname@example.org Associate Editor George Marshall email@example.com Associate Editor Steve Bancroft firstname.lastname@example.org Art Director Robert Loeber email@example.com
Contributors Rhys Coren, Olly Olsen, James Newrick, Mark Noble, Ross Teperek, Sandy Carson, Korey Kryder, Cody Nutter, Alex Leech, Gordon ‘Go Go’ Reilly, Taj Mihelich, John Dye, Zack Shaw, Kris Bennett, Ian Morris, Stu Dawkins, Jon Taylor, Ben Lewis and Matty Lambert. Thanks Rob Paik, Alex and All Day BMX locals in Mexico, 2011 King Of Southsea: Isaac Clarke, Lee Turner, Denise Doyle, Stew Johnson, Amy Silvester, Gaz Sanders, Kingsey Angerstein, Laura Lannom, Sebastian Keep, Mark Potoczyn, Cory Muth, Dirt’ Ron Pitcher, Lashaan Kobza and Kyle Hart. Distribution The Albion BMX Magazine is avalible at all good bikes shops in the UK. See thealbion.cc for more details. Contact Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Advertising: email@example.com Mailing list: firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions: email@example.com Editorial: firstname.lastname@example.org
Logo and icons designed by Ross Teperek. This issue is typeset using the Plantin font family, designed by Frank Hinman Pierpont in 1913. Albion Didot was designed exclusively for this publication by Robert Loeber. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted in any form without premisson from the publisher. The publisher cannot accept responibilty for errors in articles, advertisments or unsolicated manuscripts. The opinions and words of authors do not necessarily represent those of the publisher. NOT FOR RESALE.
Departure Quintin Hat Co. in Mexico
Team roadtrip articles are ten-a-penny in BMX magazines, and it’s been that way for a long while. We had that thought in mind earlier this month when we tagged along with a bus full of Quintin Hat Co. gringos on their debut trip to Mexico. With bottomless shots of tequila, lawless strip clubs and some of the best food on the planet, the trip surpassed all expectations. The spots were dangerous, the locals were frightening and the stories were plenty. But rather than an article relaying the humorous exploits of the team as they struggled to adjust to life south of the border, we brought something far more interesting back from Mexico: an interview with the one and only, Gabe Brooks. So take a quick look at these pretty art fag photographs from the trip and then go read about a self-confessed ‘Nigguh With Attitude’ on page 102.
Word and photography by STEVE BANCROFT
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Video Days: Bill Allen In 1986 the movie ‘RAD’ took BMX to Hollywood. It was Cru Jones, played by Allen, who took BMX into the mainstream.
To those who haven’t ever heard of it, this was a Hollywood film that told the story of a local lad who gets a chance at the big time after he enters a BMX race, wins it and gets the girl. Kind of like Rocky but on BMX bikes. For those who aren’t so old, this film is truly iconic, with top pros at the time doing the stunt work, a scene in a high school dance where two riders boogie with flatland, and a race track with the scariest start ramp ever conceived. Now, the Sly Stallone of this film was Bill Allen, playing the role of Cru Jones. I recently swung by the Barbican for the 25th anniversary of the film to meet this truly lovely, charismatic man, and get the behind the scenes scoop on filming for RAD a little over 25 years after it was made! Albion: Let’s suspend disbelief and pretend that RAD wasn’t a film and that you aren’t an actor. That, in fact, you are actually Cru Jones and everything from the film really happened. What happened to you? Bill: I had a troubled youth and lost my father at an early age. As a result I decided to make BMX the centre of my life and had the opportunity to race Hell Track back in 1986. I ended up winning that and winning the girl too. I ended up getting Bart Taylor to ride for Team RAD. It was awesome. A: You left out originating and perfecting the dancefloor BMX Tango? B: Ah well, yes, that’s just a given talent. A: After all the fame and success at such a young age, did you go off the rails a little bit? B: No. A: No drink… No drugs?
B: Absolutely not. I stayed on the rails. I stayed on the circuit. I continue to ride to this day. A: But you travelled the world? B: Absolutely. A: And sampled a fair few girls? B: Absolutely. The legend is still alive. Jay Miron said that when he goes out to events people come up to him and ask if he’s ever ridden with me, Cru Jones. A: Are you really still on the circuit? B: Certain circuits. The bad 80s hair circuit. Some things in the 80s, well, they age like milk. Some of the clothes and hair, particularly the jumpsuits Rod and Rex wore in the dance were shocking. A: That dance. It’s by far my favourite scene. For a lot of people reading this with no clue whatsoever as to what we are on about, Cru attended a dance on his BMX and did a bit of a flatland Tango with the hot girl co-star to woo her. Interview by RHYS COREN Photography by MIKE MILLS
B: Yeah, I woo her on my bike. But that’s what makes it so amazing. People tried to emulate that. A: The song ‘Send Me An Angel’ playing. It epitomises the 80s at that point! B: I think so. A: You did the first ever backflip too, didn’t you? B: Yep, first ever one. A: Learnt on your own jump covered in mattresses before school. Didn’t you bust one mid race too? B: I did one in qualifying. I had to do a little showboating, you know? A: How did the Factory Team riders take to you? B: I was an outsider. It took me a while to get accepted. I had to win races and date all the women. They grew to love me. A: I was hoping you’d spiralled into a life of drugs, booze and women.
20 B: I know, but look at RAD. It’s wholesome. Maybe a little too wholesome. If it was made today that movie… um, I mean ‘documentary’ it would be a lot, lot different! Yeah, I’ve met a lot of children called Cru Jones, because I was such an influence or inspiration that people named their children after me. A: You are painting this as a moral, family orientated story, but you were just some local kid show off! B: To be competitive at a world-class level you have to have some attitude. A: Haha! Now back to the real world. RAD was a film and Cru was just a role you played. Bill, how strange is it coming to London 25 years after the film came out and seeing it still so popular? B: Well, it’s also been 25 years since I was in London actually. A: And RAD is still a cult classic! B: I wasn’t projecting anything as far as the film goes 25 years ago. But RAD introduced the sport of BMX to so many people at a critical age. For so many riders, whether they became pro or not, the culture of BMX became part of their lives. A: I think it’s just cool, though, you know? B: Ha, it’s just about bad enough to be cool. And people are going nuts for it still. I recently went to the 25th anniversary for it in Canada. It was so special and people are still so enthusiastic. Some of the cast were there, and Hal Needham, the Director. A: So. How were you cast for the film? Did you know about it before hand? B: No, it was developed without me knowing. I joined the casting process because the director had seen me in an American TV show called Hill Street Blues. A: Any stunt tests as part of the audition? B: Not really. All they had me do was sit on a Mongoose in the office. So I could at least prove I could sit on a bike! As for the stunt people who may or may not have doubled for me. They did a great job of that! A: That must be a strange experience, having your own stunt double? B: It’s not unusual. I have had many in the past. But, for that particular movie, because it was so stunt heavy, I had a lot! A: It’s hard to spot your doubles as the versions I have seen late-
ly have all been online and quite poor quality. B: Well, when you see it on the big screen, you’ll see them! There’ll be wigs flying around and all sorts. A: So you didn’t really have to get involved at all for the stunts?
SOME THINGS IN THE 80S, WELL, THEY AGE LIKE MILK
B: No, they pretty much had me covered. I’d spend a lot of time riding around on the bikes and that. I had to die my hair black so I looked more Like Eddie Fiola, who doubled for me mostly. A: It’s odd, we’ve ridden for a long time, almost 13 years now, and you can just tell from the posture of someone as they roll down the street if they can actually ride their bike at all. B: Ha, well there’s that seen in the film where I burst through the fence, the one with the Hell Track sign on the back. Take a look at that again, I barely even hang on! A: The Hell Track start ramp! Man, that was big. Did you ever try and ride on it yourself? B: Absolutely not! In fact, none of the riders in the film would at the
start of shooting. They helped design it, but then, when they stood at the top, it looked like a sheer drop. There was a little lip at the bottom, but that was it! A: Even in the film the stunt men and pro riders look nervous on it. B: Beetle Rosecrans, the 4th rider to double me, was afraid he might get sent home if he didn’t ride that thing. So, what he did was, he got a ladder and went down it from halfway, then a bit higher… working his way right to the top. He was the youngest guy there. A: It will be really interesting if they do fully replicate that track, to see how riders now would feel up at the top of that thing! B: Well, with the Mega Ramp and things these days…. A: But that was the mid 80s! B: Yeah, so now, these days, it’s a lot crazier, but nonetheless, it’s a scary drop! A: So, your real life experiences as a young actor in Hollywood. Did they mirror the experiences of Cru? Were you a womaniser? B: It was a very exciting time. I was surrounded by a bunch of young actors who went on to do very well. You may have heard of people like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Brandon Lee, who was killed on a movie set… These were my homies at the time. We were just a young group of actors who didn’t know any better and didn’t know what was going to become of us. A: What was the party scene like then? B: In Hollywood in the 80’s? A: Yeah? B: Everything that you could imagine happened, and a lot of people derailed getting into that world. It’s very hard to keep your head, especially if you are lucky enough to become an actor, or you get a certain level of celebrity. A: Were you demanding? What was on your rider? B: Nothing man! You pay me scale and I’ll be there! This was such a big thing for me. Just working with all these fantastic people! A: I’m a little bit disappointed you are so nice if I am honest. I was hoping for some more diva stuff and shit talking! B: Ha! You fucking asshole! I’ll open up later… get a couple of pints in me and I will see what I can do.
Pegs A personal and possibly wholly inaccurate history.
latland started the peg shaped ball rolling with early riders desperate for more places to stand on a BMX. Early freestyle frame design seemed obsessed with standing in odd places and as a result we had twin toptubes, standing platforms and tubes welded behind the seat tube which resembled miniature pannier racks - great for carrying shopping but not so great for freestyle. In 1985 the popular Haro Master frames had dropouts that folded over 90 degrees at the bottom giving an inch of thin steel plate for a Vans shoe to stand on. They were positioned roughly where a peg would be. The first peg-style after market products were flip down fork standers which clipped onto the fork at various heights and half moons standers which bolted to the chain stays. The idea of axle extenders wasn’t too far away. The first pegs I was familiar with looked like a bunch of 15mm wheel nuts stacked on top of each other and welded together - and essentially that’s exactly what they were. Skyway manufactured the official ones in many colours, including day glow pink (everything was available in pink in the 80’s). They screwed onto the puny 10mm axle of an old school rear wheel extending its length to about 3 inches. They were intended to be stood on and they cut deeply into flimsy Converse soles, not to mention if they hit you in any body part they would violently impale you. The peg allowed flatland to progress in many funky, fresh and technical ways. Flatland pegs were usually knurled for foot grip, could be constructed from aluminium, plastic or steel and they first got bigger and then got lighter. Flatland is great, it’s a crazy world of break dancing meets bike control but when it comes to the peg - street is the real nitty gritty. The first tubular pegs I can remember seeing were GT knurled screw-on pegs. They were fairly inexpensive and had a huge nutted section at the dropout, enabling massive monkey wrench torques to be applied. As street riders we realised these GT pegs would grind much better than a stack of track nuts. Tubular pegs introduced me to grinding, sliding rails, bonking bins, rumbling over brickwork, and all manner of sensations, sights, sounds, sparks, dust and joys of vibration.
In 1992 the socket peg was born out of the Standard Industries workshop. Couple this with one of their heat treated axles in a Peregrine Super Pro rear wheel and your set up was finally strong and sustainable enough for most feeble grinds and rail 5050’s. The early nineties were the dark ages of BMX. Parts were hard to get, they were produced in limited runs and many bike shops refused to stock BMX altogether. Standard Industries’ socket pegs came shaped as hand grenades for flatland, with their street/ramp versions being very similar to the ones we see today, only with light grooves along their surface. They were highly desirable pegs, but to put four of these on your bike in England would have cost you very nearly 100 quid. This was not an option. Due to the scarcity of parts and the resourcefulness of the riders many took to making their own pegs or coercing an uncle, mate or anyone who could run a welding torch into doing so. The most commonly constructed homemade pegs around my area were called Scaffs. Scaffs took their name from the scaffolding tube they were made of. Scaffolding tube is mild steel and has incredibly thick walls, with the standard for a four inch peg yet to be set, Scaffs hovered around the five to six inch mark but I saw them as long as eight inches. Four of these pegs could easily weigh 12lbs but at the time it didn’t seem like an issue.
Word by OLLY OLSEN Photography by JIM NEWRICK
Rob Wise signature fork. Made from 100% heat-treated CRMO tubing. Featuring a 1-pc internally and externally butted steerer tube and with ultra tapered legs. Wider blades to fit bigger tires. End of blades are notched for plenty of peg clearance. 4mm thick dropouts w/ machined cutouts to save weight. Height: 315 mm | Steerer Tube Length: 165 mm | Race: Integrated |Offset: 30 mm Weight: 29.9 oz. Colors: Black, White, Chrome & Red
Scoop Distribution, 617 Jubilee Rd, Letchworth, Hertfordshire, SG6 1NE T: 0870 330 8461 | E: firstname.lastname@example.org | W: www.scoopbmx.com | W: www.demolitionparts.com
24 The next wrung on the peg ladder was dictated by hub technology, 14mm rear axles arrived and the peg was standardised, remaining largely unchanged to this day. A typical set of pegs will be drilled for 10mm front and 14mm rear axles, be 4 inches long and made from tubular steel. Now that the peg had some sort of standard it left the bike companies desperately clutching at straws, gimmicks, colours and anything they could get their hands on to make a dent in the market. One of the most laughable attempts at marketing was the Haro Rail Master peg, which was a peg with a deep hourglass profile. The idea was that it would help you lock onto rails and coping and yes, I suppose it would, but if you’re sliding off balance down a twenty stair rail it can be useful and life-preserving to be able to pull off easily and ride down the stairs. Notably similar to this peg were the Diamondback Liberty Bell, which flared at one end to lock the grind into the dropout side of the peg. If you had attempted a flat ledge or square rail with either these pegs you’d have been in considerable trouble. A tubular steel peg will always grind best. When companies try and reinvent this simple but effective item I think it important that riders question the intentions behind the reinvention; are the companies trying to push the sport in new directions or are they trying to make a quick buck with a gimmicky novelty? Following in this marketing mold and although extremely popular I could never understand the Stiffie peg from Primo, I can accept that at five inches long, big is sometimes better, but ribbed for her pleasure, why?
amazing sparks when grinding concrete but every spark represented a quid coin worth of titanium rolling down the drain. Bizarrely, if you ground a rail with a Ti peg Ti deposits would be left behind making it progressively stickier, much to the disagreement of all those running mere mortal steel pegs. Pegs of recent have become a little more reasonable. Almost every company has a four inch heat treated peg with a drilled out base and thin walls keeping things sensible and functional and as it should be. There is however a yin to the yang of current peg technologies represented by The Pleg, an idea that George French, the mind behind Gsport and many Odyssey products flirted with years ago. I can remember him giving a set of bright white plastic pegs to Chris Souter to test. These things were entirely constructed from plastic, with the first couple of grinds Souter did you could observe the pegs visually flexing. A couple of hefty icepicks and after what must have been only a few minutes the rear one was snapped off and it was back to the drawing board for George. The Pleg in my opinion is a much discussed but seldom used object. If you believe the adverts virtually everyone is running them. Plegs come in a rainbow of different colours and logos but they all revolve around the same premise, that of a small metal core with a replaceable plastic sheath over the top. Butcher uses one apparently, he’s the king of grinding everything in every position, he can’t be wrong, can he? If you believe the advertising spiel you’ll be able to slide aluminium rails, grind rock, brick, drystone walls and every surface in between, but for how long? Plegs wear out really quickly and take away some of the destructive fun that a peg represents. I’m still on the fence, I think Plegs are gimmicky and will probably disappear soon. The beauty of a peg for me lies in its simplicity, it glimmers with destructive force like a hammer or bludgeon, it’s a barbaric tool of the trade and as such is almost unclassifiable as a component. It’s a fiery, aggressive and exciting ride when you get that roar from grinding concrete and I think some of the fun associated with using pegs can be swallowed up by the safety and neutrality of a plastic peg.
SCAFF PEGS HOVERED AROUND THE FIVE TO SIX INCH MARK BUT I SAW THEM AS LONG AS EIGHT INCHES
The most intelligent enhancement of the peg has been with the reduction of its weight. Everything was stupidly overbuilt in the late nineties, the weight of a peg was inconsequential next to a 10lbs Morales BTS frame. Coinciding with the arrival of Ruben’s popularity, a breath of sanity was exhaled and our bikes began to lighten up, becoming infinitely more rideable. The weight of the peg was now brought into question. Terrible One came up with a steel peg with an aluminium core and soon after Fly did a drilled version furthering the weight loss. These pegs proved to be a sensible step in the right direction. They ground well because of the sheath of steel and relinquished weight with the structure being aluminium. The antithesis to 1998’s high weight, more material equals more strength mentality arrived almost a decade later with three pound frames, titanium spokes and even titanium pegs. A peg is a part of your bike that shouldn’t cost a fortune, a servile product of masochistic functionality a peg exists primarily to have the shit kicked out of it. Ti pegs were ludicrously expensive. They produced
In their infancy pegs were much like bashguards, standing platforms and brake guards - gimmicky and largely useless. Pegs now stand as an amazing tool for fun and a voice of freedom in BMX. I’m against reinventing the peg; its four inch steel form has firmly stood the test of time. Be respectful of the peg’s perfection, keep one eye on its progress but also keep a healthy suspicion of marketing gimmicks everywhere.
Soapbox Chris ‘The Count’ Lee discusses his disdain for the supposed future of grinding. I met ‘The Count’ at his humble 1950’s themed home to talk about what the future holds for grinding. Whilst The Misfits played on a wobbly old music-centre turntable Chris struggled to fix a difficult pinch flat, managing at one point to glue the inner tube to his leg. This was something I could perhaps be blamed for due to the added pressure and distraction of my dictaphone and questioning. Albion: Ok Count, tell us about the peg you’ve designed for The Make? Count: The Suislide peg is proper simple. It’s 102mm long with a 35mm outer diameter. A lot of pegs are like 34mm or 33mm diameter and that’s spot on with the bottom of the dropout or slightly above so when you icepick it can lock up and sling you forward. With a 35mm diameter the peg is slightly below the dropout and it slides dead well. They are 4130 chromoly, one piece machined and fully heat-treated. Where do you stand on coloured pegs? You can fucking jog on if you’re running a coloured peg. What about the plastic peg or the Pleg or whatever they want to call it? People are always going to try and make things better and lighter. That’s why everything has gone plastic. The amount of money [£28.99] for instance that the new Primo peg costs with the alloy insert in the middle and plastic on the outside is ridiculous. I think this new wave of pegs is just gilding the lily, they’re getting away from what it’s really about. If you look at the pro’s bikes, they don’t run them, Plegs are aimed at the kids. I know its a bit of a generalisation but the kid’s don’t seem to grind that much anymore, well in Newcastle they certainly don’t. Have you seen the size of the kids these days? They’re scrawny. Look at Jersey [Mike Taylor] he’s like a fucking tank, he came from the era of heavy pegs, these kids need to buff up. The peg is one of those magic things. When Standard came up with the four inch socket design
in 92 it hasn’t really needed much changing, maybe they thinned the wall thickness or beefed up the diameter or whatever but there’s surely not much anyone can do to make it better.
Yeah totally, it’s perfect. I think the whole concept of the pleg is totally pointless. It’s a novelty. In a few years it’ll be back to square one, everyone will stop selling these new fangled plegs and get back to the basics of what a peg is meant to be, something to help you get down a rail. I remember when plegs first came out and everyone was like ‘yeah you can do aluminium rails’, I know fucking zero people who have done aluminium rails with a pleg. The only trick I can remember being done was the rough as hell
flat Odeon ledge to drop off in Sheffield, Joe Cox put a pleg on especially to do it. That is one trick and how many plegs must get produced. Plastic has that horrible feel, it feels like something is wrong, it’s a dull horrible. Yeah, a dull rumbling and a loss of sensation when you grind. Surely the fun of a peg is just smashing it really? Exactly, you can’t tell what you’re doing on a bike if you lose the noise and feel of the grind. You’ve got to have a metal peg, half the thing about a grind is that noise, like fucking fwwaaarrrrkkkiiccckkk, a proper harsh, mint noise man. Grinding on a pleg is a toned down, heinous, fag version, just like swwiiititit, fucking horrible. Everybody’s trying to over complicate pegs and it’s been done before, what was that old peg called? The Liberty Bell! It flared out at the end, it’s too complicated, simplicity is best. Is it the raw experience associated with pegs and grinding that you love? When we were kids in Hexham there wasn’t a skatepark, all we had was the high school ledge. It was just a block ledge and we’d hit it dead fast and sparks would come off, just that ckckckckckckoooouuuggghh proper harsh harshness of the grind. Yeah man, it is the noise, the whole thing of grinding is like sticking it to the man, if you did that on a plastic peg it would be like ‘well that was shit’. You can’t give the man enough stick with a pleg? That’s it, grinding is rebelling, especially when you’re a kid at high school fucking smashing up the ledges when the teachers have gone home, it’s a good feeling.
The Count finally fixed his snake bite and without once offering me a cup of tea we set off into the blustery autumnal streets equipped with four real steel pegs each. Word by OLLY OLSEN Photography by JIM NEWRICK
ADDY Snowdon BEN LEWIS AND MATTY LAMBERT INTRODUCE LIVERPOOL’S HUMBLE STREET RIDING AND ALL-ROUND PEG MAESTRO, ADDY SNOWDON.
Words by MATTY LAMBERT & BEN LEWIS Photography by DANIEL BENSON & GEORGE MARSHALL
X-up wallride, Liverpool.
Opposite pegs, to backwards manual, to barspin.
Backwards crook to revert.
From a rider’s perspective Addy is someone you’d always want to ride street with. He always wants to ride something new or weird and interesting - things that shouldn’t be ridden. He’s not afraid of a cold night and hates a short session. He’s probably the most responsible BMXer I know, juggling a full-time highly qualified job, a girlfriend and some serious skills on a bike. Ever since I first met him he has always ridden slightly differently from everyone else, even the people that grind a lot. He’s always more focused on the duration of a grind, the combinations or the obscure set-ups a particular grind can be used upon. Over the years I’ve witnessed this desire progress from a pursuit of happiness to a full mastery of pegs. His body, bike and mind control is similar to that of a Monk or Yogi in that he has spent so much time practicing that he can confidently place his pegs in any manner and in any order his mind’s eye decides, in an almost Matrix style control over his world. He is a very humble person who you’ll rarely hear discussing BMX, the world needs more people like him. We’ve been friends for a long time and even now I only find out stuff he’s done via the grapevine, never from himself. He isn’t caught up in the palaver of the world; he just wants to take his bike off in the direction he desires. If it wasn’t for people like Matty Lambert and Phil Skeggs filming him (a position to be earned) I don’t think he would’ve ever put himself out into the public domain. I feel genuinely honoured to get to ride with him and occasionally pick his brains about trick methods and combos. From the start his outlook on riding has always been a bit different. I’d say good luck to him, but I’m willing to bet he’s already calculated where he is going next. — Ben Lewis 31
Addy did his first legit handrail backwards because he thought it was too short to do forwards. Upon doing his first rail backwards, he then did it forwards anyway. He’d never just come out with it in conversation, even if you were talking about that particular spot or rail, he’d never even mention it. It’s this modesty that makes Addy so unique to anyone I’ve met or had the pleasure of being friends with. Well, this tied in with his unreal obsession with grinds and long peg sessions. It’s insane how much time he spends on grinds. It’s just refreshing to ride with someone who’s so into the peg session. Ledges, rails, flatbars - that’s all him. Busy and crowded parks - not for him. It’s not that he can’t ride the park; he just doesn’t like the wait inbetween goes. I don’t blame him, with a decent full time job and girlfriend time on his bike is precious and he obviously wants to make the most of it. I think it’s this drive and short amount of time on his bike that helps him progress, he hasn’t got all the time in the world to get stuff done so he just gets it done faster. Saying this, it’s rare that he’ll pop out for just a couple of hours, if Addy’s out riding he’s out until the end. His grind progression is unprecedented, he kills rails large or small on all pegs. I don’t know why Addy hasn’t come to light sooner, I really don’t. People have heard about him, rumours of stuff he’s done make it down the country, Tommy C mentioned him in his top five right side grinders in issue two of this magazine, up there with Edwin, Vinnie and Butcher. That’s seriously where I see him. He’s up there with the best grinders on the planet. I’ve never met a person and rider like Addy Snowdon, it’s about time he’s getting recognition for smashing grinds at every opportunity he gets. —Matty Lambert
Crook to overpegs to 180.
1. SHAUN BUTLER, ‘96. 2. UNKNOWN, ‘96. 3. UNKNOWN, ‘93. 4. MAT HOFFMAN, ‘95.
THE FIRST SEVEN YEARS BACKYARD JAM ‘91 — ’97
Twenty years is a long, long time by today’s ever-accelerating standards. Two decades ago, the banger-blessed professional riders of our modern era were still stooling in their nappies, or weren’t even shining dreamy glints in their fathers’ eyes. But way back then, at the crack of the nineties, a handful of pioneers were laying the groundwork for riding as we know it today: and the first contests and jams were setting out the stall for how BMX is now. It’s called Ground Breaking, it was building the foundations. Is it something that happens today? In truth, probably not. And to be truthful with you, it is an honour to have been around during those years and documenting the whole dizzy mess, and to be able to delve through a collection of seven years’ worth of negatives, slides and photographs – searching through rolls and rolls of exposed 35mm film covering the riders, tricks, and the events of an amazing epoch which you see here. I’ve been to World Championships all over, ridden my bike in four continents, ticked off AFA contests, UKBFA contests, flash-mob street jams, covered indoor arena megaevents, endured PR-managed media circuses, experienced the extraordinary scenes at X Games in La-La-Land, but in my book nothing – nothing – really compares to the original Backyard Jams. I’m not talking about the latter-day indoor Backyards of 2002 to 2006, which were, kinda okay in their own right. But those earlier open-air Jams were something else. Some things never change. In 1991 at the first Backyard, Simon Tabron was on the 900 path, Mad Jon Taylor was doing footjams on the midi ramp, and Jamie Bestwick won the vert contest again. The rawness, the energy, the spirit, the ethos, the togetherness, the unity behind a common goal, the amount riding moved forwards each and every time, and added volume to the purity of it all. That decade will for me never be matched again, try as these modern years might. Here are the photos of those times. Soak it in. If you were there, relive the days. If you weren’t, finish kicking yourself and start building a time machine. Or even better DIY.
Introduction and photography by MARK NOBLE
5. KEITH TREANOR, ‘93. 6. STEVE GEALL, ‘91. 7. JAMIE BESTWICK, ‘92. 8. JAMIE BESTWICK, ‘97. 9. TEAM SANO, ‘93. 10. CRAZY DAVE, ‘97.
GORDON ‘GO GO’ REILLY
Now, a lot has been spoken of these magical jams over the years and one of my personal favourite parts was ‘The Chasm’. Originally spawning from a transfer jump at the Bexhill BMX track in 1992, where Fuzzy Hall made everyone’s jaw drop with the biggest 360 ever seen on British soil. This behemoth grew out of control over the following years, moving on to the gap-to-berm that Chris Moeller no-handed in 1993, then the ridiculous 1994 era, where a metal ramp was placed way up on the start hill for the track and soared riders to heights of 20ft off the ground as they tried to clear the 35ft+ gap to the berm lander. Then finally on to its final incarnation in 96-97 where it changed to a 40 footer over a slimy green stream full of piss, used condoms and empty beer cans. The amazing thing with ‘The Chasm’ was the never ending queue of riders willing to try and clear it, no matter what skill level they possessed, this is what made it so interesting as only about 5% of the guys who tried it actually had the skill/speed to pull it off. Spurred on with a heady mix of teen spirit, cheap cider and a borrowed chest protector, everyone seemed to think they were invincible, when in actual fact they had no chance of making it out unscathed. Every year saw a trail of more broken frames, collarbones and I remember some poor guy even broke his neck in a quest to clear the beast.
Right when I got picked up by Hoffman Bikes they loaded me up on a plane and sent me to England for a ‘Backyard Jam.’ I had never traveled outside of the country alone and all I knew about the aforesaid Jam was that there was a thing called ‘The Chasm.’ I wish you could have seen how amazing that old Chasm jump was. All of a sudden the announcer said it was time to jump it and the whole crowd just sprinted to surround it, thousands of people. A crazy wall of wild fans formed a narrow runway and magnified the Chasm’s massive size. Without doubt the best thing about the Chasm was the complete lunatics it pulled out of the woodwork. Drunk guys on homemade bikes would just start sprinting wildy at this gaping whole in the earth as Stu Dawkins and Ian Morris desperately tried to stop them from killing themselves. It was pure anarchy and completely comical. At the time though I wasn’t laughing. I was intent on jumping the Chasm at all costs. It was so intimidating, it consisted of a narrow runway of grass between screaming people and a lip that didn’t afford you any view of where the landing was. I asked the other guys up at the starting point, “how fast do you go?” They all said it was the biggest jump ever and pedal as fast as you could. Those moments of being totally scared shitless and then just saying screw it, blocking it all out and pedaling as fast as you can really stand out. There was a blur of screaming and manic pedaling, the solid gut punching feeling of boosting off the lip into the air. Then there was a silent moment of fear flying through the air as the landing came into view and looked so far away. The feeling of fear quickly turned to outright panic as I realized I had hugely over jumped the Chasm. The landing sailed by underneath me as I cursed Freestylers for their bad pedaling. Never let a Freestyler on a homemade bike tell you how fast to pedal at a jump. I landed somewhere out in the flat and had no choice but to death grip the bars, despite the urge to eject halfway through the jump. My bars bent to the floor and I crashed in an explosion of dust, with the happy, cheering crowd’s feet leaping out of the way.
My favourite memory was of a friend of mine called Skin. Now Skin had the speed and skill to clear the chasm as he was a superclass grade racer and had jumped the previous Chasm flawlessly in ‘93, but in ’94 he was having some equipment problems after actually overshooting the landing and dropping 20ft to flat. His cranks were so bent on the spindle they were at twenty past eight, his front wheel was egged and his forks were so bent at the crown that his bars wouldn’t turn anymore than 20 degrees either side. We were laughing so hard at how utterly fucked his bike was, it was totally unrideable, like a clown’s bike at the circus. Anyhow, we went back to watching folk trying to fling themselves over this gap, all you could hear was a big cheer as the rider sprinted down the football pitch through the 2000+ crowd then caught a glimpse as they peaked at max altitude, before falling from the sky onto the landing. A few more riders tried the gap and we laughed hard as we drank cans of lager whilst watching the carnage. Then we noticed one of our friends was missing. The next thing I remember was another big cheer starting and Skin suddenly flying into the air above us busting out the world’s most stylish turnbar 20ft up. Somehow he made it, he cleared the chasm perfectly, and to this day I still don’t know how. That was the kind of atmosphere present at these jams, the atmosphere that just made kids want to ride, to bust out in front of their friends, no matter what piece of crap bike they had. KRIS BENNETT The original Backyard Jams gave true meaning to the term ‘jam.’ There was enough of a schedule of events to keep things moving along nicely, but on the surface it was basically just a free-for-all. People were much less concerned about who won than they were getting the crowd and their fellow riders as psyched-up as possible. It was a perfect blend of raw BMX fun mixed in with top level riding. Unmatched to this day! 38
I later went back and jumped the Chasm with no contest around and it really wasn’t that bad. At the Jams though, it was the biggest and scariest thing ever. What an awesome moment. ZACK SHAW I dont know how to start this, trying to recall from memory some of the things that happened at the Backyard Jams is near impossible! The reason we were all there is because at that time we needed to be, BMX was dead and we were the only ones keeping it alive. Stu and Ian did an amazing thing getting the Jam up and running, it started small and eventually turned into a monster that even they couldn’t tame. The fun things I remember: Adam Peters accidentally setting fire to the petrol can from my car and then thinking it was a good idea to chuck it as far away from us as possible, into the campsite. A certain person having a shit on the RIDE Vert ramp in the night. The police driving into the campsite and retreating at speed etc, etc. Without the get up and go of the riders who went through hell and high water to get themselves to the Backyard Jam the scene and communities we have today would be very different.
11. DAN PRICE, ‘95. 12. STU DAWKINS, ‘93. 13. RICKY BOLLINGTON, ‘92. 14. JAMIE BESTWICK, ‘95.
15. CHRIS MOELLER, ‘93. 16. IAN MORRIS, ‘93. 17. DECKS, ‘93. 18. JON TAYLOR, ‘93. 19 KRIS BENNETT, ‘96. 20, JON PRATT ‘93.
The first Backyard Jam I went to was in May 1991. At this point in time BMX was small, really small. So a small group of dedicated London types drove down the A21 in Shaun Scarfe’s old van to head for what was probably one of the two jams of that year, the other being KOC in Southsea. There were no American guys over for this one, this was just “We’ll do a jam, you draw the flier, we’ll see what happens,” end of story. It didn’t matter if you were riding A group and placing top three or just there to watch, if you didn’t have a friend who lived in the town or nearby, your home was a tent or a friend’s car. It wasn’t a big deal, you were there and you wanted to take in the whole thing and that meant enduring the roughness and DIY of it all. My memory of the actual event is fairly vague, I remember Jerry Galley did some unbelievably huge airs on the midi as usual, and James Hudson and Stuart Dawkins rode vert. The event captured what, at the time – and even now – people thought BMX was about: like minded people gathering in pursuit of unrestrained fun on a bicycle. 1992 and the boys in Hastings had stepped it up. Word was out that this was the event to attend for our small world. The old vert ramp in Hastings had been torn down so an old portable halfpipe from the Rider Cup event was set up in a field next to the midi ramp. The midi remained and they added a dirt jump event at Bexhill Race Track for the Saturday. The hot dirt jumper who was getting a lot of print was Fuzzy Hall, so Fuzzy made the trip along with vert legend and general ruler Dennis ‘DMC’ McCoy. Rumour has it Fuzzy was the chasm jump pioneer as it was his idea to build a lip in the middle of nowhere, aiming into a random landing. So roll on 1993, S&M was the company blowing up and everyone wanted to see anyone from the S&M camp. I saw the new chasm jump – a random lip on the gravel road that supposedly would take you into the back of a berm on the track. It looked like no one was ever going clear it. It was a total monster, the biggest jump anyone had ever seen. So we are just hanging about and the Mad Dog Chris Moeller shows up in some purple jeans and a beanie, rolls his bike up the lip a few times, browses the landing and disappears up the hill on his bike. Next minute cranks are furiously spinning, gravel’s flying and Moeller is hauling ass down the road, he hits the lip and blasts over the epic jump just for the sake of it. To this day, that moment is one of the best things I have ever witnessed in BMX. Then he went back up the hill and did a huge no hander over it. The gatherings in 1992 and 1993 were what cemented the Backyard Jams as the event to be at. Sure, the next few years were bigger, more organised, more successful and a bit more professional, but these two were the true spirit and ideals of a BMX jam. The atmosphere of those two jams is what everybody is trying to recreate nowadays, even if they don’t realise it themselves.
ESPN or Nike can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on building the most amazingly sterile set-up anyone can think of, fly in every pro they like for a 48 hour stay in the plushest hotels they can book, and people who have attended every fizzy drink event since 2006 will write in all the magazines how great it is. They’ll write how it’s a first, the hottest new event, and we should all be grateful to “these” corporations for saving us, but this isn’t true and it never will be. In fact, they haven’t even scratched the surface. Sure, I realise things change, “Black Sabbath Live” now is not Black Sabbath as they were live in the 70’s, unfortunately things do change and we have to recognise that, it’s not always for the better. These were days when people showed up because they wanted to be there, you didn’t need a Willy Wonka golden ticket invite and someone to pay for your trip, hotel and time. You had a BMX so you were going on your own time, your own money and by hook or by crook, not because it was all paid for and someone treated you like Puff Daddy for the weekend.
IAN MORRIS Backyard Jam ‘92 My memory has become vague over time but all I know is - this was my favourite Backyard Jam. Way back in 1992 I was living in Bangor, a little town where I grew up in North Wales. BMX was slowly growing out of the recession and Stu Dawkins was helping to get it back on the map in the UK. Stu organised the Backyard Jam through his company Backyard Skates who were based in Hastings. It was held to support and grow BMX in the UK and above all else, to have a bit of a ‘cool’ laid back event.
At the time, amongst other jobs, I worked for a delivery company and was lucky enough to use their van, which we named Sooty after the TV show ‘Sooty and Sweep.’ It was a small Suzuki van, something you don’t see around these days. I started the 350 mile journey down to Hastings in Sooty that at best did 70 miles per hour downhill. I was so nervous and excited since I was going to be riding with DMC, Fuzzy, Stu and Keith Duly for a week. In those days US riders would come to ride different spots before the Jam, not just fly in for the Jam alone. They flew in from all over and when Stu said they were going to ride some spots a week before the Jam I said “let me have a seat.” We spent the week in Stu’s camper van, hitting the south coast of England driving from Southsea all the way to Leigh-on-Sea. After the Jam on DMC’s last night he convinced us to ride street in London all night before his flight back to the US. Knowing full well he would be able to sleep on his 10 hour flight home but for me, I struggled to stay awake on the long 7 hour drive back to Wales. That week changed my life forever. I just knew I had to get out of Wales to go searching for the BMX dream. 22.
21. MAT HOFFMAN, ‘95. 22.DENNIS MCCOY, ‘95. 23. TIM FUZZY HALL, ‘92. 24. IAN MORRIS , ‘94.
MAD JON TAYLOR The first stories that come to mind when thinking of the original Backyard Jams are as follows: A bunch of us drove to this ramp in the middle of a field just outside Hastings and it is pissing down with rain. Obviously we were all thinking “This is a write off!” But we were with Mat Hoffman and, in his typical style, Mat says he hadn’t flown all the way over here from Oklahoma to end up not riding. Anyone who has ever tried to ride on a wet ramp knows what a death-trap it is. Mat just got on the ramp and went for it. At first he was quite mellow but soon he was doing more and more crazy stuff like 540s and tailwhips at height. To see someone like Mat ride a ramp like that in the rain was incredible. The ultimate sign of a truly good rider is someone who firstly, has such a passion to ride that they will do so whatever the conditions, and secondly, is someone who can pull off a superman fakie in the pouring rain! The man is not human.
The other story that springs to mind is this: Whenever we hosted the Backyard Jam I would always pick up the US guys from the airport and take them to the event myself. One year Stu told me Dave Clymer was coming in, which I thought was cool as I had hung out with him a few times when I first went out to the States years ago. When I picked him up at the airport up he didn’t seem himself at all. I was chatting away to him and in the middle of a normal conversation he said to me that he was here “to flip The Chasm”. For those of you that weren’t there, The Chasm was a massive jump that they built down at Bexhill track. The fact he wanted to flip this thing seemed mental to me, because at the time the biggest jumps people were flipping were about 15 feet. The Chasm on the other hand, was 25 feet. It just seemed so nuts. But true to his word Clymer tried to flip what, at the time, was a truly massive jump. It was so crazy to be around someone in this mindset. He knew when he got on that plane to fly over to the Backyard Jam that he was going to be breaking some serious boundaries with his riding.
ALEX LEECH The first Backyard Jam I went to was in 1992. I think it was the second one, I didn’t make it to the first. First stop was the mini ramp on the hill. The first people I saw were the Scottish lads who I’d met at a Nottingham contest a few months before; Grant, Go Go, Scott, Sandy, could be heard from a distance. The Exeter lads were there. Tim Ruck had made the trip along the south coast. The London guys were representing the Union, and kinda hanging around the back of the ramp like they were in trouble, or were about to be in trouble. Dave Young and his team of Newcastle body builders were ready for a drink and a fight, probably with each other. The Liverpool Lords looked like they were hoping to get a skate on the mini ramp. Ian Morris walked me down the hill and showed me a rail he’d tried
the day before, and Stu told me I was riding in A-group (my first time). I think I was the only one riding the Mini comp who wasn’t very hungover. I went to visit the Backyard shop and had to step over a sleeping Keith Treanor who was curled up at the top of the stairs with nothing but a hoody over his face for comfort. The big story was that Moeller had already jumped The Bexhill Gap the day before the Jam was due to kick off, and there were only about five people there to witness it. I’d been to many BMX contests in the UK before but this seemed to pull the whole of the UK BMX scene together. Sure, the KOC’s were great at that time but they felt like you were at someone else’s comp. The early Backyard Jams felt more like “OUR” Jam. BMX had been taken over by the BMXers!
25. SHAUN BUTLER, ‘97. 26. IAN MORRIS, ‘96. 27. JASON DAVIES ‘95. 28. SIMON TABRON, JERRY GALLEY and CLIVE GOSLING ‘93. 29. JOHN PARKER, 94.
STUART DAWKINS Towards the end of the Bexhill Jams things started to get out of control. Obviously the riding was getting more and more progressive but controlling the hoards of teenage kids had become a real problem. We used to get phone calls from concerned parents prior to the event saying that their son was fifteen and he wanted to come with his friends and would he be safe? Our standard reply was a long pause followed by ‘we’ve got security!’. Unfortunately the security consisted of a couple of retired guards with one torch between them, it goes without saying that they weren’t up for the job at hand. The problems really began once the sun went down. The older guys headed over to Hastings, to the Crypt nightclub, while a lot of the younger kids stayed in the field with nothing to amuse themselves with but White Lightning cider, fireworks and the odd teenage girl. Toilets would get turned over (with people in them), aerosol cans would be left on open fires, graffiti was sprayed over anything and everything. One particular time myself and Fids spent the night following a large gang of kids who were hunting down a couple of overly flirtatious girls who seemed completely unaware that their lewd behaviour might end up with them getting into a lot of trouble, fortunately things never went that far. In the early days things were super chaotic and disorganised, often St. Johns Ambulance hadn’t been booked and thankfully Tom Lynch (rider and qualified paramedic) came to our rescue. It normally went along the lines of ‘Oh shit, someone’s hurt themselves, is Tom here? Where’s Tom? “TOM!!!”. One particular time I remember talking Dennis Wingham out of trying a double flip on a sketchy jump at Bexhill track, with full knowledge that he wasn’t going to pull it, which would have left us both fucked!
Another time, I hired an estate car from a local garage to help with picking up riders and generally ferrying people to and from the Jam. Anyway, this car was parked in the center of the track during the jam and ended up doubling as an impromptu platform for Mat Hoffman and other announcers during the event. By the end of the weekend the roof had so many dents in it, the sides of the car had loads of little scratches from chain wallets (fashionable at the time) and it was completely covered in a layer of Bexhill track dirt. When I returned the car I was expecting the worst, but luckily the Bexhill dust had disguised the damage and they took it back with only a sarcastic comment about it needing a wash! Unfortunately I wasn’t off the hook yet. A day later I got an angry call from the rental company about the damage, anyway, a few solicitors letters later combined with my defence of “If it was so bad then someone would have said something when I bought it back” and I was in the clear. We never set out to make money from the Backyard Jam events, it was more about putting on a great event and trying not to lose too much money! As time went on things had to be more organized and with that came a spiralling list of costs. We ran the numbers and it was going to cost about £5k to make it happen. We’d never sought out ‘corporate’ sponsorship but, by chance, discussions started with Diamondback where we pitched them an offer that for £5k they would be the title sponsor and the name of the event would be changed to the ‘Diamond Back’Yard Jam. Talk about selling out! Luckily for us by the time they came back wanting to take up the offer it was too late and we’d already allocated key advertising space to other core sponsors. So the credibility of the event wasn’t tarnished by our desperation and we pulled it off with core sponsors but financial pressures meant that we were quite willing to sell out for £5k, the offer just never came back in time. 45
L M O N D F O O T W E A R . C O
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THE SCENIC ROUTE HOANG TRAN
We’re three hours into a five hour drive back from San Francisco and I’m starting to fall asleep. Hoang’s driving, I’m sat up front to keep him awake. He chugs down an energy drink and eats some sugary snacks to fight off the lethargy. Between us we incessantly flick through the radio channels trying to find that one song that drives out the boredom of Route Five – a road so straight you’d think the Romans had built it. ‘Dirt’ Ron Pitcher’s ramblings keep us entertained, a sort of stream of conscious coming out of his mouth. One moment it’s about sex ‘I think I’m horny because I miss my girlfriend’, then Craig Grasso and a myriad of other old school BMXers who most people would’ve forgotten about. Kyle Hart and Lahsaan Kobza are asleep in the back and have been since the streetlamps finished and the road became dark. It’s a long slog back, but it was worth it. Hoang organised this trip with the sole intention of pulling the nose manual to turndown you’ll see in a few pages. It took four hours split over two days. It showed me a level of determination and confidence that I’ve seldom seen in a BMXer. The trip was much more than a dash and grab for that one trick. On the way up to San Fransisco we took in the sublime Route One – The Pacific Coast Highway. We were racing up to Julia Pfeiffer Bay, a spot Hoang had been to previously to watch the sunset and drink a couple of beers. Hoang is a bit of a hippie at heart, if the tie dye t-shirts, long hair and predilection for 60’s bands like Ultimate Spinach don’t give it away – which you could simply view as a style rather than an attitude – it’s his enthusiasm for new experiences and places that show a guy with a very open mind. As Thoreau said: “How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”
Words and photography by DANIEL BENSON
hen Hoang collects me from the airport, I realise I’ve been saying his name completely wrong. “Hey man, Hoang, nice to meet you.” “Shit”, I think, “I thought it was Ho-ang”. I then spend the following days avoiding using his name at all, worried about sounding rude. I adopt the ‘hey’, ‘yo’, ‘erm’ and various other substitutes until around day four, when I manage to work my stubborn northern accent around simply dropping the ‘a’ and saying it as one syllable. I master it, adopting Lahsaans slightly southern lilt and find myself almost overusing it to make up for my previous discourtesy. I doubt Hoang even notices, he’s laid back and calm, he doesn’t get angry once, not even after four hours trying one trick – when most riders would’ve thrown the rattle out of the pram long before the minutes became hours. I’ve barely slept when Hoang wakes me up at the crack of dawn on the first day to take me out into the Californian desert. “You want a coffee?” He says quietly, careful not to wake up his girlfriend in the other room. “I want sleep” is what I feel like saying but I settle for the beverage. It’s handed to me in a jam jar, which seems at odds with the plush, modern surroundings of the downtown San Diego apartment where he lives. I make nothing of it and get my things together. We take the jam jars and our things down to the garage and head out whilst it’s still dark. We’re heading out to Slab City, a commune of crazies, hippies, meth heads, religious fanatics and ex-servicemen, right out in the middle of the desert, about three hours from San Diego. “You’ll love this place man. You seen that film ‘Into The Wild?” “Yeah.” I reply, wondering where this is going. “You know that place where the people who live in the campervan go and live for a while, it looks like some sort of commune out in the desert.” “Yeah, I remember, the main guy meets up with that girl who’s in the Twilight movies, Kristen Stewart, but doesn’t bang her because she’s too young?” “Yeah, that part of the film. Well you remember that old guy they interview, who’s painted up that hillside as some sort of shrine to God and Love…” “Oh yeah, he seems like he isn’t an actor, it’s a strange bit of the film.” I say recalling this old, weather beaten man, with this out of sorts bit part midway through the film. “He’ll be there man, he lives in the back of a van. He just builds that colourful mountain, Salvation Mountain. He never leaves.” Sure enough he’s there. Sat with some friends in the back of a van, out of the sun. I go and say how impressive it all is, and that my dad, being a painter and decorator, could probably give them a hand. But the comment goes over their heads and they look at me a little confused. We continue up the road into Slab City and to our surprise the entire Creature skate team are setting up for some film for Thrasher. It’s slightly unnerving, turning up to a spot like that, in the middle of the desert, only to be greeted by 30 skateboarders, joiners, filmers and photographers. Undeterred, Hoang asks someone in charge if we can get the photo inbetween shooting and they’re cool with it. The local population of this desert community is out in force, causing even more distraction. A toothless woman who could be anywhere between 30 and 70 and with skin so leathery it reminds me of a hippo, tries to pull down one of the skater’s trousers and suck his dick. All around there are drunk, topless people, children rummaging through fetid piles of rubbish and stray dogs barking. I don’t know if this is a utopia for the disaffected or some John Martin-esque vision of Hell. Hoang blocks out the furore and manages to pull the trick we’ve traveled nearly three hours for. “Quite a scene.” I comment to him once he’s finished, surveying the chaos. “Yeah man, the desert does really strange things to people.” On a typically sunny and cloudless day in San Diego we
go for lunch in the ‘Old Town’. It isn’t very old at all. In fact, most of it looks like it was built within the last ten years. We take a seat outside a restaurant and Hoang starts telling me how he got into riding. “I started riding when Road Fools 5 came out, so I was super into Troy McMurray and brakeless street riding, doing loads of grinds. Then I moved out here and a lot of friends I met here were riding trails and I got real into it. Like, I’d never really been in the air before, or been that fast on a bike. It was a big change from riding curbs in Iowa. I think it really depends on your environment. I got lucky I think, I was exposed to a wide variety of BMX. I’m glad I lived in Iowa but I’m also glad that I moved. The only trick I’d seen in person, before I moved here was a feeble grind. So when I moved here, I went down to the skatepark and saw SD legend Steve Woodward doing massive supermans over the spine. At the time all I could do was double peg grinds, so I was like ‘What the hell!’ I think Gary [Young] was there too, he was doing lines and he just kept on going forever. He’d take runs and use the entire park.” “It must’ve been a real eye opener moving here, given the talent of riders in San Diego. There must be some competition?” “I don’t know… I see the competition…” “ Like who?” I reply, eager to hear a bit of gossip. This is The Albion, after all. Hoang laughs, “Lashaan and Christian [Rigal] go at it. They go at it for spots and stuff like that. Like they’re buddies, but sometimes it gets a little heated. They’ve got to remember it’s only bike riding. “Lashann isn’t afraid to say what he thinks.” I say, recalling the past week with him. “Nah, he isn’t.” “So do you feel the pressure, with all these amazing riders around?” “I don’t feel like anyone is coming after me. I try and do stuff that isn’t the everyday stuff, like cookie cutter stuff, which isn’t a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, but I literally can’t do it, like barspins…” “You’ve got a pretty unique barspin”, I remember the videos I’ve watched, where the barspin seems almost out of control, but he somehow pulls it back at the last minute. It all seems to take too long to do in a hop. He laughs again, aware that it’s a talking point. “It does what it wants. If I do one, I do it because it feels good, and it feels good to do them that way.” “It’s a proper barspin, but it goes sideways!” “Just adding a little spice, you know?” “Do you ever get beaten to spots, like if Dennis [Enarson] and Garrett [Reynolds] go there?” “Oh yeah, all the time!” I look up from eating my burrito, mouth full, a bit surprised at the frankness of the answer. Hoang’s laughing about it. “I’ll go and one-down a spot, no problem.” I like his answer and nod with my mouth full. “If I go somewhere and someone has already 540’d it, I’d still 180 it if I wanted to do it. I think it’s stupid that you can’t do something because somebody did something better on a spot.
Backside boneless, Slab City. 51
Turndown, San Diego.
I mean, everything has been done. You should still do something if you want to and you’re gonna enjoy it. I think it’s people being scared.” “People being scared of what people think?” “Yeah, people just being competitive about being competitive. I think people need to relax and do what they want. That’s the main thing I live for, being able to do what you want. As long as you don’t hurt others and all that bullshit.” I change the subject, remembering a story Hoang told me a few days ago, about when The Gonz turned up at his house. Maybe it’s just me, but I love hearing about this guy. “When the Gonz came over?!” Hoang looks up and smiles. “Well he came over when we were having a party and he brought his nine year old son. Everyone was smoking and drinking and around midnight he decides to take off all his clothes and have this mustard séance in the kitchen. And I hate mustard; I tell people I’m allergic to it just to avoid being around it. I thought he was doing it to mess with me at first, but I don’t think he knew that, he just chose mustard. He was completely naked and his kid was just sitting on the couch, like it was just another day. He’d be squeezing it onto his tongue, then on his body… It was almost sexual.” Hoang’s girlfriend Claire, who’s been sat beside us reading, eyes up, looking a little bemused. I laugh, thinking this is probably standard behaviour for the Gonz, a man who once smoked a dog shit. “Why was he at your house?” “Little Tammy brought him over.” “Did he know him from Arizona?” “No, the Gonz was living in El Cajon at the time, so he was living real close to San Diego. I didn’t know he was coming over, I just walked in the other room and I was like ‘holy shit, it’s the Gonz’!” “Was he drunk?” “He wasn’t then… I don’t think so.” “Was that the first time you’d lived out of home?” “No, that was actually the third house we had. Because we lived close to the college I went to. There was seven of us sharing a room, but it was also the year I didn’t go to school at all, when I lived closest. We’d just party all the time, then when the weekend came, we were all so tired from partying, we’d take a break”. “So did you fail?” “Yeah, that semester I got a withdrawal.” “A withdrawal? What’s that?” “It means you’ve got to totally give up on the semester, so it goes down as a W, which is kinda bad, as it shows that you quit. So I had to start the semester again.” “Was it because of riding too?” “Yeah, and riding. And partying… And growing up. I was kinda protected when I was young. I was an only child, so I didn’t get to do anything. I didn’t get to stay at a friend’s house until I was like, 17 or 18.” “Wasn’t one of the first times you got to stay out when you moved out?” “Yeah, but I got to go on trips and stuff, but I had to be so organised to be able to do it. I remember the time when I actually got to move out. It was actually kinda half assed…” “Who did you move out with?” “It was with Kyle and Ron. At the time Ron was living in North County. He came down with a backpack full of stuff and we just ended up moving in together.” “What does your mum think about it now.” “We don’t really talk about it! She didn’t like it at first. Like my Dad was cool about
Access hop table, San Diego. 54
it, but my mom thought I wasn’t ready to be living on my own. It was crazy. There was so much pressure put on me with school, for me to be a doctor, or a lawyer or some profession that they think is good.” “So they weren’t into you studying graphics?” “No, my mom wasn’t. She thought that art was silly. She’s so classical in that sense. She just wants you to be a hardworking blue collared office worker, or a lawyer, or dentist or something respectable.” We continue the conversation back at Hoang’s apartment. I work on my bike whilst Hoang looks out from the balcony with a set of military issue binoculars, following pedestrians walking up and down the street. I continue where we left off. “Where did you say your family was from?” “My mom is from Vietnam, but my Dad is from here.” “Do you think that has anything to do with why your mom is so strict?” “Erm, yeah. She’s full Asian” Hoang says laughing. “I love her, but she’s so straight laced. I don’t even think she thinks I have sex, like I shouldn’t be living with a girl if I’m not married.” “Even though you live with Claire?” “Yeah, she knows, but I think she just chooses to forget about it.” “Will she read this interview?” “Maybe. She isn’t into bike riding. My Dad probably will.” “Will he be into it?” “I don’t know either, my Dad will probably be ok about it. Like when I first went to Vegas he told me about the Bunny Ranch. Basically it’s a place where there is legal prostitution. So he’s kinda coming off like he’s been there. He’s like ‘It’s ok if you and your friends wanna go there, it’s safe, they’ve been tested.’” He puts on his best dad impression, looking down from the binoculars. “I don’t know why he thought I’d have enough money to go and buy a Bunny from The Ranch! He’s definitely more understanding, like he understands that it’s a little faster paced out here than it is in Vietnam.” “Have you been there?” “No, but I really want to.” “You went to Europe didn’t you?” “Yeah, right after Brighton Ain’t Ready. Seventies sent my bike back to the US for me. I just went backpacking around Europe, camping and staying in hostels.” “No bike?” “Yeah, I only had a month and I wanted to see so much, I didn’t see any point in taking it. Like, I was camping and up in the Alps, so there wasn’t much need for it.” “Where else did you go?” “I went to Paris, then into Switzerland and stayed in the Alps. I was there for the longest, in this little place called Lauterbrunnen and camped and hiked all around that area. Then I went down into Italy and camped on some of the beaches there. I was on the trains and would just get off where I wanted.”
“Was Europe the strangest place you’ve been? Well that’s a bit vague, but…” “Nah, Japan was definitely the strangest. Like, we were at the nicest recreational centre and me and Kyle went to use the bathroom as we’d eaten some crazy food the night before and the toilets were just a hole in the floor. I wasn’t expecting that, maybe out in some village, but this was right in the city, in a nice place. I didn’t know what to do! I wasn’t sure whether to take my pants right off, or just one leg…” “So you didn’t shit into your own pants?” “Yeah! I had to pull them forward so it didn’t go in there. We went out and were just looking for things that were weird. The locals would go into this bar and the guys would slide under this clear chair where there would be a girl with no panties on just sat there. Then for $20 you could get a girl with sexy attire to clean your ears with Q-tips.” I start to take off my back wheel so Hoang stands on the bars. I’m thinking about Japan. Hoang puts down the binoculars and takes a hit off this little pipe he carries around with him. I always like looking at the strange paraphernalia weed smokers carry around in their bags. The rituals and the care they take with it all. “Do your parents know you have a medicinal weed permit?” Hoang pauses, “Erm…. No!” Puffing out the smoke and laughing. Not wanting to get him in any shit, I offer to steer clear of the subject. Claire comes to the balcony and tells him that he’s going to get his ass kicked by his parents. We laugh, but it’s on the border of being awkward. “Nah it’s fine man, you can leave it all in there. I don’t mind. I believe that everything in moderation can’t be a bad thing. I could never let smoking weed take over my life.” “And I’m not trying to paint you out as a… erm…” I stutter, trying to choose my words carefully. The last thing I want to do is paint the wrong picture of Hoang. “As a pot head?!” Hoang laughs, putting on this fake, authoritarian voice, like a judge. He seems more comfortable with the line of questioning than I am with asking it. “I wasn’t gonna say that! You’re a very motivated person!” Is all I can reply, feeling on the back foot slightly. “Say if you’re straight edge, you can over indulge in refraining from everything and become a bigot because of it. I’m all for experimenting every now and then, but I wouldn’t just dive into it. I guess to describe it as BMX, I wouldn’t go out and try a gap before I could hop. Or I’d learn to take my feet off before I went out and tried a tailwhip…Like when I smoke weed I like to know what type it is and the kind of highs it can give me. When I did acid for the first time I researched that too and looked into what it was and the effects it has and also ways out, like drinking milk can bring you out of a bad trip due to the niacin in it.”
ALL AROUND THERE ARE DRUNK, TOPLESS PEOPLE, CHILDREN RUMMAGING THROUGH FETID PILES OF RUBBISH AND STRAY DOGS BARKING
Nose manual to turndown, San Francisco.
“ I’LL GO AND ONE-DOWN A SPOT, NO PROBLEM
“I’d love to see that in action.” “One time Ron was having a really bad trip and we were like ‘Dude, drink some milk’, so he chugged a whole carton of milk from the fridge, without realising that it was soy milk, which has no dairy in it and doesn’t do anything.” I’m thinking about Ron having a bad trip, it makes me laugh. For most of the week we’ve been around Kyle, Lahsaan and Ron. They remind me of the friends from the movie “Stand By Me” for some reason, like they’re a real tight group of friends, but they’re all kinda different, they all ride different. Ron told me during the week that if he hadn’t learnt to dress well and grow a mustache he’d still be a ‘total nerd.’ I like the lot of them, all broke as fuck besides Hoang, who would intermittently bankroll them a decent meal when they got hungry. Anyway, I digress. Hoang continues… “When people look down on partying and misjudge it as being something that is counter productive, then I think they’re missing out on a big part of life. And growing up to. As long as you don’t loose sight of your goals, or as gay as it sounds, your hopes and dreams. Everyone needs to black out every once in a while. It’s good to get out of your realm, it helps you discover who you are and appreciate what you have.” “Yeah I get what you mean, so you can appreciate being normal more?” “I take it as a vacation. I don’t do it because I’m bored, or frustrated or I have to. I plan it out, I figure shit like the music 58
and I might be freestyling when I’m doing it, but there’s a plan around it to make the experience worth it. Like if I was going to say, Hawaii, I’d make sure to pack my trunks, y’know? It’s the same thing with drugs, I’d plan ahead a little. I think it’s a good time to reflect…. I didn’t appreciate trees properly until I did mushrooms…” I’m listening to what he’s saying, but I didn’t see that coming, I cut in “now you do sound like a pot head!” “We went to Yosemite and did mushrooms and I think when you’re in the right environment with the right people, it just adds to it. That’s when I started to appreciate trees!” Neither of us can help but laugh at that comment. “Man, tripping, I’ve seen those things breathe!” “So this is why you go camping?” “No! Not at all. That was just one time. I normally just go to camp and fish. When you’re out there you don’t really need anything. It was just another opportunity, another experience, so why not take it? People have the wrong impression of drugs though. Mushrooms are natural for starters, and then you get parents giving their kids Adderall. That shit is bad for you. I read about this one drug that can make you happier, give you a better perspective on what you have…” “I think that’s called alcohol.” “Yeah, but shit like energy drinks, that shit is terrible for you, it just makes you jittery for a bit, but everything in moderation. Same with riding, drugs, whatever. Like if you
One handed flattie, San Diego. 59
Un-lookback, Alameda skatepark, San Francisco.
ride all the time you can neglect friendships and family, the same goes for drugs. When you say no to everything, you’re going to miss out on some real good times. And I don’t just mean drugs, just life in general. To truly know what you like, you’ve got to try and experience a lot of things to work out what you like and don’t like. In turn you can appreciate the things you truly love even more. Like, people that have always lived in the Californian climate can never fully appreciate it, because they don’t know what it’s like to be really cold! You’ve gotta get out of your elements, be uncomfortable, make mistakes, try new things and then you can work out who you truly are.”
By this point we’re both leaning against the railing of the balcony, looking out onto the empty Sunday carparks below. Hoang dangles his head over the five storey drop. I’m running over the past events in my head. Hoang’s always one to take the scenic route, always the first to put his hand in his pocket to help out a friend, never one to shy away from new experience, to make his own mind up about the chances life throws up. Never loud and brash, always polite and kind, in a way that makes you appreciate it, rather than be skeptical of good manners. I think about all this and what he’s just said, “Yep, he’s a hippie alright”, I think to myself, which I mean in the nicest possible way.
photo: Vincent perraud
The Weather Man CHRIS DOYLE INTERVIEW Damn, this guy is clean cut I think to myself as Chris enters his pristine truck and reaches for an antibacterial gel dispenser. He clinically rubs the palms of his hands together before buckling up. “I’m just a nice guy – I’m no Mike Hoder”, he says looking uneasy at the prospect of his biography being laid bare, possibly ashamed of his own good fortune and considers himself to be boring. “I’ve read the other interviews and it’s always guys who’ve had it tough like Seth Kimbrough, guys who’ve had to stick by their guns. I grew up in a decent neighbourhood and had a good upbringing. I wish I had badass hobbies like Eddie Cleveland with his motorbikes and guns. I’ve a got dog – he’s a real killer”, Doyle says joking. At first glance Chris is the squeaky clean friendly white guy, showered in success and applause. His haircut is worthy of a prom king, his smile beams constantly from a chiseled jaw, he’s intelligent, generous, polite and funny. He is quite possibly faultless, a perfect blend of both Clark Kent and Superman. It’s a wonder his teeth don’t sparkle with a ‘ting’ at the end of every punch line to every sarcastic joke. He looks like a stranger to the darker experiences of life, someone who’s ridden an idyllic wave of success and happiness. But this story doesn’t end at ‘he’s nice guy’, nor is this a collection of amusing stories from his seemingly perfect life as a substitute for failing to find dirt where there genuinely is none. For two weeks of autumn I experienced two very contrasting sides of his life as a professional rider, firstly as a trails digger deep in the secluded woods of Pennsylvania and secondly as a competitor surrounded by the glamour of Las Vegas. Over time I learnt his story, it was a story far from the one I expected to hear, a story that is as hard as any other, as hard as they come.
Words and photography by GEORGE MARSHALL
Downside no foot can can, Hazelwood.
The Circus The Dew Tour contest starts with the US National Guard holding guns aloft singing to a crowd of young families their National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. It was a patriotic opening to an event set to be dominated by Australians. I awkwardly watch the ceremony in silence not knowing whether to close my eyes, salute or grope my left breast. “Keep your head up. Stick close to Doyle.” I remember the words of advice from Jay Roe, Doyle’s team manager who I’m standing in for in Las Vegas, a city driven by indulgence and sin, a void of taste or modesty. Nowhere could be more fitting for such an event. “It’s a circus man, you’ll love it.” I recall Doyle telling me and a circus it is with its share of clowns, freaks and a ring master who struggles to announce the tricks with his robotic like voice, who in place of naming tricks uses catch phrases such as “that’s insane” or simply “awesome” after every jump. I sit in the stands next to people busy eating, burning under the intense sun. I take in the scene, chewing on it with irritation. The towering roll-in is smothered in branding and an 8.0 litre Toyota truck glistens at its base, dumped in shot for the TV cameras. Never has product placement been so shameless and crude. “What the fuck is GoDaddy.com?” I think to myself and the logo burrows into my subconscious as I watch riders who can front flip on demand struggle with the three rollers before the first lip. I wish I shared the same excitement as the short Asian man wearing a white trilby hat, ¾ length white shorts and a shirt with the collar fully popped dancing to the loud chart music in the wheelchair zone of the spectator stands. He nods his head in time with one finger in the air, sipping occasionally from a bottle of water and cheering enthusiastically at every flip variation. He’d look more fitting at a Miami Beach party hosted by Justin Timberlake or in the long queue outside an early audition for American Idol – anything but a BMX contest. The jumps look only days old, built for a television audience of millions, ridden by a mere handful for a few short hours of scheduled sessions highlighted in orange marker pen. Once the last run of finals is over no one will take to the thin yellow imported dirt again. To the riders the jumps are no different to the gambling machines in the casinos that surround. They buy gambling chips with blood, roll the dice and cash in. This is the world of corporate BMX. A world that has its own species, the contest bros, a breed of Blink 182 look a like VIPs, walking energy drink adverts with more ink on their skin than in the books they’ve read, self proclaimed punk badasses with a soft spot for Nandos and dance music. Looking out of place without a tattoo and a faked breasted sidekick sits contest veteran Chris Doyle, looking humble yet proud. He greets his peers with a dignified shake of the hand opposed to the obligatory bro knuckles. He naturally stands out from the riders that surround him and is happily out of place. “I’m the only one who turns up with dirt on my tyres.” Chris had told me the week before. “The majority of riders who enter the dirt contests aren’t trail riders. If you look back to the dirt contests of the mid to late 90s it was mostly trail kids with the occasional rogue freestyler. Now there’s a lot of people who can do all the tricks and the jumps aren’t necessarily too hard and they end up doing really well. Today it seems the dudes in a dirt contest that don’t ride trails heavily out number the guys that do, it’s all changed.”
Alongside Gary Young, Doyle’s runs that afternoon stand out in a wash of new age flips, whips and spins. Chris keeps to the classics and places well after qualifying 3rd the day before. “I think the lack of trail riders makes it easier for me because I’m doing something different, even though I’ve been doing the same tricks for years. I just do the stuff I feel looks better and it stands out from the two thousand tailwhips that the crowd and judges have seen that weekend. If the other riders do get pissy, I don’t hear about it. I’m sure a lot of them don’t get it and think ‘I did a double tailwhip and he did a 360 table, why did he place higher than me?’ The crowd probably gets upset too. They don’t understand why I beat the guy who did a huge front flip tailwhip.” During his stay in Vegas, Chris keeps the circus at arms length. Opposed to staying in the luxury of The Hard Rock Café where most of the riders have expensive rooms, Chris stays across the street at the much cheaper and desperate Terribles Hotel. In the evenings, Chris avoids the sponsored parties and free G-Unit concerts, opting for early nights. With an idyllic family life thousands of miles away, I’m curious why he comes at all. “I was chatting to Gary Young about coming to Dew Tour. I said it would be cool to not come to Dew Tour and not bother with the circus, and he put it into perspective. He said, ‘I think you have to come to these, because people need to see that a 360 table top or turndown still holds value and it should not all be about the big circus tricks, you can have style, avoid the big circus tricks and still be successful’. Gary told me I have my role here. Prior to that conversation with Gary, I thought about just being a video rider and not going to contests. I have a role, albeit a small one, to let a kid know he doesn’t have to learn to double flip whip to be successful.” Aside from carrying the torch for classic tricks, events such as Dew Tour have a second, more tangible draw for Doyle. After the contest we hastily leave in the direction of the media office to collect his winnings, our walk pleasantly dogged by signature requests and chats with riders. When we arrive at the office to find a large admin girl sitting behind a desk eating PowerBars that guarantee to enhance sporting capability, becoming fatter and less athletic with every bite. She hands Chris a box of cheques. He sifts through passing pay slips up to $60,000 until he finds his own for $3,500 for coming 7th that day and $5,600 for coming 6th overall in 2011. He routinely collects the cheques showing little sign of the lottery win hysteria that would overcome many. I then realize the Dew Tour jumps are not gambling machines for him, they’re cash machines dispensing free money. There was never a chance of him returning empty handed. “The Dew Tour just put a roof on my house, if you can do these contests and make some cash you might as well. I only come for the free money, and I hope that doesn’t make me sound bad. I got married last year and my wife and I really went overboard on the wedding. I was hustling hard at the contests. If you get invited to Dew Tour you’re guaranteed money. Spots 10th to 30th might be $500, but a top ten spot is guaranteed $1,500 and then if you get top ten overall at the end of the year then the pay out is really big. Last year I got 7th overall and that was a cool five grand. So that was the DJ, cake and photographer covered. I also got 2nd at a Red Bull comp and got twelve grand, that took a big chunk out of the wedding bill.” 65
Table Air, South Park.
Hey Suburbia Before the heat and cheap glamour of Vegas we’d spent a week in and around Doyle’s home city of Pittsburgh, making the most of a late autumn heat wave. There he lives in a large house deep within the safety of middle class white suburbia with his Labrador Cosby and his beautiful and friendly wife Denise. All the houses of the neighbourhood are large, their green lawns are immaculate, deer wander freely between the gardens, the locals kids roam the streets some aboard pro level bikes fashioned from Chris’ old parts. It’s an idyllic community with little need for locks and crime only exists on the TV News. A plastic skeleton hangs from a small tree in Chris’ front garden and other Halloween decorations litter the home from the pumpkin tea towel to witch’s hand soap. The house is fitting of a middle class family, you’re only reminded where you are by the neat stack of worn VHS cassettes beside the television and the layers of CFB trophies, X Games medals, Nora Cups, magazine covers and giant cheques for thousands of dollars that shine in a basement room Chris calls his ‘den of narcissism’. 66
“Welcome to suburbia man.” He says to me one morning as we look out across the pristine streets, in full autumn colour stood high up on his roof. “Are you guys getting high up there?” A friendly woman shouts up from the street below with two children. Chris laughs as I back up from the edge. “You know I don’t get high. We’re just hanging out up here shooting some photos,” Chris replies shouting down to the street. “You know your neighbour used to get high on his roof all the time, he sure was a wild one.” She replies laughing. “Yeah I’m not like that, I’m no wild guy.” Chris shouts down, waving goodbye. The guest bedroom has been prepared for me with clean bed sheets and towels laid out ready. Each morning Chris would knock on my door at 9am sharp. Once up I’d find him eating a bowl of granola and watching a trails video dated by a pop punk soundtrack, baggy jeans and chain wallets.
An East Coast Heritage “What video’s this?” I ask on the first morning. “1201, you’ve seen it right?” He replies, surprised. The name rings a bell but I shake my head. “You haven’t seen 1201? Jesus man. You haven’t seen 1201?” He repeats himself, shocked. “This video changed my life. I remember the time Van Homan threatened to throw Ronny Chalk out of a car because he hadn’t seen this video. Sit down, we’re going to watch it.” He orders. To Chris my ignorance seems sacrilegious, it was as if I’d just told Jesus Christ himself I hadn’t read the Bible. 1201 was to be the first of many historic Pennsylvania trails scene videos Chris showed me each morning, some I’d seen before, some I hadn’t. Anthem, Lights Out, The Push Video and Broken. Each video sacred to him, each a gospel. “When Chris came up, the internet did not exist. He watched VHS cassette tapes. Chris bought every damn video. He studied those old trails videos. He studied them all,” Kris Bennett had told me one night in Vegas, as Chris was sleeping back at the hotel. “He respected the videos and he respected his elders, like Chris Stauffer, Brian Foster and Punjab, he respected them all. That’s why Doyle is Doyle. There’s not going to be another Doyle. The East Coast still has good trails, but kids don’t look up to their elders at the trails anymore. Back then it was all race influenced, now it’s foam pit influenced. There won’t be another Chris Doyle”. Bennett had told me, shaking his head as if to be prophesying the end of an era clearly dear to him. To Doyle’s face the nearest Bennett gets to a compliment is ‘nice hair cut faggot’, but behind his back Bennett speaks of him as the chosen one of the trails Mecca that is the Pennsylvania scene. The last of a dying breed of dirt contest riders with East Coast trails pedigree whose straight up authenticity has never been in question.
ing the dirt for attention. The setting of Hazelwood trails could not be further from the ‘made for TV’ dirt course and jock attitudes of Dew Tour. Just one element is consistent – Doyle’s riding. “Riding in the woods is what is important”, he makes a point of telling me as we sit in rush hour traffic on our way back to his blissful neighbourhood, as the autumn sun sets behind the old steel mills of Pittsburgh and ‘Hey Suburbia’ by Screeching Weasel plays from the stereo amongst countless songs inspired by his VHS collection. “When I go to a contest like Dew Tour I always do what I do on a regular day at the trails. Everything you saw me do today at the trails, I’ll do at the contests, there’s no real difference, there’s no contrast. I don’t have any tricks I hold on to just for contests to make a dollar. I’ve never been good at learning stuff especially for contests. When people see me ride a spot they always think I’m training and getting my stuff dialed for the contest, they don’t understand that’s just how I ride. I’ll do a suicide double truck and people have been like ‘Woo, Chris is hungry – he’s training’ and I’d say ‘No that’s just what I do.’ I’d be down the trails doing all my tricks if I had a contest coming up or not.”
“ I THOUGHT
“When dirt was in the X Games, the last few years I did really well, I got two third places, two 2nd places, and a 4th the very last year. I remember a week or two prior to the X Games, half the dudes invited for dirt would all be at Woodward, trying stuff into the resi and getting stuff dialed. I’d get calls saying so and so is trying this thing into the resi, and I’d say ‘Oh well I’m just going to go down the trails and ride’. One year I was in position to win, and I thought it would almost be hilarious if I won the X Games doing the same exact tricks I do at the trails everyday, because there were dudes in there that had seriously trained and learnt 75% of their contest tricks in the foam.” Doyle says putting an emphasis of disgust into the word ‘foam’. “In the end Corey Bohan won it and deservedly so. Everyone said ‘Man, are you bummed?’ I said I’m not bummed because I got 2nd place and I didn’t have to do anything – I just rode. It was like a day at the trails for me but there were way more people watching. I remember knowing 1st place got $50,000 so I thought I must get at least 30, but I got $16,000 and thought ‘Jeeze that drops off fast.’ But I’ve always been content with every placing I’ve got, be it a 2nd place or last place. I’m not a guy who wins things.”
IT WOULD ALMOST BE HILARIOUS IF I WON THE X GAMES DOING THE SAME EXACT TRICKS I DO AT THE TRAILS EVERYDAY
Doyle’s local trails are set on the side of a hill next to a graveyard deep in the quiet and dark woods of Pennsylvania State. Old vines cover every surface and the constant repetitive call of crickets hangs in the moist air. The trails are secluded, undisturbed and out of public view. The jumps are big and hidden in a density of autumn leaves, preserved by a reluctance to damage the trees and vines. “Hazelwood is [Brian] Yeagle’s brain child. He was first to put spade into soil. He draws the blueprint and we all build it.” Chris tells me as we walk through the dense woods, along a faint path to meet the local riders Tom Arkus, Mark Potoczny, Brian Yeagle and Popple, greeting them with a sturdy handshake. Here in the tranquility of the woods Doyle looks at home, spade in hand, working the dark rich soil. The conversation between the diggers drifts from discussing the classic works by George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984, to the state of the economy, all as Popple’s gun dog sits fight-
In 2007, ESPN axed dirt from the X Games schedule placing it in a reject category of extreme sports considered non-profitable and lacking fan appeal, joining the ranks of flatland and street luge. Four years on and dirt is more popular than ever but remains left out to the dismay of the constant petitions and calls for its reinstatement. As a veteran of dirt contests I ask Chris his opinion on the X Games, he takes a moment to consider his words. 67
“It’s a double edged sword. One side it’s good, if dirt was in the X Games, it’s good that a kid can see dirt on TV then go into the woods with his buddies, build some jumps and start riding. On the other hand it’s not a good representation of what I would consider a good dirt contest to be. I feel the X Games can make riding look really lame. If they’re not going to do it right then they shouldn’t do it at all. I don’t care if dirt isn’t in the X Games, I don’t lose sleep over it.
just concerned about tricks. One day Cory showed up and his riding just looked so different and he just did an X-up, a table top or a turndown. I couldn’t understand why it looked so good. That was the first time I recognised style. As I started to progress I began to look up to people like Todd Walkowiak who had a ton of tricks and a ton of style too and Kris Bennett was a huge influence as he was the only East Coast rider on S&M and I loved S&M.”
“After they kicked dirt out I got a call from Hoffman inviting me to compete in Mega Ramp, I said thanks but no thanks”. Doyle says laughing at even the notion of him riding Mega Ramp. “I laughed on the phone. I’ve never ridden one of those things in life, nor can I imagine when I’d get the chance to ride one. At the time there were only two in existence. When I was a kid watching TV and I saw Evel Knievel on a Harley Davidson trying to jump 15 cars, there’d be no way in hell I’d want to do that – that’s the way I feel about Mega Ramp. If I was a kid and I saw someone getting hurt on Mega Ramp I’d never pick up a bike. Mega Ramp gets ratings, I reckon it’ll stay around for a while, people like the crashes. The X Games doesn’t care about what is pure in BMX, they care about dollars so why should I care if dirt is in the X Games?
“On a positive note I do remember when I was younger and I watched X Games 1996 on TV. Joey Garcia won with really cool barspin tricks that no one else was doing like bar catch bar and barspin to X. For his last trick he did a big beautiful no foot can can. Meanwhile TJ Lavin did back flips for just about every run. The crowd was behind TJ and thought he should have won. But it turned out Joey won it with all his tech tricks, and the crowd booed him. Joey was really calm, put his helmet back on, walks back up to the ramp, drops in and does a perfect backflip over the set and the crowd starts going nuts. Joey could do a backflip but knew he didn’t have to. He wanted to win doing credible tricks. Joey Garcia was a big influence growing up. That memory really stuck with me.”
GETTING KICKED OFF DK WAS THE BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO ME
At the time Garcia won the X Games, Chris was a long way from being the professional rider he is today. “Chris was a Honda Hill kid” Chris’ long-term friend Cory Muth had told me in Vegas. “Those kids would be dirty, all covered in mud with shitty bikes, they had shitty Diamond Backs, no shirt on, just shorts, no socks. I’d go there and see these dirty kids riding the dirt fly outs and amongst them were Doyle and Ryan Barrett. I told them I’d been riding Push and Posh and they couldn’t believe I’d been riding with the likes of Brian Foster and Chris Stauffer.”
Meeting Cory was set to have a significant impact on the young Chris, it was a meeting that changed the course of his riding and life. “I’d never witnessed style until I saw Cory Muth ride. That’s a big moment in a rider’s life, that first time they see someone with great style. As a kid I recall trying to do every trick possible, at that time I was 68
With Cory Muth’s industry contacts on his side, it didn’t take long until Chris had a full factory sponsor. “Cory was really good friends with Steve Buddendeck who at the time was the marketing director for DK. Buddendeck would always come down to 401 trails shooting photos with Cory. Every time he was down the trails with his camera I would always try to show off, I was 15 at the time. I had a broken frame and Buddendeck offered to get me a DK frame at cost, I phoned him up and got two. That Christmas I asked my mom for a plane ticket to the Christmas Classic race which had a dirt contest. Prior to the contest Buddendeck rang me and said ‘If you wear a DK jersey I’ll pay your entry fee, and if you need anything for your bike just let me know.” I was blown away. At my very first contest I had a DK jersey with my name printed on the back. I was 16.” Recognising Doyle’s potential, Buddendeck and Muth fostered his talent and hunger. Under their wing a young and unknown Chris Doyle suddenly found himself side by side his idols. “Brian Foster has been a hero of mine since I was 13. I had posters of him on my wall. The first time I met Foster was at that Christmas Classic race. This was a time when Brian could win the AA main and then win the dirt contest in the same day, he was the man. Buddendeck introduced us and I freaked out. I shook his hand and he said, ‘You’re one of the guys. Man, there are three dudes out there today who I’ve never seen before and they’re killing it. You’re one of those dudes.’ I was blushing. That was my first contest. There were 90 competitors and I made it into the final of 12 beside all my heroes from videos and magazines. I had to pinch myself... I thought holy shit I’m sat next to Kris Bennett.” He didn’t know it at the time, but that first contest launched him into a career as a professional dirt rider. His stand out classic trails style inspired by his elders Muth, Bennett and Foster, combined with a faultless consistency quickly propelled Doyle to the center stage of BMX. Every step of the way supported by DK and Buddendeck. “At that time DK were at their peak, or close to it. All of the sudden I was on a team with Dave Friemuth, Leigh Ramsdell, Colin Winklemann, and Mike Ardelean – the team was insane. When DK was at its peak it was all because of Steve Buddendeck. It would have made way more sense if my jersey instead saying of ‘DK’, said ‘Steve Buddendeck’. I rode for Steve Buddendeck. He became one of my best friends. Steve’s a really creative person. After a while he started to feel working for DK was holding him back, and he needed to branch out and do his own thing. He started his own media company called Axis, and he took DK on as a client. He was still doing their marketing but he wasn’t an employee of DK, but I could still call him and talk to him about matters concerning DK. Soon that ended. Once DK and Steve severed all ties, DK started making bad decision after bad decision almost on a weekly basis, it was only a matter of time until I got kicked off. And I got fully kicked off. I had planned to drive out to
Tailwhip gap, Pittsburgh.
360 no hander, Hazelwood.
Ohio to renegotiate my up and coming contract, there was still two months left on it at $4,000 a month. I got a call, not from the owner but from one of the other guys that worked there in the office, he said ‘Hey Chris are you still planning to come out to Ohio to do this contract?’ I said ‘Yeah definitely I’m coming out there on Tuesday’. His reply was ‘Don’t worry about coming. We’re not going to resign you. Actually, we’re going to terminate your contract right now’. I was amazed. I said to him ‘You’re not going to pay for my last two months of my contract and I’ve been on your company for nine years?’ Afterwards they said the reason was my involvement with the grip and tyre company Duo, which I am a part of and do part own. In reality, it came down to a matter of ego and the owner of DK having a personal gripe with Steve and Cory.” Up until that point, Doyle’s career had been a dream come true, nine years of highs with very few, if any lows. “I was really upset about it. I was devastated. It was sad to me, they were the first sponsor I ever had, it was all I knew. I felt my name was so synonymous with the brand. They always called themselves ‘the DK family’. I thought OK ‘DK family’, you just kicked off your son. It was a hard pill to swallow. They made it convenient, they kicked me off a week after the last Dew Tour that year so they got one last contest out of me. Before that I had a good relationship with everyone, and now I don’t talk to those guys anymore.” The Second Era Without a bike sponsor, with almost a decade as professional rider under his belt and at an age where many of his generation and elders had left BMX behind, Doyle found himself at a junction in his career. Eager for change, he took a risk on a little known and struggling company. “I started talking to Zach at Kink, he came to Pittsburgh from Rochester. It was a quick transition to Kink…about three days. Around that time Kink had gone silent for a while too. Zach really wanted to reinvigorate the brand, I felt I should do the same, I felt I needed to start over. It was my opportunity to get in there from the ground up with a different brand. Kink didn’t have much of a team or frames or parts. I felt that we needed each other. Talking to Zach convinced me. He seemed like the kind of guy who wouldn’t bullshit
me. I thought ‘Yeah definitely, lets do this’. Looking back it worked out better than I could have imagined. Getting kicked off DK was the best thing to happen to me.” Reinvigorated and with a new found hunger, the move to Kink ushered in a second era of Doyle’s riding career. Today at the age of 30, Chris’ career currently stands at 14 years without plans or signs of fading. Whereas the peers from his generation, the likes of Ryan Barrett and Todd Walkowiak, have left their riding careers long behind for conventional jobs, Doyle has remained a permanent fixture of BMX. As riding has rapidly expanded and evolved, Doyle’s timeless trails style has remained consistent over time but also constantly on point, outliving countless fads, faces and fashions. Aside from the obese jeans and dinner plate sized chain ring, his contest runs of today aren’t too dissimilar from those at that first Christmas Classic contest 15 years ago. “I’ve been pro for 14 years. At 17 I didn’t believe I had a future in BMX. I planned to graduate from high school, go to college and become a weather man. I didn’t think I was good enough to be a fully paid professional bike rider. I feel I’ve done a lot with only mediocre talent. I’m surprised I’ve been able sustain myself. I’ve tried always to ride in a way that feels right, but you also have to change with the seasons. Everything changes, styles come and go, soon enough the way you dress or the way you set up your bike won’t be cool anymore. You can either embrace the change and go with it, or talk shit on it.You hear some older riders say stuff like they’re not cool anymore because they don’t wear a beanie in 90 degree heat or don’t grind a foot high ledge. I think it makes people look foolish when they talk shit on the current trends in BMX.” “I’ve also noticed retired pro riders take on a mentality that what they’re doing isn’t cool or relevant anymore, and it destroys them. They need to remember people just want to see you do what you do. I remember a few years ago telling Kris Bennett that people just want to see him do a huge Superman, and he’d say ‘No one cares about that shit anymore, that’s ten year old shit.’ I had to tell him yes they do, you’re Kris Bennett. “I’ve always embraced the changes. My bars got bigger, my sprocket got smaller, my jeans got tighter. But I don’t 71
know how to change my riding. I don’t ride little ledges because I don’t know how to do it well. I understand jumping. I understand going fast and I understand trying to roast a big air out of a quarter, I understand all of that. It makes sense to me. I’m not a street tech dude. Does anyone really want to see me struggle to ride a two foot high ledge slower than walking pace?” As we sit at a skatepark outside Pittsburgh it is clear that the understanding of going high and fast is a shared virtue of the entire Pittsburgh scene, as the riders queue to hit the biggest quarter few failing to go below 6ft and meanwhile the grind ledge and flat bar rest redundant and ignored, a refuge for beginners and children. In contrast to the nearby peg-dominated scene of New York, the riders in Pittsburgh have brakes and wear helmets for a reason: they’re believers in riding fast and going high. In The Blood One thing was blindingly obvious from the first day shooting photos at the parks of Pittsburgh: Doyle is a class act, he is a man with his life in order, I doubt he’s ever gone overdrawn or run out of bog roll. He approaches every aspect of life with structure, holds a strong work ethic and leads an exceptionally healthy lifestyle. He is as motivated, fit and healthy as men ten years younger than he. He has kept an iron grip on the temptations of women, drugs and alcohol, in striking contrast to the growing number of riders whose careers have been cut short by a failure to appreciate the meaning of moderation. “I didn’t start drinking ‘til I was 28. Two years before that I drank a couple of glasses of wine with Ruben in Malaga, but that was just nothing really. But at 28 I started drinking regularly.The reason I did not drink for so long is 100% due to my dad. My dad was an alcoholic. My dad’s father was an alcoholic. My dad’s brothers were alcoholic. I’d heard it can run in a blood line, so I steered clear of it.
passed me his beer. I took a sip and spat it out, it so was so disgusting. Then he said ‘are you still thirsty?’ I gave him the beer back and said I was fine. I remember the bitter, bitter taste. That’s one of my earliest memories and one of my only memories of my dad.” As Doyle tells me the story of his father, I’m shocked at his words, and embarrassed thinking back the numerous occasions I’d referred to his parents and he’d discretely not corrected me. I ask him if he’s happy for the story of his father to be printed. “Yeah sure. I’m not sad talking about my dad. He was never there in my life to begin with. You can’t miss what wasn’t ever there. People always say ‘I’m so sorry, it must be hard’, but it was just something that made me who I am. My mom always said I’m your mom and your dad, it’s on me, I’m playing both roles. I think if my dad was in my life growing up I think it would have made everything a lot worse, trying to deal with him and his issues. I’m proud of my mom for leaving him behind. Growing up wasn’t difficult since my mother was so honest with us. It was something I was always aware of. It made me more mature. I understood what divorce was and what alcoholism was at five years old. My mom was upfront and honest with the way things were, we never wondered where’s dad? Or why don’t we have the things other kids in school have?” Doyle says, showing little sign of emotion or regret.
IN THE WOODS IS WHAT IS IMPORTANT
His words drive a crack through the fairy tale like picture I had of the seemingly impeccable life of Chris Doyle. My perception of his childhood of him riding jumps with friends over long summers, being an A grade student, nailing the girl on prom night and pitching baseball with a loving father as a boy in Cary, North Carolina just got shattered. “My mom was a gym teacher when she divorced from my dad and was left with sole custody of three kids. And teachers don’t earn shit, so she was a gym teacher by day and at night she cleaned doctor’s offices. She didn’t want to hire a sitter so she would take us with her. We’d clean the offices with her and she kept track of our hours and pay us. So at the age of a second grader [seven years old] I was learning about money, as my classmates played video games I would be cleaning doctor’s offices all night. Later she landed a job with Pfizer the pharmaceutical company, she had a knack for being a great sales person. She was ‘sales person of the year’ for five years in a row. She made good money and worked her ass off for it. Most of the people in Cary, North Carolina, were from inherited money and she was a single parent who worked damn hard. She sent me and my sister to private high schools. She had quite a lot of money but still didn’t spoil us. She bought me my first truck for six thousand dollars and made me pay her back. I gave her $200 a month. So I knew nothing was given, everything had to be earned.”
“My dad was a bad alcoholic. He crashed every vehicle my parents owned, from drunk driving, he had multiple DUI’s, [driving under the influence] he also smoked weed and even sold marijuana to the kids my mom was teaching at the high school in our town. Ultimately he chose that life over his family. My mom wised up and divorced him. He was perfectly fine with not seeing any of us ever again. I haven’t seen him since I was four or five. I didn’t know about the weed stuff till later on. I don’t smoke marijuana but I do think alcohol is more dangerous. When I do drink I stay mellow and don’t take it over edge. I waited to start drinking ‘til I was at a point in my life where I thought I could control it rather than it controlling me. “I remember this. I remember being in my dad’s car. I must have been about four years old. I was in the back complaining that I was really thirsty, he said ‘here’ and 72
Turndown, Sheriden Park.
Icepick, Pittsburgh. 73
360 Invert, Zoolanderâ€™s Monroeville Trails. 74
White Collar, Red Heart Through his mother’s hard work and sacrifice, Chris with his brother and sister were raised in Cary, a desirable white-collar town of dentists, lawyers and doctors. It was a town that bred the American upper class and Chris found himself next in line. “Cary is the type of town where a kid turns 16 and they inherit the family BMW or Mercedes. At 18 most of the kids I went to school with had their whole lives mapped out. They knew which college they’d go to, what job they’d get, they knew the wife they were going to marry, how many kids they’d have, where they were going to live. The crazy part is, for most of them it worked out that way. They studied law or whatever as they decided to 10 years before, met the hot wife at college, got the job and it worked out. At the age of 18 I saw that, but had no idea what to do with my life. I did decent in school but I didn’t know what to study in college and what I was going to be. Saying I was going to be a weather man [on his Props video bio at the age of 17] wasn’t a lie. As I was getting ready to graduate I wasn’t that interested in becoming a weather man anymore. Everyone I grew up with was certain about everything in their lives and I was only certain one thing – bike riding.” Chris’ mum had worked day and night as a single parent to provide Chris with a private education and a sure route to a successful life. At 18 the college education, the evitable high earning job and the big house all lay before him – a privileged life was there for the taking. Yet Doyle made the hard decision to ignore that guaranteed path his mum had worked so hard to create for him and turned instead to BMX, at a time when the financial rewards that today’s top riders enjoy couldn’t be even dreamt of. “My mom called me and I had to confess I hadn’t been going to class for two weeks and was going to leave college to pursue a career in riding. She thought I was putting my future in the hands of something that was so uncertain. In her generation there weren’t professional BMX riders. She thought I was throwing my life away. I tried to convince her I was doing what I thought was right. It’s really hard for someone from my mom’s generation to understand it, when all she knows are the values of education and hard work. A few years later, I remember my mom coming to Pittsburgh to see my house after I bought it and see how I was living. I remember she sat me down and really apologised. She said ‘I should have trusted you to make the right decision with your life, I should have put my trust in you to do the right thing and I’m really proud of how everything has worked out.’ I don’t do things to satisfy my parents, but it was nice to get her approval after all those years.” When asked what the worst thing he’s ever done is, Doyle’s answer is pocketing small sums of money from the cinema he worked at as a teenager with Will Stroud to buy pizza after their shift. Chris was right; he is no Mike Hoder. He is far from the Gabe Brooks type of character. There’s no hiding his privately educated background and squeaky-clean life, rough round the edges he is not. His story is far from the cliché of a troubled man who found BMX and it saved him from a life of crime and wrongdoing. But what is harder; to choose BMX opposed to a life of trouble, crime and drugs, or to choose BMX over a life of conventional success, security and wealth? Which is more commendable? Which shows greater dedication to their passion? A man’s passion is what either makes us or breaks us and for Chris Doyle his passion was his making. Doyle has a rare combination of a solid work ethic, calculated judgment and a strict moral compass taught to him by his mother, interlaced with an East Coast trails heritage he had installed in him by Foster, Bennett and Muth, his heroes who he now joins in the elite ranks of the trails legends. It’s a combination that has created the Chris Doyle that the world of BMX knows, applauds and loves. During his career his growing legacy has become a corner stone of trails riding, a cornerstone that will never subside, a legacy that can be counted on just like his honest character. His career stands as a testament to the value of style over tricks. Doyle is a needed reminder that the spirit of going high and fast is alive and well, and that spirit will never grow old. He is one of the last heroes of a golden era when trails riders dominated dirt contests, a time that doesn’t look set to be repeated. Bennett was right; there won’t be another Chris Doyle.
Falling Down THE STORY OF THE FARREN DOWNES INTERVIEW
Falling Down is a film from 1993 starring Michael Douglas: William Foster is a normal man who just wants to get home to see his daughter on her birthday. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be going right for him. First there’s the traffic jam, then the unhelpful Korean shopkeeper who “doesn’t give change”. William begins to crack and starts to fight back against the everyday “injustices” he encounters on his journey home. The film has a story running in parallel about a desk-bound cop who is about to retire. He’s retiring for his wife’s sake, and obviously isn’t happy about it. It’s a story of one man trying to hold it together in a world that’s against him. This article is a story from 2011 starring Farren Downes: Farren Downes is a normal man who just wants to shoot some decent riding photos for a magazine interview. Unfortunately, nothing seems to be going right for him. First there’s the traffic, then the kid on the scooter, then his friend attaches his chain to the wrong side of his bike. Farren struggles to keep it together as he battles a seemingly contrived set of events in order to get the shots he needs. The article has a story running in parallel about Farren’s bike shop and his quest to make it work so he can hang up his work boots and quit his soul destroying job on the building site. It’s a story about a love/hate BMX relationship and one mans bravery in the face of adversity.
Words and photography by STEVE BANCROFT
“ I’M WELL IN OVER MY
HEAD HERE. MY CHAIN’S LOOSE. I’M TRYING TO GO OFF OUT THERE
Shoot 1: Frustrations and a Flag Pole. It’s late in the day when I arrive at Southsea Skatepark, the entrance is locked and the 30 year old Jurassic concrete bowls lay dormant, empty in the darkness. There’s a light on inside so I give the door a knock. After a few moments the door opens and I’m greeted by the everenthusiastic looking Farren. We shake hands and he invites me inside. Although we’ve met at the skatepark, it’s not the 70’s snakerun or the new school Rink training ground that I’m here to see. Earlier this year Farren opened his own BMX shop in the entrance building to this iconic park and it’s the shop that I’m keen to check out. We walk in through the hallway, past the busy notice board and past the payment window were five generations of skaters and bikers have forked over their pocket money to enjoy an afternoon carving-up the legendary concrete curves. There’s a hand-painted wooden sign hanging above the shop door that says Donald’s. The sign is tasteful and stylish. Painted with a meticulous attention to detail, it has a homely quality and shows a degree of dedication and purposefulness that is mirrored throughout the shop. “You’ll have to give me a minute” says Farren apologetically as he walks round the back of his handmade wooden counter, “I’ve just got to cash up”. It’s a Sunday evening and the shop is finally quiet after a busy weekend. “No worries” I respond “How’s business been?” “Yeah, not bad. It was half term last week so we’ve had a good run. I only come in during the evenings through the week, so I escaped the worst of it, I have Julian run the place in the day.” I thought that sounded weird at first, that the owner of the relatively new shop only pops in during the evenings. But I go on to learn that Farren has a full time job as a renderer and he setup and runs the shop in his spare time. When we were speaking on the phone, trying to organise a time to start shooting the photographs for his interview, I immediately got the impression that he is a very busy chap with a lot on his plate. It’s a modestly sized but punchy shop, with dark wooden panelling contrasting starkly against the bright white and blue painted walls. “So what made you want to open this place?” I enquire. “I suppose one day I’d love it to be my only source of income, I’m not going to deny that. I’m 27 now and I’ve been working on building sites since the day I left school. I’ve done a bunch of labouring jobs and ended up working as a labourer for two renderers. I’ve been working on site for 11 years. . . and I don’t enjoy it. I don’t get a massive amount of satisfaction out of it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the banter and everything else, but in January/February time it’s really not where you want to be. I’m friends with Cleggy and I watched him open a shop and heard he got some help getting it going, and I saw this shop was up for rent and I just thought ‘fuck it, I’ll have a craic’.” We go on to talk about his daily routine and it’s immediately apparent why he’s so pushed for time to shoot for this interview. “Yeah, it’s a bit of a slog. During the week, I get up at half past five, clamber out of bed and then cycle to the end of Eastern Road, which is a long busy road, that
takes half an hour. I get picked up from there and we drive to work, that takes an hour. Work until about four o’clock, drive back that’s another hour, half hour cycle home, then I ride down to the shop, moan at Julian, swear and sweat for a bit, do a couple laps of the shop, say something irrelevant and then go home [laughs]. I did work it out once, if I do a full week at work and 16 hours in the shop over the weekend then it’s near-on double a standard 40 hour working week. I ask about what he makes of life on a building site. He tells some stories and talks about some of the interesting characters he works with. The image he paints in my head makes his decision to open a shop even more understandable. “Yeah, you cross paths with some pretty wild dudes on site, just different kinds of people. Men are men, no matter where they are, but if you were sat in an office or working somewhere else that isn’t an all male environment I don’t think people would be so open about drinking and drugs and adultery as on a building site. Blokes who live a pretty standard life, three kids and whatever else, but they’ll have a coke habit and be sleeping with the wife’s sister, no bother, just wild dudes.” I’m intrigued by the clash of worlds that must take place within Farren everyday. The lives of the highly competitive BMX kids in Southsea’s Rink juxtaposed against the cocaine snorting white van men of the building site. No wonder he looks ruffled much of the time. “What do your fellow work mates think of your bike riding?” I ask. “Well they just thought it was a joke at first. They just thought I was an idiot just scratching around on a mangy bike. But when I first rode for WTP I shot a little edit that they watched and that made it a little more credible for them.” He goes on to talk about how his bosses are flexible with him having time off and how, now they have a better understanding of what he actually does on his bike, they’re happy for him that he has the opportunity to travel and happy he is doing something positive with his life. “When most other people ask for a day off it’s so they can just smoke all the weed, so when they realised I was doing something a little more constructive they were cool with that. I wasn’t just getting baked out of my box. When I first started at my job I had an informal interview, I met the boss and all he said was “Don’t have a big ‘skunk one’ on site, make sure you smoke it before you come in” and that was it. Those are the sort of people they’re used to employing.Those are the sort of people I work with.” Farren is talented and motivated, so I’m sure his shop will be a success and soon enough he’ll be able to hang up his work boots and concentrate on the shop full time. With this thought in mind I ask him if he’ll miss working on site? “Yes and no.” he replies after a hearty laugh. “But I guess working in your shop at Southsea skatepark means that you’re still gonna meet a fair few wild dudes, but wild in a different sense of the word.” I add. “[laughs] Yeah we have some wild dudes come through the door that’s for sure. I’ll tell you one thing that shocks me as well, and that’s how useless some people are at fixing their bikes. They’re not even nippers, these are kids 15 to 20 years old and they can’t even fix their own 81
bikes. I’m dumbfounded at the questions I get asked. People come in and they look at me and go, “My chain’s slack man” [laughs]. They’re like “I’m well in over my head here, my chain’s loose, I’m trying to go off out there”[laughs]. It’s painful sometimes, and bizarre.” By this point Farren has finished cashing up, the shop has been straightened out and the doors have been locked. This draws a close to Farren’s 70+ hour week of paid work. It’s now 9pm on a cold, damp and windy autumn evening on Southsea seafront. He has to be up at 5am, it’s time to start work on his interview. With his fulltime girlfriend, fulltime job and new bike shop Farren doesn’t get much of an opportunity to ride anywhere other than in and around Southsea. He lives here now and grew up close by and he’s keen to have these facts reflected in the photos. So we set out from his shop on bikes to check out a couple of spots. The first place he takes me to is a five stair at the start of Southsea’s infamous pier. With its flaking white paint and general dilapidated demeanour the structure itself is far from noteworthy. But this place is saturated in BMX history. It was host to the legendary King Of Concrete afterparties, this special building has had many a bigname-pro come staggering out through its doors after a night of Super Chaos.
Sunday night, but as soon as we are both ready to go a procession of car lights comes cruising along the sea front. At this point he’s good to go, it’s the biggest fakie bar he’s done and he’s sweating it a bit, but he’s got it figured in his head and he wants to go now. But the cars keep coming. It was uncanny. Like some act of negative divine intervention. The cars continued to come, spaced out in increments perfectly timed to cause maximum annoyance and disruption. As we were sat waiting for the traffic to die down a young kid of about 11 turned up on a scooter. Farren has to deal with scooter kids everyday, Southsea skatepark is infested with them. The kid’s parents are nowhere to be seen and he proceeds to ask us mind-numbing questions and sets about learning barspin scooter hops right next to us. He won’t leave. I don’t know who sent him here. It’s surely more than cruel coincidence. The incessant banging of his scooter and the clanging of the flag poles combine. I look at Farren, he looks like he’s going to pop.
DOWN THE STAIRS ON HIS BACK LIKE A BROKEN SLINKY
The stair set is steep and the downhill run-up is short and a long way from ideal. The wind is blowing fiercely, around a force six, and brings with it a fine spray of ocean mist as it whips in off the grey-brown waters of the Solent. Things are far from ideal. It’s an uphill struggle. And after visiting Farren five times in two weeks, it was to become apparent that this uphill struggle is as near constant as one can get where his riding is concerned. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Nothing is easy, everything must be earned. Never have I seen such a love/hate relationship between a man and his bike.
Eventually the traffic thins and he is afforded a few tries. After three or four warm up fakie hops he pops one high, spins the bars, catches them perfectly and snaps out like the pro he is. He looks at me in anticipation as I check the screen on the back of my camera, it’s no good, I’ve taken it a hair too early. I look up at Farren, it’s as if he already knows the answer, like it’s inevitable. He picks up his bike a walks back up the steps.
Before we finally manage to get the shot, we have to wait again as pair of workmen, appear from nowhere and set up a ladder to change a light bulb right above the steps. We then have to endure two drunk chavs who stop by for a chat, and to cap it off Farren takes three awkward crashes that leave his back grazed and sore. There’s something watching Farren I’m sure. It’s as if there’s someone up there gaining enjoyment from causing him unnecessary frustration, the sandman at work in the subconscious.
So with the wind, the mist, the dark and the damp we set about shooting the first photo. A fakie bar. Farren has no freecoaster so a prefect 180 is needed to set him in good stead for the hop. He jumps the steps a few times and does a few 180s and that’ll be the most warm up he needs for any of the photos we shoot. There’s a hotel across the road from the spot, outside of which are five tall flag poles. The wind is making the poles sway and the metal cables that hoist the flag are flapping around wildly, making a god-awful tinging/banging sound, it’s beyond annoying and very distracting. It is piercing and relentless and it makes concentration a near impossibility. Farren doesn’t appear phased though, to him it’s simply another hurdle in a very long row of hurdles. During preparations for the shot the main road at the foot of the stairs was quiet, as to be expected late on a 84
Shoot 2: A High-Pitched Screech The second time I drive to Southsea the story is much the same. We meet late on a cold Tuesday night in the centre of Portsmouth, not far from the Town Hall where there’s a ledge Farren wants to manual. It’s steep with an awkwardly positioned rail on top. If the rail were not there then it would be much more friendly, but this is Farren Downes, of course there’s an awkward rail on top. There’s a group of particularly pesky looking chavs perched on the ledge at the top. Of course there are. They heckle a little, like a pack of talking monkeys. It’s nothing more than the usual “show us a trick mate”, but it’s clear they’ve been up to something before we arrived. At the bottom of the ledge is an entrance to an office block, the door has been forced open and the building
alarm is sounding – a high-pitched screech drilling through the night. Farren is doing his best to ignore the noise and he’s testing the run up. A policewoman appears to investigate the break-in. Farren looks aggravated. The chavs are long gone and the officer is on her radio as she sniffs around at the open door. Of all the buildings in Portsmouth to get broken into that night, it has to be the one four feet away from the ledge he wants to ride. The ongoing phenomena are starting to get scary. I look up to Farren at the top of the stairs, he looks flustered. We sit out of the way and wait for the “coincidental incident” to subside. Eventually the rozzers bugger off along with the monotonous alarm. With no warm up whatsoever, his judgement is a little off first try, resulting in an accidental icepick down the ledge. The second and he’s not so fortunate, accurate with his tyre as he manuals the ledge fine, but the front’s up, he’s too steep and blows off the back sending his bike crashing into the already vandalized building. A slipped pedal later and he’s pulled it perfect. It’s a brave move that requires minerals and pin point accuracy. It was a move that couldn’t fail to draw parallels to Van Homan’s riding in his heyday. It could have gone badly, but it didn’t. Things are starting to look up. With confidence high and one photo in the bag already we head off in search of another, to a session spot, a flat rail set up. Farren hits some dialled over grinds, hopping back out over the L at the end. It looks like he feels good on his bike. But, on his next approach to the rail ‘snap’, his chain breaks and he ends up slammed into that familiar uncomfortable slouch over the front end of his bike, kind of lying on, or trying to mount the stem area. Without a chain tool between us it’s looking like the end of another frustrating session. But Farren’s friend (the ever resourceful and completely crazy Isaac) comes to the rescue and with the bike upside down he rejoins the chain using brute force and an adjustable spanner. Things are looking up once more. But we’ve looked up too soon, for as Farren flips his bike back over to put his chain back on, he pauses in his tracks. Holding his head in his hands he looks up to the sky. Isaac had reattached the chain on the wrong side of his bike! With no way of rebreaking the chain the session was over and all that was left to do was begin the long scoot home. During the scoot we chat about BMX and what it means to him. I bring up the fact of this seemingly relentless uphill struggle and I get the impression that it’s not just when I’m around. I approach the topic with caution. “Sometimes when we’re shooting photos for this interview it feels like things are harder than they should be, do you ever get that feeling?” “Haha, yeah, that’s the way I generally live. It feels like a constant uphill struggle against things that I’m sure should really be going my way. I definitely go about things arse about face sometimes. I think it’s my fault a lot of the time, you make your own luck. I always find photos hard, and filming. You sit at home and think ‘right I’ve got that edit 85
coming up… this is going to be sweet’ and then you turn up at all these spots that you haven’t ever ridden and you talk yourself out of half of it and crash the rest. It’s a love/hate thing, massively, without a doubt, you love to hate it. I think the older you get, the worse it becomes.” On the long walk back through the streets of Portsmouth and Southsea we talk about Farren’s usual riding habits. He’s a quiet guy and never one to draw unnecessary attention to himself and certainly never one to boast about anything. “So who do you normally ride with?” I ask. “My housemates and a few dudes around here, but generally, where time is so tight, I ride mostly by myself. I usually have my best rides when I’m by myself, probably because I have no one to be compared to [laughs]. If I’ve got a spare hour then I’ll go out by myself.” It’s a fact that doesn’t surprise me at all, Farren is a very humble and understated person and I sense that he struggles to understand the motivations of the many riders who have the opposite approach. “You’re a fairly well know British street rider” I point out, “You’re on some of the most prominent teams in the country, alongside some BMX household names, but it almost seem like you don’t really want to be well known.” “Well I’m not really sure that is the case. BMX is a funny thing [long pause]… The way I see it, it’s better to be the worst of the best than the best of the worst. I think that if you are any good then people will realise you’re good and I don’t think there’s any point pushing yourself to make yourself look any better.” “It just seems like you don’t whore yourself out too much, you just keep yourself to yourself and get on with riding your bike in your own way.” “I’ve never really had a strong drive to do that and I don’t really think I’m a brilliant rider anyway. I mean, I have my moments, but that’s what they are a lot of the time… just moments. You can watch some of the top boys ride, some of the ‘best bikers’ and they’re consistently shit-hot. Whereas I might have a few months of good riding and be positive about it and have fallen on a few new tricks and I think ‘wicked, I’m really enjoying it’ then I’ll have a slump for three months and think that I don’t even want to ride anymore. That’s always the way it has been really. Inconsistent I think is another name for it [laughs]. I just think that the position of the underdog is a better place to be, it’s better to be underrated than over-rated. When I think of people who are over-rated I can’t help but start to dislike their riding. Shoot 3: The Broken Slinky On my third trip to Portsmouth Farren crashes hard twice. It’s on a generous 16 stair rail, long and steep, Farren wants to grind it switch, opposite and pegless, all at once. I’ve seen him do a few before on web edits but this one is a monster. As he eyes up the rail I try a switch hop on flat ground, I imagine hopping switch footed onto an opposite rail with no pegs. . . Even the thought of it scared me. Just thinking about it made my bike feel like an Islamic Extremist: foreign, hostile and with an unpredictable side that made me think of pain. 86
The 16 stairs are covered in damp leaves and there is a traffic jam running parallel to his run up at the top. The traffic bothers him, all those eyes starring and judging. Just like normal, things are far from ideal. The traffic jam is due to a busy junction controlled by a complex system of traffic lights. Farren sits quietly for five minutes while he tries to memorise the sequence. With a switch, oppo, pegless rail your plate is full already, there really is no room for memorising complex traffic light sequences. He has zero warm up. No pre-heating. He has two goes and two crashes. His back dropout bounces off both times, sending him bumping down the stairs on his back like a broken slinky. It was an insanely brave attempt and one that made me appreciate just how advanced and technical his riding is. As I walked and he hobbled back to the car in defeat we are approached by a middle-aged woman pushing a bike, “Excuse me, can you tell me where the RSPB office is please?” she asks Farren in a polite enough tone. Before he had time to answer she remarked, “Wow, what the hell have you taken?” As she stared straight at him. “Nothing” Farren replied “nothing at all actually, haven’t even had a beer yet today.” From the nonchalance with which he responded to the allegation, it was obvious this was not the first time such a remark had been made. “Oh” said the woman in a skeptical tone that made her disbelief obvious. Farren gave her directions and off she went. Once she’d left I enquire as to whether he’d been asked that before, and it turns out he has… quite a few times. “Oh my eyes,well yeah, apparently they look a bit wired. I say apparently because I can’t see it myself, but yeah, it’s been ongoing my whole life. It actually started out quite nicely when I was younger, back then all my mum’s friends were like “Ooh, look at his eyes, hasn’t he got lovely eyes?…“ And as time has gone on they seem to have turned more sinister… [laughs] I do get called out on it sometimes – the amount of clubs I’ve been denied access to is crazy “Sorry mate, you can’t come in here looking like that, you’re obviously on something!” Shoot 4: Spaced Out The next time I drive over to shoot it turns out to be far more productive. It’s a full week after his adventure down the stairs and he’s all healed up. The first photo we shoot is at the skatepark. Whether he’s proud to admit it or not, the place has been a staple in Farren’s life since his earliest days on a bike and with his shop located there too, he was keen to shoot something in the park. In a final effort to wrap up this interview he pulled a sickie from work so we had a full day to get the final shots we needed so I met him at the park early on a Wednesday morning. The place is closed, but Farren has a key. We have to be quick as the park is now privately owned and the new owner wouldn’t be best happy if she were to find out we’d been riding without permission. With no time for warm ups, we set up for the over pedal on the rail and after a few tries plus a couple of reshoots we’re all good to go. Right as we finish a car pulls up out front. Farren’s face drops as he realises it’s the owner. Caught red handed, what a surprise. . . or not. There wasn’t much to say, so he didn’t say anything at all.
With that minor incident out the way we head to the middle of a busy roundabout where Donald’s and Land Flat held a jam just a few days prior. Some of the improvised wooden ramps remain, so we drag them out of the bushes and arrange them appropriately. Within a few minutes two police officers show up. The usual pleasantries are exchanged, but surprisingly these mild natured and understanding bobbies only ask for a few trick demonstrations before wishing us good day and leaving us to go about our business. Maybe his luck had turned. Although we are fortunate on this occasion the visit by the Old Bill prompted Farren to mention an encounter that took place the previous night, one that didn’t have such an amicable result. While walking to his girlfriend’s house he was stopped and searched by an overzealous policeman who insisted Farren ‘looked spaced out’, his protests were in vain and he was subsequently searched on the street under suspicion of possessing drugs. I could sense the frustration in his voice and all of this simply because he has a large dose of the spark of life in his eyes. We shoot a “toboggan” and sit down on the wall for a well-earned coffee and a rollie. Farren likes coffee and he likes rollies. We’d been riding the two rickety pallet flat banks like a set of doubles and I’d been really impressed at the array of tricks he popped over the gap. Toboggans, no foot cans, 270° turndowns and a slew of others. We’d not really spoken on record much about his riding at this point. I’d come to learn that besides being a pro rider and bike shop owner, it’s very rare that Farren talks about his own riding. I tried to make an inroad by asking whether he considered himself a pro rider. “No” he replied “but I understand that in one sense I am. Yes and no is the answer to that. At the end of the day you have to strip it back to bare bones and say, well you’re getting money for doing this (Farren gets a modest monthly wage from Fit), and in the literal sense then that makes it your profession. But on the other hand I almost think it’s ridiculous I get paid for riding because I’d be doing it regardless, so in that sense I think, no, I’m not. In that sense I think I’m just very bloody lucky. I could go on ‘bestbmxer.com’ right now and there’d be 10 videos from kids who are amazing, kids who are much better than I am, and they’re not classed as pro riders. The field is getting wider and wider I think.” “With the field being so big now, it must make being a salaried pro feel even better?” I ask, unsure of how he’ll respond. “Yes and no” he answers laughing out loud “it makes me feel like I need to pull my finger out! [laughs] On one hand you feel lucky and on the other hand you feel like you might be pushing that luck.”
After the conversation wraps up we check out a couple more spots, none of them turn out right so we head to the pub for a game of darts and some pints which nicely bought to an end our most productive day. Shoot 5: The Token Flair The next time I make the one hour drive along the M27 to Southsea we have a single trick in mind. With so much unhelpful luck looming around it’s agreed that we need to play to our strengths and keep as many variables as possible under our control. So we plan to bodge together some kind of quarter pipe in Isaac’s back garden so Farren can waft the token flair. Some pallets are dragged into place, a thin sheet of ply is secured over the top and random bits of wood are snapped underfoot and shoved under the saggy bits. It’s pure BMX at its healthiest round this house. We’re sat around waiting for Farren to finish work, I have some flashes set up and I’m keen to proof the shot so I ask Isaac to test ride the ramp. He does so and with a mighty crash the window of the garage behind the ramp smashes into pieces. We stand still and look at each other. Maybe it’s not just Farren with the uphill struggle. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s Isaac. Maybe it’s Portsmouth. Or maybe it’s just brought on by ourselves. “I told you that would happen” chirps in Isaac’s better half in a rightfully condescending tone.
“ HE WAS
STOPPED AND SEARCHED BY AN OVERZEALOUS POLICEMAN WHO INSISTED FARREN ‘LOOKED SPACED OUT’
Farren shows up and he’s keen to get this done. Just like all the other photos in this interview no warm up is involved, just big tricks five minutes after getting home from a long day at work. The ramp looks suitably shit and Farren is looking suitably confident. He wafts the first one hard and initially things are looking ok, but as his back wheel leaves the top of the ramp it slams into the underside of the window stopping his rotation dead, predictably he falls back to earth like a shot pigeon. Although more shocked than the rest of us, Farren doesn’t appear phased, he’s now completely at ease with these seemingly inevitable occurrences, and after the ramp was wisely hauled away from the wall goes on to waft five or six perfect flairs.
With the final riding shot taken we head back to Donald’s for one last time. It’s 10pm on a Monday night. Farren has some bikes to build up and I’m keen to shoot a portrait. As he assembles the complete bikes I find myself curious about the origins of his rare name. “Where does the name Farren come from? I’ve never known another Farren.” 89
Bonus shot: Ice pick, Stockholm, Sweden. “No idea. Not a clue. A couple of people said it was Irish but every Irishman I’ve ever asked has said ‘Never heard of it mate.’ It was my uncle’s name.” With the name issue sort of cleared up I ask about another unique one. “So what’s the story behind the name of your shop, Donald’s?” “It was a boat in Fareham, a big dredging ship called The Donald Redford. The boat would go out onto the seven seas and do its dredging, and it would come back to Fareham Creek. It’s only a small town so we were always riding up and down the Creek and the Donald Redford was always just there.” “So it’s the name of a boat?” Yeah, it’s the name of a boat but the boat was named after a writer, I think he wrote about Egypt or the pyramids [Albion: he is a Canadian expert Egyptologist]. But really it was just a big old boat that was always in the Creek. People know it in Fareham. When it came to thinking up a name for the shop I thought that Donald’s is a better name than Farren’s, so it stuck. With the bikes together we shoot a series of portraits with Farren sat behind his handmade counter. It takes a while: we have to get the eyes right.
And that is the final step. At last we have all the photographs we need for the interview. It’s been an uphill struggle no doubt, but in the face of adversity we got there in the end. And on the plus side Farren didn’t kill anyone. Before I’m about to leave the conversation continues around the shop and all the help that’s been received in setting it up, the invaluable support from his girlfriend Lucy and the understanding and generosity of 4Down and IMG. We talk some more about riding and what it means to different people. Now with all the photographs taken, the clock is close to midnight and Farren’s final comments of the night draw the interview to a natural close. “The thing is,” he says with his usual candour, “with BMX when you’re a nipper you bring up all of these ideals… and when you grow up… none of them really come to light. If you’re still here in your twenties… after putting in all that time. . . the dreams are shattered aren’t they?… You can’t help but become a little jaded. It’s fair enough though, if you want to be ‘ultimate biker’ and win ‘backflip bmx’ then I don’t mind, I’m happy doing my thing. Starting up the shop has opened my eyes to the fact that people get so many different things from riding, it has renewed my faith in BMX and given me a new appreciation for riding my bike…
Hold On stem available in black, white, blue, red, army green and polished. Lahsaan Kobza â€˘ subrosabrand.com â€˘ seventies.co.uk
Photo By: Justin Kosman
Rainbow Piss THE COLOURFUL LIFE OF AARON ROSS His bike is red, His bike was blue, Aaron Ross pees rainbows because of you. A poem written by an anonymous fan, age 11.
Words and photography by GEORGE MARSHALL
The Texas Mile A lone ‘Nascar’ is pushed toward to the start line by a crew in matching caps and t-shirts that claim membership to a 200 MPH club. One of the crew pushing the huge race car is a young boy, barely taller than the wheel arch. They stand back as an official waves the car forward to the start line with a ‘come hither’ finger motion. The caged in driver revs to release the deafening roar of the V8 engine and it jumps to the start line as the driver dumps the clutch and spins up the rear wheels leaving smoke billowing everywhere. “That’s to warm his tyres up,” Aaron tells me, keeping his focus on the car. The official drops the flag and the car thunders off in a straight line, quickly disappearing into the heat mirage of the disused runway ahead. With the car out of sight a small crowd fall silent and turn their expectant gaze to a speedometer whilst wisely sheltering from the sun in the shade of a white tent. “Two zero four… dawn, he really pushed her,” exclaims the man right behind us, he drawls in a deep Texan accent. I look back to the start line to see the Nascar now replaced by an old Mercedes saloon car, doubtful of a repeat performance. This is the ‘Texas Mile,’ a drag race on a disused airstrip out in the dry arid Texan desert, and a day out for me with the Ross family. It’s a display of American muscle and wealth, all going off beside a maximum-security state prison full of murderers and criminals in their cells, they are less than a couple of hundred meters from these ultimate objects of desire and wheels of freedom. The race is an open event for anyone with $200 and a vehicle to have their moment of glory against the speedometer. A long line of cars waits for their chance to burn as much gasoline as possible on a one mile concrete strip at the quickest speed their engine will allow, and then loop round to join the back the queue for another run. A village of gigantic mobile homes, trucks and trailers overlooks the mile long drag strip. The air hums with the constant vibration of generators that power their air conditioning units round the clock. The road beside the RV village is congested with small off-road buggies, quad bikes and motorbikes, ferrying people at walking pace to the start line where the cars wait inline like extraordinary exhibits for inspection. It’s a boy racer’s wet dream – a environmentalist’s worst nightmare. “This is about as Texas as you’ll get”, Aaron says. He’s right, this is definitely Texas – oil country, a state 94
whose unapologetic right to burn fossil fuels is as sacred to it’s identity as George Bush, The Alamo, the Stetson hat and American Football. “What’s the prize today?” I ask Aaron’s very friendly and hairy Dad – the acorn didn’t fall far from the Ross family tree, that’s a given. “You don’t win anything. There’s no money involved, not even a trophy, all you win here is pride. See that car, that’s the fastest car here. Last year it went 247 MPH. He’s got a nitrous oxide unit in that thing and he’s never used it, he doesn’t know how fast it’ll go.” He says pointing at a black, surprisingly standard looking car apart from a strange square box that sits at the back. “Any car that can go over 200 MPH has to have a parachute, apart from that there aren’t many rules at the Texas Mile,” he adds as I notice he’s wearing a pair of his son’s signature Etnies shoes with pride. Aaron, his father and I cruise the grid inspecting the engines that I know nothing about, but I nod and stare at them all the same. The majority of the grid is packed with US muscle new and old. A red Dodge Viper covered in blue gaffer tape sealing every join to shave vital air resistance waits behind a six wheeled Ford F350 pick up truck. Off to the side of the grid and on its own patiently waits the star of the show – a long thin drag car with a turning circle measured in kilometres. The rich owners parade the starting grid admiring the competition, talking in a language of numbers and acronyms, MPH, BHP and CC with no talk of MPG. Three men wait their turn in the line not talking to the other drivers. Two are sat on huge old motorcycles and the third in a wheel chair, his right leg cut off above the knee. They stand out as looking harder and older than the rest, like battered old Pit dogs, unshaven and rough looking, game as can be. Intimidated, the spectators and other drivers keep a safe distance. Of the two motorbikes one is clearly a dedicated drag bike, a bike built from the looks of it, in or around the 70s with little service since. It bulges with custom additions roughly bolted on and held together with torn dirty duct tape, it’s a bike built to go in a straight line as fast as possible, a bike built for the brave – a death trap. The elderly drag fiend waits his turn, talking to a lone preacher, the only bystander willing to approach them. A white Christian crucifix decorates the back of the rider’s
Up rail 360, San Marcos. 95
blue leathers, and the word ‘Jesus’ is sewn on to the legs. He looks like he could be Evel Knievel’s demonic twin, let out from prison after killing a man in cold blood. “Hey, go over and listen to their conversation.” Aaron whispers. I wander over and eavesdrop as the two men, both easily in their late 60s possibly 70s, describe their love and devotion for the almighty Lord and how much Jesus loves everybody. An official waves to the old racer to come forward for his run against the speedo, prematurely ending their dogmatic worship. He puts on his helmet, flicks numerous switches and starts the engine of the ratty battered bike. He waits on the start line for the flag to drop, lying completely flat on the tank, his body less than two feet from the concrete with his head resting firmly on the old handle bars. The paramedics wait on standby. The flag drops, the V twin engine bike growls off leaving rubber in a huge black line on the tarmac and quickly the white leather crucifix vanishes into the heat mirage that envelopes the runway. He reaches a top speed of 178 MPH with nothing to protect his ageing bones from the concrete but a layer of blue leather and any divine intervention the good Lord sees fit to bestow on him. “It must be awesome to have that much faith in God to get on a battered old motorcycle and fly down a runway at that speed. I wish I had that faith, to put my life in God’s hands and twist the throttle.” Aaron says afterwards as we 96
drive back to his home of city of Austin, Texas. “Aren’t you religious then?” I ask him, unsure of this answer. “Arrrhhhh… I don’t know. I think some parts of being religious are morally good. I also think some of it are ridiculous. It’s annoying when people talk down about religion all the time. Just let people believe what they want to believe.” He replies, seeming open minded to idea of religion but undecided. “I grew up going to Catholic school in Corpus Christi which is just two hours from here on the coast”, Aaron tells me. “What was it like growing up there?” I ask, trying to hide the fact I had no idea the state of Texas had a coast. “I grew up surfing and going to the beach. It was a good safe place to grow up. Corpus is nothing like the big cities of Dallas or Houston. When people think of Texas they think it’s all cowboy hats and oil. If you go to those cities, that’s what you get. Everyone outside Texas thinks we ride horses to work, have big egos and we think that we’re the best. The thing about Texas is that it’s huge. It takes a day’s drive to leave the state. It isn’t all George Bush and ranches, especially in Austin. Austin is a super young, outdoor, liberal city.” “Are you republican then or democrat?” I ask, again clueless of his answer, as he strikes me neither as a liberal hippy or a hard nosed conservative.
Long feeble to tailwhip, Texas State University.
“Texas is a really republican state but I don’t pay attention to politics. If asked I’d say I’m republican because that is what my mom would like me to say, but I really don’t know enough about politics to have a sure opinion. The oil thing is true though.” Aaron continues, keen to leave the subject of politics behind. “In Texas we do love our big trucks and anything with an engine. I grew up surrounded by motorcycles and cars. My dad was into racing and jumping jet skis and racing Moto-X. As a child my dad had garages and workshops full of tools and cars he’d be working on. From a young age there was a powder-coating machine in the garage, my dad had built it and an oven. That’s how the whole coloured bike thing started, long before I was a pro rider, I’ve always had a dumb looking bike. As a kid I’d take my bike apart after most weekends of riding, sand blast it and paint it. It would always be different colours. I have photos of me when I was 15 riding on a bright pink Standard grinding a rail in front of my house.” Aaron learned to ride on the streets and the BMX racetrack of Corpus Christi, Texas. Still unknown and unsponsored Aaron started to film for a video section that would change his life. “I’d filmed a few clips with Joel Moody for the first Empire video and he asked me if I wanted to film an entire part. Of course I wanted to.
So I started to drive to Austin every Friday after school and we’d film all weekend. I was 18 at the time. We just kept filming and filming.” In a series of ground-breaking tricks into and off rails, Aaron’s powerful goofy footed style was a highlight of that first Empire video. His section placed him firmly in the spotlight and attracted the attention of the entire BMX industry. “I guess a few companies had called Tina and Tom [Empire owners] asking if I needed a sponsor. Tina and Tom asked me who I wanted to ride for. I didn’t know at the time. I thought ‘well I don’t want to ride for Fit because Van Homan rides for Fit’, he was my favourite rider growing up and I felt I didn’t deserve to be on the same team as him, it scared me. I’d never be as good or better than him. I was just intimidated by the idea of being on a team with someone I really aspired to. I always loved the FBM videos with drunk naked guys running about, it looked fun. It was funny because I didn’t drink at all, and at the time neither did Tony Hamlin, Tony Cardona or Cameron Wood who were my new team-mates. I thought ‘you know what, it sounds good’ and I took up Steve Crandall’s offer. Suddenly there were four dudes on the FBM team who had never drunk alcohol. Tina and Tom at Empire who had a lot to do with everything, if they hadn’t given me a part in that video I don’t know what would have happened to my life.” 97
Pegs to over, Austin.
Scraping By A year after filming the first Empire video Aaron moved to Austin, and embarked on a year of intense riding and filming. Despite having a respected bike sponsor, with the interests of other sponsors on the way, earning a living and just getting by in his new home of Austin was predictably hard at first for Aaron. “I’d moved in with Tony Cardona, Chase Hawk and tonnes of other riders. It was the ideal life, we just rode all day, messed about on a trampoline and hung out late. Those were great times but I just never had enough money. I made enough for rent and gas but that was it, I wasn’t earning enough to afford food or buy neccessities. I didn’t go to college or anything like that and I knew I wanted to concentrate on bike riding so my parents said, ‘we’ll pay for you to live for a year to help you achieve that.’ They didn’t spoil me, I wasn’t buying new cars or anything, I was scraping by. Without my parents help I wouldn’t have been able to dedicate so much time to riding and work so hard on the three videos all at the same time.” With the help of his supportive parents, sending him monthly cheques to cover the bare essentials and still an amateur, Aaron began filming for one of the most highly anticipated videos in BMX history. “When I was filming for my Etnies Grounded part I wasn’t on the full team, I was just a flow rider. At the time I didn’t realise what an opportunity that was, and how it would change my life. I was just stoked to be on a video with Ruben Alcantara, Joe Rich, Taj Mihelich and Sergio Layos. Taj was definitely a huge influence on me. I grew up doing a lot of fun, weird, creative tricks because of Taj. When I was asked to be on Grounded it was a huge honour, because “Forward” had meant so much to me growing up. In my head I was nervous that I would have one of those shorter, less significant parts of just six clips. I was a flow guy, so I thought I’d be on a ‘friends’ section in the middle, I never 100% knew if I’d get a full part or not.” During that first year living in Austin, Aaron worked hard on three video sections simultaneously. He lived a life of road trips, cash flow problems and handouts from his parents – it was a life of budgeting that was about to
come to an end. “That’s the year everything changed. The second Empire video [Chill Bro] came out, then two months later Etnies Grounded came out and not long after that the Odyssey Electronical video came out. I restarted the coloured bikes thing again from my childhood, and you see that idea evolve in those videos. People started realising who I was and what I was doing. By filming those three sections I won Nora Cup street rider of the year in Vegas. Suddenly I started to make better money and could get by without my parents financial support. “Towards the end of that year I had begun to feel bad about my parents paying for everything, and having nothing to show for it. My parents raised me to know I had to work and earn a living. I couldn’t take their money any more. I thought, “I’m a man, I need to stand on my own two feet and support myself. It felt bad relying on them so much.” “Was it at that time you left FBM?” I ask and Aaron nods. “I left FBM so I could have the opportunity to travel more. It was hard for FBM because they were paying me a small amount of money, but it was a lot of money for them. Crandall called me one day and we had a mutual conversation and he said, ‘look, go somewhere that’s going to give you a better opportunity, that can comfortably pay you what you need.’ I didn’t leave FBM to make more money, I left for more travel budget. People thought I left to make stupid money and live a crazy rich life, but when I did leave I only made $300 a month more but I could afford to travel all year long.” “And that was Sunday?” I ask. “Yeah, well, that came pretty easily as I was already riding for Odyssey and I already knew everyone there, so it made sense. I feel a huge part of Odyssey and Sunday as a whole, sometimes it feels like one sponsor, opposed to a frame sponsor and a parts sponsor. The Sunday thing and getting on Etnies pro happened at the same time, that was a big change for me. Suddenly I earned enough money so I didn’t have to accept handouts from my parents. I guess once I earned enough to be able to pay my own insurance, cell phone, rent and food, then I guess that’s when I turned into a pro bike rider.” He says, talking at lighting speed. 99
Plastic Reincarnation As a fully established pro street rider Aaron quickly began to reap the rewards of his new found fame in the bubble that is BMX. His passport quickly filled up with exotic stamps and he began to make money with a wave of signature products, shoes, X Games cheques and even his own action figure. “Do you know how much I get for the action figure?” he asks me. I shake my head, wondering what I’d spend the 100’s of thousands of pounds on that I’m sure he must earn from his plastic reincarnation. “I get $3,000 a year, that’s it. At the time I thought it would have been more, but I have no complaints. Apparently the guy who worked there was really into my riding and that’s how I got picked. They sell well and I think that’s down to the bright colours. The signature parts helped me financially but the biggest thing that helped me was the International X Games. I went to X Games comps in Dubai, Mexico and Brazil, and placed at all those in street. The first Dubai X Games had a regular prize purse, but then the next year they went crazy. It would have been $100,000 first prize, $75,000 for second and $50,000 for third, and everyone would get paid $10,000 as appearance money. They offered to fly all the riders and a friend first class and then put us up in a crazy 5 star hotel… It was going to be sweet. I thought ‘I’ll go and get last, I didn’t care’. Some rich oil baron was paying for it and he wanted it to be the biggest extreme sports event the world had ever seen. But it fell apart. The recession hit and they pulled the plug on it.”
have to drive home and I’m with good friends, I’ll drink. I think I’ve had a drink around four times. I’m definitely squeaky clean, like Doyle. This issue of your mag will be the ‘squeaky clean’ issue.” With the exception of that one blow out in Vegas, Aaron has been sensible with his money, investing it in a house on the cheaper and sketchier side of Austin that he shares with his girlfriend Kingsey and dog Fletcher. If Disney were to build a set for a film featuring the house of a pro BMX rider, Aaron’s home on the East side of Austin would be it. Six fluorescent bikes hang from the high white walls aside various pieces of artwork by Taj.The decking outside is full of various skateboards, motorbikes and bicycles, including a few cruisers and a chrome racer. Behind the large open plan kitchen there is a colourful desk area surrounded by paints, trophies, signature parts and shoes. Letters of fan mail sit beside a photo of Chase Hawk marveling at a bud of weed bigger than his head. The poem reprinted on the intro page of this article is framed and written in colourful pencil crayon and ends with a bizarre drawing of a smiling Aaron pissing out rainbow into the sky.
MIKE HUCKER HAD SEX WITH A 64 YEAR OLD WHEN HE WAS 22, NOW THAT’S PERSONALITY
‘The’ Aaron Ross
A week after the torque and polish of the Texas Mile, Aaron wins a Red Bull street contest ending near his home at 9th street trails. “I won six hundred bucks so I gave $200 to Nina [Buitrago, who’d broken her jaw days before], $200 to the Empire ramp and $200 to Mike Tag for his medical bills.” Aaron tells me, not making a big deal about it, as two young children on shiny bikes stare up at him, both star struck. “Are you ‘The’ Aaron Ross?” one child gets the courage to ask. “Yeah that’s me. How’s it going? You good?” Aaron asks in a genuinely friendly manner, not embarrassed and looking used to the routine, as both kids silently nod in fear. “OK then, well see you guys soon.” Aaron says as we walk off, and the moment buries into the boys’ memories forever.
“At the first Mexico X Games I won five grand and went to Interbike a week later. I went to Vegas and blew all that money in a matter of days on gambling and having a good time. I’d never had money like that in my life. Afterwards I had one thousand dollars left. I phoned my mom to tell her what happened and say I was sorry. She’s always been smart with money and she said, ‘it’s fine, you had fun. Just don’t do it again.’ I’ve never spent money like that since. Everyone thought I did a load of drugs, drank expensive booze and went to strip bars. But it wasn’t true, I’ve never been to a strip club in my life.” If Aaron had told me he’d spent the money on cocaine and snorted it from a showgirl’s rock solid breasts before showering himself and her in champagne amidst an orgy of adult pleasure, I flat out wouldn’t have believed him. Regardless of the thick beard and motorcycles, Aaron has a child like innocence. He’s man without a taste for the immoral. I doubt there is a single story in his past he couldn’t tell a perspective employer or mother in law. “I’ve never done drugs or anything like that. I tried to smoke weed once, I just wanted to experience it. I was in Amsterdam with my best friend and I decided to try it out. It literally didn’t work. I was let down. I don’t really drink either. I think that’s because my parents didn’t drink when I was growing up. But if the night is going good, I don’t 100
When the kid asked Aaron if he was ‘The’ Aaron Ross I found it funny but it was a reminder of his undeniable fame. In recent years Aaron has become one of the most famous and easily recognisable riders in the world. At the time of writing Aaron has 27,573 followers on Twitter, 63,213 fans on his Facebook athlete page, 9,000 friend requests on his regular Facebook account and he has his very own Wikipedia page. He commands a huge audience of fans that dwarves that of most entire bike companies. He is without doubt more famous than this or any other BMX magazine. Without an agent, Aaron commands a public interest that any PR agency or marketing strategist would die for. Part of that fame has to be thanks to the old powder-coating machine back in his Dad’s garage in Corpus Christi. Through Aaron’s bold use of unmistakeably dazzling
Bridge ledge ride to barspin, Austin.
Hop up a bar height ledge to 180 whip, Austin.
colour schemes, he raised his head above a sea of pro riders on bikes of muted blacks and raw greys. “Sometimes it’s annoying when I go down the trails on a bright orange bike,” he admits. “At first it was nothing. Everyone just has a black bike and I just wanted something different. I know the coloured bike thing is super obnoxious but it wasn’t meant to be a marketing tactic or anything like that.” Whether he intended it or not, Aaron’s colour schemes have created an easily recognisable image for him, an image that has the instant association of pure, unaldulterated fun. When you think of Aaron Ross you think of Mr Happy, the nice guy of BMX, always smiling and having fun, a man from a perfect children’s TV world where everything is “awesome.” If Aaron were a musician he’d be an inoffensive rapper, a white and considerably more hairy version of MC Hammer, every line would be about licking snow cones and chewing bubble gum, delivered with a smile and ending in his catch phrase ‘ride bikes, have fun’ – his record sales would be platinum. In addition to colour and his obvious talent for riding a BMX bike, Aaron’s third tool of choice is the internet, more specifically, social media. No other rider has capitalised on the Internet’s capacity to make stars to the extent Aaron has. Since signing up he’s communicated nearly 43,000 short bursts of information via his Twitter page. That’s an average of 48 a day, every day for two and a half years. Every spare second, thought, dull moment or mouthful of pizza is documented and communicated. The quality of information is generally trivial and insignificant, such as ‘I’m heading to the airport’ and predictably minutes later ‘I’m on a plane’, yet his 27,000+ followers are interested and with every small piece of information become more attentive as the numbers grow. The short nature of his messages match his short attention span. One evening I witness Aaron watching a film with his girlfriend Kingsey, as she watches intently Aaron is constantly distracted by his iPad, iPhone, a magazine or his dog, his attention darts between them all, he seems incapable of giving any one item more than two minutes of his concentration. “I’ve got ADD [attention deficient disorder],” he explains. “My mind is constantly in overdrive thinking of new stuff. I get bored easily. I love to talk and when theres no one around I’ll just go on the Internet.” 102
“Twitter or Facebook is great because it gives kids a chance to see who their favourite riders really are. Some of my best memories as a kid are from meeting pro riders who were friendly to me. I always try to see it from a kid’s perspective. I think to myself ‘what would I have wanted when I was a kid?” “I think BMX needs more personality. Mike Hucker had sex with a 64 year old when he was 22, now that’s personality. Through social media kids now have access to the personality of their favourite riders. If a kid asks me a question I try to write back something dumb or funny. In doing so I’m giving out some of my personality and kids can latch on to that. I’ll post a picture of me making dinner, and kids are blown away I make dinner, as dumb as that sounds. When I was a kid I thought a rider like Taj was beyond doing something as mundane as making food, I probably thought he’d have a chef and lived in a palace. Social media makes our personalities accessible. Now kids can see we’re real people. Personality will sell more signature parts and shoes than tricks ever will, not that I’m driven just by selling stuff. I saw a quote the other day that said that bike riding skills are not as important as personality in BMX. I’ve said it for years and it’s so true.” Since that first Empire video Aaron has established himself as one of the most progressive street riders of his generation. That, combined with his parents support and a willingness to share his colourful personality with the world, he has created a highly successful life for himself as a pro street rider. Before my visit to Texas I thought Aaron’s use of social media could be a clever strategy to market himself and further his career. As I spent time with him, seeing his thunder thumbs tap away every few minutes, I realise that maintaining his Internet fame is nothing else other than a harmless addiction. Through his use of the Internet he has opened a door to the masses who are drawn in by his genuinely joyful and happy personality. Aaron Ross is a talker who reaches out to one hell of a lot of people who want to listen. To those tens of thousands of friends his message is simple and one every BMXer on the planet can relate to – ‘ride bikes, have fun’. The world of BMX sure is a more colourful place with Aaron Ross in it… I bet he really could piss a rainbow.
Nigguh with attitude GABE BROOKS
Gabe Brooks is an unlikely BMX rider. Growing up on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, his past is a colourful mosaic of robberies, shootings and incarcerations in various US Government correctional facilities. Gabe embodies a life that one cannot hang conveniently on a coathook. He is by no means your stereotypical BMX rider. His background, his neighbourhood and lifestyle choices dictate an extraordinary diversity that illustrates quite clearly that the comparatively insignificant act of doing tricks on a bicycle can touch people from all corners of society. After spending a significant amount of time ‘indoors’ Gabe now earns his respect and excitement behind bars of a different kind. His is by no means a tale of BMX redemption, for while he may well be “less active” these days, he still prepared to do whatever it takes to get by in this world. The following interview was recorded while sat around a fire on a Quintin trip to Ensenada, Mexico. The dialogue has been transcribed as accurately as possible, using grammar and spelling inline with the manner in which the words were spoken and it was Gabe himself who chose the title for this article. Some of the topics broached within the text are deadly serious and subsequently may shock or cause offence to some but not all of you. It is not the aim of this article to evoke such reactions. It is the aim of this article to highlight the reality of a darker side of human nature and the failings of modern society and consider how they relate to the positivity of bike riding.
Words and photography by STEVE BANCROFT
“ I LOOKED
UP TO PIMPS AND DRUG DEALERS AND NIGGAS WITH BIG-ASS GUNS
” “I used to see them fuckin’ niggas hittin’ them trails by the school dawg, and I was like “Damn dawg, I wanna hit that shit!” And one day, it was me and my homeboy Dante – before he got killed – we used to go up straight up Slauson Ave, all the way to the marina. One day we went to the marina and we seen some riders. We was like “What’s up dawg? Where ya’ll riding at?” And they were like “Yeah, we got some jumps round the corner.” And I’m all “Some dirt jumps fool?” And they all “Yeah dawg.” And me “Hell yeah, where that shit at?” So we go over to the dirt jumps: it was The Flats. We started off on the little rhythm section and we graduated up.” Jackson Ratima interjects with a incidental comment “If you would have told me you were a straight A student and you never said anything about anything else you’ve done, like just judging by the way you talk and you being all articulate and shit, I’d believe your ass.” Gabe starts to answer but he’s cut off by Pat Wang “What!? Were you a straight A student?” “Nah, I was actually good in my classes and shit, but I just chose not to go to class. I was always smart in school, but I just never went. I went to Marcus Garvey, my Grandma paid like $500 a month for me and my sister to go to private school. Marcus Garvey is on 6th Avenue right off Slauson. It’s the all black school. I went to All Saints which is a private Catholic school. I went to [….. name illegible to transcribers due to weight of gangster accent], which is a private school too. I went to Sierra High. I got kicked out of Sierra High. I had a scholarship to play football there. But I couldn’t actually play football because my grandmother didn’t want me to play and shit. So that’s when it really kicked off. I was really into gymnastics at the time. I was just riding and shit at that time. Riding, that was one of my hobbies, that and RC cars.” [laughter from everyone] “RC cars!?” the question is murmured by a few faces sat around the fire. “How do you have time for football, riding, gymnastics, RC cars and all that shit?” Asks Jackson. “I was into so much shit at one time. I don’t even know how the fuck to explain how I was doin’ all that shit. This week I’m coming out to Mexico, riding my bike and shit, next week, I’ll be in the hood selling dope or some shit.” “Nah fuck that brutha” interrupts Jackson in a disapproving voice “we should go riding when we get back.” Gabe hears the concern in Jackson’s voice “Me and Tommy are supposed to go film some shit, but I’m like ‘Where I at nigga? I’m husslin’ nigga. I gotta get my money dawg. 106
I can’t do it this week’.” [The conversation drifts off into what exactly Gabe is going to be up to when he gets back.] A few hours previous we’d been playing around with a BB gun, shooting beer cans. While playing around with the toy Gabe had been reminiscing about a few of the many incidents he’s had with real guns. “How many people have you shot” I ask bluntly but with an audible degree of caution. “I can’t tell you that. I can’t tell you that exactly because I wasn’t hanging around. But what I did know was that if the yellow tape was up then somebody got hit. There was a gang of times when that yellow tape was up. I’m an accurate shooter. I don’t shoot at people if I know I ain’t gonna hit ‘em. But there were sometimes I missed. . . and sometimes I didn’t.” “Just out of curiosity, how much does a gun cost?” “What kind?” “I don’t know. A handgun I guess. A respectable handgun that you’re not going to be embarrassed to be seen brandishing.” “You can get a gun now for between three fifty and seven hundred dollars.” “Seriously? Wow. That’s dangerously cheap.” [For a few minutes the dialogue heads off on a tangent concerning what type of gun is best value for money before swinging round to the reasons why Gabe is so casual about talking about guns and actually shooting people.] “When I was younger and shit. . . God forgive me because I know this shit’s wrong [he says looking up to the stars]. . . There’s this bitch down the street from where I was stayin’, I used to try to hop on this girl and shit, and when she didn’t let me hump her I used to take her cat and swing it by the tail and let that muthafucka go. I’d kick dogs in the ass. I’d take peoples birds off of their porch and sock ‘em in the cage. . . knock the bird out in the cage. I was cruel to animals dawg. I’d kick dogs in the ass, hard as fuck. I was always cruel to animals, I don’t know why. I love animals. That was the way of takin’ my aggression out. I liked to see the dogs pop up when I kick ‘em in the ass. Swing the cat by the fuckin’ tail and let him go and just see him go fly like a flyin’ squirrel. One time I was swinging a cat like that and I let him go against the house. I know it’s bad but. . . It made me feel good hurting people.” “Why do you think that is?”
“Maybe I was hurt by my momma. I never had my momma around in my life and shit. My momma was a heroin addict. I didn’t have the attention I wanted to have. I’d always get in trouble at the school – even though I got good grades. I never understood how I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. You know what ‘am sayin’? Me being on punishment for petty-ass things, even though I got good grades. My personality was a bit different. At the time my aggression went out on dogs. And when I got older my aggression went out on people. I started fightin’ and shootin’ and shit.” “How did you get so big?” I ask nodding to one of his enormous biceps. “My brother came home, in the early 90s, he used to workout all the time. I’d always want to work out. I got a hernia when I was like seven or eight. It was right by my balls. I just used to lift all the time with my brother. But he went to jail, so after that I did gymnastics. I always liked the pain.” “How long have you spent locked up?” “Seven or eight years. I just did two years.” The rest of the team start talking amongst themselves about how they thought Gabe had died when he disappeared. They tried to track him down for a year and a half before they found out he was locked up. They genuinely thought he’d been killed. “How many times have you been shot?” I ask inquisitively. “Damn, let me think. 1. . .2. . .3. . .4. . . 5. . . 6.” He counts out loud his hand moves down from his head to his stomach to his legs. “I been shot six times. I was shot three times in one incident.” “What happened that time?” I enquire. “I was robbin’ a store. . . with my homeboys. We ran on in there and got the money, but things went bad. The security guard pulled his gun and we couldn’t make it back out the door. So my homeboy looks at me, and I look at him, and he’s all froze up. I’m not waiting around so I take a look around and I shoot out the window ‘Pah Pah’ and I push this big display cabinet thought it, then I push my homeboy though it and we take off across the parking lot. I take a look over my shoulder as we’re just outside.” The conversation stalls for a moment and we take a brief interlude as a huge shark steak marinated in limejuice and beer is brought out of the kitchen and laid on the fire. “Let’s talk about this. . . where were we at?” says Gabe, keen to carry on the story. “I think you were just about to get shot.” “Ah yeah. So when I turn around I felt this dude hawking
me. He was looking straight at me. I know he was gonna shoot me, you know what I’m sayin’. I don’t know why he took that long to shoot, but when I turned around. . . I don’t know if he thought I wasn’t gonna shoot. But when I shot, he shot too. We shot at the same time, but before the bullets hit me, he got hit. He got hit before I got hit. When he was on his way down I got shot in my left foot, my right foot and my left ankle.” Gabe’s voice is now loaded with enthusiasm. “Where did you hit him?” “I’d rather not say that. But he’s probably not with us today. . . probably. . . probably. . .” “What happened then, after you’d been shot?” “So I’m all shot up. I got a lot of adrenalin flowin’. After the shots bin fired – ‘boom boom, boom boom’ – I eventually made it back to the van and I was like ‘Nigga, I don’t know whether I’ve been shot or not but I know I’m in pain. I know something just happened to me.’ I took off my boots and both of my socks were all red, both of them, and I’m drenched in blood. They drove me to the motel, where we separated everything. My homeboy tied me up to stop the circulation and shit. I don’t know if this is too much information, you can bleep it out if it is. But they drove me to Vegas, if you get shot you have to report it and let people know and shit, so I went to Las Vegas, the Medical Centre.“ “What did you do about the pain?” “I had to take it or go to jail. So I just had to man that shit up. I got there and they called them ‘Million Dollar Wounds’. That’s where the bullet goes in and out clean, without fucking up any bones or other shit. So I was real lucky. After that I healed up in two or three months.” “And you never got in any trouble for that incident?” “Nah, but I got a lot of money.” [For a while the conversation goes into a little too much detail than can be repeated here.] “I thought they were gonna take me to UCLA hospital but they said they were taking me to Vegas. I was like “Vegas! Nigga you crazy!? I need to go to a hospital right now!” I remember I had to call my homegirl at the time, I told her to move my car. At the time I was working at the trap, I was doing everything, I was working at the Trap house: which is a whatever spot, and I was like “Come over here and move my car, I’ve been shot!” and she’s all “Stop playin’ wit me.” And I’m like “Bitch! Come over here right now and move my fuckin car”. And then she knew because she heard the fire in my voice [laughs] “What’s a trap house?” I ask naively. “It’s where you go to get narcotics and shit. Where you make your money and shit” “Oh I see. Why were you robbing stores instead of rob107
bing more lucrative establishments?” I ask. “Everyday it’s a hustle dawg. There ain’t nothing promised when you’re hustlin’.” “Were you motivated just by the money or did you get a high out of it?” “At first yeah, but by then, it was no longer a high to me. It was more like. . . it’s whateva. . . it’s easy. I was robbing shit when I was 14, so when I finally did this one, which was something real big, it was like, not a big deal to me. It was the first time I had a shoot-out with an actual security guard, you know.” “Did you feel any remorse for shooting that man?” “Well you know, I’m not proud of it, but it’s tough on them streets nigga.” “You told me earlier about how when bullets go past you, they sound like bees?” “That was actually in my hood. I was on my way to the block and shit. I’d just left my homeboy Baby Meech’s house to go back to the block to pick up another ounce of H2O. . . or we call it Gorilla Piss. . . or Sherm.” “Hold on a minute, what is that? [laughs at me] What is Gorilla Piss?” “You know. . . embalming fluid. . .PCP.” “Oh ok, I’ve heard of PCP, I’m just not familiar with the street names, carry on.” “So I was on my way back over there to pick up the O, I was going down this street and I see two dudes. Two dudes who I know that’s not from my hood. Two unusual faces in a place I’ve been stayin’ at all my life. So I immediately go into combat mode and was very observant. And when I get to the block I see one of them niggas crossing the street, and I could have got trapped there, so I backpedalled. And when I backpedalled, he see me backpedal. I don’t recognise their swagger. . .didn’t recognise their walk. So when I backpedal I see them reach in their waistband. As soon as I see them reach to their waistband I immediately took off. I heard a few footsteps. I heard footsteps but not that many footsteps. It was like ‘footsteps, aim, PAP, PAP, PAP, PAP, PAP, PAP’. Immediately, when I’m ducking behind a car, I hear ‘Zzzzzzzzzzuuup, Zzzzzzzzzzuuup, Zzzzzzzzzzuuup, Ping!’ It sounded like big-ass bumble bees. They comin’! It’s either get down or they gonna keep pushin’ nigga. I’m not gonna stay down coz these niggas look like killers. . . I know how I am. . . and I know there’s someone worse than me, so. . . if I see a nigga laid there then I’m gonna run up and bust his head coz I know that he might see me next week and be “Nigga, I’m gonna kill this dude!” so I’d get mine in first.”
not too far from Compton, but still the West side of LA.” “Do you own a gun at the moment?” “I have tons of guns. But I don’t use ‘em. . . I don’t have handguns, lets put it like that. . . if have to shoot somebody, there’s gonna be problems.” “What do your fellow gang members think of you riding BMX?” “They don’t understand how the fuck I got into BMX. They always question me ‘Nigga, how has this happened? When did you take time out to go ride bikes?’ and I’m like ‘Nah, Nigga. I was always on the block!’ I’d explain to them, there’d be days when we’d be on the block or summin’, trying to get some money from like eight ‘til like one or two o’clock. And then you’d have the hard head ones that came out and really started trippin’. But I was always a hard-headed one until I got older and started to learn more of the hustlin’ game, because I didn’t want to keep going up there robbing – especially after I got shot, after I nearly got killed.” After remembering the scar from the portrait we shot earlier, I ask “What happened when you got shot in the stomach” “When I got shot in the stomach it wasn’t that much of a big deal coz it was only a buck shot. What was more of a big deal was when I got shot in my head. When I was shot in the head I thought I had a bullet in my head. I didn’t want to tamper with it coz I didn’t know if the bullet was still there. I’d heard stories about muthafuckas with bullets in the head who tampered with it and try to pull it out and shit. . . and they died and shit.” “Have you had many friends who have been killed?” “My friends? Fuck yeah, probably between 15 to 20 friends killed. . . if I include friends of my friends and associates of my friends then it’s 30 to 35 people I know been killed. But 15 to 20 of my close friends.”
“ WHEN I GOT
SHOT IN THE STOMACH IT WASN’T THAT MUCH OF A BIG DEAL… WHAT WAS MORE OF A BIG DEAL WAS WHEN I GOT SHOT IN MY HEAD
[Gabe goes on to recall numerous other situations where bullets have been fired.] “What gang is it you’re part of?” I ask tentatively. “For political reasons, I’ll put it like this: all gangsters, we all run the same. I’m from West Side Gangsters. West Side Gangster Crips. “Tookie” RIP [Crips co-founder, executed by lethal injection in 2005 on Death row after being refused a stay of execution by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger] was on the West Side Gangster Crips, he used to kick-it in Avalon Gardens and shit, which is
“How many times have you been to prison? I ask. “A lot of times.” He replies in a tone with a hint of regret. “It seems like prison would be the polar opposite to where we are now – this lavish beach house in Mexico – living large and eating lobster.” “Yeah man, it’s crazy, when you’re going in, you don’t want to go in – you’re thinking about the streets. But when you’re in there, you don’t want to leave your homies – because you know the struggle.” “It made me laugh the other day when you told me you were in prison on a murder charge facing a potential death penalty. The way you were so blasé about it was almost funny.You were like “Yeah, it’s a bit of a sour buzz hanging over your head – a bit of a dark cloud for sure!” “This is what happened. I went past this one house, that at one time I did do some shit to the people who lived there, but that specific time I didn’t do anything. His brother had been shot one time and was in a wheelchair and his mom has been terrified of my homeboys and shit. Her sons was gangbangin’ and they were from a gang that we didn’t get along with, so my homies was like ‘We tired of these niggas staying in the hood, they better get up out of here or start payin’ rent!’ and I was on my way past on my bike and this dude starts runnin’ into his 111
“ WE SHOT
AT THE SAME TIME, BUT BEFORE THE BULLETS HIT ME, HE GOT HIT
” house, he thought I was gonna start shootin’ on him: my name runs along way in the hood, know what I’m sayin’. They know I’m with ‘The Business,’ they know I’ll shoot the shit out of you and laugh about it later. I felt where they were coming from coz they thought they was gonna get shot – but I didn’t have no gun at the time so I wasn’t really trippin’. But they mom called the Police. I go on the block. I go see my homegirl and I’m about to get my serve on. I’m outside her house and the Police come swoopin’. They all pull up and are all “Get it out! Get it out!” I’m like “What the fuck you talkin’ about?” They’re all “Get it out before we shoot you Mr Woopty Woop!” So I’m like “Ok, Ok” and I got down on the floor. They brought this lady over to identify me, so she came out and said it was me, she said that I threatened her. So I go to court and I’m going to court for criminal threat. I’m a well-known, well documented gang member from South Central, so they immediately targeted me and pinned everything that had been going on in that area on me. So when I go to arraignment there are like eight fuckin’ charges. It went from just being criminal threat to criminal threat, shooting into an inhabited dwelling, attempted murder, grand arson and assault and battery. And when I was in jail they put more charges on me, they put the RICO Act on me, they tired to make out that, from jail, I’d had my homeboys go over there and intimidate them and shoot at them and shit. Two weeks later they got me at a death penalty court on a murder charge. They had no evidence, but they just wanted to pin that shit on me, so I was sick about that, I lost hair, I lost weight.” “I was in this court tank at the back of the room, all by myself, on the death penalty. It stinked in there.You could tell that people had been shitting on themselves in there. They threw up all over themselves. It really stinked.” “So you were sat there thinking that there’s a chance that you’re going to be executed?” “At that moment I was innocent. But I was sat there thinking ‘Damn! Karma’s come back around in a cold way – I didn’t actually do anything this time, but I’m now paying for the shit that I did do’.” “Well you’re here now so I guess you didn’t get the death penalty.” “Nah, I was eventually acquitted. I spent 20 Gs on a damn good lawyer.” “How did you end up gangbangin?” “My mom was a heroin addict. All my life she’s been a 112
heroin addict. All my life, I’ve never really got the things I wanted – me and my cousins and sister all used to live in one little house with my grandma and shit. We didn’t have much money, we were always well fed and clothed, but we didn’t have much money and that shit gets old. When ‘back-to-school’ came round we’d show up with some bullshit. . . with some wack-ass clothes on. That’s what got me into gangbangin’ because my grandmother raised a lot of muthafuckers in my family and she couldn’t give me the attention that I wanted so I started gangbangin’ and shit. . . I was nine and ten and I’d be holding people’s guns and holding people’s dope and stashing people’s dope for them. I looked up to pimps and drug dealers and niggas with big-ass guns and shit. My brother had that shit and he took me around that shit and when I see how he used to get praise, I was like “Why can’t I get praise like that?” So I was helping out and shit and niggas would be like “Damn, that nigga is a real-ass nigga!” And I’m like “Whatever, fuck that dawg, just put me on!” When I was put on I nearly threw up afterwards, I was like “Damn, I’m gonna be killed tomorrow.” I started getting down and I’d be on the block and I’d be on punishment and shit, and I’d sneak out and go back on the block and make money.“ I thought I was ready for the streets. But I wasn’t ready for the streets. . . not until Dante got killed. When my homeboy Dante got killed everything else just slowed down, I didn’t give too much of a fuck about nuttin’. When my homeboy got killed I was gangbangin’ in school but I’d still be doing my gymnastics and shit. But my grandmother couldn’t afford to pay for that, it was $400 per month, so I got out of that. And when I dropped out of that I dropped out of highschool. I started gangbangin’ more and staying at the trap house and shit, but at the time, around the corner from the gym was the skatepark, so when I’d be waiting around to be picked up there I’d be skating and shit, and one day my homeboy Rondezee introduced me to BMX.” “Do you still hang around with the same sort of people? How many years has it been since you banged?” I can’t say I’ve ever stopped bangin’. I’ve never stopped bangin’ but I’ve stopped being ‘active’. But I still support my homeboys. I’m not gonna lie about shit. I do. . . I do, but I don’t. Right now I’m at a stage where I have a son and shit, so I don’t want to go back to jail, but I gotta do what I gotta do to make a livin’ – you know what I’m sayin’.”
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Quitters Matt ‘Bowlhead’ Adams ties the knot and hangs it up.
ast November riders from all over the country dusted off their suits and met at a church in East London. The occasion was the marriage of Matt ‘Bowlhead’ Adams and his wife Faye. In his day Bowlhead was a progressive street rider, a pioneer of pedal grinds and an integral part of the Sheffield scene when it dominated the UK. He rode for Mutiny Bikes, was a regular face in RideUK and shared a split section on NSF2 with a little known rider called Ben Lewis. The Albion caught up with Matt whilst on his honeymoon to find out how his new life as a married man was treating him. Albion: Where are you right now then? Bowlhead: I’m sitting at a bar on the Carribean island of Saint Lucia. I just stepped off a boat and I’m sitting with the wife watching some incredible renditions of Bob Marley classics by some washed up locals while drinking Piña Coladas with two other couples who are old enough to be my grandparents. What was the rush to get married and stop riding? My dad always told me, “You have to slay a couple of dragons before you get to a princess.” I’d been through my fair share of dragons and now I’m here, married with a Piña Colada in my hand so I think I’m winning in this situation. Stopping riding came purely from being physically broken – my back and my knees gave out. I disappoint in the bedroom enough already, do I really want to squeeze out a few more years riding and try doing it arthritically from a wheelchair? A man has to know his strengths and his weaknesses and act accordingly, I know mine. Do you have any regrets after your years riding? If I’m totally honest I was kind of intimidated by the guys I rode with in Sheffield and once they started filming Voices and then Tomorrow We Work I only got more intimidated. They were all really good friends of mine so that attitude was ridiculous. I hid from a lot of shit back then not just with the riding so it was a kind of an issue I had, it’s one of my only regrets but you have to live with that don’t you?
So filming put you off riding? No it was my injuries that put me off riding but filming did get to me. I’d love to pull the whole Paul Buchanan bullshit, but I think we all knew he did that to hide the fact he wasn’t as good as his myth. I had three tricks and I knew it. Filming was never going to be my forte, I left that to the Cox’s and Blyth’s of this world. I’m better sticking to stick to Piña Coladas. What age do you think people should stop riding? That’s like asking when you should replace a microwave – when it doesn’t work anymore. If it starts hurting when you get out of bed or if you stop enjoying it that’s when you should quit. Anyone who doesn’t realise that is an idiot. Do you miss riding? Not really. I still see all my old mates, just in the pub now instead of a cold carpark. Little changes, I see Mutiny are still camp as a row of pink tents, less camp but still really camp, Josh excluded. C’est la vie. Where’s your old Mutiny? Outside my front door, gathering dust. Can we give it away as a prize? Yeah. If anyone wants it tell me what beats a Piña Colada on Twitter to @winneranonymous. Benny L is living the BMX dream? Why aren’t you? Ben has always been a massive talent on a bike and an incredibly amazing human off it. Basically I quit because he’s Lionel Messi and I was Emile Heskey.
Interview by GEORGE MARSHALL
L T D
221-225 Camberwell Rd London SE5 0HG 020 77033637 Rider Jason Forde, photo by Chris Hill-Scott
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George French THE BRAINS BEHIND GSPORT AND SOME OF ODYSSEY’S MOST INNOVATIVE PRODUCTS
I’m counting down the numbers to George’s house in Sheffield until I notice a welded steel handle sticking out from a wooden gate. I don’t check the number, I know its Georges place, who else around here would go to the trouble of making their own gate handle? I walk up the garden of this impressive house and spot George in the window with two of his three young daughters. He answers the door, wearing shorts as always, and invites me in. ‘Nice house George’, I remark on entering the kitchen. ‘We got a great deal on it because it needed loads of work’, he replies with obvious enthusiasm about undertaking such a big project. It’d scare the shit out of most people, not George. I’m handed a cup of tea that is large enough for his youngest to take a bath in, then we take the stairs to the top of the house and into the office. When I was 15 I managed to talk George into letting me do work experience with him, when he had a unit down in the DonValley, the birthplace of stainless steel. I was largely useless, redundant almost for anything other than making tea. I learned two lessons. Firstly I was taught how to build a wheel, and secondly although this lesson took a while to sink in, I saw it was possible to make a job out of BMX and do it with a level of integrity and passion that can help progress riding in the right direction. We sit down and get straight into it, starting way back in the early 90’s,when BMX was almost non existent in the UK, with only handful of enthusiastic individuals like George who couldn’t stop riding, no matter how bad the bikes were.
Words and photography by DANIEL BENSON
136 George: In the early 90’s you’d go riding and you’d stop riding when your headset broke or your bars bent. That’s how long your session was. Bikes are so much better now. I wanted a Mongoose Decade when I first started riding, because I’d read a review in Invert magazine. They said it was a reasonable entry level bike you could get hold of easily, because you couldn’t get hold of stuff in the 90s. Albion: When in the 90s? G: Say, 89, 90, 91. You just couldn’t get anything. So I tried to get this bike from Halfords, and they’d never heard about it. So I went into Hot Wheels and I asked if they had any chromoly BMX frames. The guy had six 80’s frames to chose from because they hadn’t sold, so I ended up buying a Vector Freestyle frame and forks for fifty quid. It had this massive standing platform out of the back of the seat, going over the brake and halfway down the seat stays. The same on the forks too, a bar that went over the front brake. I got some bars too, with an extra bit on for doing surfers. I just sawed all that stuff off. It got nicked eventually, but I had to buy that stuff, saw bits off, buy wheels, stems, everything. It was a pretty hopeless time for BMX. A: I guess at this time BMX is progressing still, even though you’re riding these shitty bikes? Is that what made you start making your own things? G: Yeah, I didn’t have any money to buy new stuff and even if I did it was rubbish. I remember riding back up the hill from town when I lived in Crookes and my back wheel started rattling and feeling loose. I thought I’d snapped an axle, or the cones were loose, but the whole flange had separated from the hub. And that’s when I made my first hub, because it was the only option I had. I could get time on a lathe and I could get a bit of aluminum, but I couldn’t afford a new hub. A: Do you want to run through how GSport started? Didn’t you win a grant to start up the company? G: I did. But I suppose it started in a way with Chris Hardy and Dave Proctor who were doing Carve, printing t-shirts and selling them. Because we were always having problems with our bikes we came up with the idea of making a really big washer. 32mm diameter with a hole in the middle and 5mm thick. A: And what was the reasoning behind that? G: It was just instead of cone nuts. They were so small they used to really chew up dropouts. You had to spread your frame apart to jam them in there on the wheel, but it really made a difference to how hard it was to bend your axle. And then we welded tube onto them to make pegs. And this was still under Carve, so I got the material stuff done and Chris did all the selling, which was basically putting an ad in Invert magazine, then people would write a letter with two pounds stuck to it. This is way before the internet. Then Chris and Dave went off to Leeds for a bit and I was still in Sheffield doing the finals for my degree. Dave came back but Chris stayed up there and…. I guess I just started GSport whilst I was on the dole, which was a bit of a fiddle but there was no way I was making any money from BMX. So I started making proper cone nuts, because although the washers worked,
I knew it could be improved upon. The first ones I made myself, in the old house on Heavygate Road. We had the lathe in the living room. A: Do you think with the progression of BMX it’s been a bit of a grope around in the dark to find stuff that actually works, with people making wacky stuff to make a quick buck? G: I don’t think anyone is trying to make a quick buck. If they are, they’re in the wrong industry. For example you’d be much better starting a shoe company as everyone needs them and people seem to like buying them. And you’re not going to get an email from some kid who’s bolted on his shoes the wrong way round and can’t get them off! I don’t know why I’ve used shoes, but lets take Animal as an example, I bet they make as much money from softgoods as they do bike parts and it’s probably less of a headache for them. So I don’t think anyone is making BMX parts to make quick money. A: Do you not look back on past and present day BMX and look at the parts and just think ‘why has somebody made that, what advantage can that possibly have?’ Questionable parts like… Fishbone four piece bars, with all those crazy bends in them? G: I think that’s just people trying to do something different to separate themselves in the market. Like these days everyone has a set of two-piece handlebars and to the average person in the street, and even to the average bmx’r you’d need to start getting a tape measure out to really tell the difference. But then when you pick them up you notice the weight and the sweep and then if you rode each pair for six months you’d be like ‘well that pair bent and that pair didn’t’, so the differences are quite subtle. Whereas in the old days, it was people welding tubes in places, like Tioga making a bar specifically for surfers! But when you think about it, if you’re into surfers, it isn’t a bad idea to have a bigger surface to stand on the bars. You can’t be too confused by it. But from an engineering point of view, when all the pivotal seat posts were ovalised the wrong way, you think ‘how has this happened?’ A: What do you mean? G: They’re thicker at the sides. They’re more likely to bend from front to back. You’d expect them to be thicker at the front and back to stop this. So you start thinking ‘why have they done that? How has that happened?’ And at some point the mistake has been made, but it’s kind of all right, almost not a problem as everyone runs their post so slammed there isn’t anything to bend. And it’s because they’ve either been engineered slightly wrong, no ones picked up on the mistake, or they’ve gone ‘well we’ve made a mistake on this, but the forging tool cost this much and it’s almost not a problem. It does work and we don’t want to spend ten grand to fix it’. You see stuff like that, but I don’t really think people are in it to make a quick buck. Maybe I’m mellowing in age, but I used to be like ‘Argh, why are people buying this stuff!’ A: That’s what I thought! G: But then I realised, people are always going to buy other stuff. And when the BMX industry works together
THE GUY HAD SIX 80S FRAMES TO CHOSE FROM BECAUSE THEY HADN’T SOLD, SO I ENDED UP BUYING A VECTOR FREESTYLE FRAME AND FORKS FOR FIFTY QUID
Mike Taylor, London. 137
instead of fighting each other it grows BMX. When I started riding again in 89, you couldn’t get anything and nobody rode, so the companies that were left were fighting over the sales, but they were fighting over nothing, because there’s nobody there. You had to be fairly obsessive, as your bike would need constant maintenance. The amount of kids I saw who could see us doing it, got into it, got a bike and then couldn’t keep it running and went off to do something else, like skateboarding. Now bikes work, I’ve never seen it so healthy. There are riders everywhere, skateparks everywhere and I think that’s because the bikes work.You can ride all day, fall off, throw it down stairs and when you pick the bike up you expect it still to work. And it does. A: Do you think we’ve reached a standard to BMX design now where we’ve almost found something we’re comfortable with, which is why there isn’t a great deal of variation between parts? G: Er… Well. Yeah? There’s a lot of similarity between bikes these days, but when you ride them, you notice the little differences. Like there’s not that many people who can jump on someone else’s bike and do, say a flair, without getting used to a bike. A: Going back to GSport, with your product design, what’s your success rate with prototypes and ideas? For example I remember when you gave Erny [Liam Earnshaw] a set of cranks and they slipped on the first 180. G: It’s very rare that something gets as far as prototype that doesn’t go into production. Usually by that stage we’ve got it fairly worked out. Like that one set you mentioned… 138
A: Did it have some sort of ball and socket joint? G: No, there was one that was like the current Thunderbolt cranks that was round instead of hexagonal… A: Maybe that’s what I’m thinking of… G: Which is how most machine tools are locked off. So there was no reason it wouldn’t work, except that it needed… well we never really pushed it… The hex idea seemed nice as you knew what degree it was off by, it’s really obvious when you put your cranks together. The round one would’ve always been lined up by eye. A: I saw the Thunderbolt cranks when I was last in America. They looked impressive, with the wedges linked up with the rubber. G: Yeah… That took a looong time. A: It really simplifies all the design and putting them together. G: It does, yeah. That’s an example of when we’ve had a design that hasn’t been without its problems, but we’ve known that it’s a solid idea and we’ve stuck with it and pushed on and found the issues as people have found them and made things more intuitive and tolerant for people, for example, them not reading the instructions. And you learn stuff as you go along. Like we now have access to a test machine, whereas before we didn’t, so we’d test one pair – because it was too expensive to do more – and they’d do amazingly. Then they’d go into production and one would have a dodgy weld and you’d go ‘well how’s that happened?’ The point here was that we needed to test more cranks and when you get to the point where every single set of cranks is giving the same results, you know you’ve got not just the design right, but the quality control right too. And it’s really cool to do that,
because you’re doing proper engineering in a field where it’s hard to do proper engineering. A: It’s hard to quantify what people are going to do with the product? G: Yeah, so we had to develop our own ways of testing stuff, which gives more accurate and real results. Like there are tests already out there, like the SENN tests for forks, but on that they don’t even put the forks in a headset, they just clamp the steerer tube and that’s not how a set of forks is clamped, so any first year degree level engineer would say that’s the difference between simply supported, like it is in a headset and being fully supported like it is in the clamp. It creates a completely different loading condition in the forks. The loads are things like, somebody hitting a pothole, or just hitting a bit of a bump. With our forks we recently put up a web video of us testing the forks to about two million cycles and they didn’t break. So we were like ‘right, we need to create another test’ because you need to break the forks, as you can’t tell if you’re consistent otherwise. A: You’ve said ‘we’ a lot throughout the interview, which I presume means the guys at Odyssey. If I remember rightly, years ago you showed me blueprints to some cranks and you said you couldn’t make them over here, in the UK, as they’d be too expensive… G: I think it was rims, I’ve had drawings for rims since day one. I knew I was making hubs so it made sense to make rims too, as I could get spokes. But I just couldn’t get them made… A: So is that how the relationship with Odyssey came about?
G: I just wanted to eat [laughs]. The first thing was, if you can’t beat em, join them. A: So you went to them? G: Yeah, totally. The internet came along and I’d been going on BMX forums and Chris Cotsonas, the Odyssey owner had been talking to people, listening to what people had to say about their products, saying they were open to ideas, basically saying they were taking product submissions. I got in touch with him first of all to see if it would be possible to buy a load of rims, like at trade, so I could build my hubs up into them. A: Why Odyssey rims? Were they the ones you were most happy with? G: Yeah, if I couldn’t make my own, there’s were the best available. So I arranged a bunch of rims from him OEM, which is basically unpackaged trade items and he was just really easy to talk to and easy to deal with. I knew that they took outside product submissions and I was just sat on a few ideas, like I just didn’t have the means to do anything with them. The first was a chain, which we never did! We spent three years going to companies and they just wasted our time, basically wanting us to buy the stock chain off the shelve. The other was the Elementary stem… A: So you’d had that design for a long time then? G: I had that design since about 1994, but I knew I couldn’t make it. That was the first thing we worked on together, which was a breath of fresh air for me as we had a prototype within a few weeks and it worked. A: Wasn’t the stem something you thought you could make, given the fact that its just a lot of machining? 139
Josh Bedford, Barcelona.
G: I never thought I could do it as GSport. I mean, I did a stem before that… the… erm. .. A: That massive block?! G: Yeah, the massive block [laughs]. That had just been drawn on paper, which was a nightmare with all those compound curves, but it was just cut on a lathe. The company who did them didn’t like the job, so eventually they stopped doing it. The Elementary stem just had too much tooling involved in it to make it over here. Same with the rim, if I would’ve had that made over here, I would’ve needed to do two tonnes of extrusion, which would roughly work out at about 2000 rims, which I couldn’t afford. Then the rims would’ve been about 150 quid each, so nobody would’ve bought them. A: So how come GSport stayed as GSport when you joined forces? G: In ten years of making stuff I’ve made hubs, made some forks – in fact I stopped making forks because the Odyssey ones were so good… A: You had nothing to do with the guaranteed fork thing? G: No that was all their doing. It was done before I came along. At the time they released those forks, some of the others were just scary. It was a big reason why I wanted to work with them, when they released a fork you could trust. At the time my wife was basically supporting me, I was doing a bit of stuff around the house and earning a bit of money, but for me it was pretty much hand to mouth. So I said to them I’m going nowhere on my own with this, can I join up? [Laughs]. GSport had a reputation in hubs, which allowed us to do two separate things with them. One thing that was more ultimate strength, high-end specific stuff, the GSport hub covers that. Under Odyssey we saw that we could do stuff that was still strong, but more affordable. Over time the boundaries have become blurred, but that doesn’t really matter. I think it’s a bit easier to do something a bit radical under the GSport name, the gland for example, it works well but people might be ‘oh it looks goofy, it’s too big’, but under the GSport banner it makes sense. In a way, GSport is a little redundant, but why throw away 10, 15 years worth of investment and development? A: There must’ve been part of you that didn’t want to see it go? G: I would’ve been quite happy to leave it, I just wanted to eat. But I also wanted something to work on, ever since I started working with Chris I’ve just been creatively much freer to work on stuff, like design. Now I don’t have to physically put hubs together like before, assembling every hub by hand, picking out the shells from the cellar, realising I’ve run out of bolts, having to go and pick those up, put them in boxes, print out the instructions, cut out the instructions, staple the boxes. Basically, everything I had you doing on your work experience [laughs]. I was doing that for years then having no money to do new products. When I joined with Odyssey it was either that, or get a proper job. I could do something in engineering, but if you can make a living doing something you love, then surely that’s worth pursuing? But when your profit is exactly the amount you live off, how can you invest that back in the business? You’ve got to jump to a certain size to be able to have some money to put back into it. A: When GSport became incorporated with Odyssey did you have strict stipulations regarding the quality of the products? Like you had done when the stuff was made in Sheffield? Were you worried the quality might not be as good? G: Before it happened I’d read up a lot on Taiwan, as I wanted to get a feeling of what it was like over there. You could see products coming out of there that showed you they could do stuff right. When we did the Elementary stem, it was a test to see if they could do stuff right for me. And they did, they did it to the drawing. Most of the time, when people had crap coming out of Taiwan, it was because their drawing was crap. You put crap in, you get crap out. A: It’s a bit of an old question, how do you feel about the whole American made, English made, Taiwanese made… Do you think it’s a bit of a moot point? G: People are people, it’s just people, machines and materials. At the end of the day, if they want to do it right, they can do it right, but if they want to do it quickly, they can do that as well. It’s the exact same in England. The machines are the same machines, like if you go to our factory in Taiwan, they’re using Miller welders, they’re not using some dodgy welder. There’s health and safety, in fact theirs is probably better than some of the places I used in Sheffield. On those the extraction sucks downwards and not upwards, so the fumes don’t get caught in your mask. The biggest difference is they want the work. If I went to a place in Sheffield and said I 141
want to make a bicycle part, they’re not interested, as the mark up is so small for them. If I go to Taiwan and say the same thing, they go ‘we know that, that’s what we do all day long’. Years ago the government said ‘lets invest in bicycle making’ and made money available for people to set up factories and because of this there is a massive bike industry there. You can go into a place and say I want to make a pedal and they go, ‘That’s not a problem, we’re a pedal factory’. Over here, they’ll say ‘Well we make surgical instruments for thousands of pounds, we’re not interested’. A: I suppose the thing with that is you have to make big orders to make it financially viable. So lets say, for instance S&M can make stuff in house, in small runs, almost to order… G: Yeah, we’re jealous of S&M for that, you have to admire that they can do that. They can make 50 frames, custom frames. We can’t do that, it must be so lovely to have that creative control. But at the same time, I’d imagine they get frustrated every day with their tubing suppliers for example, or their sub vendors. Whereas in Taiwan, it’s all there and they can do anything you want. For example with the Sunday downtubes, it’s got a wave in it, it’s double butted, it’s seamless tubing. Those three things in America… It’s almost impossible unless you spend a fortune. So in the same way we look at S&M and go ‘I wish we could do that, I wish we could do custom frames’ and just react so quickly to anything that needs changing. They must look at us and go ‘I wish we could to that’. We talk to them [S&M] and as I said earlier, we’re all coming from the same place, we all want BMX to be bigger. In a way of course we’re fighting for customers saying ‘don’t buy their frame, buy our frame’. ‘We can do this high tech shit’, as opposed to them saying ‘but we can do custom colours and turn it around in a week’. Some people will want what we make and some people will want what the competitors make and it’s all more people riding bikes, which is better for everyone. 142
A: Do you still think that BMX is young? G: No, I think it’s matured a bit now. Skateboarding did the same thing, it had a boom, had some shit products so it died out, then it came back with better products, another boom, then it leveled off and its been the same for a while now, and I think BMX has done the same, it had tiny dip, but its leveled and I think that’s where we’re at now. I don’t think it’ll get much bigger, like have another boom, but I can’t see it crashing like it did before. A: Is that because it’s more part of the woodwork, more commonplace? G: I think it’s because the equipment is better. You can buy a complete for relatively little money and it’ll work. In the bad times, when BMX crashed, the bikes didn’t work and I think that’s why it crashed. Bikes are better now, so more people will stay involved. A: Yeah, I see what you mean. Is there anything else you’d like to add? G: Well, you probably want me to say something controversial don’t you? [Laughs]. A: Erm, well these pieces have a history of controversy! You’ve been very diplomatic. If we had done this about seven years ago I don’t reckon you would’ve been! G: I don’t think I’ve been diplomatic, I think I’ve just mellowed in my old age. I still get annoyed when we get copied and don’t get credited. That will always be annoying. When it says something like ‘inspired by roadbikes’, but it’s just ripping off something we designed, but you don’t want to hear about that! Can I say some thanks? A: Erm, yeah, sure… G:Tom at Empire, who helped me a lot with getting stuff to America, Chris at Odyssey, you, all the journalists, like Mark Noble, and you lot for doing The Albion, just for having something like that going. It’s great, but I don’t know how long you can keep it up! A: Fucking cheers! That’s the most controversial thing you’ve said! [Laughs].
CHAMBER RRP: £399.99
HIGHLIGHTS Cromo Main frame, 20.75” Rmvbl Hardware / Full Cromo Fork / 48 Spline 3PC Crank / Sealed Mid BB / 19mm Odyssey Twisted Plastic Pedals / 25/9 Gearing Mongoose Pivotal Seat / Odyssey Chase Hawk Grips / Sealed Cassette, 9T Driver / Odyssey Path Tyre F: 20 x 2.1 Innova Tyre R: 20 x 2.0
CULTURE RRP: £299.99
HIGHLIGHTS Hi-Ten 20.5” Top Tube / Cromo Steerer Fork / 8” Rise Bar / Full Cromo 3PC Crank Sealed Mid BB / Odyssey Twisted Plastic Platform / Innova F: 20 x 2.125 R: 20 x 2.0 / Mongoose Pivotal / Odyssey Aaron Ross Grips / Sealed Cassette 9T Driver
PROGRAM RRP: £249.99
HIGHLIGHTS Hi-Ten 20.5” Top Tube / 7.6” Rise Bar / Full Cromo 3PC 175mm Crank /Sealed, Mid BB 19mm / Plastic Platform Pedal / 25/9 Gearing / Innova Tyres F: 20 x 2.125 R: 20 x 2.1 / Odyssey Adam Banton Grips
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Photo By: Ryan Sher
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