14 Departure The Perpetual Lure Of Barcelona
64 Tom Sanders Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None
18 Soapbox Cory Martinez On Plastic Pegs
78 Matthew Roe In The Clouds
22 Off The Rails Darcy Saccucci And His Pivotal Moment
94 Derek Nelson People Are Strange, Kill Youself
26 Rise Of The Tin Man Clint Reynolds Breaks His Femur
106 Max Wood A Proper Love Story
30 Adam Wasylenko Working In A Coalmine
114 Strays Photos With No Real Home
36 Paper Trail UK Magazines, A Retrospective
126 Section Songs Soundtrack To Our Lives
50 Tom Dugan I Hate ‘The Duganator’
132 Stewart Johnson Under The Mask
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A New Member Of Staff. It’s been a year since we started The Albion, the release of this issue marks the completion of volume one. In terms of experience, we’ve gained a lot. We’ve witnessed Steven Hamilton struggle with the pressures in life, we’ve seen the wrath of Mike Hoder on a Subway train. We’ve seen Hoffman ride first hand and look back retrospectively on his life. We’ve discussed everything from murder and gun crime, to religion and politics. We’ve shown people sides of riders they didn’t know existed, the many facets of a person, not simply their abilities on a bike. We caused debate and arguments; we’ve even gone so far as discussing the murky world of prostitution in this very issue. Yes, indeed we’ve experienced a lot, we accumulated a vast and colourful inventory of memories, stories we’ve shared with you, our loyal and lucky readers, for we give all this to you for free. But, what have we actually gained from doing this magazine? Physically speaking, we are poor. Over the course of the year, we’ve accumulated nothing but stories and pictures. Our money is fritted away on plane tickets, petrol, hotels and trains, with nothing to show for it other than a tattered receipt
Editor Daniel Benson firstname.lastname@example.org
and an article. That all changed today, we gained a new member of staff. It’s an Epson B1100 printer bought brand new to serve our proofing needs. After a year, this is the fruit of our labour. Admittedly – by the standards of some of today’s multinational media conglomerates – it’s a fairly modest purchase, but to us it means the world. It’s like having a new member of staff and a new best friend rolled into one. At least now one of us knows what he’s doing and acts like a professional. Yet looking forward, we now have more responsibility, with our new team member needing to be fed and ink’d. What happens if we go bust? Who takes on our only asset? Will it become the stake that drives us apart? Our Achilles heal? A cross we have to bear? A year ago we had a dream. We wanted to make the best BMX magazine we possibly could, we wanted to take it all over the world, interviewing the people who have paid their dues and made their mark, to create a free magazine that we, as BMXers can be proud about - a magazine to claim as your own. I hope we’ve gone some way in achieving that goal, but what do we have to show for it? A £130 printer.
Associate Editor George Marshall email@example.com
Publisher Tim March firstname.lastname@example.org
Associate Editor Steve Bancroft email@example.com
Art Director Robert Loeber firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributors Rhys Coren, Ryan Humphrey, James Cox, John Dye, Cody Nutter, Ross Teperek, Mark Noble. Thanks Charles Darroch, Ian Morris, Brian Tunney, Rich Moore, James Hudson, Mike Netley, Taj Mihelich, Joe Rich, Wonky Eye Memphis, Joesph, Mason, Phil, Brian, June, Will Blout, Bruce Nelson, Jared and Deigo, Steve Crandall, Chris Doyle, Aaron Ross, Rubio Rodriguez, Madre de Rubio, Darcy Saccucci, Gaz Sanders, Amy Silvester. Cover Artwork by Ryan Humphrey Cover Photography by Chloe Lee
Contact Inquiries: email@example.com Advertising: firstname.lastname@example.org Mailing List: email@example.com Subscriptions: firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial: email@example.com The Albion BMX Magazine is avalible at all good bikes shops in the UK. See thealbion.cc for more details. 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.
Photo: Brandon Means
CORY BE AL, Rollercoaster to hop out. 14
Departure — The Perpetual Lure of Barcelona The lure of Barcelona is almost unavoidable for any BMX rider. It’s become a byword for trips abroad, a standard go-to location, with spots so good you’d think they’d been built just for us. Because of that it’s been easy to write the place off. All too often I’d hear the comments “everything has being done there” or “the bubble has burst with that place” and also not without an element of truth attached. At certain spots, it’s easier to list what hasn’t been ticked off than the things that have. Yet at the same time, it’s this common ground that keeps bringing riders back. If you work all year and only get a week abroad with your bike, sometimes people don’t want to risk it at some new exotic city where there might be a shortage of spots. For pro riders that can be a luxury they can afford to take, but for the average guy, it’s not a risk worth taking. Barcelona is a vast and amazing city. I’m not going to lie, for a while I’d written it off myself, but visiting it again, and this time with riders from Hull and Winnipeg, I was once again reminded why it’s such a common destination within BMX. So to finish up the first volume of The Albion, we kick off issue six in the city where our first picture was taken, in the Departure feature that ran as the opening spread in issue one only this time it’s Canada’s Cory Beal starting things off with this wild rollercoaster to hop out. In a city that’s been saturated with BMXers over the years, this trick on this rail took a long time to happen, even at the well-known spot it’s at. It took one extremely hungover Canadian and some rowdy Hull locals to finally get the job done. Words and photography by DANIEL BENSON
Soapbox Plastic Pegs
With a seemingly endless level of progression, COREY MARTINEZ was always going to be an advocate for the plastic peg if it opened up new possibilities for creativity. The Albion asked Corey for his opinion on this currently controversial new product. Here’s what he had to say. I was one of the guys at first who was uneasy about the whole plastic peg thing. After riding a few friends’ bikes that had them, I decided to give it a go. I’ll admit it takes a while to get used to the almost silent grind noise but once past that stage you’re game. The way I see it, there are pros and cons to everything. Pros • The plastic peg pros are what got me hooked. For starters, you don’t bust up the spot as much. • Skaters don’t have much to fuss about. • Some parks only allow plastic. • ‘Slides’ like butter. • You last a lot longer at spots due to the reduced noise level.
Cons • Having to replace them about every week or so depending on your grind base level. • Waxing a spot like a rollerblader. • Getting made fun of by all your friends that have not yet crossed over.
Who knows, it may just be a thing-of-now and pass in time, but it sure is nice at the moment for me! To each his own, right? Photography by DANIEL BENSON
WWW.WETHEPEOPLEBMX.DE TEL: (0) 1202 732288 I | WWW.CYCLINGSPORTSGROUP.CO.UK |
RIDER: PETE SAWYER | PHOTO: ANDREW WHITE
Off The Rails Darcy Saccucci and his Pivotal moment
A decade ago the entire arse of BMX rested on the dominant Primo Hemorrhoid seat, a descendent of the great GT Drop Nose. Like all popular BMX seats throughout the years, both bare an ancient dual rail design dating back to 1882 when a leather worker in Birmingham (UK) by the name of Brooks applied for his first patent for a bicycle saddle, after his horse had died and he was made to cycle to work in pain and impotency. That century old rail design from the West Midlands is the dominant seat design in every genre of cycling but one – BMX, all thanks to challenge from a Beast. Several years ago in LA, former MacNeil Bike company owner and legendary rider, The Canadian Beast a.k.a. Jay Miron was hunting for a shop that sold gyro cables with Mad Jon Taylor. After some thought Miron turned to Taylor and announced he wanted to discover the next Gyro - a component that dominates all its rivals as the industry standard. Miron wanted to discover a system that would be universal throughout all BMX bikes and would sell reliably for generations. He set to the task, invented the Pivotal Seat, revolutionized the BMX seat and post, then mysteriously quit BMX… right? Wrong. Here we speak to Darcy Saccucci, the real inventor of the Pivotal seat. Sit down and spare a minute to learn how a combination of Saccucci’s innovation and Miron’s vision redefined the arse the BMX. Albion: What was the thought behind the first Pivotal design and what were the problems you were hoping solve associated with the old rail design? Darcy: I always used to run a different brand of seat and seat post and they never fitted together very well. When I’d get a new seat I’d have to get it in a vice and squeeze the rails together to get the seat to fit the post. The bolts underneath were hard to get at, and would be covered in shit sprayed up from your back wheel. And you know – the rails were always bending or the seat could pop right off the rails. I just thought there has to be a better way. I did a rough drawing and started to make prototypes and moulds. I took the design to the engineers at Velo in Taiwan [the world’s leading saddle manufacturer]. But the process was slow. I decided to move to Taiwan so I could be working with them everyday and that’s when it started developing fast.
So you moved over to other side of the world, specifically to develop that one product? Pretty much. I was working on other MacNeil products at the same time but the Pivotal seat was the main focus. I lived there for a year and a half. Even after I’d moved back to Canada I’d still go back every couple of months. Now I have kids so I don’t go as often, but I still have an apartment over there with the Kink and Animal guys. You must have realized how much potential Pivotal had to move to Taiwan to develop it. Did you ever think it would become as universal and popular as it has become? Not at all. At first I only saw it as a good product for MacNeil. That’s where Jay’s [Miron] big thinking came in. He saw it and said, “This is great. Everyone will want this.” I didn’t see it as that much of a big deal, but Jay definitely saw the potential in it. Jay started showing it to other people and got companies interested. Jay just
Interview by GEORGE MARSHALL
knows everyone. If he leaves someone a voicemail they phone him back, whereas I didn’t have the name for that. Would it be fair to say you were the inventor and he was visionary? Yeah. I say that’s fair. Jay always has a big vision for things. For example we thought of doing a small Canadian contest and he turned that idea into Metro, a giant contest with three trailers full of ramps and every pro in world turning up. He doesn’t do anything small. I was under the impression Jay designed Pivotal. How do you feel about Jay receiving most the credit for designing the system? That doesn’t matter to me at all. I’m happy to be in the background. That’s the worst thing about Jay leaving MacNeil, I’ve been pushed to the foreground. I much prefer letting him be the face of the company. It’s like being in a band – I prefer to be the drummer, hiding behind the drum kit. How long is it now since Jay left MacNeil? Jay left a year and half ago. Did you buy MacNeil from him? When we started three of us owned it, now there’s just two owners. Jay now lives on the Sunshine Coast, up from Vancouver. He’s in the second year of a super high-end woodwork course. He makes epic furniture by hand. I’ve heard there was some reluctance for companies to adopt Pivotal and that reluctance was partly down to people having personal issues with Jay. Is there any truth in that? Possibly a few. Jay has had a rocky history with some people. I imagine some people didn’t want to support whatever he was doing. The reluctance was more because it was a MacNeil product. All the other designers thought it would be weird to put their branding on somebody else’s design. We had to talk to a lot of people and tell them this was going to be the new standard. We said to them, “You use seats with rails now, you didn’t design that system so why do you feel different about Pivotal?” We talked to some of the more influential companies, like Animal and WeThePeople. They were both companies who were very early to adopt the Pivotal system. How long did it take Pivotal to be adopted and become the industry standard? It was a really slow burn for the first year and half. It was just a battle to get people to look at it and really think about it. I put a pretty low royalty price on it because I didn’t want it to be ‘cost prohibitive’ for everybody. I like phrases like ‘cost prohibitive’, I did not know these phrases before Pivotal. I talked to many guys who were
‘speccing’ complete bikes and I had no idea of the slim margins involved in doing complete bikes. I chatted to factories to streamline it, to make it affordable and easy for the brands to get their artwork on it. I wanted to make it as easy and accessible as possible. Was there any frustration trying to get product made in Taiwan? Definitely. Developing every product is hard. The factories have a tendency of saying things are impossible. I have had a lot of different products where they [engineers in Taiwan] told me it was impossible. It can be really frustrating. Convincing the frame builders that slimmer 19mm OD seatstays and chainstays would be strong enough was a frustrating battle. They wanted me to sign a waiver. Were there any different materials you didn’t use because they were too expensive? Not really. We tried some glass-impregnated nylons but it didn’t do much but make it snap. I just told them [designers in Taiwan] to use the basic regular plastic and it’ll work. They said, “No, no it will never work.” I had to tell them I’d pay for all for the setting up of the machines and equipment if it didn’t work. They injected a few and it worked perfect. It was so BMX – I loved it. They couldn’t believe BMX stuff is so simple, they’re used to exotic road bike shit and where they make everything crazy. I told them, “Simple is better.” Was there a big investment at first? The patent and tooling for the injection moulds were really expensive. Do you get royalties from each seat? Yeah. We use that money to fund the team, do trips and put it back into MacNeil. A lot of product developments in BMX are descendent from other areas of cycling, yet the Pivotal is born and bred BMX. How does that feel? I think that’s what I’m most proud of. Now it’s going the other way. I’m seeing Pivotal seats on mountain bikes. I live near Whistler and a lot of the mountain bike dirt jump riders are starting to use it. What do you call those guys? 26” inch freestyle dudes? It’s getting adopted in that genre of biking. I’m working on some different stuff to get Pivotal into areas like road biking and X-country mountain biking. Will that bring money from those industries into BMX? That’s the game plan. The patent is vital then? Definitely. Do you remember the MacNeil sprocket with integrated bash guard? Of course, everyone had one. 23
Now you see that was the first product that me and Jay thought, “We should have patented that.” We released it and then at the next Interbike so many companies had them. That sucked. Is it true you couldn’t go to Interbike for years? I’ve been told a wild story why you couldn’t attend. It’s probably true… I couldn’t go for four or five years. In 1994 I was Chicago and I stole a cop car, and went to jail for a couple for a weeks. It was crazy. For years after that I’d been going back and forth between Canada and the states. But then 9/11 happened and the airports started checking a lot more carefully. On one trip I was flying down just for six hours to sign a patent. The officer at the border said, “Short trip?” I explained I just had to sign some paperwork and he looked at me and said, “Have you ever been arrested?” I was interviewed by the immigration guys, missed my flight and ended up just going home. That screwed up me getting over the border again for a few years. I hired a lawyer, spent a bunch of money and got it all straightened out and now I’m good. That’s what I heard… back to patents. So you learnt from that with the mistake you made with the sprocket? Yeah. We had to learn the hard way. Like everything in BMX, you fall down and you get up and try it again – you learn the hard way. Something that frustrated me is that when Pivotal came out everyone started concentrating on their seats. Before it was just rails and posts and that’s all it was, now people were trying loads of different combo’s… it was a little frustrating. There’s a lot of other parts to concentrate on.
Was there an element of secrecy on those early prototypes and designs? I made the guys in Taiwan sign a none disclosure agreement and I had the patent already in the works, so it didn’t matter if anyone saw it too much. But I did get the team guys to ride it but then take it off after the session. They tested it in our warehouse in private, and everyone would change their seats round before leaving. It was a little bit ninja, a little bit secret service for a while. I remember when they first came out they looked quite crude. Why did the early seats look so different, if not odd? That was a big miscalculation on my part. At first I wanted to make it look quite different from other seats. I wanted people to see a Pivotal in a picture or from 50ft away and be able to tell it was a Pivotal seat. I thought why does the nose have to be so long? So I made this little stubby seat. But people weren’t into the shape. We still sold a lot of them because it was Pivotal and it was new. Once we made it more of a standard drop nose styled seat it really caught on. Are there any companies left who don’t run Pivotal? I don’t think there’s any. Some still offer rails but also offer a Pivotal seat too. They’re everywhere. It’s really satisfying seeing that. I like it when my Dad or my brother who live in the middle of nowhere in Canada call me up to say, “I saw someone with one your seats today at Seven Eleven.” That feels great. Since the success of Pivotal have you been trying to find the next one? I think everyone wants to invent the next industry standard – it’s the quest for the Holy Grail. The next one is only round the corner.
Rise of the Tin Man James Cox recalls how Clint Reynolds was put through his paces after breaking his femur on the latest Bicycle Union roadtrip
In my editing studio at home I have a calendar with all my scheduled filming trips marked on it, each trip neatly coloured in with a highlighter and detailed with the team, location of the shoot and other such useful information over the dates in which the excursion takes place. I usually tend to mark these squares on the calendar as soon as I’m told about the trip in question, which can sometimes be months before the event. The result of this is that I can sometimes forget what I’ve got scheduled, so upon turning the page in my calendar from one month to the next, those little highlighted squares will jump out at me unexpectedly. This isn’t a big deal, us filmers travel a lot and packing a bag and getting to an airport at short notice isn’t anything to panic about. If anything, it’s usually a nice surprise – “Oh, I’m off to Spain next week, lovely stuff.” However, there is one exception – the annual Bicycle Union trip. This is the last trip you would ever want to creep up on you without warning, as inside those neatly coloured-in squares which indicate the dates of this particular trip, the only details would read: THERE WILL BE TERRIBLE DISASTERS AND STRESSFUL SITUATIONS ON SOME IF NOT
ALL OF THESE DAYS. Getting ready for this IS a big deal. It IS something to panic about. New items are added to my standard roadtrip inventory. Extra strength painkillers, arctic survival gear, super glue, GPS system, extra shoes. I pack with shaking hands. What will happen this time? The van will at some point be immobile on the side of the road, surrounded by tyre-kickers, that’s a given. We will find ourselves very lost every day. Rushmore will run out of weed and lose his marbles, again a given. Every night we will drive around until at least 3:00am looking for somewhere to sleep. All these events are standard, that’s what makes them Bicycle Union trips. It’s everything else I’m worried about. As I am readying to leave for the airport I mentally double-check my belongings. I feel prepared. Anxious, but prepared. At least I know it’s coming. The brightly coloured squares on my calendar gleam at me as I reach to turn off the light in the studio. “It’ll be fun!” they seem to giggle at me. “No it fucking won’t” I reply. It’s day two, or could it be day three? The late nights are blurring the lines between days. Either way, I know that we haven’t been away that long. Yeah, we’ve been
Words by JAMES COX Photography by JOHN DYE
lost a lot. Rushmore is in a foul mood with both his feet firmly on Planet Earth. I don’t think he’s been here for a while, he doesn’t seem to like it. I’ve realised that the chaotic nature of these trips is like a drug. Obviously not strong enough for Rushmore, but more than enough for me. I’m enjoying the unexpected, these Union trips aren’t as fraught with danger as I remembered. We’re smashing it, in the face of adversity. John Dye has learnt to ask for a black coffee in Spanish, things are on the up. Where’s the next spot? “You all right Clint?” No answer. “I’m going to need a hand getting him out of the bowl.” Clint had experienced some kind of malfunction jumping a hip. He’d put a foot out to save himself, but there was nothing there. He disappeared into the bowl as a fully functioning human, yet re-emerged completely and utterly immobile, as a result of what we later discovered to be a broken femur. Walking unaided was out of the question. We were literally having to carry him around, his arms round our shoulders, legs elevated from the ground. The scene reminded me of old war films, soldiers who’d stepped on mines being carried back to base camp. In the days to follow, he used an old wooden chair as a makeshift Zimmer frame. He’d lean over it, lift it up a few centimetres, lunge forward a few centimetres, repeat. It was painful to watch and must
have been not even a quarter of walking pace. Clint isn’t one to get downhearted, and he was doing a fine job of taking all of this in his (pathetically slow) stride, but I could tell that he was reaching breaking point. To be honest I was astounded that he hadn’t broken already, but that’s just the kind of guy Clint is. Then one day, by a stroke of luck uncharacteristic to a Union trip, I happened across a pair of dusty old crutches in an abandoned warehouse in Madrid. I presented them to Clint in the most ceremonious fashion I could. He beamed ear to ear as he hoisted himself up and gingerly let the crutches take the strain. “Rise of the tin man!” cackled John. Clint was now known only as Tin Man for the remaining days of the trip, dragging himself from spot to spot, in and out of the back of the van, not to sympathetic comments you may expect such as “Do you want anything Clint? How are you feeling Clint?” but to the constant shouting of “Caaaam on Tin Man!” We’d slid him under the van the day before to remove the spare tyre for us when we suffered a blowout – and somehow he was still smiling. So as you’ve probably gathered, Clint was put through the ultimate test of his nerve during that week in Spain, and although his femur couldn’t take the strain, his fighting spirit most certainly could. Get well soon Tin Man.
ADAM WASYLENKO WORKING IN A COALMINE
Here am I sitting writing in front of my comfortable coal fire. It is April but I still need a fire. Once a fortnight the coal cart drives up to the door and men in leather jerkins carry the coal indoors in stout sacks smelling of tar, and shoot it clanking into the coal-hole under the stairs. It is only very rarely, when I make a definite mental-effort, that I connect this coal with that far-off labour in the mines. It is just ‘coal’ — something that I have got to have; black stuff that arrives mysteriously from nowhere in particular, like manna except that you have to pay for it. You could quite easily drive a car right across the north of England and never once remember that hundreds of feet below the road you are on the miners are hacking at the coal. Yet in a sense it is the miners who are driving your car forward. Their lamplit world down there is as necessary to the daylight world above as the root is to the flower. — George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier Words by DANIEL BENSON Photos by DANIEL BENSON, JOE COX and WOZZY
eorge Orwell might’ve been commenting about a bygone era, when every power station in England ran on coal, yet even with our modern desire for ecological energy, eight of the UK’s power stations run on coal dug from the ground by men stooped in dark tunnels and chutes, covered in soot – men like Chesterfield’s Adam ‘Wozzy’ Wasylenko. From Essex to Northumberland, they help warm your house and light your homes and skateparks. It’s an archaic industry, one that has withered to almost nothing, yet last year Wozzy bagged himself a job in one of the eight remaining pits in the UK. Of all Wozzy’s jobs, which always have an obliquely bizarre element to them, they have in some way always suited his humble, unassuming and comical ways, yet this was by far the strangest by some degree. On days when we were out riding, Wozzy would tell stories of washing soot from naked miners backs in the showers, shoveling coal back onto belts for hours on end. Recounting tall tales of men who seemed to be locked in the mindset of the 70s and 80s oblivious to the changing world around them. The Albion sat down with Wozzy, a humble, comical character, whose deep Chesterfield accent only adds to the bizarre humour of these situations, on Boxing Day to talk about the interesting way in which he makes his living. If you’ve ever had the priviledge of meeting Wozzy, he doesn’t need any introduction. You’d never forget meeting him. But for those who haven’t, then picture a man with the posture of a Russian ballet dancer, the voice of a coal miner (obviously) and the humour of… Well nobody has the humour of Wozzy. He really is his own in that department. Albion: What’s your job title? Wozzy: My job is classed as ‘Run of the Mine Maintenance’ which means when the coal comes up from the face, it goes through a process of running along all these belts and cleaning machines that break the rock up and separate it from the coal. It’s a big area, and basically I’ve just got to maintain the coal coming up and going into the washing plant. Sometimes, if a belt breaks, you could be shoveling coal constantly for two or three hours, just to clear a shoot. It’s really physical. You can’t get a digger into some of the places. Down below they use water to keep the machines cool and the dust down, so sometimes the coal comes up like cement, all shitty. It’s a lot of precision welding too, to fix the machines. Before this I worked for a motorsport company and was taught how to weld. At first I didn’t know a starter motor from an alternator or owt like that, but I worked my way up and ended up being a support technician on all the rallies. Didn’t one of the lifts collapse when you first started? It didn’t happen in our mine, but one of the electricians in our area won’t go back underground now as a lift dropped in our mine, like it does in that Disneyland ride… The Twilight Zone, in Florida? Yeah, he was in a lift going down the mine and it did that once, but in another mine the cable snapped and the lift dropped half a mile… when they opened the door at the bottom the fella’s head was in his stomach. It looked like something from The Thing.You don’t hear much of that though, when you go in’t car park, there’s a sign saying ‘163 accident free days’. What happens when you’ve finished. Big communal showers? Yeah, ‘cause you get fuckin’ filthy with all the shit and dust. Is it weird? [laughs] You know already dun’t yer?! On first week you get in there’s a clean locker and a dirty locker. So you get your outside clothes off and put’em in the clean locker and take your towel through to the mucky locker. You get
your mucky jeans on and your overalls… You go to work and you come back, take all the mucky stuff off and put it back in the locker. You get your clean towel and go to the showers. When you get int’ showers, everyone seems to have their own. It’s like a five a side football pitch of showers and I pick this one in’t corner. I pick one against a wall, with this little wall that sticks out... Like a urinal? Nah, not really, it’s a sackable offence if you get caught pissing int’ showers. You get ‘em coming up from underground and they’ve got these flasks with teabags and ice and bits of orange and they sling em on’t floor of the showers. I wear these flip flops and I’m slippin’ about on these ice cubes and teabags. Its reet fucking filthy… Good shower though, nice and warm and everything. So on this first week I’m still a bit timid about the showers and I’ve got this corner away from everyone else. It were about the fifth day in and this hand came out of nowhere and goes ‘oreeet, will yer just wash mi back down?’ So this fella hands me his sponge wi’ shower gel on it and he turns round, and he’s a big bloke with a Sheffield United tattoo all over his back and an England flag on his arm, he’s like ‘just rub us down.’ So I’m there, latherin’ this naked man down. He goes, ‘am a mucky?’ And I go, ‘moreso on yer neck’ [laughs]. So, he’s done and he goes ‘do you want doin’?’ And I say, ‘nah I think I’m alright.’ He goes ‘turn round lad’ and I end up getting mi’ back washed. But they’ll be in a line of five blokes, just doing each other’s backs in these showers, then one in front will go t’back to get his back done. But there’s nowt gay at all about the showers. Do they all treat you as the young kid? I’m all right as there’s some younger lads who’ve started now. There’s a lot of old fellas there so they need to get some younger lads in. I’ve been all right though, because these older blokes have noticed who the idle bastards are and who wants to work, and I’ve got good shifts. They had this sayin’, ‘oh so and so? I wouldn’t show him a blackie’s nest.’
“ ONE BLOKE,
HE’S ABOUT 55 BUT LOOKS 75. HONESTLY, HE LOOKS LIKE STEPTOE
A blackbird’s nest? Yeah, but I didn’t realise that. So I was like, ‘what does that mean, you been racist?’ And he were like ‘No, it means he wouldn’t show him a blackbird’s nest, it means who’ll speak to who, who’ll spread shit and who you’ve got to watch out for’ and they were like ‘Adam’s alright, we’d show him a blackie’s nest.’ So I’ll get good overtime and all that… Thing with working there is, the money is good. I’d like to do a few more things, but it pays that well it’s speeding up the process of me being able to buy a house and settle down. I never thought working down a mine would be really good money. Half of the money is just because it’s a shite place to work. You get mucky, you’re underground. Some of them have been there since they were 16, so they don’t know any different. Some of ‘em are quite narrow minded. They’ll work 12 hour days seven days a week and maybe go fishing on a day off, just because that’s all they know what to do, which is fair enough but… there’s more to life than working. I don’t work underground, that’s where the big money is. You go into the carpark and you see Mercs and Porsches and they’re not the managers’ cars, they’re the blokes who work on the face. But that’s the shittest job really, the machines are hazardous, it’s dusty and noisy. How come they get so much money? Well if they don’t get the coal, nobody else gets paid. Is there still a Union? Yeah, if someone has a problem you’ll go to the NUM [National Union of Miners]. They’ll be like ‘We’ll only work a Saturday if you give us all £1,500 for the shift.’ Surely that’s good for you too though? It is, but our bonus on the surface goes on how much coal we wash, power stations need coal that’s the right grade. We have to set so much tonnage through and wash it and nobody wants to work a Saturday night, but the mine will offer you more to go in. If they’re underground sending coal up, they need someone to make sure that coal comes up. I’m like the middleman. I thought the UK imported its coal anyway? They do, from China, Poland and Russia, but there’s still a few here that are open and there are power stations here that prefer to use our coal as the grade and quality of it is better than the stuff we import. It burns at a better temperature in the power stations. Our lab guy who tests the coal, took some samples from some Polish coal and he said it’s like putting in fireworks. Our stuff burns better and longer. Do you always look like you have eyeliner on, with the coal dust? Oh that… Even if I go int’ shower, go home, have another shower and go out, mi mates like ‘what’s wi guyliner on mate? Goth night mate? Marylin Manson?’ I’ll look in’t mirror and I’ve still got this dust that goes round mi’ eyelashes, you might have seen it… Yeah my Granddad had it… It’s a bastard to get off. ‘Bit of guyliner mate?’ That must be funny when all those fellas come up and go off in their sportscars, looking like their wearing eye makeup? Yeah, you laugh about it, then you get in’t car and go to look in the mirror and your like ‘bastard eyeliner again!’ I’ve got the shittest car in the carpark. Some new kid came for his medical and I overheard him going ‘All this money you get working here and I have to park next to that heap of shite Volkswagen’ and I’m like ‘White one mate? That’s mine.’ And he goes ‘Well if it gets you from A to B.’ He’s got the gift of the gab though. What do the rest of the blokes think of him? Does that get you anywhere? I don’t know, a lot of the blokes call him Gobshite. [laughs] There’s some right nicknames. There’s two fitters call Smash and Grab. Two blokes who walk without lifting their feet up so they’re called the Shuffle Brothers. If you work Friday night, someone will order a curry. So one of the lads will take the Bobcat and drive down to the security gates to collect it. Stick it all in the bucket and drive it back. One day it came back, its all numbered, 1, 2, 26, 7 and foreman got his and he’s like ‘Fuck’s sake, why’s curry all over the bag?’ And this fella who picked it up goes ‘Sorry mate, hit a pothole in’t Bobcat.’
Curry’s come out of the Bobcat bucket, all over the rest. He had a reet soggy nan bread. He goes, ‘Fuck sake, you’re not driving again.’ Do they know know you ride bikes? Erm, sort of. They’ll ask what I’m doing on my day off and I’ll say I’m going out on my bike and they’ll go ‘In the woods?’ And I’ll go ‘Sort of.’ I’ve said to some, but I don’t think many of them would know what BMX is. That’s the thing though, you come back from work and you’re knackered, so you can’t be bollocked to ride. I’m still passionate about BMX, if I can’t ride, I’ll be searching for spots on Google Earth. I don’t keep up with current trends in riding, all the new lingo, it’s a nice social thing, to get out and ride with my mates. If it’s going to be nice I won’t put down for overtime. How much notice do you have to give? There’s a board in the office that you put your name down on, so I’ll go ‘I’ll come in on my day off, on Wednesday and do six till six.’ Like I said before, it’s easy to slip into doing loads of overtime because the money is good… It’d be interesting to be a fly on the wall there… I’m not exactly great at English, but I saw two blokes go up to the overtime board and go to put their over-
time down, stop and go ‘How do you spell twelve?’ And the other guy pauses, then goes ‘Just write the numbers down instead.’ There’s one bloke, he’s about 55 but looks 75. Honestly, he looks like Steptoe. He’s always doing stuff, dead fast too. We call him Superwellies. In knee high slop, just shoveling for hours, hosing stuff down in the freezing cold. He’s got two daughters, both pregnant, no jobs, and if he’s not working he’s just taxiing them around in his people carrier, to the shops, round mates. He doesn’t come to work for the money, he comes to get away from his family life. There’s a few like that, all they do is work. They just try and escape it all. Hopefully you won’t end up like that? Nah, I’m the opposite. The good thing about something like riding is that it broadens your horizons. Do they know you’ve traveled around the world? Some do, but sometimes I’ll mention I’ve been to Japan and they’ll go ‘Look at Phileas Fogg here?! Old Michael Palin here.’ You get a lot of holiday here, just because of all the overtime and that, but you’ll get fellas who’ll rack up 200 hours of holiday and it gets near to March and they’ll be like ‘What am I meant to do with that?’ I’d be off like a flash somewhere new.
Photo: Tristan Afre
TREY JONES SEVENTIES.CO.UK THESHADOWCONSPIRACY.COM
FACEBOOK – HTTP://ON.FB.ME/SHADOWBMX
PAPER TRAIL A HISTORY OF BMX MAGAZINES IN THE UK. 1981 TO THE PRESENT DAY
The history of BMX magazines doesn’t always make for a comfortable read. There are tales of feuds, bankruptcy, shortcomings, bad decisions and shady deals. For such a small island, countless magazines have tried to document the fluctuating popularity of BMX since it first hit these shores in the early ‘80s. Some succeeded and continue to this day, but the majority fell to the wayside. It’s sobering from my position, to be faced with a fact like this, only a year into making this very magazine, but lessons can be learnt from studying the perils that countless editors, designers and photographers have faced over the past 30 years. BMXers are hungry consumers. Driven by an unyielding passion, we lap up photos and stories. They become mile-markers in our lives, as we grow up, we carry these like mental bullet-points. They shape the riders we become and the adults we grow into. Magazines have, and always will, provide a potent stage on which to showcase our passions. Images teamed with words provide an insight that video and other mediums can often miss. Yet equally, the passion and commitment the magazines are documenting are subject to the same feelings. Magazines, no matter how big they become, or how long they last, will always be a labour of love. Being a journalist in BMX is one of the only ways (other than starting a company or becoming a professional rider) that you can make a living in this industry. Yet in comparison to other industries, the earnings are miniscule. You really have to love this game, money isn’t and can’t be the defining goal in the operation. Over the following pages, we chart the unsteady path of fifteen UK magazines, from 1981 up until the present day, speaking to the people who staked their claim and tried to make a difference in the fickle and engrossing world of BMX.
Words and photography by DANIEL BENSON and BILLY BLAKE
Official BMX Feb 1981 - July 1981 Frequency - Monthly The UK’s first BMX only magazine by a matter of months, Official BMX was one of those “could be” magazines fortunate enough to have some serious names behind it to get it out there and make it happen. Without three or four key people OBMX would never have had the impact it did when it did in the UK, and that’s nothing to do with magazines at all, but they saw the need for a mag for the kids as essential to their message. Certain people wanted it to work, people in the right places, people who had been planning the nationalized marketing of this exciting new kids sport that just looked like a whole lot of fun. Richard Grant, the Editor of OBMX explains the machinations of the people involved in setting the stage, it was a serious business, tracks had to be built nationwide, an organization had to be created, PR needed to be addressed and it would take these people and their army of unpaid supporters three years of planning before BMX was ready to be rolled out to kids all over the UK and the last essential part of the plan was to make sure the first issue of Official BMX rolled off the printing presses without so much of a hitch. The magazine was the last in a long line of goals that had been set and defined by Messrs Rushton, Wiles, Jarvis, Duffield, Grant and Thomas. When OBMX came out, BMX finally had a chance to showcase its rising stars and the scene that they were taken by and influenced by, OBMX was a UK mag that tempted and teased every rider to “Get Rad”. Then it went bust because there weren’t enough people to support it with ad revenue….. but whilst it was here, it was the mag to have. BMX News April 1981 - July 1981 Frequency - Weekly BMX News had encountered a fairly traditional and predictable conception in terms of the path from which issue one appeared in April of 1981. It came bathed in coloured inks and rolled from the presses of Lancaster publisher Morecambe press who had with the help of a gentleman called Bill Lawless had created in 1977 a hugely successful weekly news rag called Trials and Motocross News of which Bill was the editor. It was the offroad bible for the UK scene and now, four years after T+MX News came the first pre production issue of BMX News, again thanks to Bill who had the previous summer been on a fact finding mission to the US to find new publishing ideas for the group. The paper was for the most part given out at schoolboy MX races, the perfect demographic for it at the time as it co-incided with the UK release of the Cult Classic Offroad Motorcycle Movie “On any Sunday” which featured BMX alongside Steve McQueen. It was a taster to see if they could make a go of doing a BMX mag on a regular basis. Fellow Northerner Alan woods was one of the first people to get the mag and he was also an ardent supporter too, he was both motocrosser and BMX distributor at the tender age of 16 importing the Torker and Robinson brands. Bright to the workings of the publishing business Bill knew there was an opportunity and gap in the market for a weekly that reported on all the race and trials events going on all over the UK and also feature World Championship events too. Coupled with a small but eager team the paper was an instant success. This growth coincided perfectly with a recently passed law that now allowed schoolboys to ride motocross and trials bikes for fun therefore creating a huge new business model for the emerging Japanese motorcycle industry. On reflection now Bill says BMX news was too early to be able to work as a business. And like a lot of things with hindsight of course publishing a weekly BMX paper was probably not what BMX in UK needed at such an early stage. Despite reasonable sales for the first 15 issues there really was no big industry as such to support it, apart from a few distros Like Alans and a few others to back up the content with ad revenue and because of this the paper struggled to make any money. Bill and Morecambe had to pull the plug on BMX News after 4 Months and 15 issues worth of content which consisted for the most part of races from the North of the UK and some bike test and colour pics from the USA. The Uk’s first real magazine had hit the skids… Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be the first. But there was, like all good ideas, a lifeline and passing of the proverbial Baton. it came in the guise of a family mad on BMX - the Higginsons. 38
1. BMX Weekly - Issue 4 1984 2. BMX Bi Weekly - Vol: 4 Issue 15 3. BMX Weekly spread - August 1981
BMX Weekly / Bi-Weekly BMX Weekly - August 1981 - 1983 BMX Bi Weekly - 1983 - 1985 Whilst Bill Lawless’ vision might not have stretched far enough into the future to see BMX News really take off, Martin Higginson certainly had enough scope to predict that BMX would blossom into a profitable business venture in the near future. Higginson had persuaded Lawless to set up BMX News but after 15 issues Lawless was called into the office at Morecambe press and was told “the mags making no money and you’re out of a job.” Higginson went home with his cap in hand and asked his Dad if he could borrow some cash. His Dad obliged and BMX Weekly was born, with brother Nigel as the photographer and a caravan on the driveway to serve as a makeshift office. Only one year later the weekly newspaper had gone bi weekly, with a glossy full colour cover and a first issue print run of 10k. Circulation for the fortnightly was soon however in excess of 100k and as the BMX boom continued to grow it wasn’t long before they launched Freestyle BMX and the circulation of that quickly reached 50k. Times were good for the Higginsons and Crawley based media empire IPC were looking for mags to buy. The Higginsons sold up and in turn made a tidy six figure sum. Ironically IPC couldn’t get to grips with the new title and in a deal that was done between Martin and IPC he ended up with the titles again, only this time with a harder task - to counter the decline in BMX that was a couple of years away. BMX was about to go underground. Higginson, however had other plans and after he sold his titles to Peter Noble (father of Invert and Ride brothers, Mark and Chris Noble) so he could set his sons up with jobs in the sport that they loved, martin quickly moved on, setting himself up by starting and selling some other publications and going on to make a real name for himself in the far larger pond of real life, making millions in the mobile phone and entertainment industries.
BMX ACTION BIKE 1982 - 1984 Frequency - Bi Monthly BMX Action Bike, it again was a bi monthly BMX mag and featured primarily UK content with quality US contributions too, if you were under the age of 15 you would probably have read it from cover to cover. If you were over 15 you’d have been reading the NME and listening to Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Human League, but if you were nipper it was streets ahead of BMX Bi Weekly in terms of its content and it really did try to look at the bigger picture. Unfortunatly it was run by a couple of blokes who looked like they went to grammar school , smoked pot and should be running a mag on amateur electronics not BMX. They tucked their corduroy trousers into their socks when the rode, and neither could ride a BMX bike to save their life. They needed a front man who could talk to the kids and James Black was the first one they got on board as their go-to guy for what was happening. They also had two good photographers in Richard Francis and Tim Leighton Boyce who were both nice fellas and took pretty good photos. It worked for two years and for the majority of young teens at the time was, along with BMX Bi weekly, all they needed to belong to the world of BMX. Then when the BMX industry cash cow dried up and fell over in ‘85 it, like all mags, died a death and was reborn only to make a sinister survival pact with the devil. Now, just like BMX Bi Weekly who were running into financials themselves, they decided to restructure and learn how to survive in a market where ad revenues from the bike industry were shrinking to an almost non existent level. For one man the temptation was too great, seeing BMX sliding into the wall that skateboarding had previously hit, 30 year old skateboard die hard Tim Leighton Boyce saw an opportunity: get the mag for a song from his friend and previous employer and re introduce skateboarding to a new readership and use BMX to help that happen. . . change the name of the mag, use the young but talented Nick Philip to design the mag and here’s comes Rad…
RAD 1987 - 1993 Frequency - Monthly. (BMX only appeared within the first six months) BMX as a viable pay as you go business hit a wall in the late eighties, 85’ was the year they were playing the death march, 86’ and it was all but buried. Freestyle was finally ditching the Craig Campbell race clothing era of full face helmets and goggles on visors and stupid hopping tricks and a new unfamiliar wind was blowing, however BMX hadn’t reached a point where it was fully fledged as an art form. Skateboarding however, was in its assurgency and when BMX Action Bike became RAD in 1987, its editor Nick Phillips and partisan skate/reluctant BMX photographer Tim Leighton-Boyce, were keen to ditch BMX as it slipped into the doldrums. After six months BMX was out, but RAD continued until 1993, where it eventually merged and became Sidewalk Surfer magazine.
PAPER TRAILS 1985 BMX Bi Weekly merges with Freestyle.
1983 BMX Weekly becomes BMX Bi Weekly.
April 1981 BMX News launches.
BMX Bi Weekly sales peak at 100k.
1985 IPC Media buy Higginson’s BMX Freestyle and BMX Bi Weekly for around £800k.
1988 UKBFA buy BMX Freestyle and employ Mark Noble as editor.
1992 Mark and Chris 2005 Noble relaunch 4130 purchase 50% of DIG. Invert as Ride UK and start 4130 publishing.
a. August 1981 Martin Higginson launches BMX Weekly.
1984 Martin Higginson launches BMX Freestyle.
April 1982 BMX Action Bike Magazine launches.
Under IPC Media BMX Freestyle and BMX Bi Weekly fail. Higginson buys back titles for cheap.
1989 Freestyle relaunches as Invert.
4130 grows, publishing seven titles in total.
2006 Factory Media purchase 4130, and continue to publish Ride UK and Dig.
1993 Rad Magazines folds.
b. February 1981 BMX Official Magazine launches.
1987 BMX Action Bike Magazine relaunches as Rad Magazine, featuring BMX and skateboarding.
1995 Sidewalk Surfer Magazine launches to become the UK’s only skateboard title, employing former Rad staff.
(a) A time line representing the sequence of events leading to the creation of Ride UK magazine. (b) How the UK’s first BMX magazine evolved into Sidewalk Surfer Skateboard magazine.
James Hudson - Editor and Publisher - 1991 to 1992 BMX Now 1991 - 1992 Frequency - Quarterly BMX Now only lasted six issues during the early 90s. It was a time when BMX was at a low, yet James Hudson, the magazines editor, was confident that even in austere times, BMXers would support a magazine documenting a largely unseen Northern scene. BMX Now was important for a number of reasons, it was the first ‘challenge’ against the growing popularity of Invert (and subsequently Ride UK) and also where a young Will Smyth cut his teeth before amicably moving ont o start Dig in 1993. Sadly, BMX Now proved to be too much of burden on James Hudson, so laden with debt in 1992 James called it a day and bowed out of the UK BMX magazine industry. Albion: How did you come to be the editor at BMX Now? James: At the time I was a professional BMXer but had also recently been the editor of a skate magazine for about six months right after I finished riding my bike in the circus. When the skate mag was closed down by the publisher he suggested I should start my own magazine. What made you want to make a BMX magazine at that time? There was just one BMX mag at the time called Invert and many of us felt it was not really representative of the whole UK scene. It was based on the south coast and also had relationships with some riders/teams/sponsors/politics that people often felt were over-represented in the magazine. I definitely felt that there was room for another voice and other riders and companies agreed. The intention was never to take over or compete with what Invert did, but just have another angle and show other scenes. RAD (formerly BMX Action Bike) did occasionally have some bike stuff in but they’d become a really full on skate magazine by then. Did you feel that BMX was coming out of a slump in the early 90s and you saw an opportunity to create a magazine that could grow as BMX grew? Not at all. I never really saw the national scene in a ‘financial market’ way because I was personally into BMX in such a complete way for so many years that I did not care if it was growing or declining nationally. Shops and companies would sometimes tell me things were getting better or worse but it didn’t really affect me in my decision to start a magazine. The scene was really small at the time and interesting stuff was happening with half pipes and street but I never felt it was going to grow into something massive. I still cannot believe it has. I’m really glad to have been there at the start though. What connection did Will [Smyth] have to BMX Now? Did you start it together? Will had contributed to some of the earlier issues and as things started to get really difficult for me we talked about Will basically being the editor and supplying all the content for the next issue, but it never got that far because I had debts and had to stop publishing. Did that prompt Will to start Dig magazine? Where did this leave you? I’m sure Will had thought about making his own mag for a while, but when I called it a day with BMX Now he basically took all the content he had been working on and that formed most of issue one of Dig. I was really happy for him and he did a really good job but by the time Dig came out my BMX ‘career’ was really in decline after so many really intense years. You mentioned earlier that Invert was the main UK BMX magazine, with the Nobles switching titles to Ride around 1992. What was your relationship with them? With 4130 growing into a successful publishing company, was that hard to compete against? There was a bit of bad feeling between us for sure but that was never the motivation for me starting the magazine. I do remember Mr Noble Snr once telling me not to contribute photographs and articles to RAD Magazine and I thought that was a bit odd. After I won the first KOV [King of Vert] half pipe contest at Portsmouth - they recounted the scores about four times - I got virtually no coverage in the magazine, I kind of realised that we maybe did not see eye to eye. Some of the Invert sponsored riders said in the mag that the judging was a joke and I should never have won…. Simon Tabron did come up to me about ten years later and basically said sorry and that he had recently watched the contest on video again and thought I got treated pretty unfairly at the time. ‘Good on you, Simon’ I thought. Apologies like that don’t happen very often. One of the things I seem to remember about the switch from Invert to Ride and the setting up of 4130 was that it seemed to me that the old 42
company, Moore & Noble I think it was called, that then changed to Noble & Moore or something like that, had gone bust, probably owing money to printers etc, but some of the assets of the magazine, i.e its advertising contacts, its history, distribution, computers & software etc, got ‘transferred’ to 4130. This was years ago now, so I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember something seemed a bit dodgy at the time, I think it is called ‘Phoenixing’ in the business world. What were the main difficulties in putting out the magazine? The main problem was that I was riding in all the competitions I was meant to be covering for the magazine, that got kind of ridiculous. Also, I soon found out why Invert would use riders who were local to the south coast for articles in the magazine: because it was quick and cheap! So I had to start doing that as well but it didn’t matter, at least riders in the midlands and north got some more coverage. Financially though, we were screwed from before issue one even hit the streets. Because we were a new magazine, most of the UK newsagents decided to order loads of copies of the first issue to see if it sold, on sale or return of course. So I had to print 25,000 copies of the first issue. I had heard Invert was selling about 3-4000 copies at the time and was hoping to print about five thousand copies and sell about the same number as Invert. I thought that as the BMX scene was so small and had a hardcore following most riders would be happy to buy both magazines and especially as the content was not going to overlap very much. So the initial investment in print on the first few issues was massive for me and it was months and months before all the returned issues were counted back in and I got paid. I think we did actually sell about 3000 copies of the first issue but by then the cash flow was fucked, I couldn’t afford to print the mag in colour and it was doomed. What do you think you brought to the table with BMX Now? Not a lot; I wasn’t a good writer and I can’t spell. Also, I hated selling advertising, which is what publishing is all about if you want to make any money. I learnt a bit about magazine distribution and how to use Quark Express... And for a little while there was a good feeling about what I was doing, but it was never sustainable. I would like to think I helped Will in some way but he was always going to do something really good with or without me. The best thing was traveling to the places where no magazine had ever been before and photographing riders who were just keeping their scene alive even though BMX was really untrendy and basically dead as a market. There was a guy called Taz I think, from Birmingham, who nobody had ever heard of who got 8ft out of a 6ft high metal mini ramp in Birmingham when I turned up, that was just ace and made it all worth it. Those guys were just so stoked I had bothered to come and couldn’t believe they were going to be in a magazine. Any final comments, closing statements? It’s been quite nice finally writing some of this down. Seems like a lifetime away now… Mike Netley - Editor and Publisher - 2009 to present Case BMX Magazine 2009 - Present Frequency - Quarterly In 2009 Mike Netley launched Case Magazine. Its inception caused a furore with its ‘free’ price tag and its defiantly independent stance. Mike taught himself everything from scratch, from design, distribution, selling adverts and publishing the magazine from his own pocket, it truly is a labour of love. In many ways Case proved that the ‘free’ price tag was a viable option for The Albion and other ‘extreme’ sports magazines in the future. Albion: What prompted you to start Case? Mike: I think it came down to wanting to do more than I was doing. Just contributing? It was like, Ride UK had its main dudes, yourself, Banners and Beddows, and that’s where I wanted to be. Then it had a handful of guys who were just occasional contributors, like myself, Joe Cox, Will Jones, Kung, etc. I always wanted to do more but it seemed like there was never really the opportunity. So you felt like you couldn’t get a foot in the door? That’s exactly it. But like, it’s partly my fault because I never really pushed myself. I have always worked full time, since I was 17, so time was always an issue. It’s a big jump to setting up Case on your own. It wasn’t as big as you’d think. Well, it would’ve been if I had of done it properly [laughs]. 43
Was there any bad feeling when you decided, ‘right, I’m going to do this on my own.’ No bad feeling whatsoever. Banners even went as far as to say, “I’d love to help you out” but at the time, he was with Factory Media and they probably would’ve sacked him. [laughs] Banners moonlighting under a pseudonym at Case, I would’ve liked to have seen that. I’ll tell you what’s funny, I sent one email to Stu [Dawkins] and Ian [Morris] one morning around 11am, basically telling them I was planning on starting a magazine, within the hour I had a phone call from Banners saying “What’s this I hear about you starting a mag?” Banners wasn’t pissed or anything, I guess he just wanted to find out a bit more. So was it all self financed? 100%. Early on in ‘09 I decided I was going to do it. I put £500 aside for seven months and that, along with the small amount of advertising from issue one, is what funded it….Then I got a bank loan [laughs]. Can I ask how much it cost, that first issue? £5000 for 5000 copies. Did you make enough back? Dude, I haven’t made a single penny from any of this. I was broke after issue three. Issue one was 3/4 funded by me, the second issue was about half and half, the third issue was a few hundred quid off. You worked full-time right through all this as well? Yeah man, 40-45 hours a week. All on my own too. Nine till five at a camera shop, seven until midnight doing the mag, five or six days a week. What were the main struggles putting it out there, other than money and time? Well, time wasn’t an issue, because I wanted to do it. Basically money; money from advertisers, money for trips, money to travel to shoot photos etc etc. Mother fucking money… Hate the stuff. Obviously it’s a labour of love, but did you feel that it’s what BMX needed? For starters, you championed the ‘free’ model in the UK for BMX mags. At the time I didn’t think about it. I was thinking of putting a cover price on it, but after speaking with Mark Noble and taking some advice I went down the free route and yeah, I think BMX definitely needed something new. And the free aspect I think just made it that much more appealing. Are you glad you stuck with the free idea? 100%. You only need to look at Vice, and the handful of newspapers at the time that were changing, to realize that people love free shit. It was quite a good sales pitch for advertising too. My only downside, and the reason I didn’t get as much advertising in the beginning as I had hoped, was because I didn’t have the money to print a super large number of copies, but everyone loved the free idea. It’s funny, people thought it was going to lack in quality, but the paper used on issue was amazing, too good perhaps. The size too, its a big magazine. The thing I wanted with Case was an emphasis on big photos. I used to look at Ride and Dig and I hated how small some of the pictures were printed. No offense, but even with The Albion, I look at the tiny pictures and think ‘what’s the point?’ Not having a moan, just my opinion. I think pictures look so much better full size. You guys are good with picture size for the most part; it’s hard from a design point of view too, especially when you have a lot of text and stuff. 44
Backtracking a bit, you said that advertisers wanted a distribution of more than 5000 copies, or something along those lines? Yeah, they wanted me to be printing more copies than Ride or Dig for them to jump ship, which I totally get, it’s kind of common sense, although with Case being free it meant I could guarantee every copy would end up in the hands of a BMXer. Something the others can’t, that was part of it anyways. I guess some of the advertisers felt loyal to Ride and Dig where they had been around for so long… Actually, only Stu and Colin [at Seventies] said that [laughs]. Right, two more questions. Firstly, what have been your mistakes and regrets with Case, if any? And what do you think you’ve achieved and brought to the table with the magazine? Regret is a strong word… [laughs]. Errors of judgment? Is that better? Erm, I would’ve preferred to have had a designer on board from day one. I think that set me back a fair bit. It’s not really anyone’s fault, but I think a key part as to why The Albion is so successful, is because you’re all very friendly with the main UK distros and have known them for years. I basically went into meetings with those guys having never met them, all I had was a cool idea. I think that’s why they were a bit reluctant to fully back the magazine. Other than that, basically, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Certain people took things a little too seriously, like spelling mistakes, photo choice etc etc. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t even of bothered… I dunno man, some days I wake up and think, ‘yeah, Case is fucking rad’, other days I think ‘what was the point in even starting it?’ I’ve had a headache and been skint for two and a half years. Then I look at what I’ve accomplished and it’s cool. Like, how many people on this planet can say they’ve made seven magazines? Not many. As for what I’ve brought to the table… I suppose I was responsible for the first free ‘extreme’ sports magazine to the market… I’m pretty sure I was anyway. Obviously there are you guys. I don’t think you would be here today if it wasn’t for Case, although I don’t know for certain [laughs]. Tim [March] can say he’s had the free BMX mag idea for years all he wants but I went and did it and that in itself I’m proud about. I don’t think the ‘free’ idea was anyone’s to claim, but you went out and did it, like you said. I am honestly a huge huge fan of The Albion, I can see a pristine copy of every issue on my shelf from where I’m sat. I’m in Pijin on the first of every other month to get it and I sit and read it in the shop, but yeah, there is a part of me that thinks you guys looked at Case and perhaps thought, ‘how can we do this better?’ I don’t blame you for that, I would’ve done the exact same [laughs]. I’m not bitter in the slightest, but I do wish I had a crew of five talented guys with years of experience on my side from day one. I think it showed us to a certain degree that the free model could work. I think we were always going to make a mag. We weren’t really happy where we were, like you weren’t. That’s exactly it, I don’t think for a second you guys thought ‘let’s show this prick how it’s done’ [laughs]. I can 100% assure you that’s not what we thought. Right, anything else to add? Yeah, when/if I stop doing Case, can I send you guys pieces? Deal. Ups and downs, smiles and frowns, my man.
BMX Biker Monthly 1983 - 1985 Frequency - Monthly In an already stacked marketplace this appeared in ‘83 and tried to compete with three other titles in the same period without bringing anything different to the table, and what it did was cold and undercooked. After seven issues it dropped the Monthly tag and then five issues spread out that take it up to ‘85. It nosedives into the deep and is never seen again, it wasn’t missed. BMX Racer and Freestyle 1984 - 1986 Frequency - Monthly A nice crew ran this mag and if they hadn’t have had to compete with the two established titles, BMX Bi Weekly and Action Bike – who got their footholds on the industries cash back in ’81 – then it would have stood a chance to shine a little brighter than it will be remembered for. Ad revenue was hard to come by but for two good years this mag stood toe to toe with the other two and punched well above its weight. Editorially it was a family do. The football journalist Dad Dave Spurdens was editor with his son David taking the photographs, which were a lot better than most, their youngest son Billy raced too, it was a real family affair and Dave had the sports journalist experience that at times cut through the sea of bland images that sometimes filled the other mags. . BMX Rider 2002 -2004 Frequency - Monthly Whilst Dig and Ride were in their ascendency and at the behest of Freestyle Publishing’s self made media mogul Mark Nuttall, BMX Rider set its stall out in a no nonsense fashion. Mark had figured out that there was a mint to be made out of BMX and he assembled a team of contributors he thought could deliver the goods and divert money from Ride and Dig’s pockets and into his own. How wrong he was, on many levels, but this dark cloud did have a silver lining. There are only so many articles you can put in one mag and if you were a freelance BMX contributor/writer/photographer at this time your work would’ve more than likely ended up in one of Mark Nobles alphabetical and hermetically sealed contributor boxes at Ride or if you were very lucky you knew the magic three armed handshake at Dig. So when a new mag comes out it’s a freelance-free-for-all to get to the desk of the new editor ASAP. In a word, it means cash. BMX Rider would publish the content that Ride and Dig didn’t have space for, or simply wasn’t good enough to cut it, but no one likes telling people that so best just keep quiet and say nothing. Freestyle Publications published it for two years with little or no support from the industry and Redditch BMX track man of the moment and an all round OK fella Steve Rooke was the first editor. One interesting thing came from this though. A certain Mr Rich Moore was a contributor and produced such a huge amount of content that his monthly paychecks were rather staggering at the worst of time and blinding at the best. What did he do with his new found wealth? Start up The Source BMX shop. No BMX Rider, no Source. So we do have that to thank them for, as well as draining the bank balance of Nuttall by a considerable amount over a 24 month period. Boys Toys and Koi Carp are still going though…. BMX Grind 1996 (one issue) Frequency - N/A A magazine put out in ‘96 by MBUK publisher Future Media. Tym Manley was the editor and it was quite terrible, no matter whose standards you care to judge it by. The editor knew nothing about BMX but that didn’t deter the accountants at Future. They saw BMX growing and wanted some of the ad revenue action that they saw Ride getting down the road in Dorchester. They did however have some smarts and went straight to Seventies for help on how to get into BMX. The word from Seventies was that at the time Ride wasn’t really that great. Dig was fledgling and they saw the possibility of a big cash rich publisher being able to do something on a far grander scale for BMX. They put their might behind it for issue one, something they probably now look back on and have a good laugh about. The cover was one of the worst we’ve ever seen, but this wasn’t so clear for Manley, who was heard telling Paul Bliss that Grind’s cover design was just what the kids were crying out for, Bliss allegedly replied, “Well you’re right about the crying bit.” Future still publish Simply Knitting, Cross Stitch and of course MBUK. Manley is now editor at Privateer MTB magazine. 45
Brian Tunney - Managing Editor - 2003 to 2009 Dig 1993 - Present Frequency - Bi Monthly Dig was always going to be a successful magazine. Will Smyth, Dig’s lifelong editor, can mix the perfect blend of cutting edge riding, razor sharp wit and most importantly, a window into the lifestyles of the coolest pros around. It was the magazine journalists wanted to work for and riders wanted to be in.Yet even though Dig has always been held in high regard by BMXers around the world, getting the magazine published hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In 2005 Mark Noble and 4130 helped save the magazine from folding, it was an unlikely partnership but one which showed that even in an industry where the two were essentially in competition, it showed that there could still be a level of solidarity between BMXers that I doubt you’d find in other industries. Getting people to talk about Dig was like getting blood from a stone. I’m not sure if people thought we were trying to open a can of proverbial worms or talk about an elephant that walked into the room, but this was never our intention. Luckily Brian Tunney, Dig’s managing editor between 2003 until 2009, stepped up and recalled stories of the often tumultuous and enduring journey that one of BMX’s most loved and acclaimed magazine has taken over the past 19 years. Albion: So, what was your role at Dig? Brian: It honestly started out as just a contributor thing. I had seen Dig before I did anything for them and was floored at the fact that it had bands like Kerosene 454 and Chisel in it alongside Brian Foster on the cover. I hate to use the analogy, but it became my new Freestylin’. From there, Will asked me to start writing a flatland news column, similar to what Effraim Catlow did in Ride UK at the time. From there, it eventually grew into managing editor for a few years. What year was that, when you first started getting involved? 1997. Were you aware of the reasoning for Dig starting up in the first place? Back in 1993? No, I wasn’t. I really just thought it was something Will and company did in their spare time because they wanted to portray BMX as they saw it. I really didn’t know about Will’s past with James Hudson and the other mags. 1992 was probably the darkest time ever in the history of BMX mags… Yeah, it wasn’t great. I spoke to James [Hudson] today actually, about BMX Now and how that folded. It was a tough time, The Nobles and 4130 were becoming established, it seemed like Will knew that to make this work, he almost needed to pitch himself against Ride? I can’t really say, I wasn’t there for any of that. At the time, the U.S. had just lost Go, and that was my lifeline to BMX. Dig went through various publishers over the years, starting with Air Publications, then didn’t Moeller start to publish the mag in the US? That didn’t work out did it? Yeah, it didn’t work out. I don’t really know what else to say about it now. It was a long time ago and I wasn’t involved in any of the direct communication between Will and Moeller or John Paul. I do think that everyone had the best intentions for things to go well, but that didn’t happen. Will, Moeller and John Paul could all probably give better explanations than I could. I just sided with Will after the fact and we stumbled into Permanent after a few months of no magazine. And in hindsight, I thought the new BMX Action, later Faction, was pretty good. What was there to side with Will about? Did the deal go sour? I guess sided is the wrong word. I went with Will and Dig because I liked what he was doing and what he wanted Dig to be. Like I said, I wasn’t there through any of the deal, but that relationship ceased after issue 11 of Dig was printed and distributed in the U.S. The in-jokes with Dig, which I always loved, they were always a subject of contention amongst riders who felt ‘out’ of the clique. Do you think it was things like that which gave Dig its edge? Did we have an edge? Of course! Playing the underdog, hardcore angle. It was always Taj, Joe, Jimmy Levan, Ruben... I’m probably not the best person in the world to talk to because the jokes I was making and editing were getting read 3,000 miles away in a different country [laughs]. Dig’s tendency to focus on a few of the same riders over and over 46
bit more at ease with Tim [March] as our publisher, again was partly by design. Sandy was the Pro on trips then he left and told us he was going to do a lot of drugs that also took photos and when Ricky made the move and read Aleister Crowley, and that made me think he to Leeds the whole mag felt like it came from the Leeds wasn’t too happy at Factory [laughs]. BMX scene for a while. It’s funny, Mark Noble said exactly the same as A product of its environment? you about the Factory deal, he felt the rug getting Yeah, exactly. Also, I guess if anything, the edge was that pulled from under him. it wasn’t just based in one location. Well, with Mark, he must have known it was happening. Why did Ed Docherty stop contributing? Had he And he’s still salty about it! had enough of BMX? Yeah, a bit naive about it all in retrospect, that’s Ed stopped as soon as we started being published by how Mark put it anyway. How do you think the 4130. I think he wasn’t really on board with working current Factory years have affected Dig? for them and decided to break away. I might have that I don’t really know how things work in there, so I wrong. Maybe he put in a year and then left. I was in couldn’t say. If anything, I wouldn’t say it’s the Factory Seattle, got an email from Ed on the day before his last years that have affected Dig. I would say overall, every day, instructing me on how to update the website. magazine in existence currently has been affected by the And he left just like that? web and immediate information, but we all knew that I Well, we knew it was coming. I think now he said he guess… would give a year and then be done. And he stayed true What, so it’s easy to blame Factory if magazine to his word. content has slipped, but esI always thought the deal with sentially the internet has 4130 was more of an offering changed the game beyond of the proverbial olive branch recognition anyway? than a strictly business deal? I don’t really think the content I thought that too… I felt really has slipped at all in Dig, the Catblessed to be able to leave the ty Woods issue was amazing from post office job I had returned to start to finish. They’ve been able during that bout without a pubTHE HIGH POINT to pair up interviews with web lisher. WILL ALWAYS BE edits better than any other BMX Didn’t Will publish a couple MAT HOFFMAN magazine out there. of issues on his own, or with TELLING ME I think I worded that badly. the help of advertisers? THAT DIG WAS What I meant was, people are Yeah, issue 48. He did it with more quick to judge on print help from a few friends who THE MAGAZINE these days, it’s almost like kinda donated funds for publishCARRYING kicking it whilst it’s down? ing costs. I wanna say it was Ian THE TORCH Dude, tell me about it…There’s Morris and Nick Coombes who ORIGINALLY LIT no way around it without soundhelped out with the costs, but I BY FREESTYLIN’ ing old or dated. If you didn’t could be wrong. IN THE ‘80S grow up using a BMX magazine Effectively, Dig would’ve as your lifeline to the scene, you gone under if 4130 hadn’t might not learn to appreciate stepped up? them. I don’t want this to get into Yeah, I believe so... a print vs web thing... So, what issue did you leave? I know! It needs mention69, Hanson Little on the cover ing, or at least pointing out. with a girl wearing Joe Simon’s Looking back, on the time ex-wife’s wedding dress. I miss you spent at Dig, what are the one high and one being able to say things like that [laughs]. low that stand out? I remember that cover. Why did you leave? Loaded question. I got an offer to do the ESPN BMX blog and decided to Why? go for it. It was more money, with potential for growth, I could go on for days. benefits, health insurance. Be concise, please! Was Dig part of Factory by this point? The one low that sticks out to me, was driving to the PerDig and Ride had merged with Factory, and I had kinda manent Publishing office. Along the way, Ricky’s car broke convinced myself that it wasn’t going to last forever and down, and we had to be towed to a junkyard. Ricky had to that I should at least consider other options if they were junk his car, and we all know he’s a pack rat. So myself, him out there. I’m glad Factory has stuck with both titles and and Will loaded all of his junk out of the car and we rentI’m glad they’ve been allowed to continue, but I was real ed another, much smaller car to drive to the Permanent scared at the time that it could all go away again and that Publishing office, only to find out that the Dig was putting I’d be screwed with a lot more bills and a higher rent. the publisher in the hole and would have to find another So it was a factor in you leaving? publisher or stop. Ricky twiddled his fingers, looked at the It was more my own gut feeling that the rug would get numbers and tried to make small talk with the publisher. pulled out from under us again and I didn’t wanna go [laughs] Of course he did, I can picture it, a bad through that again. We got the deal with 4130 and had day... some breathing room, and then out of nowhere, I was The high point will always be Mat Hoffman telling me, sitting on my couch in Philly and I heard that we had as I picked him up at Newark Airport and drove him been bought by something called Factory. I’ll admit, that to the Hudson River ferry, that Dig was the magazine was a scare, a big scare. We had no warning. but I don’t carrying the torch originally lit by Freestylin’ in the ‘80s. consider Factory my reason for leaving. I did feel a little
Mark Noble - Editor/Director/Publisher - 1989 to 2008 Ride UK, Invert and Freestyle BMX Freestyle BMX 1984 - 1989 Frequency - Monthly Invert 1989 - 1992 Frequency - Bi Monthly Ride UK 1992 - Present Frequency - Monthly The story of Ride UK is much more than a tale of just a BMX magazine. It’s a story that spans over 18 years and includes the rise of 4130 as a successful publishing company – putting out a total of seven titles – and its eventual sale to Factory Media in 2006. The story of magazines in the UK is often a tale of false starts and almost making it. Ride showed that it was possible to consistently put out a high quality monthly magazine with content from around the globe. In turn 4130 grew into a highly profitable business for the Nobles, a family from the sleepy rural town of Dorchester, who had the right mixture of timing and business savvy to help make Ride into the most popular magazine of its day. The Albion traveled to Dorchester to talk to Mark about his history in magazines, his mistakes and regrets, what he brought to the table and the eventual curtain fall in 2006, when Factory Media took up the baton with 4130 and its titles. Albion: It took a while for you to get to Ride, you had a few magazines before that. What was the lead up to it, what other magazines did you work on? Mark: I started out working and contributing to a magazine called Freestyle BMX when I was around 17. I got more involved in that as I was going to all the contests around the country, so in turn I started contributing more articles. Then the magazine changed hands and they needed a new editor. Nobody else wanted to do it; I did, so they took me on when I was 18, so I was pretty young. Didn’t your Dad help out with that? Didn’t he buy it? No, it was taken on by the association at the time, the UKBFA, as the previous owners were getting more and more into premium rate phone lines, that sort of thing. They just wanted to get rid of print publishing. Didn’t Freestyle BMX then become Invert? Yeah. Didn’t that happen quite quickly? Erm, when we decided to take on the magazine, Chris [Noble – Mark’s brother] and me quickly started our own little company, it was a quick transition. From Freestyle BMX to Invert? Yeah, it was pretty quick. The names are very different, BMX Freestyle to Invert. Was it a conscious decision to move away from that old era of BMX? We were really influenced by what was happening with the American magazines. Especially with Homeboy magazine and how they were mixing bike and skate culture. We thought that was a bigger audience. We were learning by our mistakes, we did what we thought was cool. It was just one big learning curve really. Did Invert fold because it wasn’t making money? Erm… It wasn’t, really. It didn’t make much money…We decided to go back to a solely BMX magazine… Was that because BMX was coming out of its slump? A little bit at that point, but we wanted to get back to just BMX. It was partly a business decision too. We knew we needed to expand a little bit. By that you mean launching 4130 publishing? Yeah, that was around the same time. At the same time, over in America, Brad McDonald was starting Ride US… And there wasn’t a dispute over the name? It was more like ‘well we’re both starting a mag, let’s have the same name.’ It was as easy as that really. We would share articles and photos. A nice reciprocal arrangement. Yeah, very much reciprocal. 48
So you moved onto Ride? Yeah, there was a little wave within BMX, around 1992– 93. So that was as Invert came to an end? Yep, BMX was on the up a bit, the industry started to be a bit more supported, so we just wanted to pick up on that. The Invert thing was always a collaboration, lots of skate stuff, music in there. We wanted to emulate Homeboy, really. Not a bad thing to emulate. No, not at all. It was a good magazine. So! Ride came into the world around ‘93. That was just Chris and you at the time, did you have help from your Dad at this point. You were both still quite young? No, obviously we had his advice, but financially and business wise we were on our own. We were on our own two feet for a long time before that as well. We knew what we had to do with Ride, we just focused on that. Was it a conscious decision to set up a publishing company with Ride? Yeah. I mean, we weren’t businessmen, we just wanted to make magazines. Do you think you were fortunate, or clever enough, to spot that BMX was growing and launch Ride as it took off again? I don’t think we did anything because we went ‘let’s do this because it makes good business sense’ we just wanted to make magazines. We didn’t see too much of an end game, or ‘we’ll make X amount of money out of this because we’ll do this.’ We were just excited because BMX was picking up and the thing we were developing was starting to pick up as well. That was the exciting thing. After two or three years of doing Ride, we thought ‘this is actually working out really well.’ At that point I think we decided to get… not quite business like, but we had stuff to work with and we could do more things not with the magazine itself, but with the company we had. We were looking at magazines at the time, like we launched Dirt in 1996. We thought we could make a cool mountain bike magazine, borrowing what we had learnt from Ride. So from that year onwards, we knew we had something pretty decent going on, we were in a fairly privileged position, I guess you could say. So Dig came on the scene around 1993, which was a bit before this. But from day one, there was always a bit of rivalry between you two. But I always thought you kind of needed each other, if you know what I mean? Yeah, course. You can definitely say that. There was always a niggling competition between us, a lot of banter and competition and so on and so forth. Did you actually not get on? [sighs…] Didn’t get on?… Did we… Well, we came from different parts of the country for starters. It’s not like we bumped into each other regularly. It was sort of from a distance, a friendly rivalry you could say. I never felt like I wanted our magazine to bury theirs, or have a pop at Will or from a business standpoint do them any damage because that wouldn’t have benefited anybody. But it was obviously there, all the time. It simmered I thought, more so on Dig’s part too. They played the more hardcore… Oh yeah, definitely. They played that “core” thing very nicely. It must have been tough for you that they started up, or did you feel that it was bound to happen? In certain aspects it was bound to happen, but you also feel, ‘hang on, why is this guy making a magazine? Is our magazine not good enough? We’re making a good
magazine here.’ So you obviously take it a little bit personally and naturally there’s rivalry because of it. So what happened with you and Dig eventually? What happened with Dig…. Well there was always this rivalry we spoke about, but I obviously kept my eye on it and I’ve always read it. I’ve got every single issue here, up until 2008. We’d heard that it was having financial problems, that Permanent publishing didn’t want to carry it on, they just wanted to drop it as it wasn’t making any money. It came to us, ‘will you publish it?’ And we couldn’t think of a reason to say no. It would’ve been a big shame to watch it disappear. We thought ‘we can do this magazine, it’s not going to affect the magazines we make.’ We went through the numbers with Will and we weren’t going to make tons and tons of money on it, but we weren’t going to loose tons of money either, but we were going to make another good magazine and help Will carry it on, otherwise Will was going to struggle. It really surprised everyone in the industry. I think by that point, and even from day one, Ride and Dig were very different magazines, they had to be really. Did people see you as having an ulterior motive for it? I’d imagine people would’ve been critical. Yeah, but it made sense for us to do it. Our business was doing OK, we had the printing and the distribution nailed and, like I said before, that allowed Will and Ricky [Adam] to carry on making Dig, it was mutually beneficial… We came to a publishing deal with Will and decided to take it on. We didn’t own it outright. What did the… 50 – 50. Half each. It was good to help keep the mag going. What are your standout moments from running Ride? Articles or achievements? Both. Achievement wise, it was just getting feedback from people that they liked the mag, or hearing from kids that it was Ride that helped them get into riding or stay involved. You think ‘wow, we kinda did influence the game, really.’ Even if it’s on a macro level, if one or two kids picked it up and started riding…. That’s pretty good. That’s what we set out to do. Being a title for the industry too, that was a good achievement. And generally, just keeping it going. Making it commercially successful, plowing the money back into the mag to make it better. Around 2003 we really started selling a lot of magazines. How many did you sell? 2003 was probably the peak of magazine sales In general? Certainly in action sports, certainly in BMX. One issue we did just over 21,000 copies sold, which was phenomenal for us. Why do you think that was? Can you remember the issue? We had some free stickers on the cover… I can’t remember who was on the cover… He was doing a two handed toboggan, or cannonball… Adam Volk. Yeah, it was a perfect cover. Guy on a DK, rad trick, blue skies. That issue sold the most ever. The high water mark, you can almost still see it. Yep, that was it, the high watermark of magazines. From about 2005 sales started to dip, as the internet started picking up, magazines started depleting. Was that across the board, with all your magazines? Yeah, there were a few factors, like the internet, cost of 49
paper, getting the magazines into more places was becoming difficult. Back then, when it sold the most, the mag was around two pounds. I’d been advised to put the cover price up, but I was always conscious of making it too expensive, as it would put kids off buying it. But it did start getting more expensive to make, so the cover price went up and sales started to dip. It must have become difficult? Yeah it was, you start getting comfortable and think you’re getting somewhere and have reached a plateau somewhere good and then it starts dropping off. Did you ever think about the internet and how to approach it? All the mags had websites, but it was really early days. Really early on. We were still focused on print. Around 2005 we took on someone to take care of the web side of things. Was that Robin? [Fenlon]. Yeah…. [shakes his head] What a mistake that was [laughs]. That did not work out at all. Why not? He was horrendously bad to work with, argumentative, didn’t get what we wanted, everything took him ages. Really bad… Talks the talk, but couldn’t really back it up with any decent work. So, after that you sold Ride and 4130 to Factory [Media]? Yeah… With the magazines sales depleting in numbers we were watching it tale off, but thought we could manage it, we thought, ‘this is not the end of the world, we can still run with these numbers.’ Ride was still doing OK, Dirt always did good. Document was OK. We decided that we could make a motocross magazine too, around 2004, which took a lot of effort. Everyone would say that if we applied the aesthetic of Ride, Dirt and Document to a motocross magazine, it would do really well. Tim [March] loved motocross too, so it made sense. But financially, it didn’t work out. We started getting into problems from around 2005. Things were getting tight. I knew we had to do something pretty drastic for us to carry on. Like chop some of the magazines? No, not really get rid of any titles, but something drastic to put us on a better footing so we weren’t stressing so much about money. Advertising was petering out too… Something had to change… Then these guys came down from London with the view of merging their company with ours. They claimed to love the magazines, our set up down here, they’d heard really good 50
things about what we do with the mag. So we spoke to them about possibly merging with their company, ASM [Action Sports Media] and another company they were speaking to, Permanent Publishing and we thought ‘well this could be good, we could combine our pool of recourses, buy print cheaper, better distribution. It made sense to us. They said it would be a merge… How great that would’ve been. They would have their place in London and we would operate here. We did a deal where we owned part of the company we merged with, as I never wanted to sell out completely, this wasn’t an end game for me. I thought ‘there’s 18 people who work for us’ and I didn’t want to get rid of anyone in particular, I wanted all these people to keep their job. We would work with a bigger team, we’d have less headaches financially and we’d be more secure and no one would loose their jobs and we could continue making great magazines. That was the plan… which changed [laughs]. Rather abruptly, as soon as the ink was dry on the paper. It soon became apparent what was really happening. Which was… Yeah, lo and behold, it wasn’t that we’d stay working here in Dorchester. The subscriptions team got made redundant pretty swiftly. It became quite fractious a week or two after we signed the deal because decisions were clearly being made that we weren’t to know about. All the designers had to move up to London. It felt like the rug was slowly getting pulled out from beneath us. Did you feel that, because you’d grown up with this background in BMX and essentially it’s small enough, or was small enough, and has enough support in it, as a community, that you felt that you could trust these people. Do you feel that was maybe a little naïve, not taking away from the fact that you’d had long enough in the… You can say naïve if you want, because that’s exactly what it was. It’s either that, or we had the wool completely pulled over our eyes. When these guys come down and say ‘we love the set up here, your mags are great’ and all that stuff, it made sense to us. We did some research on their [ASM] magazines and they were doing quite badly, losing a lot of money, we were ok, sort of in profit, or at least losing nowhere near as much as they were, but we knew they had new money to back this new project. So we thought ‘this will work out, it’ll be a good financial safety net.’ How wrong we were. It was the worst thing we’ve ever done, for the magazines, for the people who worked for us. A huge mistake. I was out within 18 months.
I FUcking Hate Tom Dugan I fucking hate Tom Dugan. I hated him before I met and I hate him even more after staying with him for a week. When Benson told me I had to go and interview ‘The Duganator’ I sighed and felt sad. I knew I wouldn’t like it. I knew it would go really well and I knew I wouldn’t like it. I mean, how can you like someone who calls himself ‘The Duganator’ and has a full-sized cardboard cut-out of themselves naked. He’s young, funny, smart, confident, charming, good looking, awesome on a bike and has a big dick. I’m 31, have recently spent two hours being interrogated by US immigration because I look like dreadlocked vagrant who sleeps rough and drinks cheap beer. How could I possibly like someone like that?
Words and photography by STEVE BANCROFT
54 All too predictably ‘The Duganator’ leaves me twiddling my thumbs for half an hour outside the airport before pulling up in an ultra cool car and in an impossibly good mood. We exchange pleasantries. He removes his Ray Bans and I shake his tan leather driving gloved hand. The gloves and glasses compliment his vehicle perfectly: it’s a tasteful 1983 Saab, which he drives like an asshole. We tear off from the airport and career our way through five lanes of busy highway. He’s weaving in an out, overtaking and undertaking anything going slower than him. I try to buckle my seat belt. “They don’t work” he proclaims bluntly as he pushes his heel ever further towards the steel. I nervously look across at him from the passenger seat, he looks like a teenager playing Out Run at an arcade in some motorway services. It’s still early and he asks if I want to get breakfast. “Yes please” I reply, glad for an excuse to get off the freeway. We pull up at a Waffle House and Tom again removes his gloves and sunglasses, but the leather J and trilby hat remain. He orders a Dr. Pepper and a waffle and we talk about our plans for the week. I’d heard all about Tom’s Dr Pepper addiction and I’d dismissed it as a stupid attention seeking gimmick, but it’s not, it turns out he really does have a habit. “My friend bought me a case of these little bottles of spring water” he says with genuine distain when I ask as to why he only drinks the strange tasting soda; “for a while I tried to get one down every day, but it was too hard, so I gave up.”
this interview down at 12 pages on the flatplan that we were sketching out for issue six, which we were of course way behind on. My reluctance to fly to Austin, Texas for this interview wasn’t really because I didn’t want to hang out with Tom, it was because I knew the experience would make me feel old. A fact I am unable to escape from. I breathe a sigh of relief as we pull off the freeway and make our way through a quiet middle class suburban neighbourhood. American flags hang from porches, the lawns are green, trimmed short and nice shiny family cars are parked neatly on driveways. Nestled ominously amongst these fulfilled American dreams is Tom’s house. We pull up outside. The drive is littered with motorbikes of all shapes and sizes. Young ruffians are smoking cigarettes on the porch, a collection of shoes hang from the lightpost directly out front, a collection of old bike tyres hang from the tree in the yard. “How do you get on with your neighbours?” I ask already knowing the answer. “We don’t” replies Tom, “They haven’t spoken to us since I killed their goldfish.” He goes on to explain that before heading out riding one night, he thought it would be fun to pour washing detergent into the fountain in their front garden. He returned a few hours later to discover lots of foam and police cars. It turns out that the fountain was not only an ornamental water feature, it was also home to the family’s eight-year-old goldfish. The unfortunate murder was the crescendo of an ongoing war with the neighbours over their noise, profanities, untidiness and general nihilistic behaviour. Worried about bad influences on their children and the erosion of neighbourhood house prices the police were called often. In response to this squealing Tom made a large banner and hung it in the front window, it simply said FUCK OFF NEIGHBOURS.
THE UNFORTUNATE MURDER WAS THE CRESCENDO OF AN ON GOING WAR WITH THE NEIGHBOURS
After I’d eaten a full breakfast and he’d half eaten his single syrup-drowned waffle we were once again speeding erratically down the freeway. If someone were in front of him, regardless of whether they were driving above the speed limit or not, he’d keep his tan leather gloved hand on the horn until they had moved out the way. He was efficient, I’ll give him that, we were getting wherever we were going very quickly, but I couldn’t help but think of what would happen if we came up behind my now retired father as he was driving to the library listening to Jeremy Vine on Radio Four. I imagine him getting all flustered as the horn was blazing and the lights were flashing in his mirrors. And I imagine him gasping in shock as he gets flipped the bird and nearly run off the road by Austin’s public enemy number one. No, I didn’t like him. My dad wouldn’t like him either, the young punk. I told Benson that I was too old to interview ‘The Duganator’ but he didn’t listen. He must have known though… “You’ll be fine” he reassured me as he wrote
I think of my neighbours back home, people I have known my whole life, Des and Cathy. I think about how nice they are and how shocked and offended they’d be if I acted in such a manner. It loops back, the tape plays again, man I’m getting old. I hate Tom, I knew he would make me feel old. When I ask whether he sympathises at all with his neighbours’ objections, he replies “I don’t think we’re bad neighbours. I always think that if I had a family like that then I’d be stoked to see young people having fun. I mean we play music loud late at night, but we’re pretty good really. I just think they see us and they see the ramp and shit and they think we’re scumbags.” Later than night, when we are riding the aforementioned backyard ramp complex, the juxtaposition of
Footjam fakie on the new 9 foot extension at T1. 55
conflicting values is interesting to observe. The yards of the adjoining houses are only separated by a low chainlink fence, making it easy to see what’s going on inside. From the deck of the ramp it’s possible to peer into the neighbour’s living room. Inside the family are sat around a table playing a very civilized game of cards, while back in Tom’s house people are hooting and screaming as they fly around the ramp, they’re drinking beers, playing drums, making fires and smashing up anything combustible. They really are two very different – and unfortunately polar opposite – worlds. Most of the 20 people in The Kansas house do get drunk every night, however Tom himself doesn’t join in. He doesn’t need alcohol to get weird, he has enough mischief and excitement running through his veins already. When quizzed on his choice not to drink he says “I just fucking hate beer. I’ve just never been one to get drunk, I’ve only been drunk a handful of times.” From what little I did know of Tom before staying with him, I was expecting him to be well up for a drunken party in town, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. “I do feel bad sometimes. When homies are in town I usually feel like a bitch. They’ll be like “let’s go out downtown, I’m only here for 48 hours, let’s party!” and I’m just like “No way.” I fucking hate downtown, I fucking hate the bars so bad. I can’t stand it so I usually don’t even fuck with it.” My hatred for Tom is growing – he’s so damn happy all the time. He doesn’t need beer to escape reality. He has no need to be anywhere else, for his is a reality that you’d never want to leave. Rather than drinking himself into a blind stupor he prefers to spend his time being productive. He spends his evening with his close friends – riding, longboarding, playing music, building ramps and hanging out with cute girls. His youth, vitality and motivation, although frustratingly sickening to me, are annoyingly and weirdly infectious. One evening during my stay I found myself stuffed into the boot of a car with six longboards head banging to Metallica as we drove to a multi-story car park. We ran all the way to the top floor then raced down through the empty levels on the soft-wheeled decks. It was gone midnight and there wasn’t a soul around, it was a great time. I’d almost forgotten that it was possible to have fun sober after 12. Just look at the little shit laughing and smiling as he goes down the hill with his friends on that skateboard, not forced, not contrived, just good ol’ wholesome fun. It’s enough to make me sick! Tom likes to surround himself with people. If the house is empty then he’ll not stay there by himself. During my time there ten people were staying at the house, and apparently that was a quiet week. It’s not uncommon for there to be 20 riders calling the place home at any one time. Sleeping randomly wherever they fall. Scattered all-over like people shaped pepperoni pieces on a giant floor-plan pizza. The fulltime residents are all from Kansas, which is the state from where Tom himself hails. He grew up just outside of Wichita and first found BMX when he was nine years old. He raced at first and won the first ever race he entered (of course he did). From there he moved on to dirt jumping, trails and eventually, skateparks. Back then his idol was Phil Wasson, the stylish and flowy FBM rider who came into the limelight in the early 2000s. Living in the same town, Tom would attempt to emulate Phil’s style and his influence set him on the high and stylish path he now pioneers. Another of his early inspirations was Chase Hawk. The parallels between the two – slight build, blond hair, brakeless, pegless, concrete, street and trails demi-gods – are undeniable but for all their similarities the two don’t see eye to eye. I’d heard from a couple of people that Chase doesn’t much like Tom. I ask if there was any rivalry between the two of them. “I don’t know how he looks at it, but he’s been one of my top inspirations growing up, I used to try to do things just like 59
Rail hop to nollie roof drop, Austin, TX. 62
him. Everybody always says there’s all this competition, but I fucking know that he’s the man and he paved the way and I feel like he’s the reason why people appreciate the way I ride now. Him and Phil Wasson were my biggest inspirations. I don’t think he likes me too much though” is his response. Earlier this year Tom changed sponsor and now rides for Fit Bike Co, Chase Hawk’s old team. After receiving an offer from Fit he waited a full six months before accepting, it was a period of grace he left as he didn’t want to tread on any toes and didn’t believe he had enough ground to stand on to – albeit unofficially – fill the gap left by Chase. “Back then the offer was $500 a month and back then I was working and didn’t have any money and I was like ‘holy shit!’ So I was tempted, as it would have meant I didn’t have to work. I left it for a bit but I was broke as fuck and I was expected to travel and get all this coverage and I was struggling, Walter had to bail me out so many times. So after a while had passed I took them up on the offer.” I ask whether, if T1 were in the position to pay the same as Fit, would he have gone. “Nah, absolutely not, I would have stayed at T1. Joe’s one of my best friends to this day. He’s one of my favourite people ever” is his unhesitant reply. We went on to talk about money and after some serious pestering he eventually gave in and told me how much he makes per month. “Three thousand dollars” he says with a slight smile. “When I first got paid from Fit I quit my job straight away. I knew it would be hard to make ends meet but the instant I didn’t need to work at Peter Pan Crazy Golf I quit. I worked the day after I got my first cheque from Fit and this mom was giving me all this shit and I was just like ‘I don’t need this shit, I’m better than this stupid putt-putt golf shit.’”
shit hair ride for over half their lives and can barely air four feet, then this little punk shows up for five minutes and jumps over the fucking moon. Through a question inspired by jealousy I ask him to lift the lid on the secret of airing high. “Well, most people don’t understand how much you have to put into your back wheel: it’s all your pump. Put your weight over the back wheel and push down right to the top of the transition and that usually just pops you really well. You gotta pull back and push down with your feet. You just want to get all your momentum on your back wheel.” I’m sure there’s some truth to Tom’s ‘back wheel’ insight, but when I employed the technique on his bike I landed on my side on the flat bottom, so I can’t help suspecting his answer was a tactical move to secure his longevity as ‘The Big Air Kid’. And I can see why, for the title is one that brings with it some less obvious perks. Even when not riding his bike Tom Dugan is recognised around town by all manner of people. During my stay he’s given props, handshakes and high fives at the bowling ally, the Apple Store, the burger bar and just while walking down the street. His notoriety has got his laptop fixed for free and got him let off by a police officer for what would otherwise have been a very sticky situation.
HOW CAN YOU LIKE SOMEONE WHO CALLS HIMSELF ‘THE DUGANATOR’ AND HAS A FULL-SIZED CARDBOARD CUT-OUT OF THEMSELVES NAKED
I mean, What The Fuck! This kid’s life is so perfect that he doesn’t have to pay for anything and he’s above the fucking law. I get a fucking ticket for talking on my mobile and he gets a fucking high five and signs an autograph. Where’s the justice there. The little shit.
When I was shooting these photos I had to take care with my camera settings, just in case I got lens flare from all the sun that shines out of his arse. His life is as near to perfection as anyone’s I’ve met. A lot of that is down to his friends and their house: the large detached property houses an idyllic blend of motivation, good times and constant entertainment, and it’s Tom who holds the place together. He’s the organised one, he’s the one with a car, he’s the one up and out of bed early getting stuff done and he’s the one that gets the session up to full heat in the backyard.
We talk about how that is doubtlessly a significant amount of money, but at the same time, for such an influential guy who is at the very top of his chosen field, it’s really not much remuneration for all the talent and effort required to attain and maintain such a position. “Yeah, we always joke that if I was in the same position in skateboarding as I am in BMX then I’d be making serious money, living in a fucking mansion with fast cars and all that shit.” When everything is stripped back, the foundation of Tom’s riding and persona is just how fucking big he goes. Whether it is a six-inch curb cut, a 20 foot mega ramp, or anything in between, Tom will effortlessly propel himself and his bike significantly higher than most anyone. It’s unnatural just how damn natural his riding is, to the point that it pisses me off. Some tall old people with real
We rode and shot a whole lot of photos in that backyard, the ramps are well thought out and flow well. Witnessing Tom roll in off the roof of his house and tear around the place at full speed and height really is a sight to behold. But that’s not the only reason why we shot so much there – we wanted to shoot some trails stuff but 9th Street wasn’t running and the situation between Tom and some other local trails wrote that option off. He does occasionally ride the other trails, but it wouldn’t be cool for us to shoot photos there. It’s an eggshell situation that stems from a satirical comedy 63
skit he filmed where he depicted the scene at those trails as akin to life under a military dictatorship, with the chief builder acting like Adolph Hitler himself. The video is undoubtedly funny, but some of the repercussions not funny at all. I asked him what that was all about and more specifically what led to him feeling the need to make the movie. “It was directed at Hush and Eastside. Well Hush was the reason I made the video. I got back from there one night and I was like ‘Fuck this, I’m making a video about this shit.’ Well I’m sure it was just me being a dumbass and taking things the wrong way, so I don’t know whether he was or not, but I definitely felt awkward. I was like ‘I wanna be a local and I want to help you guys do shit’ and they told me they didn’t need that, so I was like ‘What the fuck! I can’t be a local here!?’ Nevermind, I was retarded back then.” The video caused a shit storm when it went online, with Tom receiving death threats and a barrage of abuse. I ask him if he regretted posting it. “Oh no. Fuck no. I love it. It’s so funny. That video opened the door for me really, it really broke the ice. They were pretty bitter at first, I think because they didn’t expect it…” After it all kicked off he made another video, it was posted under the title Tom Dugan Apology Video although the word ‘Sorry’ didn’t feature once and wasn’t really implied at all, it was just Tom sat on a chair naked from the waist down with his tackle hanging out. I ask him about that “After I made the Nazi video I was getting all these death threats and shit for a week or two. They were all saying they were gonna come over and kick my ass, I 64
answered one of their phone calls and the guy was like ‘I want a written apology and I want you to mail it to me and I’m going to send it to my friend Adam22 and have him post it on Thecomeup for everybody to read.’ And I was like ‘What the fuck are you doing you dumbass’ and that’s when I made the so called ‘Apology Video’ And it all worked out in the end.” But not well enough that we can shoot photographs there… So with the trails still out of bounds for photos we spent the week driving around at ferocious speeds with Tom’s total disregard for other highway users terrifying me ceaselessly. The two of us in the 30-yearold Saab finding spots, we rode a few street spots, a crazy DIY Legoland set up, the new Austin concrete park, a tiny wooden kicker and at least one session a day in the backyard. The whole time he’d be laughing and joking around and winding people up and generally having the time of his life. He’s a cocky little fucker, everyone knows it, including him. All that confidence – which at times strays into intentional arrogance – mixed with a mischievous nature makes for great entertainment. When the jealousy is removed you realize it’s impossible to be truly mad at such a nice guy – and that in itself is truly maddening. The sound little prick will probably go on to be some kind of insanely wealthy and successful actor through some kind of genuinely hilarious reality TV show about screwing hundreds of smoking hot women and being the coolest bike rider in the world. I fucking hate Tom Dugan, and I’m not changing my mind, for truly I am old…
THE JACK OF ALL TRADES IS THE MASTER OF NONE TOM SANDERS
Tom Sanders hasn’t had an easy ride. Almost two years of injuries have just come to an end. In those two years countless trips, opportunities and chances have past him by. Is he bitter? Of course not. The injuries sound like a breeze compared to a childhood full of worry and disquiet, but he’ll come to that later. Whilst it hasn’t been summers at Woodward or a nice, smooth gradient of progression, Tom has finally come out the other side. Now at 23 years of age he’s finally, hopefully and positively back riding to the potential that those who know him always knew he had.
Words and photography by DANIEL BENSON
68 Tom has flown just below the radar for too long, a sucker for his own misfortune. Shortly after getting on United, almost instantly in fact, the injuries began. First the shoulder, then the knee. Nathan Rule said ‘It’s not like you had to relearn a load of tricks when you felt good enough to ride again is it Tom?’ Half jokingly, but somewhat accurately too. I saw it as a compliment. Tom’s repertoire of tricks would probably fit on the back of a train ticket, but what he can do, and how he links those things together, he does very, very well. As the title of this piece suggests, of the tricks Tom can do, he does them with a masterful touch, always looking comfortable and confident, whether it’s locked in a high and long icepick, or popping out of a difficult smith hardway. He makes it all look so easy. A comeback of sorts, you could call it, and an overdue one at that. Hailing from just outside Hull in East Yorkshire, Tom has grown up around some of the funniest and most bizarre assembly of characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with. James Cox and myself traveled out to Barcelona to start Tom’s interview. I felt like we were gatecrashing their holiday, which we essentially were, but you can learn a lot about a person by the company they keep. The Hull locals are like a bunch of prototypes, not actually people, just one-offs, God testing some ideas out. Patrick Van Straten has a tail, like some hangover from early man, Nathan Rule can’t walk past a fruit machine without checking if it’s ‘paying out.’ He doesn’t have a phone either, choosing to get in touch with girls he meets by intermittently reactivating his Facebook account. Upon losing his job on a building site Carl Wood remodeled his bedroom to look like a building site office, complete with a brick collection under his bed. Then there are the ‘quieter’ guys, like Charles, and for some reason Patrick is terrified of Charles. I don’t see it, he seemed like the most normal out of the lot of them. When everyone has their backs turned, Charles must be eyeballing poor Patrick and running his finger across his throat. I saw Tom Hasnip set fire to Carl Wood’s hair, by that point, an incident like that was completely normal. The Don announcing at the top of his voice at a spot we were trying to be slightly incognito, “SANDY! [points over his shoulder] LEDGE! RAIL!… DROP!!!” We all looked puzzled and The Don continued walking back to the group, smiling. Nobody had any idea what those three words referred to. A set-up in Don’s mind that only he could see. The Don and Patrick left and the Blyths moved in. Tom Blyth’s strong opinions make him an easy target for Nath and Carl to goad into a debate, and vice versa too. The heckles and comebacks are so harsh they’d shut Richard Pryor down. There’s Cory Beal, a Canadian who spent last summer in Hull and in turn, acted accordingly within this amusing cast. Cory was like a petty thief, stealing a hire bike when he had a puncture and taking a girl’s phone after he’d slept with her, to make sure she couldn’t call him back. They fight like brothers, real fights, only to make up after someone mans up and makes an apology. They’re all humble to the point of almost shunning any outward appearance of getting ahead. It seems that none of them had particularly bad upbringings – “It’s weird we all ended up like this isn’t it?” Nathan would say. A few of them are rich already, Patrick is the heir to a mayonnaise empire in The Netherlands, I kid you not. Yet with all this chaos and these strange idiosyncrasies, you get the sense of an unbelievably tight scene, like characters from Lord Of The Files, or The Lost Boys, all for one and one for all, or something like that. They squabble like brothers do, but rarely have I seen such a tight group of friends. For reasons that will become clear, it seems like these strong friendships were integral in Tom sticking with riding and getting over the issues that plagued his childhood.
I’m a few days into this ‘holiday,’ when one morning I suggest to Tom we go and sit down somewhere to get some of the interview done. “All right man, yeah. What you thinking?” Nathan suggests we go to Starbucks with him. It’s part of his daily routine, I’m surprised to notice that he gets a tea, not a coffee. ‘Tea! From Starbucks?’ I think. A cup of hot water and a tepid teabag. They don’t even add the milk. We sit down towards the back as the place is busy, all of Barcelona is busy. In fact, this might be the busiest I’ve ever seen a city. Continuously, relentlessly for the week we are there the streets are packed with shoppers and families in a seemingly never-ending Spanish holiday. There’s Coxie, Charles, Nathan, Tom and Myself. Coxie gets out his phone and starts laughing. “Even though I was fucking smashed last night, I somehow managed to take that.” We all take a look at the screen, about ten of us lined up against a wall, late at night, drunk, with a homeless man at our feet. He’s either crawling away, or we’re stood on him, like a trophy from a big game shoot. Stranger things have happened this week. I saw a man with a tail, for christakes. I point at the motley line up of reprobates and ask, “How long have you known all that lot in the photo?” Tom: I’ve known Nath since I was 12, Charles since I was 12… Pat too. James: What about Blyth? Same I think, 12, maybe 13. Albion: But you’re not from Hull are you? No, ten miles out. A small village. Any riders from there? Carl Wood. He’s a fucking lunatic. James: Tom told me yesterday that when Carl lost his job on a building site he… [laughs] Yeah he turned his bedroom into a site office! He hammered a massive building site banner into his wall, had his Skill Saw in there with him, he kept bricks under his bed. Why would you keep bricks under your bed? They were sample bricks, so I took the piss and told everyone that Carl had a collection of bricks under his bed. He went mental about that as usual. I once said in another old interview that ‘Carl Wood was the third best brickie in Yorkshire’ and he goes mental and goes ‘I fucking wasn’t, I was the third best brickie in EAST Yorkshire!’ [laughs] My coffee feels light so I take the lid off. Half empty. “Fuck’s sake, what the fuck is this?”, “Give it here, I’ll get it topped up for you,” says Nath, with an unexpected show of chivalry. “Can you do mine too?” asks Coxie. “And get me a water,” adds Charles. Nathan disappears with his orders. I move the dictaphone towards Tom, it’s getting louder in the Starbucks. Barcelona keeps getting busier. You had a really rough time with injuries didn’t you?
Smith, Hull. 69
Yeah. Seven or eight months with my shoulder for hopping a wall, just cruising through the centre of town. Then three months on my bike… Actually it was two, as I was filming with you [points to Coxie] then I did my ACL. James: Glass Man. I tried to smith a ledge to pop over a rail, imagine they meet at an ‘L’ but the rail is higher than the ledge. I messed it up and my leg went under the rail and my body carried on forward and basically bent my knee the wrong way. It gets you down a bit when people go ‘how’s the riding going’ and you go ‘I’ve got to have a year off, after having seven months off before that, because of injuries.’ You ask yourself, what’s the point? That sounds horrid, it seems you’ve just been unlucky with the injuries you’ve had, because there hasn’t been much else right? Nah, not really. I did cut my finger off once. Right down to there [points to the first joint down on the first index finger]. You actually chopped your finger off? Yeah. We went out riding to this rail. Blyth and everyone was there so, basically some of the older guys. I’d done this rail earlier in the day but thought I’d do it again. I went to hop on, missed my front peg and caught my finger between my bar and the rail. I went ‘Argh, it’s ok! I’m all right, I’m all right!’ When I got up I was holding my finger and it was throbbing, I took a look at it and noticed this weird crack going round the finger and nail. I thought, ‘that’s weird’, then it just fired off! The blood started squirting out and the end of my finger was just hanging off, attached by a bit of skin. I grabbed it and my mum came, she’s a nurse so she was asking me what I’d done. I opened my hand, which was still holding the bleeding finger, and the end bit was now in the other hand, unattached – she was like ‘OH. MY. GOD!’ and shoved it back on.
them and I didn’t really fit the image. James: So now you can only use the bit where he goes ‘didn’t really fit the image’ or you’ll be off United as well. [laughs]. This is recording you here. Nah, like when I was younger I just took it because I looked up to Blyth. But I didn’t really feel right on there. That’s all it was really. I’d seen United from the start, as Theo [Simpson] got on there and it’s not like a strong, pushy image if you know what I mean? I thought that suited me better. Blyth obviously gave me loads of shit for jumping ship, but when Ian asked me ‘who do you want to be on?’ I thought United was the best fit for me. You haven’t been on any trips with United have you? Nah, basically my injuries kept me off them. I got some stuff on This Is United and that’s it. That’s been fucking shite actually. I missed going to Canada twice, going to Iceland, going to California. If you hadn’t had those injuries, which basically took you out for about two years, what do you think would be different now? Well I would’ve been on a lot more trips! It’s more of a confidence thing. Like, it takes a long, long time to get your confidence back up. You need to do a few good things to work up to that. Ben Lewis smashed his kneecap not that long ago, his riding is peaking at the minute, his confidence is up. Yeah, the stuff he’s doing I think is twice as good knowing what he went through. Jersey [Mike Taylor] had the worse time with it; I don’t think I could’ve coped with his situation. Owain Clegg was mint when I did mine, he’s done his twice. Straight away he was on the phone giving me advice. He actually hooked me up on Carharrt before it was healed, I was like ‘Are you sure, this could be a while?’ He was all ‘Fuck off Sandy, you’ll be fine, it’s just your knee, they get better.’ You feel like you’ve paid your dues after injuries like that. You’ve paid into it. Like when I was injured, I worked out, went to the gym and did weights. It’s so weird, you ask yourself, ‘why am I doing this?’ Just to ride my bike. You give your health to BMX don’t you? Fully, completely. And for nothing too, other than because you want to do it. I work 20 hours a week in a shoe shop so I can spend my time riding. It’s hardly a good career choice. Imagine if you applied yourself to studying as much as you do to riding? We’d all be doctors, pilots, jobs like that! [laughs] Edwin [De La Rosa] said it, if you can do BMX, you can do anything in life, I fully agree with that, 100%. If you’re a BMXer, you’re almost a different breed, not to put us on a pedestal, but we’re a level-headed bunch mostly. It teaches you a lot. Worldly wise?
A TRUANCY OFFICER CAME ROUND AND WENT ‘DO YOU LIKE GUINEA PIGS TOM? I’VE GOT SOME IN MY CAR, WANT TO HAVE A LOOK?’
Nath comes back to the table, with all the orders, he’s caught the last bit of the conversation, ‘His mum told us in hospital he was shouting ‘MUM, MI FINGER’S FALLEN OFF!’ James: As if that bit of your body has been disconnected from you. Like a fucking leper [laughs]. When did all that happen? Wasn’t it just after you got on United? Oh yeah. The knee and the shoulder were. That was pretty bad as I fucked my shoulder as soon as I got on the team. I quit FBM by sending an email to Ian [Morris] then literally five seconds after I got a missed call off a weird number. I messaged it asking who it was and it was Ian asking me to give him a ring. I messaged him ‘Can you give me a call as I haven’t got any credit’ [laughs]. So I told him I didn’t think I was going anywhere with it, I couldn’t get parts, wasn’t that into 70
Hard 180, Barcelona.
Smith Hard 180, Barcelona.
Hipped Access Hop, Barcelona. 74
Yeah, it’s crazy to think this is something that actually happens, if you know what I mean? Like, getting this trip paid for, Ian giving me money so I can come to this amazing country, just to do some smith hardways. I think ‘I do this stuff back in Hull, why would someone want to pay for me to come here to do it?’ It’s because you’re good Sandy! I think, ‘why me?’ I hope this is it now, I hope I have a good few years on my bike now. What happened when you were young, you didn’t finish school? It was all right for me, but I was a pain in the arse for my parents. I didn’t know until I got a bit older, but we always had truancy officers coming round the house, people from the education board. My dad told me later that they got in loads of shit over it, because they couldn’t see there was anything physically wrong with me, they’d get court summons and stuff like that. How old were you? This is way back in primary school. I had a year off for year five I think, but I got dragged back in for year six basically. A truancy officer came round and went ‘Do you like guinea pigs Tom, I’ve got some in my car, want to have a look?’ That classic one. That sounds a bit fucking weird Tom… Yeah, it was. I get in this car, look in this basket with books in and the next thing I know the doors being shut and I’m been driven to school. Some guinea pigs and being bundled into a car! That’d scare any kid. I know. I remember really clearly being dragged by my collar into the classroom and dumped in a chair. Everyone in the class just stared at me when I came in. I wasn’t in school uniform or anything like that. I stood out like a sore thumb… I was a right wreck as a kid. I wouldn’t leave my house at times, I had to have beta blockers, really strong drugs. They made you feel pissed, but you’re not. So at least I could leave the house, but you’d feel fucked. I went to school for six months in year seven and then got taken out. I was having panic attacks, not physically, it was all in my head, but it would make me ill. I got IBS [irritable bowel syndrome] because of it. I couldn’t leave the house because I always felt horrible, really ill. I had anxiety basically… Nath: The years after that, when you first started riding with us, you could only ride the local spots. Oh yeah, I wouldn’t get in a car or owt like that. What age were you then? 16, 17 maybe… When I started hanging out with the Sheffield lot, going on trips with them, that’s when I started to forget about it and get better. Riding cured you? Sounds a bit clichéd if you know what I mean, but it sounds like it was. Yeah, I reckon it was. Before that I’d have child psychologists coming round the house, I got hypnotized
as a kid. I’d go in a room and there’d be a mirrored wall with a camera behind it filming me. In the background to all this my parents were tearing their hair out. It was all in my head, a psychological problem, then something just switched. As soon as I got a bit more independence and wasn’t being forced into a classroom it clicked. For example, when I was younger I tried to play rugby for a bit and I hated that, but with riding I always loved it. I could set my own goals and even though I couldn’t travel into town, I could happily ride a carpark for hours on end. I think that was it, being able to take it at my own pace and focus on that. Does it ever come back? Not on a trip or anything like that. Sometimes, but it’s got to be proper bad. Never really… Nath: And with you, if something in your head is an issue, it can become a massive issue really easily. It would get to the point where I wouldn’t be able to function, until I’d worked out the problem in my head… That only lasted for about five years or something…
I DID MY KNEE AND I STARTED SEEING THINGS A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY. IT REALLY KNOCKS YOUR CONFIDENCE
We’ve all been sat quietly listening to Tom, but when Tom says “five years,” it breaks the serious mood. Nath sarcastically says, “Only five years…” Everyone laughs, Coxie adds, “Just a casual five years.” I point out to Tom, somewhat obviously, “You’ve had it rough haven’t you?!” But look at me now, high and mighty! [laughs]. Everyone has rough patches don’t they? I just went through mine early, some kids have a smooth, nice childhood and break down when they’re 20, 30, 40 or whatever. Look at Carl Wood and The Don, they’re going through it now aren’t they? [laughs]. It’s like what you were saying earlier Benson, when you went ‘There’s a few fucking characters in your scene Sandy, you seem pretty normal.’ I was thinking ‘I wasn’t normal as a child Benson.’ [laughs] Carl’s who you started
riding with isn’t it? Yeah, he started riding a year before me. I got into mountain bikes as where we grew up is a village surrounded by loads of woodland. I kept breaking my mountain bike so I got a BMX. Nath: Carl used to have Tourette’s. James: Are you sure he didn’t just swear a lot? Nath: He’d be going mental at his mum, going ‘FUCK OFF, FUCK OFF’ and she’d be saying ‘I’m taking your bike off you’ and he’d be shouting ‘NO YOU’RE FUCKING NOT! FUCK FUCK FUCK DAD TELL HER TO PISS OFF’ Then Mrs Wood would come to the door and go ‘sorry Tom, Carl’s not playing out today.’ [laughs] James: That sounds nothing like Tourette’s! Nath: He couldn’t control his swearing for a while. Honestly. Oh Tom, remember when he asked for an Animal bag for Christmas and he got an ‘Animal’ bag, 75
Tight Feeble, Barcelona. 76
Fence 360, London.
Icepick, London. 77
from that shitty watch company. Apparently it went off. [laughs] James: Tell us about Carl Wood’s daily routine? Oh fuck’s sake. Right, for starters I don’t have an alarm clock to get up because he makes so much noise every morning. Singing, talking utter bollocks. Then he’ll go to work, we’ll come back and he’ll tell me about his day and how shit it was. Pissed off to fuck. ‘I was on price and I earned fuck all.’ Then, still covered in mortar, all over his hands, he’ll go and have a half hour wank in his bedroom. Then boom! Come out with a towel over his shoulder and have a shower. I’ll go ‘What the fuck are you doing Carl?’ and he’ll go ‘Well I’ve been having a wank haven’t I?!’ He’s disgusting. I went to work one day and he’d been laid off for about a month and my bird Abi called me and goes ‘I daren’t leave the room, Carl’s going fucking ballistic.’ I go ‘why, what’s he doing?’ and Abi goes ‘He’s just parading around the house going ‘I’VE HAD A SHIT AND A WANK. A SHIT AND A WANK! WHAT A PRODUCTIVE MORNING! WHAT A PRODUCTIVE MORNING!’ [laughs] He obviously didn’t know that Abi was in the house. Abi had to leave so she walks out and goes ‘Hi Carl’ and he’s all sheepish like ‘Oh yeah, all right Abi, you all right…” [laughs] Was Carl going into town before you? Yeah… It must have been weird when you all got a bit older and Carl started going into town and you stayed in the village? Nath: You’d just go in wouldn’t you? We’d ride the carpark near yours then some people with cars would turn up and be like ‘Right, off to town now’ and you would just stay at home. You were never pissed off about it. Did anyone ever try and talk you into it? Nath: Yeah they did. didn’t they? And on a few occasions you came in, but you could tell it wasn’t a comfortable situation for you to be in. Like you’d be on edge all the time, like you really didn’t want to be there. It slowly got better over time, when we started traveling a bit more. It’s why you’re good at mannys, hops and 180s and 360s, because there was nothing else to do in that carpark. It was just flat. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve got a pretty limited trick repertoire, which sounds like it comes from being a street rider growing up in a village. When you got out into the city more, did you never feel like trying to learn loads of other stuff? I think if I learnt barspins I’d feel like I wouldn’t have to learn anything else. Just grinds, twists and barspins. But I’d rather find a nice set-up to do something I feel confident doing rather than learning everything and doing it on anything. It does piss me off sometimes,
like when I did that 180 over that bank to rail. I just wasn’t into it. It’s like my bread and butter, I do that shit all the time. That’s frustrating sometimes. But if you look at Ratkid [Mark Gralla], he’s the best street rider. He’s got a tight niche of tricks and he just does them on interesting spots that he’s found [everyone contemplatively nods in agreement]. When you see riders doing massive stuff and they look terrified of the outcome, I don’t want to be like that. James: Yeah, but you 180ing that rail, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that. I’d be scared of that. You’re really good at that stuff so it doesn’t phase you. I can see that people get comfortable doing big stuff, but sometimes it looks painful. Like, ‘why would you want to risk doing that?’ I had a different view on it before I did my shoulder, but then I did my knee and I started seeing things a little differently. It really knocks your confidence. A week or so after I arrive back from Barcelona I head up to Hull and reality bites. It’s bitterly cold and between the intermittent rain it’s perpetually grey. I’ve somehow missed Hull on my travels around England. As a city, it’s isolated, pinned to the coast by the M64, with Liverpool in the same position on the west coast, some 120 miles away. Hull certainly looks bleak, but any city on a day like today looks bleak. Days like today are like walking in on someone taking a shit – neither yourself or the person in question wants to experience that. The madness of Barcelona has subdued. Sandy has spent most of the time with his girlfriend, readjusting back from living with a pack of feral cats for two weeks. I didn’t expect to get much in the way of photos in Hull, the weather was bleak when I set off. It’s worth getting a picture of the city at least. Sandy gives me a tour, past a gay bar called The Yorkshireman, the art college that used to be an orphanage, to the Hull Barrier banks, where Tom and Nath watched a man commit suicide. “I forget how weird Hull can be at times, it’s only when you start talking about it like this.” He remarks wistfully. We have breakfast that morning at somebody’s wake. The feelings of Barcelona start to well up again. It’s hard not to like Sandy, there’s an honesty to him that’s quite humbling. I try to picture him as this nervous wreck of a child, but I can’t. He seems at ease with himself and where he’s at, even after having such a terrible time with injuries in the past. His friends undoubtedly had a big hand in the guy he’s become. I mentioned earlier in the interview that ‘riding helped him get over his anxiety’ – sounds like bullshit, I know, but in retrospect, it was probably more to do with having such a funny, weird and solid group of mates around him.
I THINK IF I LEARNT BARSPINS I’D FEEL LIKE I WOULDN’T HAVE TO LEARN ANYTHING ELSE
Calm After The Storm IN THE CLOUDS WITH MATTHEW ROE
Words and photography by GEORGE MARSHALL
Tight jersey barrier opposite air, Tel Aviv, Israel. 82
This story starts badly. It starts with Bryan Adams singing the love ballad Everything I Do, I Do It For You on the banks of the muggy River Trent in 2001. It’s a scorching August bank holiday weekend in the city of Nottingham and Adams is singing to a half-cut and sun-burnt crowd of Midlanders. The festival poster lists the day’s acts, the size of the words a sure measure of their wages. In very fine print the poster reads ‘BMX demos from international teams.’ The posters are lying. ‘Local riders who want a free festival ticket’ would have been closer to the truth. Here I found myself, riding a quarterpipe and a jump box with a group of friends, in front of a paying audience that looked as if to be wondering when we were going to put our face paint on and start throwing foamy cream cakes at each other. Aside from the odd busdriver attempt drenched in panic, we weren’t value for money. We had more flared headtubes and bleached hair than tricks – all except one of us. One young kid who I hadn’t met before stood out. His runs read like an early X-Games street final with effortless 360 turndowns, tailwhips and the showstopper of the era – a backrail fufanu. That was the first day I met Matthew Roe. Fresh faced, quiet and shy, he was a young lad from Derbyshire that possessed an immense talent. He was the next Jamie Bestwick in the making… or so I thought.
and unique style remains generally unacknowledged. Yet to those who have witnessed his riding at first hand, he is regarded as one of the most original and talented riders around. He is a rider with a signature frame and numerous sponsors, but why hasn’t he gone further? How could a rider so talented and intensely passionate still live with his parents and be on the dole? In his own words, this is Roey’s story, a story he describes as one of wasted opportunity and new beginnings. “Bikes are my life. I went to my first motocross race at a track in Doncaster when I was five. It was magical to me. After that my folks took me into a motocross shop and let me sit on a little PW50 bike. I still remember the smell of oil and new rubber in that shop. As a kid I always wanted a motocross bike, but I was never allowed one, so BMX was the next best thing.”
“ FUCK IT, I’LL
GO TO COMPS – I’VE STILL GOT A GOOD THREE WHIP IN ME
“My granddad Derrick is the reason why I started riding. He was a miner, a good chap with an amazing head of hair. I used to go round to his house and he’d take me up the BMX track. The track was just a single line and the jumps were shit. We’d go up in the rain with the spades and the wheelbarrow, dig a jump and I’d ride it in the wet. My granddad would come everywhere with me, he was there to watch over me.”
With his granddad encouraging him, Roey grew up surrounded by bikes in a small mining town half way between Nottingham and Derby, an area with a rich history of producing cycling greats, from ’80s racing legend Geth Shooter to street rider Matt Wakefield, from Raleigh Bicycles to respected road frame builder Mercian, “Jamie Bestwick grew up down the road. I used to ride a spot across from his old house. I remember the first time I went to Derby Storm and I saw him ride the vert ramp. I remember hearing this squeaky high-pitched voice going ‘oh shit’, as he’d be in some crazy position carving a massive alley oop across the entire ramp. Jamie’s always been a massive influence, he proved it was possible to come from the sticks and make a living from BMX.”
“Oh ay. Yeah I remember that day.” Roey recalls in his distinctive Derbyshire accent. “I was just a young nipper. I’d only been riding a few years, I must have been about 15. I hadn’t drank before that day and you lot gave me my first ever beer. One can – pissed. Fucking spider’s youth.” He tells me one winter night as we sit outside in the shadow of the active Volcano El Teide, on the Island of Tenerife.
Ten years since that first underage drink and Roey has grown into one of most stylish and natural riders this country has ever seen, yet his monthly earnings from riding are not much more than an over indulgent mobile phone bill – Jamie Bestwick he is not. Despite his undeniable talent, a supportive sponsor and a media hungry to document his riding, Roey has not grown into the full-time professional rider all thought he would become. The X-Games invite never landed in the post, the signature shoe never got laced up and no energy drink ever offered to pay for his US visa. He does not live a life of holding giant cheques on podiums, first class flights and VIP wristbands. Instead at the age of 26 Matt lives at home with his parents and is on the dole, having recently quit his job as a labourer on a building site. Roey possesses a talent that has presented him with incredible opportunities. Yet it is a gift he has battled with and, to his frustration, those opportunities have been widely left untaken. Uncomfortable under the spotlight, he is a rider who has never had a definitive video section, magazine feature or contest results. His incredible skill
Derby Storm skatepark became Roey’s second home. With Bestwick to look up to and Storm being one of the best skateparks in the UK, it was a perfect breeding ground for the next generation of UK talent. Aside from Bestwick, there was a second major influence Roey would meet on that industrial estate in Derby. “When I think of Storm, I think of Niki [Croft]. For years, I’d go down Storm and session with that animal. We were both young at the time and hungry. We were both so passionate about riding. In the week we’d ride Storm every day pretty much. At weekends I’d pack a bag and we’d travel around the Midlands riding different cities. We learnt tricks side by side, feeding off each other, but we had different styles of learning. Niki was always the fighter. He’d fall, pick himself up and keep going till he got it. I just rode without fighting myself. I feel like I’ve never had to try. All my life riding has come very naturally to me. It was the same with motorbikes. 83
Nacnac, Laguna, Tenerife.
My mate used to have a PW80 motorbike, and we used to bomb around a field on that when we were about eight or nine. His mam would say, ‘Matthew, you’re a natural on that bike you are’...” he says to me with a humble modesty. “I remember one of the older locals at Storm came up to me and said ‘you can do it all can’t you.’ He asked me if I could do wall taps, but I’d never tried them. He did a big one and asked me to try it. First try I landed on the deck, then pulled it second go. I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal until he told me. I never had to try to do new stuff, it just came naturally. For a while I used to delve into tricks and do all the mad stuff; flipwhips, 360 hand plants, I was even known to try the odd frontflip. But doing those tricks never felt natural or enjoyable. I never liked the fear or the pain of tricks. I had to figure out you don’t have to do tricks to be a good rider.” With the perfect skatepark just a minutes away and a strong partnership with Niki Croft, Roey’s riding progressed rapidly and far beyond that talented kid I met 84
at music festival a few years before. It was only time until the world of BMX took notice. “My first sponsor was a small T-shirt company called Local, I say sponsor, but they just gave me a few shirts. They took me to my first Backyard Jam in Telford. I used to love riding those comps. I think I got third at Bournemouth in amateur. I remember Ben Wallace came second, now look at him coming second in Dew Tour, living the dream he is, he must be raking it in and look at me – on the dole living with my parents.” He says shaking his head looking up in frustration. “I won amateur at the Derby Backyard Jam in 2003, so the next year I went up to pro. I was 17, riding a Sputnic frame, I didn’t have a bike sponsor or anything, I didn’t get any money from riding. I was entered against all the big names, John Heaton, Bestwick, Ruben [Alcantara]… they were all there. The night before we’d had a mint session on the course and I had a good idea of what I’d do in qualifying. To be fair I just did all Mike Aitken stuff, I copied him. I just did 360 turndowns, wallride to whip and I whipped the doubles. Bestwick told me to use the
Gap to wallride , Tel Aviv, Israel.
Toboggan, collasped building, South Tenerife. 87
Opposite downside tailwhip, Laguna, Tenerife.
whole course, to go from one side to the other, so that’s what I did. I wasn’t scared, I just rode. I was hungry, not to win, but just to ride. I didn’t think about all the riders I was up against, I enjoyed it.” On home turf, riding a bike he’d paid for, still without a single paying sponsor and at the tender age of 17, Roey qualified sixth, ahead of seasoned pros the likes of Corey Martinez, Mike Escamilla and Taj Mihelich. “Doyle was in my group in the final. But someone, I won’t name who, told me to do just one dumb line, I never pulled it and finished 16th. That was a mistake, but I was still blown away how well I did. I would’ve finished better if I’d just rode… I still beat Ruben though,” he says shaking his head in disbelief. “When I rode at that jam, I didn’t give a flying fuck. No one knew who I was, no one expected anything from me, especially myself. It was the same when I rode at the Bike Show at the NEC in Birmingham with Dave Mirra in front of bloody hundreds of people. I just rode and the pressure didn’t bother me. Mirra came up to me after88
wards and shook my hand, said ‘well done.’ It was one of the best moments of my life.” Riding Derby Backyard Jam and beside Mirra at the Bike Show, Roey had proved himself against the best riders in the world and a new life as professional rider beckoned. He had the opportunity to be an English Chase Hawk or Mike Aitken, and he knew it. “I felt I could get better and I thought as long I can go high and have some consistency I could maybe make a life out of riding for myself. My old mate Gaz [Sanders] put me on the Mutiny Pro team and for a while things started to happen.” “But doing that well in the Derby Backyard Jam changed me, it changed riding for me. Afterwards I realized I wanted to go to comps and to my surprise I found myself wanting to win, whereas before I’d never given a shit. I put pressure on myself. I’ve never been able to cope with pressure, it span me out. I went to Sheffield Backyard and felt so nervous. I didn’t ride practice much. When it came to take my run one of my so-called mates shouted something about wanting to fuck my mam. It should’ve
Main road tyreslide, Los Americas, Tenerife.
meant nothing, but I lost my train of thought. I dropped in and missed a footjam at the very start of my run. I just walked off the course – I’d had enough. From that day I’ve struggled to ride in front of people. I was always scared of what people thought of me. I’ve always worried and played mind games with myself. I’ve always had my head in clouds thinking about stuff too much.” “After Backyard Sheffield I went to the Metro Jam in Vancouver. It happened again. I bottled it. I buckled under the pressure that I’d put on myself. I rode fine in practice but I just couldn’t ride qualifying. I remember trying to do tricks that weren’t me and I didn’t pull anything. I wasn’t being myself. At that point I never knew how to be myself, instead I forced stuff I thought people wanted to see me do. I look back to the time of Derby Backyard and the Bike Show with Mirra and wonder where I could have gone with my riding if I’d just been more confident and sorted my head out, and just been myself…” While Roey was out in Austin, the owners of Derby Storm felt the skatepark wasn’t making enough money
and closed the doors for good, abandoning the community of riders it had created. It was a huge blow to Roey. It was an unwelcomed addition to his new-found fear of riding in front of people and his diminishing confidence. “Before Storm closed I was positive about riding, it was my life. After Storm closed I had to sit in a car for ages to ride Birmingham, it wasn’t fun. I didn’t enjoy riding that park. I stopped sessioning with Niki all the time. I stopped riding regularly… I got sick of it. I hated riding for a bit. There was nothing positive going off. After it closed a few of us went back. We broke in and got to have one last session, it was very weird, a sad time. We got through the fire escape at the back. I used to go out of the same fire escape for a quick smoke before a session. That fire escape is still there. I go round sometimes and reminisce of so many good times.” With the park closed Roey’s drive to make a living from riding began to slip away and so did his focus. “Once you lose that passion you start to drift. I started drinking a bit and smoking weed a bit to compensate, well… actually I 89
Grizz air, Santa Cruz, Tenerife. 90
started smoking a lot. I’d smoked before, but not too much, and then I was smoking all the time because it took the bad feelings away. I was having a shit time on my bike.You don’t get on your bike to not enjoy it do you? For long time it wasn’t fun. “My life’s been full of let-downs. At least Storm was someone else’s fault. Usually I always let myself down. I let go the best job a person like me could wish for. I was Sports Marketing Assistant for Monster. It was my dream job. I was a labourer on a building site when I applied for it. I went for an interview straight after work in my steel toecaps and covered in crap. Harry Main had put in a good word for me. The next day I got a phone call saying they would try me out and that I’d be going to an international MX race in Holland that weekend. I got off the phone crying. Never have I had emotions like that. Finally it was something positive. “With my love of MX it was my dream job to hang out with all the riders who I looked up to. When they won a race I had to give them a Monster can on the podium with the logo pointing the right way. The riders always wanted water so I had to pour out the Monster, rinse out the can, fill it with water and hand it to them in the scrum around the podium. Some riders didn’t even want water so they’d just be drinking from empty cans. “Watching the races taught me how to ride MX, I learnt how to slide a lip and drop a gear over a 100ft set,” Roey says gathering pace with his words, and then charges into a five minute rendition of what it’s like going through a track on his 125cc bike, his lips tight together doing engine noises, eyes wide open looking straight forward and with two hands out in front of him holding an imaginary set of vibrating handlebars. “I love BMX, but MX is the love of my life. My passion towards MX led away from BMX, it’s been a passion that has haunted me all my life. To do motocross you’ve got to have money and time to do it, so I do the next best thing which is BMX, and it’s just as fun to be fair. “Going to the races and that, you’d think it was a dream job, but it wasn’t. In the week I had to look through all the European magazines, and scan in every Monster logo, that alone was a full time job. I ended up working seven days a week. I didn’t have any time to ride BMX or ride motocross, I slowly forgot riding any type of bike. It was a very lonely job. I’ve always been on the shy side and for the job you had to be confident and cocky, you had to be an arse-licker, know what I mean? I was the wrong person for the job. Once again I felt like I was trying to be someone else. I earned a fair bit of cash, but what does that matter if you can’t ride and do what you love? I wasn’t happy. One night at three in the morning I drove round to the boss’ house and dumped the laptop and scanner round the back of his house and sent him a text saying ‘I’m finished.’ That was that. “Looking back, quitting that job was another example of me letting myself down and wasting an opportunity… it’s been the story of my life.” He says bluntly. “It runs in the family. My uncle was a great gymnast. He was known for bringing style into gymnastics. He did it all gracefully. But he never wanted to win. He’d come second on purpose so he never made it. My dad used to play for Notts County, he was a good footballer, he played midfield. He broke his leg and that ended his career before he had a chance to peak. Before he was a miner my granddad Peter was an amazing pianist. Not a lesson in his life, he couldn’t read music, but he could just listen to a tune and pick it up. When he was younger he used play in pubs. He never made it as a musician, so instead had to go down the pits.” As Roey had become distracted away from BMX by his job at Monster and his love of motocross, his friend Niki Croft had grown out of Roey’s shadow and become one of highest profile riders in the UK. For a time Niki was a permanent fixture in the magazines and had a defining section on the Brighton Ain’t Ready DVD. I ask Roey what he thought when he saw his younger mate doing so well. “It made me a bit jealous, I wanted to be there with him and experience all those good times at his side. I’m proud to look back and see what Niki’s achieved in his riding. He lived that crazy life for while. He got himself out of Nottingham and that’s what did it. He moved down to Hastings and was suddenly surrounded by the likes of Bas Keep and Lacey. He was out filming every day and shooting photos. I’ve always hated going out filming.” Part of the success of riders such as Aaron Ross and Corey Martinez, is their willingness and professional attitude towards being in the spotlight. In contrast, the spotlight is always something Roey has approached with reluctance. The phrase ‘photos don’t do him justice’ is a common cliché in BMX, but in Matt’s case it is genuinely true. Roey has a unique style invisible to the lens of a camera, 91
best appreciated by the naked eye. He bobs and weaves the floor, his back end slides and turns, constantly on the edge. He preaches the art of pumping the flat ground, a technique learnt from motocross, and a mysterious skill that may help to explain how he can approach a quarter with no speed and end up seven feet out. As well as being unique, his riding is also spontaneous. Half the time even he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, he just goes high and does what feels right in the instant. A perfect turndown may spontaneously spring from a wallride completely unplanned, he then lands with surprised smile. Afterwards he has to embark on a battle to recreate that spontaneous moment for a camera. To his despair it’s a battle he often loses and so the camera is his most hated of inventions. I understand Roey’s hatred of cameras better than most. For three years I have had his name penciled on my short list of riders to shoot with. It has been three years of frustration, unproductive weekends, unanswered messages, punctures, bad luck and only a handful of photos. During winter last year we planned a trip to Tel Aviv, Israel, a city where it never rains. On the evening of the second day, it started to rain. The storm lasted for five days. 40% of Tel Aviv’s annual rainfall fell in that one week, only drying up the day I flew home. “The roads are turning into rivers... why does this always happen to me?” I remember him asking me one evening as we shelter from the storm eating a falafel. A couple of weeks later we tried again, this time spending five days in London, and once again we spent it stuck indoors watching rain pelt against the window. “I’m cursed. Someone or something up there is against me,” he told me, and I was beginning to believe him.
“Another person who has really changed my perspective on riding has been Robbo [Thomas Robinson]. I’ve been riding with him a lot in the last year. He’s younger than me and doesn’t give a monkeys what people think of him. He rides for himself… he’s a good lad Robbo, he can’t hold his drink though,” he says laughing. Roey quit his job on the building site from the hostel payphone in Israel and returned home to put his MX bike up for sale. Keen to make the most of his newfound drive we planned a trip to the island of Tenerife, in attempt to escape Roey’s run of bad luck. In the first week we shot very few photos but we rode all day every day making the most of the dry weather and an abundance of skateparks and spots. “Being in Tenerife has really helped me remember what riding is all about. I saw the way the local riders sessioned, constantly laughing, not giving a fuck, just enjoying riding for what it is. It reminded me of the days at Storm with Niki. I didn’t let riding in front of people phase me here in Tenerife. I knew it was something I had to overcome. I only realize now how much that day in Sheffield really affected me now. Fuck the past.”
I HAVE A CHOICE EITHER THE SPOTLIGHT OR THE BUILDING SITE
Under the sun and among the surrounding awe-inspiring beauty of Tenerife, Roey’s confidence grew by the day. In the evenings he would talk of traveling, going on trips, picking up new sponsors and giving his career in BMX one last push. “This year I’m going to get out there and have another stab at it. Fuck it, I’ll go to comps – I’ve still got a good three whip in me. I’m going to do whatever it takes so I can make a proper living from riding… where there’s a will there’s a way. I just want to get out there.”
During that wet week in Israel Roey spent the long evenings marooned in our hostel talking to Brad Simms, who was by chance in Tel Aviv at the same time. Matt listened to Brad’s travel stories of bloody bed sheets, Polish blonde virgins and armed Columbian gangs. During that week I saw a definite change in Roey, he seemed to have a renewed outlook on riding that I hadn’t seen in him in many years. “While we were in Israel something clicked in my head. I was there for three weeks, two weeks of that on my own. There was a lot of time to think. I thought about my labouring job back home. I remember thinking, if I don’t do something now I would be working that job the rest of my life. Then I thought of Brad. I thought, here’s somebody who’s really living life, he’s just traveling the world off BMX and enjoying life. Meeting Brad was inspiring. I thought, why not use what I’ve got? The lads down the building site would kill for the opportunity I have. I’m 26 and I finally I have the drive again to ride and make something of it. I have the passion back. I understand what it takes to be in the spotlight and how important it is if I want to make a living out of riding. I now know I have a choice either the spotlight or the building site.” 92
As he speaks about pushing himself and getting ‘there’, I ask Roey where exactly ‘there’ is. “To be honest I don’t know where I’m going youth” he laughs contently. “I’ve got my passion and confidence back. Right now I’m just happy. I just want to travel, meet people, enjoy new experiences, ride my bike and be myself. Who knows what could happen. Look at Bestwick, he didn’t make a life out of BMX for himself until he was 28, it took a while to figure it all out. I just want to stop missing opportunities and go back to what matters – enjoying yourself.” During that last week in Tenerife the clouds lifted, our run of badluck and talk of a curse came to an abrupt end. Roey was able to overcome his fear of the spotlight and we shot enough photos to fill 20 or more pages of this magazine. It’s an achievement he’s previsously found impossible, ever since that day in Sheffield. It’s a sure sign if any that Roey has genuinely put the past behind him and is ready to start a new story in his life as one of this country’s most naturally talented and stylish riders – I just hope it’s a story that starts better than this one.
Drainage ditch no hander air, Los Americas, Tenerife.
People Are Strange BUT DEREK NELSON IS NOT
I first started riding in the early nineties, back when the world of BMX was seeped in a punk rock, DIY ethic – and I fell in love with it instantly. A life-raft in a stagnant mill pond of popular culture and regulated activities, BMX acted as a haven for oddballs and outcasts, a place where creativity and individual expression were encouraged, a sanctuary for a collective of like-minded (but very much free-thinking) thrill-seeking young dudes. From the very beginning BMX taught me to question everything – from authority, fashions, traditions, motivations, the status quo and everything in between. It encouraged me not to take the worn-down predestined path and instead opened the door for me to make informed choices of my and also showed me there are many alternative and exciting ways of looking at the world and living your life in it – and for that I’ll be forever grateful. BMX has come along way since back then, the products have improved infinitely, the standard of riding has progressed unimaginably, the industry has grown exponentially and the way we consume media has been flipped on its head. But along with this growth we’ve seen the gradual erosion of those early defining principals. Due to the massive expansion of the 20-inch bike industry and the blanket reach of the internet, now, instead of rewarding and encouraging creative self-expression, BMX has started to develop some of the very same traits that riders once strove to avoid. Generic styles and narrow-minded views are beginning to strangle some of the creative freedoms that once made BMX so diverse – and I for one don’t like it. The reason I personally detest the clone-ification of BMX is that I’ve put all my eggs in one basket. After ten years working on trick bike magazines I’m now completely unemployable in the real world. All I know is documenting and living BMX. I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got nowhere else to go. So, in an effort to keep my job as interesting, as exciting and as weird as possible, let me introduce to you Mr Derek Nelson. I’ll make it clear from the start, Derek is a man on a mission. A man walking his own path, scything his way through a hostile environment with great swings of his homemade 20 inch machete. By the act of you reading the words of this true BMX outlaw I’m hoping that some eyes are prised open and some new light is shed on the infinite range of awesome alternatives that lay waiting out there if only people just used their minds. Come on people! Fuck all looking and riding the same! Please keep my job interesting! Be more like Derek! Get weird already!
Words and photography by STEVE BANCROFT
Derek Nelson is 26 years old, he lives in a tripped-out BMX commune in Vestal, NY. I went to stay with him for a while. Here are some bullet-point notes I took during my time there, and following that is a direct transcription of a conversation we recorded on my last night. • He owns his own Mad Maxx style skate/bike park called HCS, which boasts the most diverse collection of ridable objects in the Solar System. • He makes his bikes from scrap metal and constructs them to be as strong as possible, without giving two fucks about weight or aesthetics. • He cut ‘Kill Yourself’ into his chest with a scalpel. • He has a ferret called Bones. It bites. • He has his own skateboard factory and makes and sells his own decks from scratch. • He doesn’t really like people. • He drives a Mad Maxx style matte black pick up with Death Machine sprayed on the side. • He considers a barely frozen lake ‘a spot’. • He put a bar stool on the deck of his ramp and did a 540 truckdriver disaster on it. • He’s like a satanic version of Rob Ridge. • He has a working watch welded onto his bike so he’s never late. • He’s never owned, and plans never to own, a mobile phone. • I believe him to be the only person to genuinely like getting hateful comments on his web edits (it plays into his master plan). • He’s softly spoken and highly intelligent. • His voice is so enchanting that, if he weren’t so damn freaky, he’d make a great narrator for children’s books. • He built almost everything he owns, from his home, to his skatepark, to his art studio, to his machine shop, to his bikes, to his car (well, maybe not the whole car, but it looks that way). • He has a distain for anything perfect. • He stencils his skateboard decks with blood from the local abattoir.
Albion: So you found your first BMX in jail right? Derek: Yeah, when I was 16 my dad was restoring an old jail and turning it into apartments, I was working for him at the time and up in the attic, in the evidence room, there was an old BMX. It was chrome with JMC stamped on the headtube and an evidence tag on the toptube. I pulled off the tag and started riding that. That’s quite a unique reason for riding BMX. What other stuff was in the evidence room? Erm… a broken pool cue was probably the most interesting artefact. Was it a proper jail when you started working there? Oh yeah, it was a big old place. Three floors lined with cells. Long rows of cells with a big mechanism at each end to shut and lock all the doors. So when did your park, HCS come about? Well, this place is a massive work in progress. Its starting point is very hard to pin down, just because we used to have ramps here a long time ago, but then my brother initially tried to start a place down here, but that failed because of family dynamic. Then after that I decided to have a go as I had a better relationship with my dad,
• His skatepark has a fully stocked public library. • He has his own machine shop and can make or fix anything you like. • He drives his car that looks like a bat like a bat out of hell. • After he dropped me at the airport he was off to pull down a giant grain silo with a chain and a pick up truck. • He is not a good businessman. • The metal sculptures he’s made can be found in the lobbies of posh hotels all over town. • Some kids can’t fix a puncture. Derek could grow his own innertube. • He bombed a hill very fast on a homemade headfirst lying-down coffin-bike. • He tattooed his entire lower forearm black with a sewing needle. • He repairs existing and makes new street spots all over the place. • His possessions include: a full pipe, a massive satellite dish, a snowplough thingy, every tool under the sun and over a million other random objects. • He rides his own wooden pedals and plastic sprocket. • Him and his brother have made 13 full length DVDs. • He crashed hard and all these enormous beams of wood fell on his head, and he just laughed. • He is one of the most interesting, most goodnatured and most all round coolest muthafuckers I’ve ever met. • He is amazing to watch ride a bike. • If I were a gambling man then I’d bet all my chips he has more fun than you.
who owns the building, so a legitimate business opened in 2002, but we had ramps here in like ’97. My senior year in high school I’d go to school, get out, work till 9 at night at the jail then come down here to work on the ramps. So you were super busy, even back then. I guess you had the equivalent of three full time jobs even back then? Where does your drive and motivation come from? Probably my dad, I hope never to be that driven [laughs]. Oh, so he’s pretty nonstop is he? Oh yeah, like he can’t relax at all, but I guess that’s who instilled the initial work ethic in me. After that I always set myself a lot of goals, not necessarily to accomplish specific things, more to just experiencing things, so I’d always want to be pushing out into unfamiliar territory, especially with building ramps and riding. You’re a hands-on kind of guy. You’ve made the place where you live and the ramps and bikes you ride. That must feel good. Yeah, it does give me a kind of satisfaction, through building you get out of it so much more than just the things you make. The act of physically understanding your surroundings is important to me. Most people 99
don’t have the slightest concept of the amount of work that goes into even an everyday familiar object, so understanding that makes you appreciate everything more. It has a huge impact on the rest of your life, that and the constant pursuit for that kind of knowledge is very rewarding… at least it is for me. You’re obviously very talented and motivated and you put those attributes to good use, but it’s a very unconventional use. How would you explain to someone what style of skatepark this is? OK, that’s a tricky question. Firstly, I wouldn’t necessarily describe this place as a skatepark – that’s what we do here, but the ideas that we try to put out through our actions here are about initiating beneficial change in the world. I know it’s a stretch, but with the skatepark itself, what we see as beneficial is eye-opening work, engaging and making you see things that you wouldn’t normally see. Like, why would you want to ride the same thing over and over? There’s literally is no point to that. If you’re really into riding, people who have stuck with it for a long time, for the most part, they don’t want to ride to same ramp the whole time. As far as the physical ramps themselves, they’re mostly made from recycled or salvaged material. People are so wasteful, especially in the US, they throw away so much shit it is unbelievable. It’s disgusting, the consumer culture, that is what we are reacting to here, and with the stuff in Pittsburgh. It’s re-use, it’s recycling, it’s trying to combine all of those things together to try and inspire the new generation to use those sorts of ethics in their own lives, to help them to recognise the responsibility they have for their surroundings. You can only really change what’s around you, and we try to inspire people to change their surroundings for the better, for themselves. BMX is fairly fickle these days, what sort of response do your actions here get? Well, locally it’s about 50:50. Well, that’s not actually true, in this area, there’s almost an income divide, people that really understand and get what we’re doing down here, for the most part, don’t have that much money. They live a modest life. Then the other half, the ones who live a more conventional American lifestyle, don’t really dig it. Some of them even hate this place. That’s strange for people to actually ‘hate’ this place. Fair enough, don’t go there, but don’t worry about it so much you hate it. They just don’t know what to do with it. Local pros only really come here when we have a competition on, so they can win some money or whatever, but I think things are beginning to swing over now, we’ve had the staying power over anything else. I love what you’re doing here, it reminds me of what attracted me to BMX over half my life ago, it’s DIY, it’s exciting, it’s different, it’s expressive, it’s creative, it’s a bit fucked up and it really bugs me how it’s not better received and appreciated than it is. In your opinion, why isn’t it more popular? Because capitalism is global. That’s what it boils down to. It’s not socially acceptable to do what we’re trying to do down here. What we’re trying to do is more of a communal / social / communist ideal. What we’re trying to do here is the polar opposite of most economies. We’re trying to set up a micro economy, but in an unconventional way. So you have your free library, your boxes of free and recycled bike parts… Yeah, industry left this area a while ago and the money around here is getting less and less, so kids around here don’t have much, so we have a used bin and I’ll fix stuff 100
people bring in and we give that out to keep people’s bikes working. In regard to your criticisms of capitalism and globalisation, do you attribute those same principals to what’s happening with BMX these days? Yeah. The BMX industry, the way it’s going is the same was as any other generic business, you can watch it working out the same way. There are exceptions, but generally companies want BMX to be a fashion so riders follow those trends, that way they can push more product. Businesses look after themselves above anything else, but here the business isn’t important, it’s more about the people that come to the building for the business, there is no entity above the people. BMX functions in an identical way to the other bigger industries and that’s a shame, because it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to be that way. So would you change things, if you could? You’re obviously trying to change your own life and your own surroundings here, but would you ideally want there to be hundreds of scenes like this – with people using their minds in different, less conventional ways, to do what they want? That’s another tough question. Erm, I don’t believe I have the right or the responsibility [laughs] to change anybody’s mind, so all I’m doing is exactly what I desire for myself. But in your idyllic picture of things, do you… I don’t actually have an idyllic picture of things, I don’t know, I just stay focused on what I’m doing and maybe people will be interested. But I don’t see how it could be bad to have more people thinking along similar lines as we do here. But one thing that would do, if there were many scenes like this, it would stop you sticking out like a sore thumb. It would make you more normal. That’s fine. Me sticking out like a sore thumb is the least of my concerns. So you don’t get any kind of kick from sticking out and being the weird kooky dude? Nah, when I got the invitation, a few of my family members talked me into going on Road Fools 13, they convinced me that I should go just for the experience. I knew it wasn’t going to be something I would like, just because I’m not a very social person. I’m glad I went, but it was everything that I didn’t want riding to become for me. Oh really, you didn’t buzz off it? Erm… Road Fools 13 was my true epiphany that I didn’t want to go in that direction. As far as BMX goes, I think that supporting your local scene and keeping it local is the most important thing you can do. It sounds like you weren’t surprised to find that out? I always knew what it would be like, but you always get these flirtatious ideas like ‘Oh, maybe that would actually be fun…’ So thanks to Crandall I had an experience that answered that question and it was a pivotal moment that made me want to put my energy in a very different direction. You’re obviously a very talented bike rider. And
OUT LIKE A SORE THUMB IS THE LEAST OF MY CONCERNS
“ I ALWAYS WANT TO
BE PUSHING OUT INTO UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY
Bar stool 540 truckdriver. 104
you’re telling me that you’ve never toyed with the idea of changing the way you ride and reaping some of the benefits that would bring? No. Thanks to my father and mother I was able to travel to central Africa, people there have nothing. Going there from a country like America, where you have so much, is a punch in the face. You can’t ignore how little people have to get along with, and how happy they are with it. That trip highlighted the fact that fame and monetary and material gain are pretty much the most unimportant things you can have in your life, as far as what’s really important and what you should really desire. Do you consider this place an expression of yourself, like an external reality to your inner thoughts and opinions and the way you view the world? Yeah man. Definitely. I try to keep it open for other people too. I try to make it like a haven, a place where people who don’t fit in can come to be whatever they are. I love that. When I was 14 years old BMX was the same thing, it was like a haven for people that didn’t fit in. It was a place where free thinking and free expression was actively encouraged. Yeah, go to a skatepark now in the US and it’s like a show off competition. Like everyone is playing a giant game of Bike or Skate, but they don’t know it. It’s just a boring one-up game. I can’t even go to another skatepark most of the time, if I do, I just end up leaving and riding something else by myself. Why do you like imperfection so much? Lots of reasons, imperfections are where truly interesting things show up. That’s where inspiration is, even with people. The most inspiring people are usually fucked up in some way. The more imperfect something is, the more inspiration you can draw from it. So where most see imperfection as a negative thing, you regard it as a positive. Yeah, I use it as fuel. It keeps your mind drifting and free. You and some close friends are part of a group calling yourself The Outlaw Collective. What’s that all about? Yeah, the way it works is that anyone can come up with ideas and agendas for things we can accomplish to change our surroundings for the better. We think about the use of space and the way that BMXers and skaters use it and the societal reaction to that. So we think of ways to change the image of BMXers and skaters in the public eye, to change people’s perceptions of us as negative and abusive towards spaces and property. The Outlaw Collective happened naturally and we just go out and build street spots but also repair existing stuff, like if a concrete ledge has been ridden for years and it’s no longer grindable, then we’ll fix it up or put on coping. We go to abandoned spaces and put in stuff to ride, just to show that we’re productive people. I love riding street, but when you’re grinding ledges or whatever,
people don’t really grasp what’s actually happening, so it’s basically an underground tactic of showing BMX and skateboarding in a positive light. That sounds like an extremely just cause. Well we talked about what riders think of this place, can we talk about how the public and the council view it? Well as you can imagine they’re not too into it. I have a personal file open at the Police house, they’re always coming by with something to say. So you get a lot of complaints? Oh man, yeah. In town we have a detective dedicated to cutting out graffiti, he came down here and wanted me to give him the real names behind all the tags we have on the walls here, I was like “No way man, this place is like a sanctuary, having this place cuts down on people spaying out in the streets.” He didn’t like that. And any time we have big crowds here, we do shows and competitions, the type of neighbourhood around here are very upper middle class and they don’t like having loud music and scary looking people hanging around – people with dreads or tattoos or bits of metal hanging out of them. What’s your reaction to the complaints? I love them. It shows me that we’re doing the right thing. What do you mean by ‘the right thing’? It’s good to expose these people to reality. The type of people around here like to seal themselves in a bubble, they have enough money that they don’t have to hear or see anything they don’t want to, which causes massive social problems with people living together in a community. They get disconnected with the people around them. That’s why it’s important for them to be exposed to things they don’t like so they can grasp how things actually are. So you’re providing a valuable service to the whole town, not just a haven for poor kooks and weirdos but a grounding reality check for the middle class bubble dwellers. What’s up with the Kill Yourself scar you have around your neck? Well I started out tattooing myself with sewing needles and Indian ink and I always wanted something around my collarbones, but I didn’t want it to be a tattoo, so I pulled out a scalpel. I cut ‘Kill Yourself’ into my chest. Did you draw it on first or just wing-it? I drew it on rough with a Sharpie in the mirror and got it fairly even. I went through with a blade and tried to be as careful as I could be. It’s hard to do yourself because you have to go pretty deep for the skin to spread out enough to get defined scaring. You have to pick the scabs out to get it raised. Did it hurt? Yeah, but once you get going it’s not that bad. I was quite meticulous, it took about an hour and a half. Did it bleed a lot? Oh yeah, I had to wipe away the blood with a towel as I was going, it was dripping wet afterwards.
IN THE EVIDENCE ROOM, THERE WAS AN OLD BMX… I PULLED OFF THE EVIDENCE TAG AND STARTED RIDING THAT
Why ‘Kill Yourself’? Well that’s our shop motto. Most people take it the wrong way, what it means is ‘Put everything you have into what you’re doing’. Just kill yourself for it, whatever you’re doing, go all the way with it. Oh, I like that now. I didn’t want to say anything but when I first saw it I thought it was a bit of a ‘rebellious teenage goth’ kind of gig. [laughs] Well maybe there is a little bit of ‘Fuck You’ in there as well. You seem to live significantly differently to the majority of BMXers, and you’re trying to open some eyes, so if someone wanted to shake up their world and change their surroundings for the better, what can people do? I’d just like to get people to realise that the information they receive from all channels of media is dramatically censored. On the whole, you are presented with a very narrow set of options for how you’re supposed to live 106
and ride, and it’s hard to deviate from that, mostly due to the role money and wealth play in that game. I’d just like people to realise that there are other options available and with a bit of willpower people can live how they like, not just how they think they have to. What’s up with your black arm tattoo? What does it say above it? It says ‘Becoming Nothing and Something Forgotten’ – it’s a reminder to draw strength from everything. When it comes down to it, we are all becoming nothing, we are all going to go back into the earth and disappear. No matter how famous or popular or amazing you are, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, everyone ends up the same. So I find that type of thought very inspiring, to push out and experience life to the fullest. Your ferret is biting my arm!? Oh sorry, I’ll grab him for you. Bones! Get off him! His teeth are fucking sharp! Yeah they are huh.
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A Proper Romance MAX WOOD ON PROSTITUTES
Max Wood is a goodtime. On a recent Proper Bikes long weekend in the Netherlands he did the biggest tricks, he smoked the most weed, he drunk the most beers and he banged the most hookers. Heâ€™s exactly the sort of person you need to have around on a short, cold, wet and otherwise spaced-out trip to the cannabis capital of the world. The red light district in Amsterdam is a labyrinth of dark narrow corridors lined with dimly lit glass doors. Behind the glass scantily clad women offering their services in exchange for cash. They strut around like peacocks: dancing, jigging and gyrating provocatively in an effort to lure you inside their lair. They tell you they love you, they blow you a kiss, they show you their tits. One even shook her cock. Through the grimy alleyways shuffle all manor of sex tourists, from Barry and the Boys out on a loud boozy stag do, to lone overweight virgins, and of course stoned BMX teams â€“ it really is a rather sorry assortment of humans. The girls in the windows are equally as diverse, they cover the whole spectrum of shapes, colours, creeds and genders. From surgically enhanced blonde bombshells to six foot six hairy transsexuals, this place has you covered, no matter how you take your tea.
Words and photography by STEVE BANCROFT
111 On the only full day we had to ride it rained, so naturally we spent the afternoon in bars and coffee shops, sampling the local produce. Once suitably oiled, up through a combination of slow loud English and hand gestures of jiggling boobs, we conveniently located the infamous red light district. It took Max less than 30 seconds to fall in love. Ten minutes later he’d chalked up his first conquest of the night. A few beers later and he’d made it two. Max then talked to his fellow team mates - of whome some were battling with their morals – about “getting involved.” One was successful, the other blown out and only blown off and after only being in town for a little over 120 minutes Mr Wood had lived up to his name and clinched his hat-trick. The next day on the ferry home we sat down with Max to find out his personal history with the Ladies of Red and also his current take on one of the world’s oldest and most seedily shrouded professions. It’s recording. Does this mean the ‘non-start’ of my BMX career has ended. What do you mean ‘non start’? Well it hasn’t really kicked off yet and I’ve been waiting a while [laughs]. How about we start this off by you talking a bit about your first experience with a lady of the night. What the ‘first ever’ or the ‘first ever this weekend?’ [laughs] First ever ever. OK. Well it was pretty seedy, as you can imagine it being. I was out dancing in the Black Sheep Bar in Croydon with a few friends when I bumped into Alex Kennedy and Luke Worrall. The end of the night came and Luke pulled me over and was like, “Let’s get a brass, this place is shit.” I was like “Erm, fuck it. Let’s go”. Hang on a minute, who’s Luke Worrall again, I know that name? He’s Kelly Osbourne’s ex-boyfriend. He’s a BMXer, he rode a lot with Alex Kennedy around the Horsham/Caterham area. He’s a model, a good looking guy who always had teeny-boppers hanging out with him at the skatepark. He’s the ‘model type’ in’t he? Ozzy Osbourne once bought him a dog and Luke tattooed his name on it, and it died [laughs]. What, it died because of that? Yeah, it died because of being tattooed. It was one of them pointless little shit dogs anyway. He sounds like an interesting character. Why do you call prostitutes ‘a brass’? I don’t know. I didn’t make it up. Sorry, let’s get back to your first partaking. Oh, yeah. So I was like “Fuck it, I’m in, where are we going?” We turned up outside Richer Sounds in Croydon Highstreet. Wicked! [laughs]. We knocked on the door, some shady guys answered. They took us up stairs. They locked the door and this gate behind us and demanded money. I was thinking “Shit, we don’t even get to see ‘em first.” How much was it? £60 each. So we were lined up in this proper dirty room, I wasn’t feelin’ too psyched at this point, I thought these guys were just gonna beat us up and keep our money. And then three of the ropiest women I’ve ever seen in
my life come walking out. In panic I spotted the one with the biggest rack and was like “You, I’m havin’ you, let’s go…” I done the business and left pretty sharpish. How did you feel after that? I wasn’t really psyched and I wasn’t really disappointed either. It got to the end of the night and I got done what I wanted to get done. [laughs] How about the one you told me about in Estonia? OK, well I was out the for Simpel Session and I broke my elbow in qualifying, so I ended up getting pretty loose for the rest of the time. Shaun [Jinks] got arrested. Mike [Miller] got arrested. Good times. One night we were walking back to the hotel, we jumped in a taxi and were like “Take us to a strip club.” We were driving around for a while when the driver hailed over this ropey woman, she got in the car and the taxi driver was like “I’ve got you one better than a strip club boys!” We went back to her horrible apartment block, we had no idea what anyone was saying to anyone. Was she hot? No! She was not hot. This one wasn’t legit. This was a bad news set-up. It was either do what they say or probably end up having your liver removed or something. Bit of a low point that one. How did those experiences compare to this trip? I know this was a riding trip, but it seemed that you already had the extra curricular activities sorted out before we even left. This trip was different. This was the best trip ever. All the other ones were just as you’d imagine it to be like, all dark and seedy… [Illegible due to booze cruise announcement on Dover-Calais ferry] …I always end up in situations like this because I’m too much of a good friend. It always gets me in dodgy situations. I’ll be with people who are a really bad influence on me and I just seem to do what they say. If they say it’s a good idea then I just go along without thinking. I don’t take much persuading; I think I’m a good friend. Describe your time in Amsterdam. The weirdest and best experience I’ve ever had. We were in the red light district for less than two minutes before you fell in love. You were like a rat up a drainpipe. I kind of didn’t have a choice. I saw the hottest girl of
IN PANIC I SPOTTED THE ONE WITH THE BIGGEST RACK AND WAS LIKE “YOU, I’M HAVIN’ YOU, LET’S GO”
my life. She pointed at me and beckoned me over. ‘Shall I do this?’ I thought to myself. I looked back at my friends and then walked straight in there. She obviously really liked you? [laughs] Yeah, I’m certain she did. It wasn’t the kind of experience I was expecting. It ended up being amazing, a proper love story. I never thought I’d actually fall in love and have a proper romance. I’m gonna make her my wife. Can you describe her? She was Italian, medium height, massive tits, prettiest face. She told me she was a law student and I believe her because we have trust in our relationship. [laughs] You shagged three girls last night didn’t you? Yeah, don’t tell her that though. We were only there for two hours so I had to work quickly [laughs]. Like I said, I’m a good friend and I do my best to entertain. What about when you got flashed by that dude? Oh yeah, we went back there today to have a mooch around and whilst walking down one of the back allys a not so nice girl looked at me and lifted her skirt up and shook her willy at me [laughs]. It freaked me out. I now know how girls feel when we do it to them, so I’m never gonna do that again. I don’t think anyone should have to experience what I did today. Yeah we were definitely on the wrong side of town then. Yeah, there were some right howlers, but also some real diamonds in amongst the rough. Amsterdam has changed my opinions on prostitution, it’s cleaner to go there and have sex with a really really hot girl who’s clean, than it is to go out picking up girls on a Saturday night and being really dirty. The girls I slept with in Amsterdam were cleaner than a lot of the girls I bang anyways.You can’t call them ‘Hookers’, they prefer the term ‘Working Girls.’ They’re not hookers because hookers have no souls, these girls are really nice people, really friendly and they have a personality. Would you marry that first one? 112
Yeah, I’d marry her for sure. I love her. And the third one. Not the second one though. What was the first one’s name? Cecilia, I think… What about other team members, how did they get on under the red lights? Well, the three girls who entertained me that night each charged a flat rate of 50 Euros and for that you got the works. [Name omitted] on the other hand paid his 50 Euros, after getting told to “get out” by one of the other ones, and only got half the treatment. He was naïve to the working girl’s ways. What about Shaun? He was in there like a shot. He was nervous at first until I lent him a tenner. The first one he saw, he literally pushed us to the floor to get in there first, shut the door behind him and whipped the curtain across. And then there were two. [laughs] Is there anything else you’d like to add about the experience? Well, I just don’t want to come across as a dirty little shit bag. I don’t want people to think I’m a dirty shit, because I’m not, I’m a nice guy and just a good friend. And I’d like to recommend the experience to anyone, it’s not as seedy and bleak as you think. Apart from in dreams, where else can you go and shag all these beautiful women who really love you. Were you stoned when you had three hookers in two hours? I’m still stoned now [laughs]. And they’re not called hookers! I don’t think people will think bad of you. If you had left it at the first two experiences then it would be a different story, but after your antics this weekend you’ve proved you’re more than a dirty shit bag. Yeah, and I’m coming back next week as well. I’m gonna propose to Sabrina, or whatever her name was.
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A soundtrack to your life The symbiotic relationship between a section and its song
Let’s not get too bogged down with all the weightier musical stuff, like politics and the genres, or worrying about fans that only like a band because they simply are ‘a band.’ People get so possessive over their music. Funnily enough, that’s something that we, as BMXers, can relate to. Most BMXers are like super-fans, stood in the middle of a gig with the original ’88 tour T-shirt, giving the new kids some well-deserved shit. Neither shall we get too bogged down with the overall development of BMX and its increase in popularity within mainstream culture. With more people getting into BMX, tastes in music within the sport diversified. Styles and fashions in music changed too. No longer is it just punk and 80s hip-hop. I recently heard some minimalist electro on a section, but that’s not for now. I sure as hell don’t even want to think about technologies used in the making of videos, the coming of the Information Age, the change in the role of
videos in the sport, the saturation of webvids, the level of professionalism that ensued, the involvement of copyright laws and stylistic editing with beat-matching etc. influencing song choice. No, no, no… boring. This is about taking a man, a bike and a song as one entity – as one audio/visual package. It’s the magic that happens when BMX meets music that we should be thinking about today. Sometimes it’s a rider you love who makes you love a song you’d otherwise hate (Dan Cox did this with Vampire Weekend), maybe it’s a song you love that gives new life to a rider who’s goofy (Tom Blyth’s TWW). Sometimes both are so horrendous that you skip, skip, skip (I shan’t name a name because the person I am thinking about is hard as fuck). But, on the most magical of occasions, song and rider develop a level of symbiosis, and you just couldn’t imagine them without the other. It becomes, quite simply, beautiful… man.
Words and illustration by RHYS COREN
128 Here’s something I think about a lot: What if Darryl Nau hadn’t put Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower on the split section of Brian Iarocci and Stauffer’s section on Seek & Destroy? Can you even imagine a better song for Stauffer’s trails prowess? Man, when he’s wonging and swonging his back end around the song wongs and swongs. Hendrix’s guitar looks like it’s making Stauffer kick-out. Fuck, it’s as if Stauffer is making the song. It is symbiosis in action. Seek & Destroy, in general, is spot-on. Well done, you little devils. Criminal Mischief was absolutely fantastic too. There’s two videos from the same company that just had everything – the best, most amazing riding of the time and back-to-back musical hammers. Every kid buying a BMX now should be forced to sit and watch them both, then go raid their dad’s Blue Oyster Cult records. To this day, if I ever hear the intro to Metallica’s Battery a shiver rattles down my crooked little spine and I just imagine a drunk Van Homan in his Little Devil hoodie screaming “I HATE YOU” in slow-mo.
heard of people setting up intricate systems between VHS player and tape deck, recording the entire video’s sound, not just the songs, but the grinds, chicks, bails and background ‘yeahs’. Orlando of The Make confessed last Friday that he held a dictaphone to the TV, recording it that way. I’d use this epic wealth of downloaded BMX video songs as leverage to blag lifts to the skatepark. Steven Bancroft would give me a lift to and from Mount Hawke for a new tape and a sandwich. One of my favourite games to play is ‘name that section.’ One night, when drunk, we prank-called Robbie Morales and Brian Wizmerski. We played them a few seconds of an intro to a song and they had to guess what section it was off. Robbo did well, he got seven of the eight (he missed his own song, I Am Demon by Danzig), and Wiz got two. The game is best played when sat in John Dye’s BMX shop, Volt. His knowledge of BMX video songs far outweighs any other mortal man’s. He sits there, gives you a cheeky nod toward the speaker, and he doesn’t need to say anything, but does: “Go on then, what’s this off?” You sit, for hours, racking your brains. It’s off a 1664 ad on Props and you never got it and knows you never will, but he admires the effort.
WHEN STAUFFER GOES WONGING AND SWONGING HIS BACK END AROUND THE SONG WONGS AND SWONGS WITH IT
It’s odd, isn’t it? You’re sat in a room, most probably a bar, occasionally a discotheque, and Funky Town by Lipps Inc. comes on. You, a scruffy little urchin, get up and dance to the 1980 disco classic. People sit back, in awe, as you dance like you were there at Studio 54 when it first came out, amazed that you even know anything about disco. No one knows that the reason you know is because you saw Jimmy Levan dance to it on Road Fools 2, and you are merely copying him. At Christmas this year, my mum pointed out that her Randy Crawford CD was still missing. I stole that in 1998. She said she just couldn’t ever work out why some of hers and my dad’s CDs, tapes and records would mysteriously disappear. She said there was no pattern to the styles and genres she’d find gone and, as such, it was hard to trace the crime back to the culprit. Well, I stole it. I stole it because of Dan Price. So, Dan, you owe my mum a Randy Crawford CD. My dad found an Eric Clapton record missing too. Both because of Seventies’ Livid. Of course, they never noticed I stole The Kinks Best Of for the song Lola which appeared on the end of a 1997 Props, because it was a present from me, to them, of which they never received.
Despite the ten years between us, because we are both from a pre web-vid age, the feeling about music and videos is exactly the same. You just remember every song. You are plagued for the rest of your life with having to remember every section each time you hear a song that you know appeared on one. Then, when you do get it and remember it, you relive each trick in it. Yet it isn’t just about the song, it’s about what it reminds you of – it’s the whole package. Dave Young and Slayer, Joe Cox and Modest Mouse, Edwin and Del, Soil and So-Cal punk, Joe Rich and Stereolab, Diary of a Madman and Van Homan’s Criminal Mischief section, Animal and Clarky’s Manchester video using local buskers, Scerbo and Teenage Riot, Cowboy Brown, Props end-credits, Road Fools… the list goes on.
Back in the day I was one of the first people in my scene to master Napster. This meant I could sit and download everything off the videos. Until then I’d
I guess no one will ever quite understand what goes through the heads of BMXers when they hear the songs from sections, but that giddy excitement you get, when you remember Stauffer’s wonging and shwonging, or Edwin’s grinding and hopping, makes an otherwise mundane trip around Tescos on a Tuesday evening that little bit more enjoyable.
L T D
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Under The Mask STEW JOHNSON INTERVIEW
I left Chris Doyle’s house with a blunt warning, “Don’t stay at Stew’s place – it’s bad.” I think of Doyle’s words as I scan for house numbers freewheeling down a street on the less desirable East Side of Austin, Texas, looking for the supposed hellhole of legendary BMX filmer Stew Johnson. Chris had made it clear what to expect, “Dude, when I had a shower there I stood in the very corner of the basin, trying to avoid the grime and the possibility of severe athlete’s foot. I had to strategically position my shoes outside of the shower so that my feet wouldn’t have to touch the piss-stained, pube’d to the max floor.” I recall those words of Doyle’s disgust in anticipation, still looking for number 3706 in a broad and empty street of distinctively American wooden bungalows spread out in neat lines under the heat of the mid afternoon Texas sun. My gaze is soon torn from looking for house numbers and drawn to more familiar labels, my eyes now yanked from their past focus to the welcome sight of wonky Empire, Odyssey and 2X4 stickers in the back window of a large white Ford van. I presumptuously turn into the drive of a respectable looking bungalow to see a giant taco beside a two-foot tall wooden toy bus with ‘FBM’ sprayed on the side and a basketball hoop made from a 48 spoke rim. I hear the slow opening and quick slam of a light fly-door. I look up to see the familiar and friendly sight of a bearded face, mesh cap, T-shirt and New Balance running trainers appear from the shadows of the back porch strolling towards me.
Words and photography by GEORGE MARSHALL
135 FIXER UPPER Stew’s appearance could be likened to Forrest Gump during his yearlong running phase, sans tight shorts. He has the unlikely look of both metal hell raiser and slacker Mormon farmer. It’s an appearance that is familiar to us all. He is possibly one of the most photographed and filmed people in BMX history. Open any magazine of the last decade and you are likely to see him somewhere holding a video camera with his trademark left foot forward crouched stance, just inches from BMX at its most progressive. No one has witnessed at first hand so many ground breaking moments than he; Jimmy Levan’s Austin church gap, Dave Osato’s first tailwhip to fufanu on a backrail at the Hastings Backyard jam in 2006, Seth Kimbrough’s first barspin to foot jam, Steven Hamilton’s wild nose manual on Road Fools 11 at a time when nose manuals were rarer than Americans who can correctly pronounce the name of this magazine. It is unlikely that any other individual has filmed so many riders, been to so many skateparks, street spots and trails than he. Stew Johnson is a man that has held a front row seat for the last 15 years of BMX history. We greet each other, he offers me a drink of water and I follow him into the house. I enter expecting the worst… pleasantly surprised and contrary to Doyle’s warning his home seems clean enough and above the standard for a regular BMX household, a status confirmed by a number of BMX and heavy metal posters decorating the walls. “My house is a ‘Fixer Upper’ which I haven’t had the chance to fix up. It’s no Joe Simon palace.” Stew says ending his sentence with his typical laugh and a ‘you know?’ Hearing these words, I think of the clean cut Joe Simon and the contrast between the two men. Joe is the man who brought high end filming techniques to BMX, a man with more huge flat screen TV’s in his house than doors, he wears $200 shirts and could buy a car with a single day’s earnings… Joe Simon is like a brand new air conditioned Lexus, in contrast to Stew – a ‘69 convertible VW Beetle with the rag top down. “Me and Joe are opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m way more rough round the edges in every aspect. I make videos, he makes amazing cinematic masterpieces. Everyone tries to copy Joe but no one does it even half as good as he does. He owns that style, and that style isn’t me. A lot of times guys see something and want to get it done as soon as possible, and the longer you take to set up a shot the less they’re feeling it. I’ve never been in any rush to change my approach. I’m not against change, I use a DSLR for Christ sake and I have a glide cam. I just like the aspect of filming by pedaling around and keeping it simple. There’s nothing wrong with super produced shots, but they just don’t feel like BMX to me.” Stew is eager to show me a preview of various projects he’s working on. He leads me through the house to what I imagine will be his editing suite. We pass the infamous ‘pube’d to the max’ shower in the guest bathroom and he leads me not to an office or minimalist studio but straight to his bedroom. “Sorry about the smell. I’ve been away all summer and some washing got left for months festering in the corner.” I confess of Doyle’s warning. “Oh yeah” He laughs. “I was gone for months when he stayed here and there were about 12 guys here
at the time. No wonder the place was a crap hole. He had enough after one day and bolted to Aaron’s [Ross] palace round the corner… what a pussy, ha…” Beside his computer screen sits a golden trophy – a Nora Cup. The trophy was awarded to him last year for the most anticipated BMX video of all time, Anthem II. It rests humbly amongst some paper work and is being used as a holder for bills and a knitted squirrel. “What am I supposed to do with it?” He jokes. “The Nora Cup thing is cool though, but I’m not a real competitive person, so the winning aspect doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, but it’s an honor that so many people enjoyed the video and thought we deserved that recognition. I’m more psyched to hear things like ‘we watch the video to get psyched up to ride.’ I grew up watching Eddie Roman videos and they made me want to ride. Those videos helped me realise how fun riding was and at the end of the day we have something we can watch back. That’s what I love about filming, having footage of a trip feels like it validates your time as well spent, it puts a smile on your face and will do for years to come. Sometimes you forget the good times.” Anthem II was the heavily anticipated sequel to the 1997 classic, Anthem: Home Of The Brave. Never has the word ‘classic’ been used so aptly. Anthem was the very definition of late 90’s BMX and has become one of the single most moment influential cinematic milestones in BMX history. Through his white T-shirt I can make out a dense black tattoo on his back, I recognise the outline from the two Anthem covers, and I ask him to show it me. He raises his shirt to reveal the iconic Anthem logo – a menacing image of a dark figure in a gas mask and I ask him the meaning of the masked figure. “Growing up, you always hear people say ‘aren’t you too old to ride that bike’ and all those types of negative comments generally bashing you for riding a BMX. When you see a person wearing a gas mask, that person is doing what they have to do in order to survive in a hostile environment, the gas mask figure symbolises that struggle for you to do what personally makes you happy, regardless of what society thinks you should or shouldn’t be doing.” METAL HEAD UPBRINGING We leave the smell of his room for the fresh air of his old backyard mini ramp. There we ride and chat between runs on the rotting wood. “I grew up in a small town in Indiana called Auburn. It wasn’t culturally diverse at all, there was one black student at school. I was listening to Kiss when I was seven years old, by ten I was listening to harder stuff. At 15 I was a metal-head that rode BMX, in a town full of jocks and farmers. Fort Wayne was about 30 miles away and had a killer BMX scene. Both of my parents worked there. I pleaded the case that we would be better off if we moved. Eventually they caved in. My new school was racially integrated with all kinds of kids. There were skateboarders and punk rockers – people that I could relate to. A year or two after high school, I met Steve Crandall, Mike Tag, and Magilla at a National Race in Pittsburgh, PA. I somehow convinced them to move to Fort Wayne and that’s how the ‘Fat House’ came to be and that’s when I started filming.” In the years that followed, fully immersed in BMX, fire, beer and mayhem, Stew produced a series of trails based BMX videos off his own back at a time when money, media and BMX were all strangers to each other. The 135
Roof top powermower, Austin, Texas. 136
videos were rough, but they perfectly epitomised mid 90s East Coast BMX. “Me and Mike Tag made 1201 in 95’, then I made my own video the next year called Lights Out. I also did a small T-shirt company called Scum clothing. Later I moved to Austin and lived with Joe and Taj in a room the size of a bed. I didn’t have an income, other than selling plasma [blood donating], and shifting a few videos and shirts at BMX races. I didn’t even think about filming BMX as a career plan. I just scraped by and rode a lot. The Props opportunity was a chance for me to pay my bills.” PROPS In the age of the VHS cassette, Props Video Magazine provided the BMX community with a rare source of up-to-date information. Each episode featured contests, races, scene reports, interviews, not to mention the legendary Road Fools and Mega Tour videos, helping the BMX industry to get on its feet. “Back then if you wanted to see progression the only place to see it was in a Props video. Props videos were turned around quicker than bike company videos which would take a year or more to make.” He tells me from the deck of his ramp. “I wasn’t on Road Fools 1, but I was around for a couple of days and got some short riding clips. I met Props owners Chris [Rye] and Marco [Massei] again while they were doing Road Fools 5. They said there was a DK Dirt Circuit contest that next week and they couldn’t cover it. I offered to help them out and instantly they bought me a bus ticket. It was 1999, I was 25… I think, – I’m terrible with maths. The next Props issue I shot three things. Before then, they’d had a hard time finding someone dependable that they could rely on. At the time there weren’t many reliable video guys, a lot of them were flakes. I think that’s why I’ve made a living doing it, because I bust my ass to meet deadlines and get the shit done.” Times change and the days of VHS cassettes and DVDs being the only regular source of progressive riding are now long gone. I ask Stew about the situation with Props and what the future holds. “Nowadays Props is in a weird transition phase. People don’t really buy videos anymore, that makes it tricky when the video is your product. Props isn’t like a bike company where a video promotes your product. As far as Props goes now, I don’t think Marco and Chris are making a penny. There aren’t any issues any more, they’re kind of on hold. We just did a Mega Tour and the Owned DVD, we’ll see how they do with those. For a while they were able to sell stuff to Fuel (extreme sports TV channel) to cover the loss of video sales, but now Fuel have changed their programming and want Ultimate Fighting or whatever garbage, Fuel doesn’t care about BMX.” DRAWING THE LINE While working for Props and making his own videos, Stew has lived a life on the road fully immersed in BMX. At the age of 38, he has spent his adult life sleeping on floors, driving rowdy vans in foreign countries, charging batteries in diners, stashing DV tapes, and editing in cheap motels. Despite BMX’s carefree good time origins, life as a professional filmer is not a permanent holiday of high fives and California smiles. It is a life that demands the ability to interact socially with a broad range of personalities, have an abundance of patience with the weather and security guards. It’s a job that requires Stew to take total responsibility in meeting deadlines and also with the even more serious matter of dealing with potential life threatening accidents that can occur when riders are out there putting life and limb on the line. “It’s hard to draw the line between work and fun. I get to travel a lot and work with people I look up to. I don’t stress about money. I’m not a business guy, if I was I wouldn’t be making BMX videos for a living. There is a fine line where it becomes your job, which I think everyone who does something they’re passionate about finds. You don’t want to admit it to yourself or maybe don’t even realise it, but what you did before as fun has become work, and it can consume your life. I rarely take time off because I get offered to do a cool trip 138
Fakie basketball post ride, Austin. 139
Fastplant to fufanu, Islington, London.
and I always want to go. But before I know it I’m on the road 280 to 300 days a year. “On trips when you have to think someone’s paying me do a job, it can stress you out a bit and turn you into a grumpy old geezer. If there’s someone on the trip sat inside till 3pm smoking weed, and you’re like ‘come on man, let’s go do something,’ they look at you like you’re the bad guy. I won’t put pressure on people to do anything they’re not comfortable doing, but I will put pressure on people to get out of the house and pedal around. But I don’t ask riders to throw themselves down stairs. If a rider isn’t feeling something, don’t do it, it’s not worth it. The riders are the professionals. I’m just there to point the camera. The rider knows what they’re capable of better than me. Sometimes it works out amazing, other times riders get their asses handed to them. “I’m not going to lie, sometimes it is terrifying filming with Sean Burns or Brian Kackinsky. But they are in charge. There are a lot of times I don’t enjoy filming. I don’t want to have to take Brian Kackinsky to the emergency room again. You know that when you agree to film with Brian it’s going to be highest of the highs or lowest of the lows. He rolls the dice, that’s what makes Brian Kachinsky who he is, and why people respect him. You have to admire someone willing to put their ass on the line for something they want to do. It sucks watching your friends get hurt, but nothing compares to getting a clip of something they’ve been sweating over for months, if not years, and seeing them watch the footage and being really excited that they’ve met a personal goal, but you know, it’s a dangerous sport. Filmers aren’t doing the hard part, they don’t get hurt at the end of day.” THE CRASH In Stew’s long career he has witnessed some of the biggest tricks in BMX, but he has also witnessed crashes on an equal magnitude. During the filming of Anthem II, Mike Aitken, a rider regularly referred to as the greatest of all time, took one of the worst crashes in BMX history. It was a day that left Stew questioning his own ability to continue his life’s work. “All the dudes that rode trails on Anthem II were on a trip to PA to film. We were at the trails and I couldn’t film everyone at once, I was filming one dude at a time. I’d look over and see Mikey doing these huge 360 cancan tyre grabs. He would do it in a run casually, that’s how he rode. He’s that good for a reason because when he rides, he rides hard. “Before I even started filming him he’d done that trick 15-20 times that day already while I was filming other riders. Then we shot it a few times. He’d watch it back and say, ‘that’s OK, but I can get a better one.’ Mikey is a perfectionist. He’s not going to settle for a clip he’s not stoked on. He did a run, got into the spin, did the tyre grab and started to fumble for his grip coming around. He missed his grip two or three three times. He was focused on finding his grip and started to over rotate, and then he disappeared behind the landing. No one saw him hit the ground because everyone was watching from the front side. “I ran over there and he was out. I never know exactly what to do in those situations. He had dirt in his mouth, so I tried pull the dirt from his mouth. He was snoring and struggling to breathe. No one realised how hard he’d hit his head. I tried to wake him up and Keith Mulligan comes over and he’s helping. It was apparent after
a minute that this wasn’t a regular concussion. Calling an ambulance wasn’t a real option. The trails were remote and inaccessible. You could not picture an ambulance getting down there and getting him out in any timely fashion. We knew we had to get him to hospital. The guys took a bench apart and slid the piece of wood underneath him, and a tarp under that and then ten guys carried him out. I then drove him to the hospital, which was probably ten minutes away. I’m thankful he’s still here. It’s nothing short of a miracle he can even walk again, let alone ride a bike. “It was one of the scariest moments of my life. For a while I thought, can I keep doing this? I don’t want to watch this happen to people. You know directly it’s not your fault, you’re not making people try this stuff, they’re grown men and they make their own decisions. But in the same respect I also know if I wasn’t there, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. You know it’s happening because you’re there. It’s a weird position video guys and photographers put themselves in. Sometimes it’s a shit-show but you’re not the ringleader.” After Mikey’s crash Stew put the Anthem II release date on hold and raised eight thousand dollars towards his hospital bills selling special edition Anthem T-shirts. “I sent Mikey a framed shirt with a letter wishing him the best recovery, it read we were still working on the video and the bottom line was we wouldn’t finish the video until you wanted us to, we’d wait as long as it takes. His recovery was taking longer than Mikey had hoped, which was fine I was in no rush. I went out to Salt Lake City and at the time the other riders were wrapping up their parts. I sat down with Mikey and we watched his footage just to see where we were at. He had three or four good minutes and afterwards he said, ‘I feel good about what we have, let’s put it out there.’ So then it was like OK shit, I guess we’re wrapping up then. There was never a deadline, but it’s sure nice to get it out before Christmas because the extra sales help. Doyle got married and came out to Austin two days later for one last week of filming with the all the other guys. Everyone was in town to film some last bangers and to put the parts together.”
“ IT’S A VIDEO, NOT A LIFE LONG PROJECT
“It was tight at the end. I didn’t sleep much that last month. The day before the premiere we were at trails for Mark [Mulville] because he needed a banger, and I was like, ‘alright dude, you were hung over yesterday we need something to end your part on.’ That was a highpressure situation if there was one. As I walked to T1 for the premiere the DVD was burning on my laptop. Ideally it would have been great to have more time. But it’s a video, not a life long project.” 141
“Anthem II took three years start to finish. All those guys told me that they grew up watching my old videos, either Anthem I or 1201. There’s something to be said for a rider working on a project for a really long time. They all agreed to work on it with no talk of money. There was nothing I had to offer them other than saying that I would be honoured if you’d be a part of it. Burns was especially motivated. There were a couple of times I was losing sight of what we were working for and thought, is this worth it? But he kept me motivated. There were a few trips where he bought his own flights. He put his ass on the line and spent his own money to do it. I thought wow, here’s a guy who puts himself in these dangerous situations, he willingly does it and doesn’t ask for anything in return. He just wanted to be in the video and see it get made. “By and large DVDs are fairly dead, but I just wanted to make the video. I accepted the fact that I might not make one penny on it. I didn’t want to rely on it making money. I did all my other jobs while I was working on Anthem II. I approached the sponsors of the guys and they agreed to pay their rider’s expenses. It was roughly about two thousand dollars per rider for their travel. That’s what made the video possible. I also put a decent amount of my own money into it. I was pleasantly surprised how well it went, I made some money from it, but if you were to break down the time I had invested in the project, it wouldn’t be financially worthwhile to most people.” After the premiere there was little doubt who would be collecting the award for Video Of The Year at Nora Cup. Anthem II is an undeniable masterpiece and a worthy sequel to the much worshipped original. At a time when BMX videos seem to be dominated by the high-end techniques Joe Simon first pioneered in his heavenly seductive wedding videos, Anthem II was unapologetically raw, not deviating that decade old formula set by the original. Anthem II is a ‘no bullshit’ interpretation of BMX, not 142
diluted by aspirations of cinematic grandeur. It’s a simple approach that lets the riding do the talking without distraction. “Bike riding in the general media is becoming really flashy, Dew Tour style mainstream… it’s more of a circus now.” Stew tells me as we end the session on his ramp. “It’s good to show that BMX is not just a oneup contest. It’s important to showcase the simpler side of riding. In the past few years that side of riding hasn’t been showcased too much. I hear people say stuff like ‘Anthem saved BMX’, but I don’t deserve that credit. It’s not like I invented those guys’ riding, I just assembled the elements together into one.” The Anthem videos define Stew Johnson. The rawness of both classics is reflected in his own ‘rough round the edges’ character. Beneath his long beard, unkempt appearrance and carefree persona there is a devoted and passionate man. Stew has a drive that has made 60 BMX videos, and helped on a further 20 to 30 that he can think of. Few individuals have made such a huge contribution to BMX at a ground level. It’s a contribution that has come with personal sacrifice and little financial reward. Stew’s first love is BMX, video is just a means to document it. Because of this passion, Stew understands his subject and audience perfectly, never straying from the riding and delivering it in its purest and most direct form. It is this delivery and a relentless work ethic that has made Stew Johnson one of the most influential BMX riders of all time. Each and every video he has worked on has inspired countless riders of all ages and eras from all over the globe, from Van Homan who grew up religiously watching 1201 on VHS, to an unknown 12-year-old in Brazil who is currently sat down mesmerized by Drew Bezanson’s recent section on the Props Owned DVD. As Stew nears the 15 year mark behind the lense, he remains just inches from riding at its most progressive and dangerous. His videos are now appreciated by generations old and new. His seat on the front row of BMX history remains reserved and long may he sit there.
Photo: Colin Mackay.
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