I don't know what sparked this. Maybe my son Quinn's interest, a want to lose a few pounds or who knows but I just recently bought a Mongoose and have began riding again. Of course not at the level that I once did. For the most part I haven't touched a bike or a skateboard for that matter in 15 or so years. Riding again has brought back some old feelings of freedom that I had forgotten about. That feeling I used to get riding alone in a parking lot at 3am or going at break neck speed 20 or 30 miles a day in the many tracks I would take across Des Moines in my Youth. Now I'm slowly beginning to pass that joy on to my son. After running across Lewis's Old School Iowa Skater Page http://www.angelfire.com/band2/azzizz/SKATEVIDEOS.html a few days ago it got me to think that I should add a BMX/Skating Page. So Here it is.
I'm not sure but I think I got my first BMX bike around 80 or 81 but really didn't begin to do jumps and dirt riding until 82. My Cousin Kent had a PK Ripper and I remember spending a weekend tearing down the Huffy, re-building it and ripping off all the reflectors, chain guard, etc... Before long that bike went away and was replaced with Kuwahara and I think I began racing in 82 or 83. I wasn't really that good at it but did place a few times and during this whole time I was doing a small amount of skating mostly down hill type stuff and dropping off curbs.
If you road BMX or raced BMX in the early 80s you read BMX Action and one of the features of the Magazine was the how tos and photos of Bob Haro and Mike Buff in BMX Action. I think everyone that owned a BMX bike tried endows and Bunny Hops but these guys were taking Skating tricks and doing them on BMX bikes. At the time I think the Haro Master Frames had come out but there really wasn't any such thing as a Freestyle bike. There wasn't even pegs out yet or cable Detanglers like the Rotor. For the most part all BMX bikes were geared toward Racing and the idea was to get the things as lite as possible. In fact my Kuwahara BMX bike weighed about 18 pounds. The thing that made Freestyle more appealing then racing is that you could do it just about anywhere especially flatland tricks. Also by this time BMX had really taken itself too seriously. The focus was on staying low to the ground and not hot dogging or jumping. It really had become a parent ran sport. Which went against the main reason that I was drawn to BMX in the first place, the thrill, the flare and the danger. Growing up one of my biggest heroes was Evil Kenevil and even had a sears Evil Kenevil bike, that I destroyed trying to do the stunts around the neighborhood. So the thrill junkie was embedded deep within me and when we were off the track, we were jumping or trying to jump anything and everything we came across. One of the favorite spots was the Coal Mines just east of Pleasant Hill. It was a group of coal waste piles in the middle of corn fields. The main line was a 65 degree drop about 5 feet to the highest point and then another 70 degree drop about 12 feet and then straight up to the finial hill that was about 8 feet high. When you hit the last hill you sometimes didn't even have to lift up to get 4 or 5 feet above it. It is where I serrated my shoulder the first time.
I think it was toward the end of 83 that I began to set my bike up for Freestyling. This involved extra longer cables, Coaster brake with a seat clamp to attach it to the frame. The Long cables were so you could spin your bars and the coaster to make it easier to roll backwards. Before long I believe it was Skyway that came out with pegs and it was the first of many items that would come out to adapt racing bikes to Freestyle bikes. I even bought one of Skyway's frame stands pictured on the right to be able to do frame stands and other tricks. The idea was during the week you put all this stuff on to do tricks and then took it off on the weekends to race. That is just what I did for about 6 months until I quit racing all together. I think the first real trick I learned was the Rock Walk. Today this day it amazes me how few people can do this trick. Let me tell you in 83 if you could do a rock walk you were the shit.
I think it was late 83 or early 84 when Kent built his Quarter Pipe from the old Bob Haro BMX Action plans. The transition was really rough. Basically it was two frames 6 foot tall with two 2x4 set in a X. Then you screwed in the plywood and start hitting the thing. Instead of the smooth prefect transition that you have now it was really choppy but it got the job done. I remember the biggest thing was just to be able to do a 180. Getting over the copping was a pipe dream. It wasn't long before we both had could do flyouts, foot plants and 180s. I was never really that good on the ramps but it was always fun to hit the things. There's nothings like floating up there for a few seconds. It's a mix of danger, fear and freedom that can't be found anywhere else. By the end of my period of ramp riding the best I could do was a few feet over the coping but I did learn no handers, one footers and one handed no footers. It was all about speed. Where I excelled was Flatland though there were a lot of people both locally that were a lot better at it. I enjoyed it cause you could do it anywhere and your only bounds was your imagination and Flatland was about to explode.
By 1984 BMX racing had all but completely died out. There was a lot of reasons for this. From the fact that it had become almost the motor cross little legal to the fact that it just wasn't exciting. By the early 80s it was Nollon Plaza about jumping and showing off and was all about sitting low to the ground and going fast. Also it was really pricey and the average kid didn't have a parent that was willing to shell out $600 for a bike. Add to that the fact it wasn't something you could do just anywhere. You need a track. A lot like what street skating did for skating, freestyle did for BMX. The BMX industry was looking for something to replace the void in the market and they found that in Freestyling. At first it was a very underground thing and was seen for the most part as a side line. Something you did between races and when you weren't hitting the dirt. That changed in 84 and 85 when just about every BMX manufacture began producing Freestyle bikes. Along with the new bikes came a whole load of new products. many of which in retrospect were down right dumb and useless. It was about this time that I got my first true Freestyle bike a Kuwahara Freestyler frame with all the trimmings. One of the things that came out about this time that really changed things was the Potts Mod. The Potts Mod was invented by Steve Potts which I believe was Mike Buff's step brother. It seems so simple but it made a huge difference. The Potts Mod was taking the bolt that held the tension of the goose neck inside the fork and drilling a hole through it. By threading your front brake cable through the bolt and out the forks just above the tire and then running the brake cable through the brake from bottom to top, you could spin the handle bars 360. That is until the brake cable ran out that wouldn't be solved for another year with the invention of the rotor. It was first featured as a DIY mod in BMX Action and even when it did go into production you still had to modify the brake to get it to work. It's one things from that period you will still find on every Freestyle bike. It seems pretty damn simple now but back then it was rocket science. Another big jump was the Rotor by ACS in 1985. Though the thing never worked that well and you had to take the thing apart or drill a hole in it to replace cables. What it was, was the first detangler for the back brake. It was two cylinders that rotated with a cable that ran from the brake lever and one that went to the back brake. So now you didn't need those extra long cable cause you could rotate those bars forever now. It would take the Odysses Gyro to prefect it and they are still standard on just about every BMX bike sold.
Most of the tricks from this period revolved around hopping tricks or balancing tricks and for the most part have gone the way of Mammoth. Thanks to the Pott's mod tail spin and other tricks came about but the style was for the most part very choppy compared to modern flatland. In the beginning of 85 I started the Flyin & Stylin trick team with my cousin Kent and we started doing a few Demos around Des Moines. It's strange but for the most part we thought we were alone in our interest. I mean we knew that someone was buying all those Freestyle bikes but we didn't know where they were going. That changed when we did a 10 days of demos at the Iowa State Fair. I had a year or two before seen the Flying Aces preform there but those guys seemed a lot older and were more focused on skating. For info on the Flying Ace Check out Lewis's Old School Iowa Skater Page. At any rate it was during the first couple of days of demos that the locals began to come out of the wood work.
At the Fair I met Mark Brown, Russ Cook, Doug Shaw, Brian, Fred and a number of other locals. There was all this small local group of kids spread out all over Des Moines and the suburbs and they all had a pack that ran with them. Over the years to come this would shape our riding and our social life. Russ in fact ended up bring down his ramp to use instead of mine. 8 foot tall with prefect transition it was a big difference. The design was one of the best of 100% wooden designs I've ever came across. His father came up with the design and my finial quarter and Russ' half pipe was made this way. Instead of using plywood sides and then building a frame work of 2x4s, he cut the transition out of 2x12s. It was a great deal more solid if it was supported correctly. By the end of the week the demos had turned to the state of chaos with about 10 riders riding at once.
Around this time the Mountain Dew commercial feature Freestylers had came out. It may have been earlier I'm not sure but it sparked a fad. I think this was the first of the Dew Extreme ads but no longer were we these weird teenagers that rode kid's bikes. It made a big difference and in a lot of ways helped skating, Freestyle, BMX and Snowboarding to move out of the underground and into the mainstream. This was a good thing but it also brought in a lot of the quick buck makers and in a way helped to give it a quick death. Skating stayed a great deal more hardcore and underground for a little longer but by 86 it too was mainstream again.
In the fall of 85 I began to spend more time at Russ' half pipe and riding downtown at Nollen and a number of parking lots around downtown Des Moines. A normal Friday night would start with a trip or ride to Russ' and then riding the ramp until dark. We would usually met up and spend the night avoiding the cops and riding to crowds here and there. It was not uncommon to have 10 or 20 of us tooling around and riding every where. There was a lot of talent there. Russ was one of the best Flatland riders I've had the pleasure to ride with. He had style and smoothness unlike anyone else. There was Mark Brown who could rock walk a block and a half and bunny hop just about anything. Doug Shaw was a good over all rider from street to ramp to flatland. Fred had great balance. We all pushed each other and had a blast at the same time.
Around this time Dennis McCoy made big news cause he was the first Freestyler to get a sponsorship in the Midwest and hell maybe the first outside of California. I had seen him ride at BMX Pro in KC with the Haro trick team and I was impressed. I'm not sure how I hooked up with him but a number of times Russ and I headed to KC to ride with him. He had a whole crew that rode with him and they called themselves the BMX Brigade and they tore up the Plaza in KC. The two riders that stick out are Brian Belture and Rick Thorne. Both were maybe not at Dennis' level but were better then most of the riders I had seen coming out of California. They rode year around either in their house or in the underground parking garages of downtown KC. These guys were hardcore and lived on their bikes. We took a number of trips down to KC to ride with them over the next few years.
The thing about Dennis was that not only is he by far the best riders I've ever seen but he is one of the nicest people I've ever met. If you could keep up with him, he would ride with you. I remember once taking off with him from his house in south KC and us riding at break neck speed to Liberty about 30 miles away. Not stopping for anything and if you got left behind you were lost. He was just that hardcore. Every day I got up in the morning, got on his bike and only got off it when he went to bed. The other thing that a lot of people don't know is that he was also a very bright person and had a full physics scholarship to college which he gave up to ride around the world. On one visit he had broke his leg or ankle trying 540s and he spent almost the whole 2 days we were there on his half pipe in a cast trying 540s. It's been a number of years since I saw him but I'm sure he hasn't changed.
It was during this period that I bought my first Haro Master. I think off Russ and then got an 86 green Haro which I put together in Dennis' front yard. We went on to do another year at the Fair in 86. By this time, Kent was getting out of it and Chris was added to skate. The team had by this time became more of a gang then anything. I know we did a bunch of other demos in small towns all over central Iowa. Often it was a small town's annual fest and we would load in the ramp and then spend most of the day riding. Even in the smallest towns there would be a group of kids on Skates or BMX bikes and we would always try to take the time to teach them a trick or hang out. At the fair in 96 I also set up a contest and there were a number of riders from all over the state. It was a lot of fun but by this time I had began to spend more time on my Skate then on my bike.
I think it was around 86 where a lot of people started to lose interest. It had just gotten to the point where it seemed that everything you could do had been done. The hopping, spinning, and bouncing thing had wore itself out. To look back doing a hand stand on your bike with the tire turned side was with the seat against it must have been pretty boring to watch and also to watch someone hop on the front pegs of a BMX bike was too. It was fun sure but there is a point where you go there's got to something more or I need to move on. I think we all dreamed of the stuff you see people doing today. On the ramp we all wanted to do 900s and flails and on flatland we wanted to do one on going flow of tricks but they all seemed out of reach at the time. That and we had all been too busy working on Cherry pickers and Gumbies and other dumb tricks to have time to work on anything else. I think it was the last time I went with Russ down to KC to hang with Dennis that I saw the future of flatland. Dennis had been for a long time combining tricks with this dance like foot work he'd developed when he was stuck in the house due to weather. It was flowing but it still had it's pauses. I'll never forget seeing him doing a fire hydrant into a decade. It was like the world had ended. I knew this was the trick that would change it all and it is the bases for flatland today.
That trip really sparked the whole thing for me. I would have more than likely stopped riding in 86 if it wouldn't had been for that trip. By late 87 other things were taking my time and interest. I did ride off and on until 89 but never at the level I used to. The last time I saw Dennis was I think the fall of 87. I drove down to this little town to visit a friend at school east of KC. I decide to head into KC to buy some records and do some shopping. I think I spent the night in the car and the next day after driving around looking for this store, I noticed that I was in Dennis' neighborhood. I headed to his house and he wasn't home but was told he'd be back soon. I think for some reason I hadn't slept for 2 days and ended up passing out in front of the house in my car. A few hours later I woke up to the zipping sound of rubber on wood and Youth Brigade. After wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I headed to the back of the house and was greeted by Rick Throne heading up the drive to make another run at his Quarter pipe. It had been about a year and half since I last saw any of him or Dennis. By this time I was shaving my head and I really didn't know if they would recognize me at all. On the ramp was Dennis doing a run and when he stopped, he said, "Hello Dave." and asked what I been up to. I filled him in about quitting college and everything else that was going on at that point in my life. He asked if I still rode and I told him not as much. He nodded and then this guy comes riding toward the quarter and kept trying to alley oop the gap between the quarter and the half that was about 10 feet. He'd slam hard and then get up and try it again. Over and over he took these hard bails and got up and did it again. He just wouldn't give up. Like a nail pounding in hard wood. It took me a while to realize that it was Matt Hoffman. The Craziest guy I've ever seen a ride. It was like his life depended on making it. I had seen this before, I remember seeing Ron Wilkerson at one, if not the first, King of Vert contest in MN ride the same way. Doing these huge airs and then bailing hard, kicking his bike back together and then doing it again. There was a time when I was like that. I think I had long since made up my mind that I didn't have that drive anymore but hadn't admitted it to myself yet. When I got back to Des Moines, I rode a few more times but within a few months my bike had moved into the garage of my parents house and collected dust.
The next time I saw those 3 was a night at Safari Nite Club in 96. Not in person but on ESPN. It was the strangest feeling to know that I knew or met these guys, Had ridden with them. Most of them a few years old and here they were not only still riding but getting some of the respect and rewards they should have gotten all those years ago. You know in a lot of ways the years I spent on a bike were the best years of my life. I can only hope that I can pass a little of that off to my son and maybe relive a little of it together.
I have so many photos from the period and the rest can be found in the following galleries: