Interview – Bill Beeken (Ammaco, Diamond Back, Aero)

Year started in BMX?
1979/80

How did you discover BMX, were you already in the bicycle industry?
I worked for Malcom Jarvis at Ammaco selling some of the first Mongoose bikes he brought in from the States. I worked with Joe Cerelo along with Don Smith who came from motorcycle trials and had a good network of motorcycle shops we could utilize.

You were the team manager for Diamond Back, what year? Team riders?
Yes, after Ammaco I went to Freewheeler who brought in Pro-Star and Diamond Back. I was selling bikes and ran the Diamond Back team which consisted of Chris Simmonds, Jason Maloney, Louis Mears and Mark White. We also got to meet and travel with Harry Leary when he came over, visiting bike shops all over the country promoting the brand.

Did you see the spike when BMX really started to boom? How healthy was the industry in the UK at the time?
Once Harry came over things went ballistic for Diamond Back, it really translated into us selling a lot of bikes. I think all the main brands in the industry were doing good once the sport started to boom during the first part of the 80s.

You were one the the early Brits in the industry to make the trip to California. What do you remember from that trip?
Harry returned the favor and invited me over to the US. I went to Pittsburg, Florida and then over to California, met the owner of Aero, Carston Berg who was sponsoring the UK Diamond Back team at the time.

What was your involvement with Aero? It seemed like it was so popular in the UK.
After meeting Carston, Peter Collins and I decided to set up and distribute Aero back in the UK. After having good relationships and contacts already in place, we really got to build the brand up sponsoring the likes of Steve Gratton, Tim March, the Diamond Back and Raleigh just to name a few.

You exited the sport by the mid 80s what did you do after?
I had some great days in BMX, met so many great people. I was good friends with Richard Barrington from ACE, Geoff Barraclough from GT, Craig Schofield and the Raleigh guys among so many.

After I left the BMX Industry mid 80s, I was in the car business and these days I do firm extra work. I still like to check in on social media and the internet to see what’s going with BMX these days. It seems like BMX is in a good place in the UK, which is great.

The forgotten kid on Team ACE – Trevor Shanks

It seems like for one reason or another, Team ACE has been overlooked when we talk about the history of BMX in the UK.  They were right there at the start.  In fact, right here on ukbmxhistory.com we thought the first official BMX in the UK was Redditch in 1980, however when researching further, it’s Team ACE we found has the first race put on by Don Smith and ACE’s Richard Barrington a year earlier in 1979 Brockwell Park in London.

We start out with an interview from Team ACE rider, Trevor Shanks who was on the team with the likes of Nikki Mathews, Pete Middleton, Cav Stutt and Andy Ruffell but his name isn’t really mentioned as much when Team ACE is brought up.  We thought it would be cool to get some insight and thoughts from Trevor. Since this interview we have managed to connect with Cav Strutt and some other Team ACE riders so look for a Part 2 down the road.

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Where did you first hear about BMX?
Like so many, I first heard about BMX from the US TV show, “Chips”.  Kids around the country then converted their Grifters to look like BMX bikes and emulated Motocross.  The first BMX bike I saw in person was being ridden by Cav Strutt over at our local Wreck off of Higham Hill in Walthamstow  – this must of been around 1979.

Meeting Don Smith.
During the Easter Holiday I was riding at the forest as usual on my bike when a few of my mates came up and said that there was a bloke down at the Motorcycle shop that wanted to sponsor me in BMX.   I didn’t believe them so I went to the shop as quick as I could ride and when I got there, Dave the manager passed me a piece of paper with a phone on it and said phone this man he is a friend of mine I passed along your name to him and the rest he will explain.  This man was Don Smith.  On the phone he explained that he had just returned from the US to see BMX and wanted to promote it in the UK and he wanted someone who was pretty good on a bike thus Dave giving him my name, he asked if I could go to his flat the next day and he would explain more.

The next day I went and took Nikki Matthews with me who only had a Raleigh Grifter at the time, we were good friends and I didn’t really want to go on my own.  When we went up into his lounge there was this red BMX bike up against the wall and I cannot remember what make it was.  Don proceeded to explain about BMX showing us BMX Magazines and a Video from the States he then said well there’s your bike let’s go over to where you ride and show me what you can do on it, then we will go to my friend Richard’s factory and he will be sorting out race kit and so on.

Meeting up with Richard Barrington at ACE?
At the factory is where we met Richard Barrington and as Nikki was with the two of us we were now both being measured up for race kits so Nikki said, “I’d better see if my mum can buy me a bike now”.  I had the red BMX a couple of weeks and because Don now had an involvement with the UK Mongoose supplier, Ammaco he changed my bike for a Supergoose from there a photo shoot was arranged with the local newspaper for me and Nikki and some of the other guys we rode with including Cav Strutt.  Don and Richard then said we need to put a race team together so we started holding little races in the forest then all the guys who wanted to be part of the team all met down at Richard’s factory and this was the start of Team Ace. Don and Richard had some wooden Ramps made and organized a demo race in Brockwell Park (1979) in London, Ammaco supplied some bikes and Danny Oakley from the US Mongoose Team came over as a guest, this was Team Ace’s first race. Cav didn’t race as he was more into Freestyle and rode Skateparks with Andy Ruffell, but Pete Middleton and Nikki Matthews were a couple of the riders that did.

Did Richard fund it all or were there others involved?
Yes, all funded by Richard.

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281 Trevor Shanks

Other Team riders?  It seemed to be quite a dream team so early on.
Cav Strutt, Andy Ruffell, Steve Gilley, Pete Middleton, Tony Waye, Nikki Matthews, Scott McDonald, Steve Gratton at some point plus myself of course those are the ones most people will remember.

ACE must have been one of the first legit teams in the UK.  What other teams do you remember at the time?
Ammaco Mongoose, Robinson, Halfords, Redline and Kuwahara were some of the earlier ones.

Some of the tracks you raced at?
Ipswich, Buckmore Park, Peterborough, Bishop Stortford , Scotland, Earl’s Court & Redditch.

What was the background on the Ace Frame & Forks?
Richard opened up the Ace Bike Shop (ACE Racing at 444 Forest Road Walthamstow London.)  Cav worked in the shop setting up and fixing bikes.  After a while, Richard with the help from Cav started to design his own frame to take the Ace brand further.  Cav had a lot of input into the design, he and I both rode and tested the first bare metal prototype, then we both got the first chrome plated ones.

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Eastway – Trevor Shanks, Peter Middleton, Cav Strutt, Nikki Matthews.

What happened with you on the team?
I finished racing the 83 season as a privateer after Richard sold my bike and pulled the plug in the team.

One day I had turned up about 5 mins late to go to a race at Ipswich, Richard refused to take me and dropped me from the team although I was always in the finals and winning the odd race.   For some reason he always favored Cav, Pete and Nikki & Andy had already gone over to Ammaco by this time, so my mum took me to Ipswich and I raced under no team name, I beat all the Ace riders in my class and also got myself in the Magazine during the jumping competition.

After a couple of months attending races on my own and getting my name in a few mags, Richard sent Cav over to my house and Cav said that Richard wanted to see me.  I went to see Richard in his office at the shop and he said that I was making a name for myself and did I want to come back on Ace?  I said I’m not sure as he might drop me again.  He apologized and said that as I was paying for my current Redline weekly he would pay it off.  He gave me a job in the shop as I had left school and didn’t have a job and he also started to pay me for riding which no one at the time knew.

You guys got a lot of magazine coverage in the early 80 then it seemed like Team Ace disappeared pretty quick, what happened?
Late 82 was the end for a lot of the other riders had been snapped up by the bigger teams and Richard decided to pull the plug on the team.

Cav had now given up BMX and wasn’t attending many races, Pete Middleton, and Steve Gilley had moved to Ammaco. I was doing the odd demo and at one time did a demo at a motorcycle shop in Wales.  I was now 17, had a motorcycle and a girlfriend although I was attending the odd race and riding over at Rom etc

I was at home one day and one of my friends came to my house and said that Richard wanted to borrow my bike as he was selling the design to someone.  A couple weeks passed still no sign of my bike so I went to Richard’s house to ask where my bike was to his reply he said it wasn’t mine in first place and that he had sold it along with the design as BMX was dying off.  The shop had closed so I asked Richard what about my money for riding and what am I going to ride with that little contract he had written up a year or so ago in the shop? He tore it up and said I could get a ride anywhere.  This was now the end of Team Ace.  I borrowed a bike and rode for a little longer but not only could not get to many races and not compete with the now faster riders and big teams so my time in BMX was sadly over and my time in BMX was short-lived. (1979 to 1983) I then went into Motocross I tried to go back into it around 85 but I had been away for too long.  So that is the true story of Team Ace from start to finish as it was.

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Richard passed away in 2012 but his name and ACE are stapled in the history of BMX in the UK.  You must be proud of having been involved in something so special in British BMX from the early years?
I still have a couple of bikes & still go over.  I was interviewed for the Rom Boys documentary which should be out later this year.  As I said before although myself and Nikki Matthews were at the very start and got all the lads together to form the Ace team, my name is rarely mentioned only the guys who were lucky enough to move to the bigger sponsors – I stayed with the people who got into BMX to be loyal but had taken away just as quick.  On the hand I still have a lot to thank; Richard, Don Smith and Dave from the shop I worked at for giving my name to Don otherwise I wouldn’t be here telling the story about Team Ace which may have never existed.  I feel very proud to have been a part of although short lived a part of British BMX History and lucky enough to have rode with some of the riders who became top Pros and big names in the sport.  I hope this is ok I told how it was and as much as I could remember as I am an old bugger now. Thank you for asking me to tell you my story as I said I am pretty much forgotten now.

Regards, Trevor Shanks Team Ace Factory Rider 79 – 83

CV – Chris Hyde

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Hometown
Hanwell / London

Sponsors
Raleigh, S.E, AXO, Dyno, GT

Years Racing
1983 – 96

Competition
Peter Barsnby, Lee Bertram, Peter Holland, Chris Stanforth, Rowan Fryer, Scott Beaumont

Results
British Champion
6 x National Champion
2 x European Finals
4 x World Finals
World Champion – 1991 (France)

Photo Credit
Neill Phillips

Farnham National 1994

Farnham National 1994. Neill Phillips capturing this one of Chris Bennett, Matthew Pratley and Winnie Wright who passed away over 19 years ago this month, if you can believe it.

Chris Bennett, coming from the NBMXA West Midlands side, was a National and British Champion in the mid 80s. Matthew Pratley had his best years during the EBA 90s era winning his first National at Slough and the British Championships in 1993. Matthew’s parents were also involved with EBA helping the running of National events.

Winnie we all love and know, from a Westway privateer on Kuwahara and MRD to Rainbow JMC, Mongoose, Links, Free Agent, Odyssey or just racing in jeans, a sweatshirt with Ray-Bans on and always looking Factory and bike on point.

High Low Podcast – Andy Ruffell

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We’ve been trying to nail down Mr. Andy Ruffell for awhile now and we finally sat down in San Diego and knocked out a podcast.

Lots covered, the early years being discovered by Richard Barrington and getting on Team ACE with early UK BMX legend Cav Strutt, winning his first race at Chatham back in 1980 right when BMX was getting off the ground in the UK.

Andy talks getting approached by Malcolm Jarvis and going to Ammaco Mongoose, traveling the country promoting the sport alongside racing and winning national titles in the process.

We also talk about racing with Tim March in 1984 (Superclass), the rivalry and the on-and-off relationship between both Andy and Tim even in current times.

We chat about the big money move to Raleigh in 85, winning the first official Pro Number 1 plate the same year, co-hosting BMX Beat and the Kelloggs with Mick Brown, the rise of Geth Shooter, his brothers Robert and Neil and Neil’s rise to the top on the freestyle side competing and rivaling with Craig Campell (maybe not being treated well from the UKBFA) alongside coming 2nd to Ron Wilkerson at the 85 Kelloggs.

Andy talks about putting on Holeshot, bringing over big names from the US in both Freestyle and Skate including Dennis McCoy, Josh White and Mat Hoffman, to Skaters Jeff Grosso, Christian Hosoi and Mark “Gator” Rogowski, just to mention a few along with all the headaches and problems he encountered putting on an event, from hotel rooms trashed, pros demanding more money and causing havoc on the London underground.

Of course we have to cover his relationship and thoughts on Tony Hoffman, the 1986 Slough World Championships and the UK Pros (PRA) decision not to race, and again more recent drama with Tim March over it all last month.

We discuss and decide it’s about time for an Official British BMX Hall of Fame to be set up and the talks are already in the works to make this a reality along with Andy’s Stunt A Biker YouTube channel Stuntabiker.com and more.

Podcast

CV – Alex Dick


Hillingdon Hawks / London

Free Agent, Sunn, Profile, Hotshot, Vans, Dirt Magazine

8 x National Champion
9 x British Champion
5 x World Championship Finalist
2 x European Championships Finalist

UK No-Clips Series #2
UK No-Clips Series #3
No-Clips Birmingham Bike Show NEC 1st
No-Clips NASS Festival 1st

Photo Credit: Neill Phillips

EBA Slough National 1994

Jamie Staff (Webco), Anthony Revell (Mongoose), Neal Wood, Ian Sharp (MCS) and just coming into the picture, Darren O’Neill (Kovachi Wheels) over the second straight doubles at Slough during the first EBA National of the 1994 season. Neal Wood keeping it fun mid-lap perhaps knowing this was his last race in the UK before moving to the US. Another snippet from this era (1994)… it was the first year they decided to go back to running 3 mains, something they had not done since the demise of the original Pro Class back in 1988.

Photo Credit: Neill Phillips

1980 the first Official BMX Race in the UK at Redditch

August 30th 1980 the first Official BMX Race in the UK at Redditch, which was sponsored by Halfords, some of the keys guys involved in setting up UK.BMX.A – United Kingdom BMX Association and this first race included Alan Rushton, David Duffield (Halfords), Geoff Wiles, Peter Selby, Malcolm Jarvis and Don Smith. A select number of Dutch riders made the trip out to Redditch for the first event. History was made and the start of organized BMX Racing as we know it in the UK was underway.

Reference: Gerrit Does universityofbmx.com.

Interview – Mike Pardon

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What year did you start BMX?
I think I started bmx around 1980? I fixed up my sister’s bike, which was a 20’ girl’s shopping bike and used to pretend to do motocross over a track we had in local fields!!! The bike didn’t last long.  I had been riding an 80cc Suzuki which my Uncle Paul converted to a field bike before that. I wanted to do motorcross but we had no money for that lark. A group of my school mates; Andy Bennett, Dave Westwell talked about a new shop called Alan’s in Hindley and also Halfords having something called a BMX bike.  The brands I remember at the time were Mongoose and Puch Murray.  But my first real bmx bike I got in Xmas 1980 and it was a Mongoose Skyway purchased unknown to me from Alan’s by my Uncle Paul as a surprise. I do remember watching the kids show Magpie and they showed Tinker Juarez doing a 360 out of a bowl.  It blew my mind.  I wanted a slice of that action!

The North West had quite a scene from the sport’s inception, who were some of the guys you rode with back then?
Craig Borrows, Andy Parr, Dave Arnold, Stu Carr, Fenwick Carr, Jason Ramsden, Alan Woods, John Lee, Andy Bennett, David Westwell & Godfrey Burke.  Sorry if I forgot anyone.

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How did you hook up with Alan Woods and get on Torker?
I almost scammed my way into his team.  I had a Mongoose shirt and had “Alan’s team” printed on it. Alan went for a trip to the hallowed land “California” and brought back a Torker F&F with Max pants and a race Shirt plus a yellow Simpson helmet. He then asked me to ride for him. He made an offer I couldn’t refuse. I felt like a million dollars.

First full season of racing must have been around 82? You finished National number 2 to Andy Ruffell in the 15s? What were some of the National tracks you raced at?
Was my first season 82?  I thought it was 81?  My first race was at Belle Vue for Hindley BMX club.  I won on the indoor circuit with wooden pallet jumps.  It’s where I saw Cav Strutt do a 360.  Mind -blowing.  It was also seminal in my development as I used to go to Belle Vue to watch speedway in the 1970s. I always wanted to be a speedway rider or an astronaut.  I’ve had a go at one but not the other yet!! Memorable tracks for me were Ipswich, Eastway, Buckmore Park. Alan remembers tracks better than me. Grasby was a good track it had a Rubber start gate and very steep hill?

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Any other notable names from that age group that you battled with?
John Lee of course, he was a fast bastard!!!!, Tony Law & Mark White. I was glad I wasn’t racing Fenwick Carr and Jason Ramsden as they where super fast.  It seemed like the grit and terrain of Wigan and Leigh produced some fast riders.

You were already getting a ton of press in the UK mags – featured a lot in Official BMX, BMX News newspaper before it became BMX Weekly and onto BMX Bi-Weekly. How did you and Andy Preston team up and test ride for Weekly?
Alan Woods got me into testing bikes for BMX Weekly.  I was the rider who would always have a go at big jumps and seemed to excel at tricks.  Photogenic maybe?  If memory serves me right, I had some kit made by Max for BMX Weekly; Jag shoes, Max pants & Max shirt, it looked real pro.  Alan does have that touch. He knows how to make things look factory! I used to go and ride whatever bike the magazine wanted to test.  I did jumps, tricks on them & made them look good even if they weren’t. There was a fair bit of the North and South divide thing between mags.  Official BMX was based down south and Bmx Bi-Weekly was based up North.  There was talent either side of Watford gap so it depended on your postcode which magazine you got coverage in. Andy Preston came on board around this time 83 ish and I think Martin Higginson suggested making a Team.  It was a Brit attempt at BMX Action’s.  Mike Buff and RL Osborn trick team but way less glamorous! Andy and I were then offered jobs at Pontin’s Holiday Camp in Morecambe as Bluecoat/Bike instructors at the newly built track. What a life!!! It was great to ride everyday and be paid for it.  Plus we were available to the magazine’s for photoshoots. It also suited Pontin’s, as they got exposure.  We both got pretty good. I personally got better at racing and tricks even though the ramps were so bad. Andy Preston and his folks put a lot of work into making us a professional outfit. His dad was an engineer and designed the portable ramps we used. They were groundbreaking at the time and perfect transitions. We used Andy’s own Land Rover to tow them round.  I can’t even imagine the fuel bills.

Any notable photo shoots you remember with BMX Weekly?
I do remember some at Pontin’s camp where we put the trick ramp on top of the table top and I used to hit it and get huge airs. But Nigel Higginson was into arty “sky” pictures which gave no hint of the height. So all that risk was for nothing. He did produce some great pictures but I was frustrated at the outcome of some. Especially when I became a frequent guest of the Pontin’s medical centre from crashes. I did a Raleigh photoshoot in Tenerife,1983 and jumped into the harbour off a trick ramp on a tuff burner. The locals thought I was a crazy gringo and it never even made the magazine. Took some balls to!!

You had a lot of Covers – any favorites?
As I get older I am getting prouder of what I have achieved. One day I can show them to my son Sebastian. The Romford Skatepark Aerial cover is my favourite. I just loved that park and wish I could have rode it more.

It seemed like you lost interest in Racing and turned to Freestyle – what made you switch over?
I don’t remember losing interest in racing. I just had no time to do the Nationals and do my trick team commitments. I got third in Wigan national against all the heads of state in the 16 expert class 1983 when I was a fulltime trick rider. So I proved I could still race with the best of them.

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You also got picked up by Raleigh, how did that deal come about?

I think the deal came about through Martin Higginson and BMX Bi-Weekly. It made sense. They are guaranteed coverage and a good rider plus BMX Beat happened. When I won that it seemed to explode for us as a team with Andy coming in second place. The Saturday morning TV series we made got us a lot of exposure, plus magazine coverage and demos. We had our 15 mins of fame put it that way.

You won BMX Beat that was featured on TV at the time winning the overall and continued to get a lot of coverage. It had to be a cool thing at the time?
Yes, it was really a special time; doing tricks at the Lyceum theatre in London in front of the biggest pop stars in the country, getting letters from females who watched the show & doing demos in front of a few thousand people.  I just wish looking back I had the foresight to train better and market myself better but I wouldn’t change it.  I experienced minor fame, which is so lame but it was fun for a while.

With the big money deal and arrival of Andy Ruffell to Raleigh it looked like you got the bump. What can you remember about that and thoughts on getting let go?
Well I was bemused as there was talk about Andy getting a car and nearly 20000 grand sterling. That was a fortune for a BMX Pro at that time. I couldn’t understand why we both couldn’t continue to be Raleigh riders.  In fact, I thought it would have been good for the company. Andy’s primary goal was racing, mine was Freestyle. Although Andy would have been the best Freestyler, if he put his mind to it no doubt. I had a great relationship with Raleigh I had been to the factory to help give input on bike design. Plus I had gotten them shitloads of coverage with all the TV and Magazine stuff I had done. I think most people look back and remember Andy for Mongoose bikes not for Raleigh and me for Raleigh not Hutch. But hey I don’t do the marketing so I went to Shiner on the Hutch Trickstar.

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You soon got picked up by Hutch (Shiner) how was that deal and riding the 85 Kelloggs?
Shiner and Alan’s in my opinion are the backbone of BMX and Skateboarding in the UK. I was super stoked to ride for them on the Hutch Trickstar. Plus our relationship was so good. The Allen family were beyond kind to me and helped me throughout my Skateboard career also. I was pretty average at the 85 Kelloggs event. I had actually booked to go on holiday with my then girlfriend Diane Arnold ( Jacob Roberts Mum) and we had to cancel it to do that event.  She wasn’t best pleased. I just wasn’t into competing and every demo became a chore and I wasn’t enjoying riding. You can check my heat against Ron Wilkerson on youtube.  He dabs so many times and does all that clown stuff, dancing on the bike etc. I hated that crap. But in hindsight I wasn’t that bad. The young guns were coming up, doing bigger airs pushing the boundaries of what was possible. Seemed like the writing was on the quarter pipe.

Seemed like you faded away from BMX shorty after any reason why?
I simply wasn’t enjoying it. BMX seemed to be all gloss and bubblegum no substance It didn’t have an edge.  Skateboarding on the other hand did.  It was new (to me) I was learning and enjoying the process of learning.  I continued doing BMX demos for Manchester council and riding for Shiner but I wasn’t going to win another competition, My tricks became to old school. I also hated the whole BFA thing and Colin Kefford’s vision for BMX Freestyle. It just seemed to be taking a wrong direction but what do I know? In hindsight I should have stuck at it, maybe joined a circus earned some cash and diversified into being a lion tamer!!!

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What were you up to in the late 80s and 90s?
I was living in various places. Southsea, Portsmouth for a while. I lived at number 70 liss road with Neil Hawkins, Tracy Weller and we skated partied, skated, and partied.  We had great sessions on the vert ramp and hung out with travelling American skate pros. I was skating Vert comps and getting better. I even opened a skateboard shop with Doug Nelson called Soul Skates in Chorley. I skated for Shiner on Powell and Zorlac then Allan Losi put me on LSD boards. Finally Jeremy at Deathbox gave me a deal on Bash. I even got my own Pro model. I spent time skateboarding and competing in Texas, Europe, Brazil, Scotland. It was a real learning phase in my life. I tried lots of things, made lots of mistakes. I came close along with Neil Danz and Davie Phillips to dying in Brazil 1990. We had a big car wreck. How we survived to this day is a mystery. I then got stoked on Surfing and after doing a couple of trips to Cornwall with Gary Lee and seeing his stoke for the sport wanted to learn. I realised I had to live near the waves. So I moved down to Cornwall and spent time surfing with Jamie Blair. I did whatever I could to get by including dishwashing jobs but I gradually learned to surf. I made some great friends during this time and had great experiences. I lived in a tiny caravan and occasionally skated but there wasn’t any vert in Cornwall at the time. I just surfed as much as possible. I then met an Irish girl (as you do) and moved to Ireland. I ended up living in Co Donegal by incredible waves, surfing with amazing surfers and still have a love affair with Ireland to this day. When I first moved to Co Donegal. I ended up delivering newspapers at the ripe age of 27. Thinking fuck what am I doing with my life? But sometimes doors open and I got into lifeguarding which led me into Beach lifeguarding which led me into getting work, which led me into getting involved in “surflifesaving”.  I ended up being (wait for it) the All Ireland Paddleboard Champion 4 times in a row and helping the Donegal lifesaving team to multiple successes. I am very proud to have been honoured by Donegal council for my services to lifesaving. For a lad from Manchester I was humbled. All this led to me joining the Ambulance service in 1997.  I worked in Donegal for a while then I got a job in Northern Ireland and trained up in Belfast and worked around some interesting areas.  The Good Friday agreement came into effect during the late 1990s so thankfully the troubles defused a little. I also got into Irish motorcycle road racing.  I went to watch Joey Dunlop a few times and decided I was going have a crack. I got my race licence, bought a CBR600 race bike. Then the foot and mouth thing hit and all road races were cancelled.  This probably saved my life in hindsight. Because of the foot-in-mouth I ended up doing a club race at 3 Sisters Wigan (my first race) I won the rookie class and got 6th in 600 Supersport.  I thought I was the shit!! So I turn up for the next  practice session, a month later, it was wet.  I had zero experience in the wet.  I highside within half a lap and knock myself out, break my collarbone, badly bruised my hip and mess up my bike.  I figure I had the highs and lows of motorcycle racing in one foul swoop. Reflecting on this time it’s funny how my formative racing experiences revolved around 3 Sisters!!  Even though the BMX track was gone.

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Did you still follow the sport?
I followed BMX racing at the last Olympics but I don’t watch much racing these days. I watch clips the Vans park series on Youtube. The Redbull “Sebastian Keep” clip is pure genius. My honest opinion about BMX racing is it’s lost its way.  I don’t mean that in detriment to current racers but I feel the format needs to change to switch it up.  I love BMX, it’s given me so much.  Riding a little 20” bike took me to places I never imagined.  It’s given me great bike control and opened doors for me. I now have a 4 year old son riding around a BMX track but I just want him to have fun.  I am not going to push him in anyway to do what I have done (promise).  I will always maintain a connection to BMX.

Alongside BMX you always skated, how did you get into that and did you compete?
I didn’t always skate, I took it up in 84 properly.  We used to skate “stiff necks” ramp in Ince near Wigan. The North West scene with Ardwick and Warrington was booming so I just learned to skate vert ramps. Tim Stamp, Dave Arnold, Craig Burrows always diversified into BMX and skating We just did it all. I entered some ESA skate events then graduated to skating with the A group vert lot. I was never that good. I had moments but never trained enough.  I watch stuff from Munster 1989 and it’s still unreal what they do even then.

You came back into racing again and coached in the 2000s what made you come back and how did you do?
Well, I ended up quitting the ambulance job and moving back to the UK from Ireland and living back at my Mum’s in Wigan.  I was a bit lost but had some spare cash. So I started racing Supermoto on a 650 Husaberg in the Norasport uk series.  I worked my way up to A grade and won some trophies. It’s basically BMX racing with an engine. So much fun. Supermoto got to feel very natural for me but as with most motorsports, it’s about money.  I ran out and then decided to have a crack at living in Australia. I sold my bike and kit and made an attempt at trying to find work in Australia. I didn’t as I couldn’t get a visa. I ran out of cash, so I came back to the UK broke and a little lost. It was then Alan Woods that asked if I wanted to race 24” cruisers for him? Of course, I thought why not.  I ended up winning the over 40s cruiser class at National level and British championships twice I think? I also raced Masters on a 20” It culminated with me managing Alan’s team for him.  We set up a pretty professional outfit with Vans and Shimano onboard. I was asked by Jeremy Hayes at British Cycling to assist with coaching. He’s good and knows how they operate.  It was an experience for me.  I got involved with Jamie Staff and Jeremy Hayes in writing the “how to BMX manual”

What were your thoughts on the sport this time around getting back into it compared to the 80s?
It was a world apart from what I knew.  The BMX tracks where so different. Concrete huge jumps, multiple doubles, step ups step downs, Riding  a BMX was very refined to.  I was lucky, as when I started racing again for Alan I had been riding skateparks in Australia so I had progressed.  I had taught myself spine transfers and a few new school moves.  I maintained skills at handling a bike plus surfing had given me an insight into fitness.  You have to remember I basically quit BMX Freestyle in 1986 and had never even done a roll in on a quarter pipe. That was a big trick back then.  If you think about it Andy Ruffell’s front hop drop in was big news BITD.  Now it’s just a set up.  I had to face many demons to tell myself at 40 years of age I could still progress. I then got a spate of injuries during my second racing career for Alan.  I broke my scapula in Wales in the Masters main then broke my wrist at Copull and popped my shoulder out also.  Hmmm I was sore!

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What was with the move to Australia?
I wanted to start a new life.  I enjoyed the climate of course.  I love surfing and thought most people just surfed, worked two days a week and owned their own homes.  Boy was I wrong. You work your arse off here.  It’s overpriced, fucking hot and unless you’re very lucky you “ain’t” getting a place by the ocean.  But it’s also got loads of space and opportunities and if you’re prepared to have a go and work hard it can reward you. It’s given me highs and lows in my 10 years here. It’s given me a son who I adore.  Plus a dual passport and grey hair. My job as a paramedic can be very stressful and I wonder how long I can go on doing it? But caring for my lad gives me the strength and purpose. I live day to day at the moment.

Are you still surfing, skating and riding bikes?
I still ride bikes most days.  I have a good collection. Two road racing bikes, two BMX bikes, two MTB bikes, one 26” cruiser, a 26’ jump bike oh yes and a cyclocross bike. I spent 2018 racing Gravity Enduro mtb events in WA.  I took to it pretty well and ended up taking it to the last round to be Champion in my age group but a big old crash ended that.  Also the champ, Ian Daniels, is faster than me!! I moved to Victoria in May 2019 from Western Australia to be closer to my boy as I am now divorced from his mother. So I changed my lifestyle completely.  I was surfing daily in WA but now I road ride or MTB tracks, gravel and when I can compete in selected events. I got into road riding properly in 2009 at a Master’s level when I moved to Australia and got up to A grade.  I also qualified for the UCI Masters road finals in Trento, Italy in 2013 and finished respectfully. Unfortunately it’s been a rough few years for me both mentally and physically but I am still here fighting. I shattered my collar bone and had it plated in late 2018 then had a freak accident and pulled out the plate leading to another operation, bigger plate and a lot of pain and I have only just started to fully recover from that and regain my fitness.   Plus I had a full shoulder reconstruction in 2014. I recently competed in the Australian gravel championships.  My first road event in 5 years.  I got 4th in my age group, it was a definite learning experience especially going nearly 70kph on drop bars down a really rough trail, knowing if I did fall, my collarbone at the very least was gone again.  I survived though and gained some confidence.

Future goals with riding?
At the tender age of 54 my goal is to get my fitness back after injury and compete in whatever takes my fancy. I am going to try cyclocross in 2020 and do more MTB XCO stuff.  I do enjoy racing road crits and plan to see how I go in the 2020 national masters.  It’s a smorgasbord really and there are so many routes in cycling now to go and have fun at.  I also plan to ride my skateboard more and as long as I can drop in and hit a smith grind I am a pretty happy man.  I plan to keep going until my body or heart gives out, whichever comes first. To all my friends around the world I send out a big hug. Anyone that knows me from BMX or Skateboarding, I apologize if I was ever a wanker to you but I am a good guy, really.  Peace out.

Interview – Keith Wilson

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How did you discover BMX? What year was it? How was your local scene, who did you ride with back then?
Growing up in the outskirts of East London in the 1970’s was a magical time for anyone who rode dirt bikes due to the close proximity of Epping Forest and untold wasteland as a result of all the damage done in World War 2.

The part of the forest closest to my house was littered with bomb-holes from German air-raids and as it was on a big hill. I was actually riding the bomb-holes as part of a big downhill track from the mid 70’s onwards.

Around Late 1978, we were all riding 24″ tracker bikes with Cyclocross knobbly tires and Motocross bike handlebars, The original ‘Hardtail Mountainbikes’ (20 years before they became fashionable) and whilst riding at a spot called the Hollow Ponds I met the Walthamstow riders of Andy Ruffell, Cav Strutt, Peter Middleton, Nicky Matthews, Steve Gilley and many others and instantly became friends with them. In early 79 we saw the famous episode of CHiPs featured bmx racing, we all knew we wanted to do ‘BMX’ instantly.

Pretty much straight after the CHiPs episode the Walthamstow boys suddenly appeared on modified Grifters, usually colour-changed to one of the colours of the main mx motorbikes, longer-straightened forks fitted, lightweight saddle/post, shopping bike handlebars and gears removed. They were the coolest thing I had ever seen and within weeks I had obtained one and carried out the modifications (real bmx bikes weren’t available in the UK at this time).

Whilst we were all riding at The Hollow Ponds doing big jumps, etc. a chap showed up in a three-piece-suit with a distinctive hairstyle and seemed to know a lot about bmx in America. I described him to my Dad when I got home and he informed me that it was Don Smith, a legendary motorcycle rider/racer from the area that had numerous World Titles to his name, next time I saw Don I certainly took notice of everything he said! He spoke of an upcoming trip to California where he would purchase the latest bmx bikes to import, and how he was going to organise ‘UKBMX’ races with a governing body and a professional class where we could all earn money racing bmx bikes! Don showed up with a full suspension ‘mountainbike’ in Spring 79 with mx style forks, twin shock rear suspension and hub brakes, we all had a ride of it and told him that suspension on bikes would never catch on! Don went on to write the constitution of UKBMX parts of which I believe are still in use today!

Early 1980 everyone of the growing crowd of riders had either a Mongoose or a Team Ace BMX bike. I had a very nice Supergoose 2. By the summer of 1980 races had already been held at Redditch, Ipswich (Coddenham) and Buckmore Park.

Who was your first sponsor?
My first race was right at the end of 1980 (or early 81) at Buckmore Park, the track was a quagmire of mud so the decision was made to race on the Go Kart track there with the start gate situated halfway up the hill that surrounds the track. The event was huge with hundreds of riders from far and wide in attendance. I met riders there that day that are still friends now and still race to this day. My next race was a few months later also at Buckmore park but on the proper track. I made the main along With Andy Ruffell, Jay Hardy and Craig Strong and got a good start and went into turn one with Andy but immediately wiped out. I had won all my motos that day with Mark ‘Sid’ Salisbury and Jay Hardy in them and it was then that I realised I could hang with the fastest guys in my age group and I wanted to take up racing regularly. The result that day led to me getting Sponsored by my local Bike shop ‘MASONS CYCLES’ in Wanstead and the manager there, Chris Wonfor was a great help in getting my racing career off the ground.

In winter 1980/81 I would rush home from school, grab my bike and sprint the 3 miles to Masons in freezing temperatures in the dark just to get the latest copy of BMS Plus or BMX Action to read about my heroes in the USA Stu Thomsen, Harry Leary and co.

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How long did it take until you got onto Redline?
July 1981 (on Royal Wedding day) I got the breakthrough I wanted in racing by winning a national (Andy Ruffell wasn’t there) and as a result got invited to try out for the New ‘REDLINE FACTORY TEAM’ at EARLS COURT a few weeks later.

I showed up at The Bike Show in Earls Court with my Mum for their try-outs and instantly spotted Stu Thomsen on the track!!! I was speechless! It was the guy from the magazines!! He came over and said hello to Mum and I and as I attempted to say hello back no words came out!!   They were picking 2 riders only, one 13 or under, and one 15 and over, all the other riders competing for the older slot were a fair bit older than me and a lot bigger.   We were to do some practice laps under the watchfull eye of Stu and then line-up on the gate for a one lap-no crap race with the winner taking the spot.  I put my hand in the bag for lane choice and chose gate 5 (6 man gate) and the other riders were all inside me and the first straight was short so getting the lead into the first turn was going to be a tall order.  As I put my wheel on the gate I saw a wheel line-up outside me in gate 6…I looked to my side, and up, and up….Stu was joining in…oh no!! Not only was I racing against older/bigger riders but now Stu was next to me on the gate!! nervous!!!

The gate dropped and I got a flier and looked across at the end of the straight…no-one there, whoosh I moved over and took the lead OMG OMG I’m winning!!!   Halfway throught the first turn I was hit from behind by what felt like a train!! I flew off my bike but I didnt hit the ground…because someone caught me.  Stu had slid-out in the first turn and accidentally hit me, but managed to catch me before I hit the ground!!  I was fine but upset because I hadn’t won the race.  Stu and the other Redline staff called a re-run because of what happened, and Stu told me not to worry as he knew I would win it, and I did so I was on REDLINE!!!  Stu shook my hand and welcomed me to the team and then handed me his race bike saying he could get a new one when he got home and I couldnt get a bike like that in the UK as it was custom built.

A few weeks later, I was racing at Outwell indoor and John Lee and Andy Ruffell were there and as John had been getting closer and closer to (the virtually unbeaten) Ruffell recently all eyes were on them as they took their gate positions for the final.  I even thought I was racing for third place at best with those two on the gate. The gate dropped and it all seemed too easy as I took the lead from the first pedal stroke and finished with a healthy lead over Andy with John in third.  It was October 1981 and I started to believe that I could actually win races whoever was there.

Who else was on Redline around this time?  I’m thinking; Stu Diggins and Gary Willats?
Initially, the Redline team consisted of just two riders, myself and Gary Willats.  Unfortunately, Gary got seriously injured in a car crash and missed a lot of races leaving me as the sole representative for quite a while.  Stu Diggins got on the team quite a bit later and not long before I left.  I got some great results with Redline but myself and the TM didn’t always see eye-to-eye so by June 82 I knew my days were numbered and when my friend Tony Slater expressed an interest in riding for Redline I didn’t stand in the way and parted company with the team.

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How did you get on Halfords and tell us about your first trip to the US?
It was quite a blessing, as I did really well at the Anglo American Cup at Redditch about a week later and was in the final where Tim March beat the Americans.  Halford’s main man, David Duffield was in attendance and was on the lookout for an unsponsored rider to fund for a USA trip to race at the upcoming (first ever) IBMXF World Championships at Dayton Ohio.  BMX Action Bike magazine’s; Richards and Jim Black, along with Dave Young (Chris’s Dad) were advising him on who to pick, and luckily I got on really  well with all those guys and had just had a two-page interview in the magazine, so I have no doubt that it was those guys that influenced him to pick me as the lucky rider.  A couple of weeks later I was boarding one of Freddie Lakers Jumbo Jets at Heathrow at 16 years old.  I flew to New York where I met Andy Oldham and his Dad who were also making the trip.  We flew onto Pittsburgh where the plane developed a landing gear fault and we actually crash landed onto a foam filled runway and Andy managed to sleep through the whole thing!!  We missed our connecting flight to Dayton and got a free limo ride to a hotel and flew out the next morning, pretty rad to experience all that at 16.   The heat and humidity of the Midwest was a big shock to me and even more so for the Oldham’s as they are Northerners!   Andy ended up getting injured in training leaving me as the lone Brit racing.  The parade lap was interesting with me myself and I carrying a massive Union Jack around the track.  I made the semis where I crashed and that was that.  While I was there I hung out with Greg Esser and he persuaded me not to go home but to spend the rest of the summer there following the NBL War of the Stars Series which was a great experience and I even won a round!   It was pretty surreal to be traveling, training and hanging out with the very Pro’s that I’d been reading about in BMX Plus just a few months earlier and they now all knew me by name!!!   I moved on to Canada after the race season ended and spent the Fall racing there, it was a good scene and about as big as it was back home at that time.   I returned home in late October 82 to find that I had still made national #3 even though I’d missed a large part of the season.Being local and racing with Andy Ruffell how was it being around during the start of his celebrity status in BMX?

Andy Ruffell was turning into a media celebrity by now and was getting so much tv work that it seemed like every time I turned the TV on he was on it!!  He was getting into the freestyle side of things but was still virtually unbeatable on the track, he was a true phenomenon for the years I raced!!

It seemed like you were not on Redline long before you got picked up by Torker, what was with the move?
Alan Woods contacted me in December about riding for one of his teams, I jumped at that as I’d always admired his set-up and the professionalism of the teams, etc. Initially he asked me to ride a Robinson which I was happy with as I knew them to be excellent bikes, but he eventually decided on me joining TORKER which was also cool as I was good friends with team rider, Darren Page (rip) and his family and they lived locally to me.

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Picketts Lock along with the Halfords NEC were big events back in the early 80s that were well-documented not just in the mags but also on TV as well. Do you remember much from these events?
My first race on Torker was at Picketts Lock in January 83 and I had both Tim March and Andy Ruffell in my moto which meant I was virtually guaranteed magazine coverage for Torker.  And yes, the centre page spread in BMX Action Bike Magazine was Andy, Tim, Sid Salisbury and myself hitting the first jump.  Alan Woods also gave me a Cruiser and I raced against Tim, Alan, Tony Slater and Jamie Vince and although I never won (Tim did) I got a solid second place.  I was having an decent season scoring regular top 3’s on Torker and won the inaugural British Championships at Knebworth House (the Trophy says British Open Championships) and got 3rd at the Halfords NEC race after almost going over the gate and being dead last until turn 2.  Seeing the race on TV was so cool!!

83 Worlds Slagharen Holland, how was that?
When the 83 Worlds came around at Slagharen for some reason I didn’t want to go and decided to go to the USA again instead, a week or two after the Worlds was a big race at Kettering, Ohio and it seemed like all the Americans that had attended the Worlds flew back for this race.   I raced Richie Anderson in Open Class and led him in a moto until the last turn where he blew by me (he probably spun on the gate) but it sure felt good to be ahead of him!

By the start of the 84 season you had disappeared from racing. What prompted you to stop; birds and booze?
When I returned from the USA in October 83 I got a job running FAZE 7 BMX Shop for Joe Burlo which was great but it was that that helped me to lose interest in BMX bikes as it became a 7 day a week thing, BMX, BMX, BMX all week in the shop, then BMX all weekend, it tipped me over the edge and I quit at the end of 83.  Looking back on how big things got in 84/85 and seeing that the Stars of the Kelloggs on TV were riders that I had beaten week in and week out a few years before, does make me bitterly regret giving up when I did.  When I left bmx I totally turned my back on it and have no memories of bmx after 83 apart from when Tony Slater was telling me about this kid from Derby (Geth Shooter) that was younger than us beating Stu Thomsen and co…that stuck in my mind.

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You got back into racing years later this time around with Mountainbikes.  What years did you compete and thoughts on the whole UK MTB scene.
Back in 1990, Tony Slater and Craig Schofield dragged me along to a BMX race at Ipswich.  My Torker had air in its tyres for the first time in 7 years and still had 1983 mud on them.  I did ok at the race for the first straight but always blew up puffing and panting before the finish and Tony and Craig kept giggling about me getting frustrated at trying to keep up with this 18 year old kid from Derby who was rather good…Dale something or other….haha

A few years later in 96 I fancied a go at Mountain Biking and went along to the Bike Show and bumped into Jay Hardy and Paul Roberts who persuaded me to enter the National Short Course DH Championships the following weekend.  I managed to win it at my first attempt which made me instantly well-known on the circuit and secured me a mini interview and picture on page one of issue one of Dirt Magazine.  I raced DH for the next few years winning quite a few Nationals along the way.   In 2000 I got the Bronze Medal at the World Championships in Canada and Won the British Championships in 2005.

By the mid 2000s you had found your way back into racing BMX and with only a handful of races, qualified and raced the 2005 Worlds in Paris and even put it in the main.  Seemed like you got the bug again?Yes, I decided to race BMX again and after 3 races back I found myself at the UCI Worlds In Bercy and cruised through the motos, then the 1/8th and 1/4, then I was at the back in the semi thinking it was all over and they seemed to go wide in the last turn so I went under them all and qualified for the main!!  Back in the stands it sank in that I had made a world final when Dale Holmes said ‘Hey Keith, you’re in the main’… A bit of a crash on the third straight meant it was a W7 for me which I gladly took.   I left bmx again after that world final, and kept on plugging away at DH getting more National wins and finally quit DH in 2008 to concentrate on bmx again.  I hooked up with Dialled Bikes in 2009 and won the British Championships in 4x for Dialled and followed it with British Championship titles on cruiser in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012 Mike Wong started up a new Brand FACTORY TEAM BIKES with me as the sole rider that year followed by a strong team from 2013 onwards.  I continued with FTB, becoming the team manager in 2014 and in 2017 I said that I would quit bmx racing for good if I won the British Championships that year.  My body was broken and aching and I really needed a rest so I gritted my teeth and became British Champion for the last time in 2017.

Let’s wrap it up final words?
I decided to take a rest in 2018 and in 2019 started a new cycle sport called Enduro. I raced the seven round series and managed to win five of them, one second and one third to take the title at my first attempt.  Next year, I’m taking a fresh challenge with yet another form of bicycle racing.   Did I mention that I love bikes?!   Thank you for giving me the chance to share a little bit of my history of riding bicycles on dirt.

1983 European Championships

Round 2 of the 1983 European Championships in Dijon, France (Indoor) 11-13 Open Final stacked with UK talent.  Stu Diggins on his way to the win over Chas Smith with Darren Wood in 3rd giving the UK a full-sweep on the podium.  Also pictured, Wayne Llewellyn who went onto win 12 expert in Dijon and the overall European title for his class.

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RADBMX MK19

MK19 is already looking like a huge event coming up this August that’s going to take place over in the UK. Bob Haro, Harry Leary, Craig Campbell, Alan Woods, Tom Lynch and John Buultjens are just a few of the names on the roster with an even rumored Andy Ruffell appearance. The Old Skool community continues to grow worldwide with events, ride out and gatherings going on, which is cool to see.