Factory Raleigh – Andy Oldham
Stand at the back of the start hill at any BMX race, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the people queuing for their races in their brightly coloured gear are all equals. But any kid that followed the BMX magazines in the pre and boom years of the eighties will tell you that there was always a hierarchy. Moto winners come and go, even mains can sometimes be won on a fluke – but no-one gets sponsored unless they really have the right stuff! Let’s talk teams! Or more specifically, let’s talk eighties teams!
For most racers, the team with which they spend their racing careers is Factory Mum and Dad. The cost of bikes, travel and gear, the pre and post-race pep talks, the pit crew (Dad) changing gear ratios between motos – all are met by the funds raised from the old man trudging to the office in the rain each day. The kit might bear the name of little Johnny’s favourite manufacturer, but there are a couple of very special words missing from the race jersey.
But for the lucky few, for the greatest talents in our sport, their jerseys bear the word “team” somewhere in their design. National Team, Factory Team, Support Team – to have these simple phrases emblazoned on the back of your shoulders or across your chest is a badge of honour, a mark of respect, a statement that this man is not as other men – a declaration that this man has arrived!
For the new racer, lining up on the gate next to a team rider can be an intimidating experience. There stands the novice, maintaining a wobbly balance while trying to effect a two pedal start. Next to him is the “team” rider – balancing motionless, his gait loose yet powerful, his gaze fixed on the track ahead, his eyes betraying nothing except a calm assuredness that his vast experience will secure a solid victory. Behind the start hill there was no hint of nervousness. He seemed to know almost everyone. And absolutely everyone knew him!
To arrive at the track wearing full race team livery has historically been the goal of many an aspiring racer. In 1985, if you’d asked 100 riders to choose between a number one plate and a factory team ride, I suspect more than half would have gone for the latter.
But how can a sport that is essentially a solo one have ended up with such a team orientated culture? To find the answer, we have to go back in time to the very dawn of BMX in the UK.
With the rise of BMX in the eighties, and the promise for manufacturers, distributors and retailers of increasing returns so long as the sport kept growing, BMX race teams proliferated at an unparalleled rate. By the mid-eighties, at least three prominent UK colour magazines had appeared, and companies were vying with each other to get as much publicity for their brands as possible. One of the best ways to do it was by having a well known rider splashed across the cover or centre-spread wearing the company’s brand logo.
But it wasn’t just the companies that benefited from this incentive. In many ways the magazines, both then and now, are ultimately democratic. Magazine photographers have the sole aim of putting talent on the page. Some riders can provide the talent but can’t afford decent bikes or gear or to get to the events, whereas some riders can afford to get to the events but can’t ride well enough when they get there.
Enter the BMX race team!
With a little corporate backing, kids that otherwise could only afford to shine at local races were given the chance to shoot for a top national ranking. In exchange, the company footing the bill would want their pilot to turn in respectable results and hopefully generate some publicity.
The first BMX team in the UK was set up by ex-motorcycle trials rider Don Smith and fellow BMX enthusiast Richard Barrington. That team was called Team Ace.
Around 1980, Barrington had set up a shop in Walthamstow and sponsored some local riders to get the whole thing going. For Barrington and Smith, this was about more than just pushing a team – they were attempting to push the sport itself into some kind of stable existence in the UK. Those early team riders included Nikki Matthews, Pete Middleton, Steve Gilley, Andy Ruffell and Cav Strutts. Ace even went as far as producing a frame and fork set, though production was limited. Today only one of those early Ace frames is believed to have survived.
Andy Ruffell (Riding for Ace) at Harrow Skate Park with Ace boss who is unfortunately no longer with us, Richard Barrington, in the background.
Soon after, Ammaco Mongoose burst onto the scene – a team run by husband and wife duo Malcolm and Sue Jarvis to promote both BMX itself and Mongoose bikes. With their own kids Sam/Julian and Russ in the team, along with Steven and John Greaves and Brian Jones, Ammaco Mongoose snapped up Ruffell and Middleton from Team Ace. The age of rider headhunting had arrived!
Ruffell of course would grow to become a sponsor’s dream and stayed with Ammaco Mongoose until the end of 1984. In that time, an enormous amount of money was spent on him travelling all over the world promoting both BMX as a sport and Mongoose as a brand. Yet there can be little doubt that the publicity he generated translated directly into sales for Mongoose that far exceeded the company’s investment in him.
In 1985, UK manufacturer Raleigh decided it wanted a more prominent share of the team pie. Raleigh had previously sponsored a number of well known riders, such as Andy Oldham, Jamie Staff and Kev Riviere, but now they were planning a huge publicity push. And being such a large firm, their strategy was simple – buy the cream of the crop and put them on a Raleigh bike.
Most of the exciting BMX action was being performed by teenagers. Though younger kids might be nagging their parents to buy them a bike, it was invariably off the back of looking at photos of older kids in the magazines. And so, with a suitably corporate no-nonsense approach, Raleigh simply made sure that the most prominent rider in each age group over fourteen would ride for Raleigh. And such was the ubiquity of the Raleigh Burner as a first bike for thousands of kids, that it was almost a money-no-object corporate takeover.
In the fourteens, Kuwahara’s Stu Diggens had been unstoppable for two seasons, so an offer, reputedly into four figures, was made to entice him onto the team (not bad for a school kid back in the mid-eighties!). In the fifteens and sixteens, Raleigh already had the number one guys in the form of Craig Schofield and Martin Jose but added Jason Maloney for good measure. Now they set their sights on the big boys.
Though Ruffell was actually beaten to the number one plate by Tim March in the first year of superclass racing in ’84, Tim couldn’t quite topple him from the top of the publicity charts. Despite being number two, it was Ruffell and not March whose fame extended beyond the boundaries of BMX, and it was Ruffell who got to see the colour of Raleigh’s money!
When Andy was eventually headhunted, Raleigh knew he wasn’t going to come cheap. In his last year at Mongoose, he had appeared in the Sunday Times Colour Supplement in an article which estimated his earnings at around £20,000. Bear in mind this was 1985 and twenty grand was an awful lot of money in those days, especially for a kid still in his teens! Though the details of his deal with the UK cycle giant were never disclosed, it’s not unreasonable to suppose, based on the figure in the Times article, that Raleigh had an even greater figure in mind when they approached him.
Plainly Raleigh felt that those thousands spent on Ruffell would equate to even more thousands in terms of sales. And I would hazard a guess that they were right. Andy Ruffell, BMX publicity machine, was the ultimate team rider.
Although Ruffell’s fame may have extended further outside BMX than March’s, in a curious irony, it was March who managed to pull sponsors from outside the sport into BMX. In 1983 his primary sponsor was Lee Cooper, a jeans manufacturer. In 1984 he started his now legendary MRD outfit, but it was in 1985 that Tim really raised the bar. Somehow he managed to persuade grocery chain VG to enter into a joint team venture with his own March Racing Developments. The result included a fully liveried VG/March double decker bus for transporting the new MRD team to races. During MRD’s time on the race scene, the fortunate beneficiaries of Tim’s vision included riders like Steve Bigland, Mark “Whoppa” Watkins, Anthony Howells and Ashley Davies.
But not all teams have been based on the multinational model of hard cash for hard promotion. Many teams were smaller affairs in which bike shops or importers would either set up their own team or else strike a deal with manufacturers to help out riders in their locality. Names like Edwardes, Youngs, Hotshot-Redline, Shenpar-JMC/Powerlite and then Cyclecraft, Alans-Robinson/Torker and Bunneys-GT all came to be recognized as heavyweight team entities in their own right. And more than a few big names got the extra push they needed by riding for them: Geth Shooter, Sarah Jane Nicholls, Tony Holland, Charlie Reynolds, Dale Holmes, Karen Murphy, Dylan Clayton, Dean Iddiols and Gary Llewellyn to name but a few.
Other teams operated with tiered grades of team membership with riders aspiring to be, as it were, promoted internally. Kuwahara ran a successful national team as a first rung on its factory team ladder, though this sometimes made for complications if the factory star stayed on the team for too long. In 1983, for instance, rising star Darren Wood was on the Kuwahara National squad, but with Diggens taking the factory place in the same age group, and showing no signs of slowing down, Wood eventually had to jump ship to Skyway to secure a full factory ride, in turn leaving the way open for Lee Alexander to join the Kuwahara National Team for ’84.
From around 1986, the BMX magazines began to evaporate as the sport reached its peak and then began to decline in popularity. Without a ready media in which to get promoted, the corporations that had financed so many teams began to walk away from the sport.
In their place emerged a new kind of team run along altogether different lines. Team management moved from being a commercial concern to a more altruistic one. Managers were now helping talented riders meet the high cost of competition simply for the love of the sport and its riders rather than the pursuit of a tangible increase in sales or publicity.
Never was this more apparent than in teams such as Rainbow Racing or Alan Sopp’s ASR outfit. Both became enormously credible teams, yet they had nothing to promote – no frames and forks, no number plates, no clothing line – not so much as a baseball cap. And yet they helped support the race careers of such talents as David Barnsby, Mark Sopp, Mike Riviere, Tom Lynch, Warren Godfrey, Brad Smith and of course the late great Winnie Wright.
Today the heady era of the eighties boom is behind us, but the allure of the place on a team is as real as ever for many riders. Moreover, the digital revolution and the advent of new social media has enabled the creation of entirely new team opportunities and operating models for those sufficiently imaginative to find them. Outfits like Kai Riviere’s RaceDayVideo, for instance, continue to run race teams in order to promote their enterprises. In so doing, these teams help to support a wide range of riders – from gifted hopefuls at the grass roots of the sport, up to national racers in the elite categories. Whilst at the extreme end of corporate sponsorship, Sky’s multi-million pound commitment to British Cycling has enabled the riders at the very top of today’s sport, such as Liam Phillips and Shanaze Reade, to become truly professional athletes on the global stage.
Though the team ride will remain an elusive dream for the majority of racers, there can be little doubt that the BMX Race Team itself is here to stay.
Craig Schofield, Brian Jones, Julian Jarvis, Don Smith, Andy Ruffell, Russ Jarvis, Malcolm Jarvis, Chris Young, Sean Day, (Unknown) Sam Jarvis.
One of the most iconic pictures from the 80’s in UKBMX is Charlie Reynolds and Geth Shooter over the first Dolly Parton’s during a 16 expert battle at the Poole UKBMX National. We have got a few quotes from the riders who were around at the time and their views on the shot.
Geth – “Ere Charlie, why ain’t anyone else jumpin’ these?” Charlie – “Dunno bro, but if I can get over em’ without losing my back end, I’m gonna beat ya”. The rest – “I think we’re in the wrong moto”
That was a real spectacle for Poole National!!! Although, other people jumped the Dolly’s during that weekend, I think this is the picture and memory that comes to mind most. It was a case of those who DARED won. I’m sitting on my mum’s lap in my Torker gear above the head of the rider in Lane 8. Who can name all those that cleared the Dolly’s that weekend?
This is probably one of the most iconic pictures of 80’s BMX. The powerhouse vs the showman. Both riders had a huge impact on the sport, Charlie with his sense of theater and Geth for providing the drama. For me, it was Geth that was the ultimate racer, fast and full of skill on the track but also humble and a great ambassador for the sport off the track. I had the pleasure of Geth riding for me at East Coast BMX when he was between sponsors (that didn’t last very long !!) and we still remain friends today. p.s I’m glad to be on this picture but wish I was a bit further ahead!!! LOL
Geth and Charlie at the top of their game, Shooter had the style and the speed, Charlie had a leather fanny pack with mobile phone…if he couldn’t clear doubles in a straight line them he’d 360 them instead.
This pic captures everything about UKBMX in the 80’s for me. Geth and Charlie had some epic battles but were poles apart as people. One southern, loud and flash and the other Northern, enigmatic and workmanlike. Yet on the track, they both were all business and went all out for the win. Most of the guys in the class were rolling the Dolly’s at Poole but these two bossed it. Geth laying down all the style and Charlie just pinning it. Classic!
Timeless classic photo, this was UKBMX racing I think at its best & it was when bmx, in my view, was proper & pure Bicycle Moto X. I’m all for evolving in any sport & it should happen, but looking at this fantastic pic of Geth, Charlie, Martin Jose etc it’s just got this jaw dropping factor about it, it’s hardcore, raw bmx racing at its best, the track was great for it’s time, the atmosphere was electric & the crowd are on edge in anticipation of will they won’t they jump the magnificent Dolly’s every single person is watching this race, in short a stunning picture that will always stand the test of time, people in years to come will still marvel at this pic.
Not the best BMX photo ever taken, but sums up the original spirit of BMX racing and why so many of us 30 or 40 somethings got into the sport when it first came to the UK. Yes, everyone wanted to win, but everyone also wanted to get rad. That’s the difference between original BMX and Olympic era BMX. Thank God for riders like Billy Luckhurst, Paddy Sharrock, James Horwood, Callum Dalby and Connor Swain who keep the spirit of “getting rad” alive in the UK race scene.
“That jump was way ahead of the times and pissed on the likes of Kong or the Chasm just cos of where it was. I swear this pic was on my wall straight outta the magazine.”
We asked a number of riders from the 80’s: When you first got into BMX Racing, what British riders inspired you that you looked up to or even those that you would consider your heroes?
David Wylie / Team Diamond Back (anyone remember him?) Was about best in the country my first year 1980. I first raced him at Bradford track in a National. I was on my Mongoose 2 with Tuff wheels. He just beat me and that was my inspiration to get my ass into gear! Then, Andy Oldham was a star in my age group and again the next guy to beat, but of course, the heroes were; Andy Ruffell & Tim March. Overseas, were both Greg Hill and Bob Haro just to name a couple.
My first race ever at Chorley 83, Damian Myles on Hutch with Red Echo full-face, his style and look was straight out of the USA.Tim March, his size style and status was everything to me, he was my hero lol.
Geth Shooter, without a doubt after the second Kellogg’s and Bercy. But all the Americans at the first Kellogg’s. Learning to gate with Richie Anderson and Brian Patterson at Cocksmoor… That’s what got me my snap and changed my racing game totally…
Tony Slater, his style of riding combined with the Redline bike in perfect condition, and the new Redline strip was a perfect combination for me. Mark White with the shear determination to battle on regardless of injury. And, for the US riders, Harry Leary and the Patterson brothers.
This is not Quick… Ok, my early role models and heroes inspired my bmx career and evoked development of new skills and attitudes. I learned from all of them. In addition the continuous study of bmx racing by watching others and knowing the terrain assisted in the consolidation and improvement. Early eighties superstar pioneers (between 1982 to 86): 1. Tim March – essence of pure moto-cross and dirt jumping – lateral thinking. 2. Andy Ruffell – all round bmxer inc freestyle and great media personality – professionalism. 3. Geth Shooter – breaking racing boundaries and urban riding – non conforming. 4. John Stockwell – application of mental attitude through training, coaching and in competition – dedication and self discipline. 5. Dave Dawson (and his Dad Pete team manager) – leading teams to success and team support as they led the hotshot teams – team ethic. That is my first thoughts and Sarah-Jane Nicholls – steely determination and domination in the girls. Euro – Phil Hoogendoorn, Xavier Redois, Claude Vuillemot.USA – Patterson bros Brent/ Brian, Ritchie ‘avalanche’ Anderson, Bob Haro, Mike King and Stompin Stu Thompson. Had the pleasure of meeting all of these heroes! The photos from the pages of BMX Action, BMX Plus lined my walls! Still got some mags as well as paper bmx weekly, obmx and action bike etc. I am on a roll, digging out the memorabilia as we speak. Most Factory inspiration: Clive Gosling and Darren Wood. I could go on but that’s enough for now.
Andy Ruffell. My Robinson team boss, Alan Woods and Tony Holland.
Crikey, it’s such a long time ago, I actually think Andy Ruffell was my British Hero, he was the God of Bmx in those really early years.
I didn’t really want to inspire to be like any of the girls racing in the very early days I was just very determined to beat them.
I didn’t have any of the norm hero’s …. Stu …. Greg … Ect ….. The 1st person I was in awe of was Carl Alford … He had 2 bikes at Bournemouth .. But I would say … Jay Hardy …. Malcolm Stapleton … Cav Strutt and Andy … But Tim was the main man in my eye’s.
Ummmm,bloody hell that’s so long ago ….. I always really liked Tom Lynch he was good all round Tim March was way ahead of everyone at my time. Sarah Jane Nichols was unbeatable, I just liked watching winners really, the ones who had that bit extra need to win at all cost. I suppose being from Cornwall and only reading about the big names in my age group like Danny Stabielli who was European Champion at the time and seeing him at Pontins in 83 in the pissing rain stood in a full length leather jacket with his dad holding an umbrella over his head was a moment I thought Jesus, that guy’s cool and he was fast and had style. I was doing 1 pedal starts on my cheap, unbranded bike in my plastic raincoat. Oh, I won my plastic coat … Never got a full length leather jacket though.
Steve Gratton. He was a big inspiration for me and a really cool rider.
Had to think about this, as I started riding in the 80’s with my first race in January 81′. So, I was in at the start of the UK scene. I met Andy Ruffell in 81′ and we became good friends (And, still are some 32 years later). I looked up to Pete Middleton and Tim March always gave me good advice and had my back at Mongoose. I respected these guys a lot but the honest truth was I wanted to beat them and I think I had an inflated opinion of myself back then so I never thought anyone was better than me. I hope that’s a racer thing that pushed me on ? Or I was I just an ass? !
Andy Ruffell, Scott Barber, Clint Miller.
Jon Greaves, Matt Oakley, Anthony Howells, Louis Mears, David Maw, Tom Lynch, Tim March.
I’ve had a think about this and came up with the usual; Andy and Tim but, actually, I was inspired by riders in my own age group. I started a bit later than most so people like Stu Diggens, Darren Wood and Tim Print were already sponsored riders and I just wanted to be as good as them so that I could get on a factory team. My hero was Richie, The Avalanche Anderson. I know he’s not a Brit but I saw him on TV win the worlds in 82′ I think and the way he rode the doubles with his front wheel in the air pedaling all the way was just brilliant back then. I watched it over and over again.. happy days !
I would say I looked up to Alan Woods, Tim & Andy.
Tim March … John Lee ..
Shooter, March, Ruffell. Everybody really almost everyone I rode with at the track or skate park. Team mates,everyone always has something u can take try / and learn or just be impressed by : )
Riders I looked up to or inspired me, big Tim, Geth, Stu Diggins, Wayne Llewellyn, most of the big factory guys back then.
Tim March, always controversial, formidable, a giant of a man. One of my early BMX mag favourites, always had a crazy bling bike with the rarest and most unique components…
Andy Ruffell was my first inspiration as I bought that ‘BMX IT’ Don Smith book, which featured Ruffell throughout teaching us how to gate, jump, corner, eat!
I always like the David and Goliath theme between Tim and Andy Ruffell, the gossip, the team Tim or Team Ruffell banter all day between the parents and remember all the bustling crowds staying well into the night just to see the battle between them int he finals… I can’t recall ever a rider like Tim (Love him or hate him).
Two of my most favorite legends!
When we talk about the first UK heroes and superstars in BMX, the obvious names that come to mind are; Tim March and Andy Ruffell. Maybe it’s because they were at the top of their game at the same time BMX racing was getting its start and they were able to get some real outside the bicycle industry media. Andy was on TV regularly and Tim was winning Championships not just in the UK but all over Europe. Their ability to capture the interest and pocket books of major corporate sponsors outside the industry was impressive; Lee-Cooper/ VG and so on. But who were the names and respected riders before them that maybe missed out or were a little in the background during the earlier years? We’re going to post quotes/pics from former top riders and the guys they looked up to when discovering BMX in the UK in the very early days. Stay-tuned.
Age/live 47/Worcester, England
Years raced BMX 1980 -1985
How did you get started?
I can’t remember how I got to hear about the first race in the UK that took place at Redditch, but David Duffield was employed by Halfords and they were going to import the Puch Murray bikes into the UK and funded the Redditch track which was very close to the Halfords Head Office. They arranged for some guys to come over from Holland and they allowed some local kids use a fleet of Puch Murray bikes and Protec helmets as a demo race.
My Dad had been involved in Motorcycle trials and knew Steve Wilson, who was then a trials star in the Midlands and a good frame builder. Steve had made a few BMX bikes and on that day he loaned me a bike and I recall finishing 2nd place to a Dutch guys .
I soon bought a bike off Steve and then helped develop the bike over the next year or so until I was picked up by Hotshot towards the end of the 81 season.
The original Wilson team included Dave and Adrian Jessop, Dave Westwell, Simon Ryland and Mark Butler.
How was your local scene?
The local scene was generally centred around Redditch where we met with a load of the Midlands racers pretty regularly and it was a normal thing to ride the 10 miles each way from home to the track and practice all day – no need to train back then!
My local scene in Bromsgrove involved a few guys that were pretty good, Anthony But was in my year at school so we hung about together a fair bit plus Dean Bateson and Chris Lawther from Birmingham Wheels were local so there were always a fair few guys about and we had some reasonable riding spots.
I remember Anthony Sewell spent quite some time staying with Chris when he was in the UK so we rode together a fair bit too.
Who influenced you back then on a BMX?
Like most guys round the early days of BMX in the UK, most influences came from US magazines so the likes of Stu Thomsen, Harry Leary, Greg Hill etc would have featured pretty heavily.
I was into motocross and saw Tim March race a few times at schoolboy nationals and he was bloody quick so when he started racing BMX it felt like the sport had a bit more credibility in my eyes.
Towards the mid 80’s I would say Geth Shooter was an influence and was good to see someone who had less ego beat the so called ‘stars’ of the day.
Earlier tracks you rode and raced on?
Most of the Midlands tracks as they were so easy to get to (Redditch, Wordsley, Bromsgrove, Derby, Cocksmoor, Birmingham Wheels, Hereford, Deddington etc) but we did a fair bit of travelling in those first couple of years to places like Ipswich, Nottingham, Grimsby and Cleethorpes, Wigan, Chorley, High Wycombe, Peterborough, Bradford, Buckmore Park, Margate, Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole, Hounslow……quite a few when you start listing them!
Who did you ride and race with?
Through most of the time I raced with a lot of the same guys and there really wasn’t a lot between any of us as on the day anyone could have won. There was a change after 1981 when they changed the classes in relation to date of birth so some of the riders changed classes. The main at most Nationals would have consisted of any of the following;
Nikki Matthews, Fenwick Carr, Gary Fenwick, Terry Lloyd, Chris Simmonds, Dean Scott Webb, Anthony But, Keith Wilson, Tony Slater, Andy Ruffell, Mark Cracknell, Geth Shooter, Ian Mason, Harvey Monkton, Simon Bailey, Paul Miller & Martin Jose.
Teams you rode for?
Halfords/Wilson, Hotshot, Patterson, Vector
Your dad Pete was Team Manager for Redline when they had a powerhouse team tell us a little about his history.
He had always been involved in bike sport and was a pretty good trials and motocross rider from the 50’s through to the 80’s.
When I signed for Hotshot I also went to work for Les Windle and lived with the family down in Oxford. Eventually my Dad came to work for the company too in sales and as part of that role he looked after the race teams. It was about the same time that Hotshot started to import Redline and Patterson and he was tasked with building a team.
He had been commentating at Redditch for some years so he knew a lot of guys and I guess doing that job you notice the riders at all ages that are doing well so when he started to look at building a team he already had a good idea of who the talented riders in each age class were. The Redline Team consisted of Geth, Tim Print, Nicky Dalton, Paul Ray, Mike and Sarah Jane Nicholls and the Patterson Team was Me, Tom Lynch, Gary and Mark O’Connor – it was a pretty good group of riders and also the Hotshot Team was used as a feeder group if I remember right?
Seemed like you race NBMXA a little more mid 80s why did you like it more than UKBMX?
I just went where the team rode. I think we tried to make sure that there was a presence at both NBMXA and UKBMX but I don’t remember why I ended up in one more than the other unless it was because there was a bigger NBMXA presence in the Midlands so it was a bit cheaper to do?
Highlight of your career?
NBMXA British Champions 1983 I got 3rd. 1984 I was NBMXA National No 2 and also 2nd at the British Championships in Cruiser behind Geth.
Why did you stop racing?
I found other things to do and got fed up of every weekend being the same, however I joined the Army in 1985 so that was probably the main reason, although I took my Patterson with me and rode a few races in Belgium and Germany where I was posted in 1986/7.
Do you still follow racing these days?
Only through Facebook and Youtube – I would have loved to have started racing later and have been around now to ride todays tracks but I am pretty sure I would hurt myself if I made a comeback now even though I regularly ride my road and mountain bike.
Did you ever think 30 plus years ago BMX would become an Olympic Sport?
Never – it was just a bit of fun for us in our teens but now it really is a Professional sport – The commitment to the sport that British Cycling have invested and the work that the likes of Liam Phillips must put in to be at the top of their game is light years away from the sport that I did back in the day.
Could today’s BMX Racing learn anything from the early days?
I don’t know – apart from the size of the wheels I wouldn’t even categorise them as the same sport. BMX from the 80’s was more like 4x is today with more natural terrain, all weather races (including loads of mud) and pedalling (loads of it at tracks like Peterborough and Bradford too!)
Anything you want to add?
I certainly made loads of friends back in the day and many of them I am still in touch with on Facebook. The sport taught me lessons that I have carried through my life with me and gave me a whole host of experiences that I wont forget or wouldn’t change.
I am glad it has all become more professional but I still remember the party at Geths house between the 2 days of the British Championships when at least 6 of us slept on the floor in the lounge of the Shooter residence in our drunken state and then raced the finals the next day and a number of us made it to the podium – doubt whether that would happen today?
The Early Years of BMX in the UK – by Jay Hardy
Richard, editor of BMX Action Bike magazine and event organiser looks worried. The hall is at spectator capacity, rider entries have hit the maximum allowed by the insurance and there are still seven hundred people outside. Inside the Pickett’s lock centre the TV crew interview the stars of the show. The main sponsor’s people shuffle about adjusting banners and making sure the TV crew have line of sight to their logo, while more other promotions staff give out Lee Cooper records, stickers and for the chosen few, free jeans. Three short years ago our little sport of bicycle motocross didn’t even have a sanctioning body. But now in 1983 we have two national BMX magazines, corporate race sponsors, factory teams and TV. I look down from the balcony above the track we’ve spent the past three days building and wonder at the explosion of OUR beloved little sport.
Like many kids in the 1970’s I cobbled together bikes made from bits of that bike and bits of this. The obligatory cow horn handlebars were so wide to the nine year old me that they were almost as wide as I could reach. My bikes traditional curved forks were straightened, because that of course made them stronger. I didn’t mind that this caused my foot to rub on the front wheel when cornering, they looked like motorcycle forks and that was cool. My best friend Keith’s older brother Tim raced motocross, his 490 Maico was an object of worship to us, the fastest scrambler in the world by our expert reckoning. The day Tim left his motocross parts catalogue on the dining table remains with me to this. Keith and I thumbed through eagerly choosing the parts we would have on our 490 Maico’s. Then, on the back inside cover was a picture that for me started it all, a DG Rooster BMX bike, it was late 1977.
Over the following years many variations of Grifter based creations came and went, culminating in Keith cutting out the twin down tubes and welding a single tube back in. The finishing touch was fashioning vaguely BMX looking handlebars with my dad’s pipe bender. This was the pinnacle of our efforts and it looked just like a real BMX bike, it was 1979.
In the local woods we built a BMX track, complete with wooden start gate made from a single plank about seven inches high, one foot high berms, whoops and a jump over the ditch. This was our heaven and we spent every free moment riding nearly BMX bikes on our nearly BMX track. In our minds we lived the Californian lifestyle that inspired us and we paid a price for it. In England at that time there was a mod revival, short hair, loafers, preferably burgundy and of course what every football loving sixteen year old saw as a rite of passage, the moped or scooter. We on the other hand had long hair, wore vans, rector skate shorts and rode around on those stupid kids’ bikes. In early 1980 the UK was not a BMXer friendly place.
The day Simon Lloyd asked Keith and I if we’d seen those BMX bikes in the garage on Park Street changed my life, simple fact. I couldn’t tell you how I felt or what happened immediately after he uttered those words, only that minutes later we had cycled the three miles to Park Street and were now looking through a plate glass window in silence. Less than two feet away on the other side was a row of real, yes real BMX bikes. I could have cried with joy and can only think that kids that overwhelmed just can’t. Eventually we went inside, the guy in the garage was called Mike, a trendy 25 year old who told us he was starting a team and already had some riders. Eager to impress our pedigree on him we let him into the secret of our BMX track. A week later Mike Relph arrived with his team to ride our track in the woods. The short version of that day is that Keith and I thrashed them and so were now on the team.
My Dad liked the fact that I spent so much time outside being ‘healthy’ as he saw it. What he didn’t like was the price of these BMX bikes. However with help from Mike he relented and bought me my first BMX bike at a discount, I wondered does this mean I’m almost sponsored. Much to my mothers dismay I insisted that my new obsession stay in my bedroom that first night. I spent most of that evening just sat on my bed looking at it.
A month later we were in Mike’s car on the way to Buckmore Park, the journey took hours as the main roads were building sites. But when they got to finish that M25 all would be free flowing and never again these traffic jams. I can still remember turning into the white concrete road that lead down to the track for that first of many visits. As the tree’s opened up to the right there it was, a real properly constructed BMX track. It was all Christmases ever known come at once, berms ten times the size of our track, tabletops just like in the US magazines I’d started to read and the whole event run by adults just for us, this was big time. In the final that day I was in third coming into the last corner, the only thing on my mind was that third place meant my name would be in Trials and Motocross news, the only publication reporting on BMX back then. As that thought went through my head two guys passed me and I finished fifth.
In the months that followed we rode each freshly constructed track as we heard about it. The small but growing core of BMXers turned up to each race and with each weekend familiar faces became friends and rivals. Time spent chatting revealed the lives behind the rider and with it a theme surfaced, that my story was the usual one. They too had been aware of BMX and longed for something to happen in the UK, they had lived as the kids that didn’t quite fit the British norm of Football, Netball, Cricket and Rugby obsessed stereotypes. We were different, we had different horizons and at last we had something that fitted us. BMX allowed us to express who we were and stood on the vanguard of the changing Britain that the 1980’s was to be.
Throughout 1981 something shifted, kids who previously showed no interest in our obsession had started to show interest. UKBMX was formed, tracks and clubs sprang up all over the UK, Mike opened ‘California BMX’ my first ‘sponsor.’ In the store a video promoting the new sport of Bicycle Moto Cross played constantly on loop. The very pronounced English voice over declared that the rider on view was the American bicycle association champion…..Stuart Thomsen. Seeing this grown man with long hair, wearing Vans, riding a BMX bike on a perfectly groomed track under the blue Californian sky was a million miles away from mods, mopeds, football hooliganism and old cynical worn out England. This was the BMX I had longed for and I wanted all of it. Stuart Thomsen was my hero and represented everything that inspired me to keep treading that path in a new direction.
In 1982 Stu came over for the Mongoose international at Earls Court. I lined up with other kids for his autograph, when I got to the front I handed over a copy of BMX Action with Stompin Stu looming large on the cover. He looked up at me, ‘hey a US mag….cool.’ I looked back at him but nothing came out, I was unable to speak. He signed the cover, handed it back and off I hurried with a head full of ‘cool’ things I should have said. Several years later sitting in my hotel room with Stu and several other US pro’s. I recounted this story. He looked at me and just said ’that happens.’
By 1983 things had gone mad, BMX was everywhere, TV adverts linked to it in some tenuous manner just to be trendy, kids TV presenters talked about being rad in a cadence that gave them away as having not a clue about being rad. Hollywood films like ET had BMX in them, corporations now offered you ET BMX bicycles, breakfast cereals allowed you to win BMX bikes, school bike sheds were full of BMX bikes, BMX, BMX, BMX. What the hell…….. five minutes ago kids of my own age were asking me what the funny little bike I rode was. They hadn’t heard of BMX and now every kid was obsessed with it. These people didn’t love it like I loved it, they were all followers, they didn’t dig in the trenches when local authorities wouldn’t give a minute to a proposal for a BMX track. The same local authorities that now couldn’t wait for the positive press opportunity of the local BMX track opening, complete with smiling Mayor who thought the track looked ‘rad.’
Looking down from the balcony at the throngs of BMX obsessed kids below me I had to smile to myself. BMX was already labelled a craze by the press, to most of the kids with shiny new bikes and race kit in the arena below it was a new and exciting sport. But for those of us who were there years before it was and always will be a partial definition of who we are. But my protectiveness of our little sport fell away when I realised that BMX had outgrown us, it didn’t need protecting and fighting for any longer. It had grown up and repaid us by turning us from the weird kids to the cool kids. It took me years to realise that for many of the kids that came to BMX later, the impact on their lives was in many cases more profound than for us. BMX an Olympic sport yeah right!
It’s a real tough call to pinpoint where BMX even started in the UK. There are so many people with stories and many things documented all over the web and scattered amongst old magazines. We have already asked a number of people that were around at the time to give us their take and we are hoping to have some entries posted soon. We will jump around year to to year in an effort to gather great stories – so feel free to jump in if you have details from an earlier or later date. We’re just interested in notable stories at this point not necessarily that they are in chronological order.
Welcome to UKBMXHistory.com. We thought with such an impressive old school following in the UK, especially with social media so big now, it was about time we started documenting BMX Racing from the early days. Hopefully, we can keep adding interviews/stories/blogs from the past and work our way through the years of BMX racing in the UK. We’re really hoping to get some key words from influential people that were involved with BMX through the early years and maybe a little behind the scenes details, as the sport boomed in the early 80s and leveled off in the early 90s. I think you all can agree there is a lot of stuff we can cover. If you feel you’ve got some good material that is worth posting, please feel free to email us. Stay tune for more updates.