Pat Coston Movie Reviews

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Joe Kid on a Sting Ray
The History of BMX

Prologue: My movie reviews are different from your typical movie reviews. They are about what the movie made me feel and what memories it brought back and anything else I want to talk about. If you just want to read about the movie, then look for the blue text.

This movie meant a lot to me because BMX was my life from 1978 to about 1985 which was age 14 to 21. I took some time off due to injury but for the most part, I rode my BMX every chance I got. I can't help wonder if BMX would have been a bigger part of my life if my family had not left California for New Jersey when I was 4 years old. We lived in Redondo Beach and Garden Grove, very close the birth of BMX. I have a feeling that I would have started BMX earlier and stayed with it longer had we stayed in Southern California.

Ever since we moved to NJ, I've wanted to move back to California and I've finally made that dream come true. I've returned to my roots living here in the Los Angeles area, getting to know it all over again as an adult. I'm looking forward to attending some BMX races but just to watch.

This movie covers the birth of BMX from 1963 to present and stars so many of my BMX heroes for example ...
  • Stu Thomsen - IMHO the greatest BMXer of all time
  • Scot Breithaupt - had a huge hand in the birth of BMX racing and started the most innovate BMX bike company of all time. The company, SE, still sells the same bikes it did long ago like the PK Ripper, OM Flyer and Quadangle but Scot has since lost the company to foreign investors.
  • Perry Kramer - Raced for SE and had the PK Ripper named after him.
  • Bob Osborn - Started the magazine Bicycle Motocross Action which was my monthly BMX bible
  • RL Osborn - son of Bob Osborn who help innovate tricks during the early days of freestyle
  • Bob Haro - got famous making number plates for racers. He later started Haro bicycles and got into Freestyle. He also drew a comic for BMX Action Magazine.
  • Mike Buff - rode with RL Osborn and Bob Haro on the BMX Action trick-team.
  • Harry Leary - Maybe most famous for his signiture jump called "The Leary" of which I perfected until the day I fell and hurt my knee doing it. Strangely enough, I was immitating Harry Leary's front-wheel skids when I hurt my knee again. Thanks Harry!
  • Greg Hill - one of the greatest of the greats who also created a bicycle and a racing team for Greg Hill Products (GHP).
  • Tinker Juarez - one of the earliest racers who is still racing Mt. bikes today
  • Pete Loncarevich - amazing racer whose father started Loncaravich Racing Products (LRP)
  • Jeff Utterback - old school BMXer whose family created the company JGS (Jeff George Scott) which innovated an amazing frame and fork that some say started the modern day BMX frame geometry.
  • Toby Henderson - another BMX hero of mine, I would try to immitate his jumps like "The Henderson", a one-hander one-footer.
  • Eric Rupe - old school BMXer that stayed with the sport a long time and had a great career
  • Byron Friday - old school BMXer that I remember from the early BMX Action Magazines
  • David Clinton - old school BMXer that stayed with the sport a long time

It was great to see all these people. Scroll to the bottom to see screen captures of most of the people interviewed. Of course you can't interview everyone but I would have also loved to see ...
  • Eddy and Mike King
  • Brent and Brian Patterson
  • Richie and Ronnie Anderson
  • Timmy Judge
  • Robbie Rupe
  • Cheri Elliot - the movie does not cover girls in BMX
  • Tommy Brackens
  • Mike Miranda
  • Jeff Bottema
  • Jeff Ruminer
  • Charlie Litsky
  • Scott Clark
  • Bob Woods
  • Kevin McNeal
  • Denny Davidow
  • Darrell Young
  • Greg Esser
  • Clint Miller
  • Nelson Chanady
  • Bobby Encinas
Yeah, I was a fanboy. I did it all (almost). I raced, I jumped, I did flat-land freestyle, half-pipe and street freestyle. I never did half-pipe or bowl nor did I ever jump the massive dirt jumps they have today. The tricks they're doing today are far beyond what I did. We never did flips for example but I could do a "no hander, no footer" and a table-top (aka pancake). I even had my own signature jump I called "The Vertical" where I get my bike vertical and lean forward with the handle-bars in my crotch and touch my front wheel to my helmet leaving behind tire marks as proof.

Speaking of leaving tire tracks on helmets, that reminds me of a story. I have thousands of BMX stories but I'll spare you that novel but this movie brought back so many memories, I have to tell a few. This one time racing at Howell, I hit the table-top at speed mid-pack and I was too crowded to speed-jump and stay low so instead I pulled up and popped up high. By instinct, I did a kick-out and smacked John Shakel (Kathy Shakel's brother) in the head. Somehow I landed perfectly mid-pack and finished the race in about 3rd place. John came over to me angry and threw a punch and showed me the tire tread and scratches I left on his nice new white helmet. I didn't apologize. This was racing. You shouldn't take things personally. Sometimes you get smacked in the head.

Hank Russ laid me flat while I was leading the 14 over open at Craigmeur. He was 16 years old and wore foot-ball shoulder pads and I was 14 and very lightweight. I didn't complain.

Mike Huhndorf swooped me in the first turn of Craigmeur while I was leading the 14 Novice main at the 1978 NBA Nationals. He tried to put me over the berm (a common practice at Craigmuer). He crashed me to last place, I didn't complain. I got right up and passed 4 riders and finished 4th and got the biggest trophy I ever had up until that point. BMX certainly had it complainers. Every time I crashed Tommy Anderson or got in his way, he'd complain.

This one time at Englishtown, NJ, I was leading the 14 over open into the last hair-pin turn with Tommy on my inside. I slowed to a stop and he slammed into me. I just stood there blocking his way. He shouted and hit my leg with his front wheel screaming for me to go. I just watched as the idiots behind us all took the inside and piled up one by one. If they were smart, they would have passed on the outside. Once all 7 riders had piled up into a jam, I took off and won the race. I ended up tripling that day getting first place in 16-expert, 14-over and the trophy dash. Tommy finished second in the trophy dash and jumped off his bike letting it ghost ride while he tumbled then laid there crying.

I never cried when I lost. One day at Howell, NJ I broke my wrist after trying to clear the triple whoop-de-doos. Somehow I qualified for the main-event and hole-shotted with a broken wrist. Around the second turn I blocked a rider on the inside but another ride got around on the outside and won it and I finished second. I didn't cry. I was happy to hole-shot and lead the race for a while with a broken wrist. In hindsight, I shouldn't have raced but back then, I raced injured.

This one time at Howell, NJ, I was leading but lost control over the table-top jump and my foot came off the pedal and slammed into the ground and somehow dislocated my knee. I was delirious with pain and steered off the track without looking and got slammed by a couple of riders. We tumbled and my knee popped back in. Somehow I made the main event but slammed into the gate and finished last. I didn't cry.

In another race at Englishtown, NJ, a rider tried to pass me in the S-turns. I blocked with my hip and he went down hard and broke his collar bone. I was criticized for my hip check but that's how I learned to ride at Craigmeur. You had to be aggressive in those early days. BMX really mellowed in the 80s with referees getting stricter about obstructing the path of another rider. Ridiculous! That's racing. The greatest rider of all time was actually not that aggressive as far as crashing other riders goes. The movie pointed out that other riders like the Patterson brothers, Brent and Brian, would gang up on Stu Thomsen and crash him.

I remember Arty Patterson tried to pass me on the inside at Howell so I lifted my elbow up under his handle-bars and lifted his front-wheel off the ground and he spilled causing a pile-up but Arty Patterson didn't complain. He knew this was a part of racing.

This one time I slid sideways through the turn while everyone else was slowing down and going through the turn with more slowly with their feet on the pedals while I had my leg out bonzai style. I just assumed everyone else would get sideways too so we'd all be in sync but we were out of sync and I slammed into a few people and they criticized me for being out of control. I responded by saying my style is to take the turn in a controlled drift. We all have our own style. Nobody's style is right or wrong. They're just different so deal with it.

One of my idols growing up was Evel Knievel. I had a ross banana seat bike which I loved to do wheelies, ghost ride and jump small wooden jumps we would make on the street. The frame eventually snapped in half so when I was 12 so my parents bought me a bike with full suspension and a fake gas tank. I loved riding down stairs and hitting curbs at speed. That thing was a tank and I would dish out lots of punishment and it would take it. The local bike shop would keep a running tab of my repairs then my dad pay the bill each weekend. Eventually that bike died as well so at age 13, my parents bought me a Motomag Mongoose with Chrome moly frame and fork. It had no suspension but those motomag wheels where never bent. At age 14, I traded my heavy coaster-brake motomag mongoose for a lightweight freewheeled Team Mongoose. I went on to have many bikes like a Torker, PK Ripper, Redline Proline and GT.

Scot Breithaupt held one of the first BMX races in Long Beach in Nov 1970. At that point I had already moved to NJ but I like to think that maybe I might have raced at BUMS or the downhill tracks in California mentioned in the movie like Malibu country club, Soledad Sands and Carona. I had Craigmeur in NJ but it wasn't as impressive as these gnarly downhill tracks. I wish more tracks had been downhill. I always thought tracks should a mile long, not this 1/4 mile long wimpy tracks. BMX was so much about sprinting but I wish it was a combination of sprinting and endurance. I would love to see kids passing at the end because the other kids were running out of gas. I had really good endurance. If tracks had been 1 mile long, I would have won more races. I was more of an endurance rider than a sprinter.

I think it would be cool to build an indoor track that was 10 stories high. It would be a dirt course with none of these concrete jumps and turns you see today. All races would be recorded and uploaded to some place like YouTube and riders would have a way to watch their races. RFID tags on the front axle could be used to automatically track the order the riders finish. The course would be a mile long and there would be no perfect gearing. There would be long fast straights where a 46-16 would be perfect for going 30+ mph as well as tight sections where you slow to about 10 mph and have to speed up again requiring a gear ratio like 42-16. There would be no perfect crank length either. You would need to spin with short cranks and you would need to explode with long cranks. The track would not cater to one type of rider but have a variety of surfaces, jumps, turns and of course give the advantage to the trailing riders so there's lot of passing and anyone can win it right up to the finish. Leading riders would have trouble pulling away from the pack and trailing riders would be able to catch up easily. There would also be 4 different tracks for beginner, novice, expert and pro. The Pro course would feature massive jumps and extreme sections to challenge the best of riders. All courses would be designed for safety which is why dirt is the best choice. The dirt should never get rock hard. The building would be climate controlled so the dirt would always be moist a little soft. That is my dream BMX course. There would be TV screens everywhere to watch the entire race from start to finish. There would be terminals available so kids could have 15 minutes to review their race footage, in slow motion if they wanted to.

As mentioned in the movie, BMX goes through fads that explode and die out. It cycles. I think the computer technology and the internet will help take BMX into the future. I would love to have the movies of every BMX race I was in. Imagine if that was available in the future and the movies were online forever? You could relive your glory days when you're 70.

The movie talks about how aggressive BMX was in those early days around 1975. I first raced in 1977 but really got into it in 1978. At that time, BMX was like football. It was OK to body slam someone and put them over the berm. In fact, I got slammed and put down a lot. I got injured in 1979 and came back in 1980 but things had changed. Being a dirty rider was no longer tolerated. Riders used to go into turns full speed and toss the bike sideways and power-slide through the turn but by 1980, the style had changed. Riders tried to go through turns with their feet on the pedals by slowing down. Brakes were so important all of a sudden. I was always working on my brakes to make them work as good as possible.

The movie talks about Rick Twomey's BMX team. They were one of the first teams that had really good equipment. They had one of the most famous teams of that era. They also raced side-hacks. I had a side-hack which I raced at Craigmeur. I have a great black-and-white 8x10 of me sliding along the ground after my side-hack flipped in the first turn at Craigmeur. My "monkey" (the guy in the side car) leaned the wrong way trying to block the other side-hack and flipped us. I always wanted to start a BMX team and sponsor kids and give them the opportunities I didn't have. If I ever can afford it, I will definitely do that someday ... not for profit but simply to get involved and give back to BMX because it gave so much to me.

The movie covered the Yamaha Bicycle God Cup in 1974. I've read about it in BMX Action Magazine. The finals were at the LA Coloseum. It had water-holes, banked turns, wooden jumps, etc. It was a portable BMX track. 16,000 spectators and 1,100 riders per event. They had cheerleaders. It must have been some spectacle. They had novice, junior and expert and your age, weight and height determined what class you rode. It was very boy centric. I wonder if any girls raced. A lot of riders were riding ordinary Schwinn Stingray bicycles with banana seats and riser handle bars. In fact, there was nothing special about some of these bikes. Handle bars with cross-bars did have pads but there was no stem pad or top-tube pad. The Junior class was packed with big name riders and won by David Clinton. The expert expert class was also packed with big name riders. A pile-up after the first water-hole gave Fred Thomas a big lead but Stu Thomsen reeled him in and easily won it. The riders that won all three classes all rode for team Dirt Master. The bike Stu Thomsen was riding looked like a Sting Ray with riser handle bars. It probably had ordinary pedals, cranks, chain, etc. It did have a 10-speed seat so at least he wasn't riding with a banana seat. Not that it would have been silly because half the kids still used banana seats. The announcer calls him "Stewy Thomsen". I've watched the footage of the start and the pile-out of the expert class, it seems Stu Thomsen got a bad start and that pile-up was a big break. After the pile-up, it appears Stu was in 5th place so he must have picked off the riders one by and one and worked his way to the front. I wonder if Stu would have been able to still win if that pile-up at the water-hole had not occurred. The announcer gets confused when Stu is in second and says "Number 59 in second Joe Renos." Stu wins by at least 100 feet.

At one point in the movie they hint about smoking pot on tour but they don't come out and say it. Hey, it was the 70s. Scot Breithaupt had BMX tours from 1976 to 1978. He had an old school bus and he charged $600 for a seat on the bus that covered hotel, transportation, food and allowance. They traveled all over the US and really dominated where ever they went. As Scot says "It wasn't 'did you win?' It was 'how far did you win by?'" It sounds like an amazing adventure with 21 kids. When money was tight, they'd stop by Denny's, eat then leave without paying. Scot says "We made the bad news bears look like a bunch of sissies."

The movie covers the birth of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine and its influence. It also discusses how SE Racing got started. It then goes into the Jag World Championships. I learned from the movie that Perry Kramer was the first Jag World Champion.

The movie then goes into the birth of freestyle. It's interesting to me how freestyle died and was re-born from the underground movement. The preppy look with bright costumes was gone and the fashion was more grunge. The young talent amateurs started leap-frogging the established pros. It amazes me at how the sport keeps growing and evolving. Freestyle riders were inspired by skateboards. They would go to skateparks and emulate the skate boarders. The movie goes into how Bob Haro started making number plates and how it grew into a company and a freestyle team.

Bob Haro and RL Osborn came to Howell NJ and did a freestyle show that blew us away and of course we had to emulate them and start doing flat-land freestyle. My friend built a half-pipe so that was crazy. Other half-pipes got built and it was crazy. We'd just hang out in parking lots for ours doing tricks. The movie goes into how special bikes and accessories were created just for freestyle but we did freestyle on our racing bikes. I never had a freestyle bike. The movie covers a variety of freestyle teams that started to tour the country. I remember doing a BMX show at the park for a small audience of about 20 people, mostly the parents of my BMX friends. I had the parents lie down so I could bunny hop them but a park ranger came by and put a stop to it. Later, when there were no adults around, I had kids lie down in an empty parking lot so I could bunny hop them. I bunny-hopped 11 kids and would have done more but none of the kids left standing wanted to lie down since I had to get up to 25 mph in order to make it.

I never realized how much Spike Jonze was involved in BMX. They cover how John Hicks got into drugs and how it got worse and worse and he lost his career in Freestyle. He was a rock-n-roll freestyler. By 1988, Freestyle was losing major momentum as far as sponsors but new riders were still pushing the limits.

They discuss a turning point in the sport where Ron Wilkerson face slammed with an open-face helmet and was in a coma. He incurred a major brain injury and has never fully recovered. He's lucky to be alive. He didn't recognize his family and friends. The danger of freestyle became really apparent and people in the industry started to get scared and pull back due to the risk.

This DVD has tons of extras to including video footage of the 1974 Gold Cup Race. Besides watching Stu Thomsen win on what looked like a Stingray, we get to see Bob Osborn starting the races. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was flamboyantly gay. the movie has a 1978 Schwinn Promo which is a blast to watch, especially seeing a young Eric Rupe. It has a very short clip of side-hack racing and Stu's home movies. But what blew my mind was the Pro Main at the first JAG World Championship. Winner takes home $1500. The riders are Scott Clark, Steve Shobert, Brent Patterson, Tommy Brackens, Eric Rupe, Greg Hill, Stu Thomsen and Anthony Sewell. They say that Stu is the defending World Champion so it wasn't the first World Champion race. It was a flat indoor dirt track. The course was so small and the jumps were really small. Stu was angry about something and yelling at officials before the start. The course is a small U inside a U. The race lasted about 15 seconds. Greg Hill barely got the hole shot over Brent Patterson. Eric Swoops on the inside and falls into second. There's not a whole lot of room for passing so once they exit the first turn, the order is pretty much set. This is the one thing I didn't like about BMX. If I were to design a BMX course, I'd make it so the lead riders had the disadvantage and the trailing riders had the advantage. You can design it so swooping and passing in the turn is easy. A rider who is setting up for a swoop would also have a faster line with small obstacles while the lead riders would have more obstacles to stay on the inside. Slow to lead, fast to trail. There are a total of 10 film clips in the bonus section.

While doing research for this blog post I discovered that Charlie Litsky and Anthony Sewell have died. Gary Turner from GT bikes also passed away. It had to happen and of course as we get older, more and more of these old school BMX legends will die. Bob and RL Osborn are sporting what looks like massive matching tattoos on their arms. Peter Loncarevich, Stu Thomsen, Greg Hill, Perry Kramer, Harry Leary, Bob Osborn and Toby Henderson have all aged well.

Scot Breithaupt talks about his successes and failures and his problems in life. Other people are interviewed and talk about Scot's up and downs. Scot should have been the biggest there was but instead companies like Mongoose, Hutch, GT and other companies got big. If SE had excelled and continued to innovate, BMX would have been a lot different today. But Scot should still be proud for how he changed the world. He's an amazing individual, both a good racer and promoter. At the very end of the movie, Scot has the final word where he's being interviewed perhaps when he just got out of prison since he's standing next to a prison and says "I've always done everything full blast, direct drive, and it's given me a lot of successes and I've done things people say I can't do but simultaneously I've used that same energy and drive when I've had emotional problems and I dove right off the cliff. I'm lucky to be alive, the places I've been, the things I've done. I should be living in a cage like this for the rest of my life, but today I've got freedom, I've got a new drive, a new focus. Who knows what's yet to come. The possibilities are limitless. We'll see what happens in BMX too."

Screen captures from the movie.


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