I’m sure if you were around in the early to mid 1980’s racing BMX in the UK you would be familiar with the name Damian Myles. Damian’s from the North West of England and rode for Hutch before becoming UKBMX National Champion and getting picked up to ride for the High- Powered, Mongoose Factory Team along the likes of Andy Ruffell, Pete Middleton the Jarvis family and amongst many more of the big names we read about and saw at the Nationals back then. It really was the first BMX Dream Team in BMX Racing, as everyone on the Team was a big name, including Damian. For those of you that have not heard, our friend Damian was diagnosed with cancer not too long ago and it has unfortunately progressed rapidly. We are all saddened to hear his days are limited. Damian was a popular racer back in the day and it’s nice to see how well he remains respected and admired within the BMX community with all of the kind comments on social media today.
Mr. BMX Weekly Arnold Higginson passed away at age 77.
A retired builder, Arnold financed the publication from late 1981 up to 1985. Later becoming BMX Bi-Weekly and taking on a magazine format, it sold over 46,000 copies at its height, and is remembered fondly in Old School BMX circles. It is Arnold’s vision that enabled the recording in pictures and words the start of BMX from within the UK. Arnold was seen at many of the National and Regional race meets with wife Marjorie, and sons Martin, Nigel taking pictures, and Jonathan racing.
Arnold built the wooden start gate and table top at the former Morecambe band arena where the town’s first races were held most Sundays from 1982 on a track made up of car tyres. Arnold approached and persuaded Pontins at Middleton near Morecambe to build a track. That infamous table top then went up to the Pontins race track where the UK Open Championships were held from 1983, and Pontins became home for Andy Preston and Mike Pardon, the BMX Bi-Weekly test team and regulars in the sister magazine, Freestyle BMX.
BMX owes a lot to a lot of people. Arnold Higginson is one of them. His vision helped to create Legends and put the names of racers like Andy Ruffell, Tim March, Alan Woods and Dale Holmes into the homes of many young BMX’ers. RIP Arnold, happy memories.
Written by: Jonathan Higginson
We bring some sad news this week…Darren Page passed away from Cancer. If you remember Darren from the early BMX days in the UK, he was ranked National number 2 and raced for Torker. He competed in the 83′ European’s in Birmingham, the Worlds in Slagharen and was on the podium at the Halfords NEC back in 83′. He battled with the top guys at the time Darren Mill, Darren Nelson, Andy Oldham and Damian Myles. Sad times for sure. Thinking of both Darren and his family…
In the beginning, back in the old days…
Mike was about nine years old making it around about late 1982 when he came home from school one day & asked if he could go BMX racing with the headmaster’s son of a great rider named James Morris. I remember Mike went with James & his dad (John) on a Saturday at the Farnham bmx track (the four lane track) which was by the sports centre for some practice on his old Duster 100 bmx bike & I haven’t forgotten Mike’s expression when he came back from the Farnham track, he was full of it & had a smile on his face from ear to ear & I knew he had a lot of fun, I could tell he was hooked, this made me curious & prompted me to have a look later too.
Mike pestered me to go to the next race that was held at Farnham & I paid for him to become a member of the club so that he could start racing at club level, well I now knew why he was hooked, once I saw what BMX racing was all about, my first impression was ‘wow’ this is a dynamic new sport & I wanted to be part of it from there onwards. Mike started racing at Farnham more frequently it was great little track back in the day & gradually he got more & more confident, this in turn lit the fuse for him to race at other tracks at open race meetings, then regionals meetings (south central/region 9) then ultimately nationals & international events in the years to come…I can remember Mike winning his first trophy back then & he went on to win many more at all levels in his time racing BMX.
We found out after a little while that there were two sanctioning racing bodies UKBMX & NBMXA we tended in the earlier years to race more NB as the geographical area we lived in (south central) had most of the tracks/clubs affiliated to it, after racing many open meetings we ventured onto regional racing level, I think @1984 Mike race a regional race held at the Southampton track by the (docks) this regional was the starting point for me in bmx when I really started to get involved, Mike was in a moto or quarters/semi I think & he was taken out round a berm by a rider who went on to be one of his main rivals his name was Aaron Valente ‘the black shadow’. I remember shouting as you do as a dad & spectator at the track marshal “are you blind, did you not see what happened” I got a somewhat polite reply from the marshal “if you can do any bloody better, do it yourself” – he tossed the red flag at me & walked off the track…from this point onwards I gradually got more & more involved in helping at race meetings be it open & regional events, I got more involved at south central the following year (1985), but for the rest of the ‘84’ season we race as many meetings as we could, I had this overwhelming urge within me to try & make thing better for the riders & their parents.
It was around this time Mike & myself got involved with helping form a new BMX club called ‘Terry’s Tigers’ at Bartley Heath just outside Odiham in Hampshire, I had my own successful business at the time & I offered my help & assistance to other clubs too who needed it, I had my own JCB diggers & tarmac rollers, often I would get request from clubs & people asking if I could help, I was only too willing to help assist where I could, I remember also sponsoring many open races at other clubs & at the time donating money to help with other club’s finances, as some back then were beginning to find it hard to stay afloat, this did worry me as I could see ahead that clubs & even the ‘associations’ were beginning to struggle financially, the sport had just come out of its ‘craze’ period if you like & both UKBMX & NBMXA had healthy riders affiliated to them, but it was only a matter of time before things would start to become harder for the sport to survive & thrive in the longer term, this led to the period in my time in the sport as the ‘politics’ era, one I was never really a fan of but my desire was to help the riders & the sport as a whole grow from strength to strength…..
‘The era of politics’…
I started out in this early period by being elected a regional rep for south central to the national board at NBMXA @ 1986 & very shortly as we raced NB nationals at the time I became a national track marshal & a race referee & eventually sometime later race director….Mike kept on racing while I got on with the running, organising of the racing with other volunteers of the association, I could see though & in particular after the great IBMXF world championships that UKBMX successfully hosted at Slough, that having the two racing associations running races throughout the UK would eventually not work & I could see what was going to happen, there were exploratory talks that I remember both associations had back then @1986 & 1987 & after these discussions were had the aim of one association was still some way off… Mike & I didn’t just always race NBMXA, he did want to race UKBMX nationals also, although I wasn’t involved with UKBMX at the time I did enjoy going racing with Mike at these events as I didn’t have to officiate etc. the quality & calibre of riders in Mike’s age group (Jamie Staff, Lee Pickstone, Joe Eastwood to name a few) was of the highest standard at UKBMX races, Mike though found the UK the harder of the two to compete in, NB had quantity with great riders but UK had the best riders & it was more intense for him of the two to compete in, well that’s Mike’s view any way! To be honest both associations had great riders of who most of would race both associations events when they didn’t clash as they mostly tended to do, this was the ‘politics’ which I hated & detested at the best of times, this only strengthen my resolve & desire to see ‘one association’ in the UK happen soon, I could also see the same problem happening at international level with IBMXF & FIAC as I believed having two champions be it at national, international & world level devalued the true meaning of the word ‘champion’ as there was always another who could claim they were ‘champion’ too.
1988, the ‘BB’ era…
After another year in which both associations again failed to come together as ‘one’, NBMXA ceased & adopted the name as ‘BBMXA’ this believe it or not was what the new amalgamated association was going to be called, I was by now elected the BBMXA chairman, I was bitterly disappointed that the dream of one sanctioning body wasn’t going to happen, I felt for all the riders from both associations & to be fair UKBMX has their reasons for not joining at this particular time, it was though however still in the back of my mind & my overall goal before the year was out to get all involved again from UK & BB back round the negotiating table in the hope that that dream could finally be realised… 1988 was not a good year for both associations, both financially & participation numbers were down drastically from the heady days from 1984-1987, especially the 86/87 seasons UK & NB rider counts were up in the 1000-1100 on average but in 88 we were not getting more than 500-600 if we were lucky, pro racing ceased at BBMXA after the last national – (prize money drastically cut up until last national) as we could no longer afford to pay the prize money as an association & there was not a major backer that sponsored the national series. Both associations were finding the finances hard to come by, this was a problem that needed to be sorted & quickly, as the BBMXA chairman at the time I made contact with the BCF (British Cycling Federation) at the time to see if they could help with funding or help with finding sponsorship for the national series only to be told by BCF that ‘BMX was not a cycling sport’ & had little following in the cycling world! I was told by the BCF if I needed to get funding for the national series I was to apply for funding through the Sports Council & not the BCF this I did & to my astonishment the BCF gave their presentation for cycling before I went in to do mine for BMX racing, we were awarded a small funding grant to help initially but to my amazement the Sports Council could not understand why the BCF did not help our sport with a grant from themselves, they informed me that they had given a substantial amount to them & were amazed that we had received no support from them what so ever! I was told though that in future the Sports Council would only support one sanctioning body for BMX racing in the UK & that the BCF would be expected to help support the sport of BMX if there was one association.
I informed the BBMXA national board that I had begun new exploratory talks with UKBMX about the feasibility of forming one association again on the feedback I had just received from the Sports Council & the BCF. I held talks with Paul Spur the chairman of UKBMX, Carole Gosling & Terry Beasley all great people who I had lot time & respect for, we were all of the same belief & understanding that for the sport to flourish & grow again we needed to settle our ‘organisations’ differences to come together as one BMX association, discussions I had with Paul, Carole & Terry from UKBMX was encouraging & positive, finally I believed we had made significant inroads in to settling our differences & hopefully once the ‘issues’ were ironed out by all sides then it could be put to vote by the national boards/clubs & riders, at last I believed we were finally getting somewhere, I reported back to the BBMXA board on the progress but some in BBMXA did not want it to happen at any cost while just paying lips service to the cause, we were met with lots of anti-feelings & diehards who wanted to promote their own agendas, I vividly recall one board meeting that lasted 15 hours & even in this meeting we were still not where we wanted to be!!
But before that could happen there was one last great race that we were to witness before the 1988 season was out & that was the last ever British Championships held at the Derby greyhound stadium, this was the biggest ever attended I believe nearly 1300+ riders. My vivid memory of that weekend was of a gifted talented rider called Dale Holmes, he was already achieving great feats at a young age but this remarkable guy did the triple winning 3 classes in the same day I think he won his expert class, cruiser class & superclass finals (racing former top pros) who also raced here & to be honest Dale made everyone look silly, this stands out as one of the great feats of riding I have seen anyone achieve in racing in the UK (Mike did remind me again what classes Dale won in, it was a long time ago!!)
EBA…‘One Goal, One Vision’…One Association
After nearly two years of on-off discussions in late 1988, we finally managed to achieve our goal, not just my goal & dream if you like but that also of Paul, Carole & Terry, we shared that ‘One Vision’ in my view, one of which I am extremely proud of even to this day, *UKBMX & BBMXA agreed to join together to form EBA for 1989*, I was joint chairman with Paul & I remember the first national that EBA held which was at the Alvaston track in Derby, there was 1200 riders at this event & although there were few teething problems it ran very well, the racing was intense & the best I had ever seen in the UK, now the riders could truly say they were racing the best in there age classes, they could now rightly say they were the best in the UK, eventually claiming the right to being National No:1, British Champion as the season was to progress on etc., the 2nd EBA national was at Slough, another fantastic event with amazing racing, again the rider count was 1200, I was so please that two nationals in row were so well attended, I remember thinking at the time, we’ve cracked it, we’ve done this & got it right for the riders & ultimately for the benefit of the sport in the long run, I thought it was fantastic… but my worst nightmare was to be confounded, after another successful EBA national at Ipswich (Rd 3) we headed up north to Copull (Rd 4) for this nightmare to unfold…there were some who had lost their power base, who did not want this dream to succeed & I have to say Ron Peters was the leading light who lead the select few ‘voices of discontent’ from BBMXA side, Ron & few others wanted it to go back to being run the ‘BBMXA’ way, this all unfolded on a Saturday at the Copull national in a nearby pub from what I remember, I wasn’t able to attend the race until the Sunday (Mike went up with David & Andy Please), when I arrived on the Sunday I was informed by the BBMXA board who were still in existence like the UKBMX board, that they had held a ‘EGM’ in the pub which Ron & few others had called & at this EGM had decided & voted to pull out of EBA, this was ‘un-constitutional’ as far as I was concerned as it should have been issued (this EGM) with a 7 day notice before any meeting could take place, I called an immediate BBMXA board meeting there after & I asked at this meeting if the clubs from the regions had been asked about pulling out of EBA, I was lied to by those who I trusted on the BBMXA board & the majority of the BBMXA regional reps who said they had contacted the clubs when in fact they did not. I remember ringing nearly all of the clubs if not all of them (there was a lot of clubs!!) & the vast majority of the clubs knew nothing about the BBMXA side pulling out, I was very disappointed & felt badly let down by BBMXA & how they had treated the whole process when forming EBA, they ultimately let down the riders & they had betrayed my trust.
I immediately resigned my position as chairman of BBMXA as I could no longer trust them, I went to the next EBA board meeting & offered to resign as ‘joint chairman’ with Paul Spur, but I was persuaded to stay on by some great people, although it was sad to see that BBMXA had pulled out, I could see that the EBA board had the right people to lead the sport forward as more importantly the Sports Council & the BCF recognise EBA as the ‘sole sanctioning body’ of racing in the UK, this was important as funding would be given to EBA in the long term. The rest of the 1989 season was still great & I really enjoyed the EBA nationals as I know Mike did, the vast majority of the riders remained & raced with EBA, many good things were to follow in the following years, American Adventure tracks, Great Britain BMX race team (consisting of Dale Holmes, Jamie Staff, Dylan Clayton, Scott Beaumont & Vicky Overson) with Cythia Murray & Carole Gosling on the team, Brighton World cup track (early UCI SX concept @1995) & eventually culminating with the UCI World Championships at Brighton in 1996. Before all this was to happen there was another pressing issue that was calling my attention…
IBMXF – FIAC, ‘A glimpse of hope & unity and visions of one sweet union’
By now you all probably know I’m fan of Queen, the lyrics to the song ‘One vision’ I have used to describe my experiences in my time with EBA & FIAC and eventually later what was to become UCI, I think it sums up my time in the sport of BMX very well, I hope you agree too.
I was FIAC representative from the UK (for EBA) & after many meetings I attended in Paris, Antwerp, Madrid & London culminating over a two year period, IBMXF & FIAC was to cease & become the UCI (the one world international body for BMX racing around the world & crucially also having the backing of the IOC), even back in 1993/94/95 I remember discussions of trying to get BMX into the Olympics a dream all international delegates had at the time myself included. I was extremely proud to have been involved in this process in the early stages of UCI, there were many obstacles still to overcome but I knew this process was going to blossom into bigger, better & brighter things for BMX racing around the world. I have many happy memories of having discussions, meetings with Bob Tedesco of NBL, Louis Vrijdag, and Gerrit Does from Dutch BMX federation Abe Schneider from Australia to name a few…meanwhile things were settling down on the EBA home-front & after a successful trip to Columbia for the UCI Worlds in 1995 with the Great Britain team as I’ve explained earlier about the team, we came back with one world champion – Scott Beaumont (W1), Dale, Jamie & Dylan also all doing very well in the elite men’s final & young Vicky also making the elite ladies final too was a crowning moment in my time with the sport, again more justification for the Great Britain team to get more funding in the years to come from the Sports Council (later Sports England), I feel proud that I got the early concept of this national team of the ground with Cythia & Carole also & in later years the team went on to achieve even more successes long after I retired from bmx.
Endgame – ‘One shaft of light that shows the way’ (extract from A Kind of Magic)
Towards the end of my time with BMX racing I spent a lot of time working with clubs to help assist/advise up-grades to there tracks & give them EBA support in going to their local councils up & down the country from Scotland, the North, South West to East of England basically all over the UK. I helped with building with the American Adventure Brits tracks with Dale Holmes, Geth Shooter (& Mike, he won’t like me mentioning him) & other riders from the midlands area at the time, the Butlin’s track at Bognor Regis, it wasn’t really a suitable track to be honest but Butlin’s were keen to get BMX racing going there in the early stages, big thanks to Tom Lynch MBE & Clive Gosling for their input/advice at the time, EBA wanted to have an end of season event much like the classic Pontin’s race from back in the old days, it wasn’t to be but it was an enjoyable experience at the time.
Brighton was eventually the decline of my involvement with the sport, I was whole heartedly behind the Brighton concept as a future ‘Centre of Excellence’ & City of Brighton put a lot of money into investing in the World Championships for 1996 (as well as from 1995 through to 1996), there were problems initially when the first track was built which we hosted an EBA national & also EBA British Championships, the track we had built was on the criteria that was laid down by the UCI i.e. between 400-500metres long, certain jumps, how many berms, starights etc, I asked Paul Roberts an energetic, passionate guy who I had a lot of time for (after consultation with rider committee who came up with the ideas & concepts) to help oversee the design/track construction with the local excavation companies/contactors from Brighton area at the time, Paul delivered what the riders committee had asked for, but Paul being the visionary he was experimented with different concepts, some he was happy with, others he wasn’t on the track, but I trusted his instincts & so did the EBA board too, when the races were run for the national & the Brit champs in 1995, Paul got a hard time from some riders but mainly parents moaning that their kids couldn’t get round the track this was supposed to be improving our standards at international level by building a technical track at Brighton which Paul & EBA did, there were few problems with it yes I will admit but Paul didn’t deserve the aggro or me that we got for trying to do something different!
After the furore died down the Brighton Worlds track was changed what I thought became a very good technical, flowing track at the time for the 1995 World Cup race (early SX concept), I & the EBA board enlisted the expertise of Bob Tedesco of the NBL & this time I asked Dale, Jamie & Dylan if they could help with the design of the track with Bob, they delivered the goods & I was extremely happy with the outcome however some ‘old politics’ was creeping it way back into the EBA board namely one or two regional reps at the time registering their moans/groans if you like of how much it was costing to pay for the revamp at Brighton & how much expenses were being paid, remember though Brighton council stumped a lot money into this project but still a ‘certain few’ were beginning to cause a few problems behind the scenes…
The final straw that made me come to the decision to call it a day was after the 1995 World Cup race, the EBA board asked myself (my company with my employees) to go down & clear up some cosmetic mess if you like that was left by the contractors who built the track with Bob, Dale, Jamie & Dylan, this cosmetic ‘tidying up’ was done before EBA hosted the World Cup race, I was down there organising it no problem for the race which was broadcast on Eurosport with the team but when I asked EBA to pay my company for the labour cost which EBA paid, there was up roar from the regional delegates at the national board when they heard about the payment, that was it for me, the defining point of when I had enough, some people do forget that I gave up a lot my own time for free (often at my own business expense) but I did it for the greater cause of the sport that I loved & I did it more importantly for the riders because they are the ones that mattered to me the most…
On a brighter note I did end up becoming a UCI Commissaire for BMX, regrettably I never fulfilled this role that the UCI enlisted me for because my father was sadly in decline due to old age & ill health at the time & my priorities were elsewhere at this sad time in my life.
I had many, many great memories of my time in the sport of BMX racing of which I shared with Mike, that will last with me a lifetime, I do follow the sport on TV now especially with the UCI SX races & was also so proud to see BMX racing at the London 2012 Olympics, I was gutted I couldn’t go up to the Olympics to watch the racing but that is life, I was so proud though to see what I had visions for back in the 1990’s finally come to fruition at the highest level some 23 years later with BMX being introduce in Olympics games at Beijing 2008 & London 2012.
I would like to thanks so many people who helped me in my time with the sport there are so many to thank but unfortunately I can’t name them all but I want to pick out ‘the few’ who made things so much easier for me & who ‘made it happen’.
Dale Holmes – without doubt the greatest UK rider this country has ever produce, one of the best in Europe behind Christophe Leveque at the time, his records, achievements speak for themselves, a true gifted athlete, a great ambassador & role model for the younger generation across the world.
Jamie Staff – you could see that Jamie was going to go on to higher achievements inside BMX & outside of it, a truly dedicated person & athlete to the sport of BMX & Velodome sprint riding, one of my proudest moments was seeing Jamie win Gold at the Bejing Olympics in 2008 & an old adversary of Mike’s too back in the day.
Dylan Clayton – on his day no one could touch him, one of the best riders in Europe even with Dale, Jamie & Christophe racing at same races, he was so smooth & fast on his bike & he was in my view the most technically gifted rider I ever saw grace a bike, the ‘bike & him’ were one.
Geth Shooter – the most naturally talented rider in his day, light years ahead of the competition in pro racing, a gifted rider & one of the best in the UK, could have gone onto bigger things if he had the chance too in the USA.
Andy Ruffell – Mr BMX, the one that started it all back in the day, the first superstar of BMX & did so much to promote the sport back in ’craze’ period, a great role model & ambassador for BMX.
Tim March – A giant in the world of BMX, achieve so much in his time racing, a visionary, a pioneer, team owner & a true gent, have been privilege to known him.
Paul Roberts – was different, a one off, ideas sometimes crazy, mostly right about what he said but was always there when needed, a nice guy.
Stephen & Martin Murray (The Murray boys) – Both great naturally talented racers, but equally good at dirt jumping something close to my heart at EBA nationals especially the ‘King of Dirt’ always there with help & support to me back then, absolute gents.
Keith Duly – what a credit to his parents, polite, strong, talented by far the best jumper of his time & a good racer & great guy.
The Key people: like a good glue that holds it all together… ‘The ones that made it happen’ all gave up there time as volunteers for the sport they loved & some still going strong to this day:
Carole Gosling – No one has done more for the sport than her, she is without doubt ‘the glue’ that holds it all together, her experience at national, international level is immense, she is an amazing asset for the sport of BMX globally & I commend her for all the work she has done, have up most respect for this remarkable lady.
Norman Derbyshire – taught me how a ‘national race meeting should be run’, never really recognised for his experience & dedication back in the early days of BMX racing with UKBMX & EBA , a gentleman I respected.
Rod Wesson – in my view the best commentator the sport ever had, did his homework on every rider, never made a mistake, a great all round guy had many great memories of running national, international races with him.
Paddy Duly – the 2nd best commentator to Rod, sorry Paddy, but Paddy & Rod were a great combination together when commentating on the ‘towers’ at nationals, had great smile & was full of enthusiasm, got things going when it was needed.
Chris Platt – Most laid back person I ever met on national race team, was Start-hill Marshall/referee at the back of the hill, couldn’t go racing without him & his team, often caused me unnecessary panic as we could never find him, he was always found having his dinner in his caravan before the semi-final or finals were about to start at nationals, nothing ever phase him, a nice guy.
There are so many more people that I could & would like to mention but I know I can’t mentioned them all, I would like to say though to the hundreds, if not thousands of riders & their parents that I was lucky enough to meet in my time with the sport of BMX racing, a big thank you for all your contributions & for making the sport of BMX such an amazing sport, I won’t forget those good time & they will stay with me forever, Mike & me still talk about the ’old days’ & my grandson often hears Mike correcting me of what happen ‘back in the old days.’
As for me I’m semi-retired now & enjoying my life with my wife Viv, we see a lot of our family regularly in particular my grandson Cameron who is keen soccer player & also likes BMX racing, I see Mike from time to time too, I am extremely proud of what he achieved in the years he raced BMX in the UK & Internationally.
Thank you for UKBMX history for allowing me to share my memories with you all, I hope you have enjoyed going down memory lane as much as I have.
IBMXF International Lowestoft (Superclass Round) May 4th/5th
Pro Class Pete Middleton, Pro Cruiser Anthony Sewell
Superclass Leon Walravens, Super Cruiser Gary Llewellyn
17+ John Stockwell, 16s Gary Wallace, 15s Mark Watkins, 14s Dean Iddiols, 13s Chris Taylor, 12s Raymond Stap, 11s Richard Everest, 10s Dylan Clayton, 9s Alex Van Diesen, 8s Gary Smith, 7s David Maw, 6s Darryl Sopp
16+ Girls Alison Diegutis, 14-15 Girls Sarah Jane Nichols, 12-13 Girls Keeley Mulkerrins, 8-11 Girls Alexia Jarvis, 7 & Under Girls Holly Jarvis.
40+ Cruiser Chris Bilner, 25-39 Cruiser Angelo Zimbito, 18-24 Cruiser Armond Bonis, 16-17 Cruiser Chris Wouters, 14-15 Cruiser Mark Watkins, Cruiser 13 & Under Jonathan Maw
It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since Rob Indri passed away.
There are so many good stories and quotes from Rob that are still talked about today in the race world. Rob was known for his mars bars, Lucazade and was also the first guy I ever saw with a can of RedBull at the races. Clearly, ahead of his time. JT race wear, Powerlite, GT, Diamond Back, Rocky Training, Ellis, Haden, Warrior, Thunder, and Primo were all names and bike brands Indri loved to support and quote during his race days. Rob loved to party and never missed a chance to let you know he could down 10 pints easy and could drink Gazza under the table if he ever got the chance. He would always get the Sunday Sport on the way to the track Sunday morning and was often seen Sunday night after the race heading down the M1 or M25 at access speed over 100 mph in his Ford Mondeo, heading back home to Woodham in time for his Monday-Friday suite and “tie” day job working in the City at Loyds of London.
On the track, everyone racing him feared him. Rob had no problem telling the competition they were getting cut off or put over a turn. He really did intimidate a lot but at the same time it was just so Indri so it was accepted. There are so many things that suck about not having Rob with us anymore – especially his stories and good times we all had together on road trips and races. I know with the way BMX progressed in recent years – especially with the new age classes and Vet racing, Rob would have won all through European and World Crowns he desired so much. He would have made an incredible mentor, coach and trainer to riders. He had so much to share with his raicng experiences, motivation and pep talks for others. He really was a great guy to have in your corner at the races if things were not going good not to mention in life. I hope he is still watching down on the BMX scene today and laughing in true Indri fashion… #missed #neverforgotten
By Alan Woods
Timeline: Summer 1980.
I was lucky enough to have raced motocross from 1976 at the age of 11. As you couldn’t get spares at the track we started selling oil, spark plugs and eventually race gear, shocks, etc like is commonplace now at tracks, before we didn’t see anyone anywhere around the UK doing this, this set the seed for our transition into BMX. I had seen some BMX photos in ads Dirt Bike magazine for H_Torque’s Minicycle & BMX Action magazine and as I always loved “push bikes” too it interested me. Anyway back to the timeline, it was still during the 1980 Motocross season that we were taking bikes on our trailer to show at the races so this must’ve been about July or August of that year.
Here is a video I posted from 1979, you can see my mum and dad at our Fox-liveried van and I am racing in the same DG Premier helmet I used for BMX in the first year:
The first BMX bike we had were MOTO ONE’s, either in blue/yellow or red/yellow: bmxmuseum.com.
We had 6 of them to start with. I think these came from a guy in Peterbrough who we bought American (yellow) YZ’s from, I have some old Trials & Motocross News’s in the loft, I’ll look for his ads. Anyway we also ordered some Mongoose’s from him too that he would’ve been getting from the Jarvis’ with a margin on but we got in touch direct and bought I think a couple of Motomags and a Supergoose. I kept the Supergoose and we kept on reordering these. We really had a head start because we already had all the race gear right there – JT Racing, DG, Oakley, etc. that’s why when you look at these photos everyone is tricked out, very few skateboard helmets and stuff to be seen. Around this time a pre-production run of BMX News that came free in Trials & Motocross News and was given out at Schoolboy MX events. It has some of the features that appeared in the production #1 but less ads and content – in fact I think it was mostly to show advertisers what BMX was about. Ipswich Coddenham was one race report I remember in there.
Around this time a gang of guys from nearby Ashton-In-Makerfield (you might remember we built a track there later on) came down to the shop when we just had a little room at my dad’s garage ,mostly with motocross bikes. This turned out to be Dave Arnold, Craig Borrows, etc who had converted Grifters and the Puch Murray bikes with Lester metal mags on them – but all painted lime green!
So by now we had good bikes, Mongooses mostly and I had imported some stuff from CYC in California as well – BUT we had no-where to race, we’d never seen a BMX track except in BMX Plus but you couldn’t get a sense of the scale or length. It’s also hard to imagine what is was like getting info back then. Can you kids imagine this? If you want to know about ANYTHING today you can check Wikipedia or watch YouTube, even in depth-how to’s on any sport right at your fingertips. Exciting times though. We would race round the streets just go – pedal, pedal pedal around the houses. Something else I know I will have difficulty getting across is the EXCITEMENT as being there at this time when we didn’t now what was what, even though we weren’t in California or Australia.
It wasn;t just us of course – in 1980 groups all around the country were promoting BMX and looking to build tracks – Malcolm Jarvis, Alan Rushton, Don Smith, Geoff Barraclough, the Scott-Webb’s over in Ipswich, Redditch….
Next up, we spotted in a Lancashire newspaper that a club had formed in Bolton, there was picture of a kid with a bike, anyway we called them super-excited but they had no track….. however they did have some land that the kids rode on. We said OK let’s make a date and we’ll bring out best guys over. Bring it on! OK so we showed up to what was basically an bit of grassed rough land next to a reservoir. They didn’t even have bikes, apart from the odd Grifter. We set to with shovels to build a jump and layed MX track marking tape that my dad had on a roll to mark the track out. The track basically just ran along the the reservoir, down the side, right over this jump we built, then that was the finish. We had no permission from the council, no insurance, no nothing, I am sure anyone who has tried to get a track going and dealt with the local authorities will laugh out loud at this. By now we had got some Redline bikes or frames from Gecko who also did Kuwahara so the good stuff was going into the UK. From the photos the riders present were pretty much what became our original Alans team: myself, Dave Arnold, Mike Chilvers, Mark Scully, Fenwick Carr, Stu Carr (not related), Craig Borrows and possibly some of the younger guys Andy Parr, etc. Mike Pardon was there but he hadn’t got a bike yet! Even though it was just a mess about everyone was serious like is was the real deal which I guess it was in a way.
Fun times ahead!
The photos attached – apart from the odd one or two that I previously posted on Facebook have never been seen or published before.
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 the bulk of 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, 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 favorite 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 rider 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 gate lose 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 aspiring racer. Indeed winning a place on a team would, for many, take precedence over winning a race on any given day.
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 this 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 in order to attract readers. Some riders can provide the talent but can’t afford decent bikes or gear or to get to the events, while some riders can 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, Tony Waye, 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.
At around the same time, Malcolm and Sue Jarvis, Chris Cowan and Malcolm Williams launched an import/export business called Ammaco. Jarvis had been a successful property developer and had heard about BMX in a passing conversation with a colleague. As the father of five young children – Alexia, Holly, Sam, Russell and Julian – the whole idea of BMX appealed to Jarvis. So without any real BMX knowledge, he hopped on a plane to the USA to investigate the possibility of importing these crazy new bikes to the UK.
Jarvis’s shrewd business instincts led him to California where he met up with, amongst many others, Scot Breithaupt and Bob Haro. Convinced of the commercial viability of BMX, Jarvis returned to the UK and prepared an information package about the fledgling sport which he distributed to hundreds of media outlets. Off the back of that, says Malcolm, “The phone didn’t stop ringing.” By the end of 1980, he had persuaded Halfords to also get on board in supporting this exciting new sport.
Soon after, Jarvis did a deal with Skip Hess in the USA to import Mongooses into the UK. What he needed now was a vehicle to promote the brand to UK kids. The answer – a BMX race team.
Drawing from his own stable, Malcolm started by putting his own kids on the team. But he needed more, particularly in the older age groups. With the newly formed Ace team having already gathered some heavyweight talent in one place, Malcolm had the perfect opportunity to go headhunting. Pete Middleton and Andy Ruffell took the senior places on the Ammaco squad, with Wayne Llewellyn and Steve Greaves bridging the age gap between the older and younger riders.
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 traveling 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 Ruffs 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. They were almost certainly 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 Steve Bigland, Mark “Whoppa” Watkins, Anthony Howells and Ashley Davies.
Craig Schofield, Brian Jones, Julian Jarvis, Don Smith, Andy Ruffell, Russ Jarvis, Malcolm Jarvis, Chris Young, Sean Day, (Unknown) Sam Jarvis.
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, Alans-Robinson 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, Kev, and 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. These teams help to support a wide range of riders – from gifted hopefuls at the grassroots of the sport, up to national racers in the elite categories. Whilst at the extreme end of corporate sponsorship, HSBC’s multi-million-pound commitment to British Cycling has enabled the riders at the very top of today’s sport, such as Beth Shriever, Kye Whyte and Quillan Isadore 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.