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 BritishBMXHallOfFame.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.