The Rise of 1980’s UK BMX Teams – by Chris Carter

2019-11-04_154552

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.

1983 NBMXA British Championships

17+ Darren Bullock, 16s Mark Cracknell, 15s Scott Williams, 14s Gary O’Connor, 13s Stu Diggins, 12s Nick Dalton, 11s Brad Smith, 10s John Greaves, 9s Alan Brookes, 8s Zac Taylor, 7s Neil Huddart, 6s Nick Simms, 5s David Maw

Senior Girls Sharon Elliott, Intermediate Women Sarah-Jane Nichols, Junior Girls Rebecca Slowley

Cruiser Dave Thomas

1983 NBMXA National Champions

17+ Steve Gratton, 16s Mark Cracknell, 15s Ian Harrison or Harvey Munckton, 14s Darrin Stock, 13s Tim Print, 12s Mark O’Connor, 11s Anthony Howells, 10s Tim Hammond, 9s Paul Cobbing, 8s Richard Hunt, 7sNeil Huddart, 6s Steve Cragg, 5s Paul Meyers

Senior Girls Julie Woodward, Intermediate Girls Sarah-Jane Nichols, Junior Girls Debbie Haynes

Cruiser Roger Hammond

Poole UKBMX National 1984

89998777_149636093253254_7632402780459630592_n

One of the most iconic images 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.

Ian Gunner
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”

Nathan Lunn
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?

Gary Fenwick
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

Jon Beckett
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.

Julian Allen
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!

Mike Baggs
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.

Mike Wong
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.

Phil Charnley
“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.”

1982 IBMXF European Championships, Beek en Donk Holland

242802438_445601136990080_852999757299776929_n

The first Official IBMXF European Championships were held in 1982 in Beek en Donk, Holland, with over 90 British riders making the trip. It marked the first time our riders won a major International title outside the UK, with Tony Slater and Ben Swift both becoming European Champions in their respective classes.

Other notable British standouts included 2nd places for Andy Oldham, Jason Maloney, Jason Scott Webb and Andy Ruffell; and 3rd places for Russ Swift and Darren Page (RIP).

Another first for the event and for most British riders were the experience on an electric start gate with traffic lights, something that still had not been introduced yet back home at the Nationals.

Q&A

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?

Sean Rose
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.

Darren Reidy
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.

Jeff Dovey
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…

Jonathan Higginson
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.

Tom Lynch
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.

Darren Nelson
Andy Ruffell. My Robinson team boss, Alan Woods and Tony Holland.

Sarah-Jane Nichols
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.

Darren Wood
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.

Paul Ray
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.

Gary Fenwick
Steve Gratton. He was a big inspiration for me and a really cool rider.

Tim March
None!

Craig Schofield
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? !

Rob Wallace
Andy Ruffell, Scott Barber, Clint Miller.

Ashley Davis
Jon Greaves, Matt Oakley, Anthony Howells, Louis Mears, David Maw, Tom Lynch, Tim March.

Dave Morris
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 !

Tony Holland
I would say I looked up to Alan Woods, Tim & Andy.

Scott Williams
Tim March … John Lee ..

Dean Iddiols
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 : )

Chris Taylor
Riders I looked up to or inspired me, big Tim, Geth, Stu Diggins, Wayne Llewellyn, most of the big factory guys back then.

Tony Fleming
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!

 

The Early Years

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!

2019-11-02_180853

BMX Racing in the UK – Let’s get the history rolling…

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.

1275853_415482181897193_2004154419_o