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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Crossed Up And Kicked Out

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I rode my bike a lot with the kids in the neighborhood this summer.

It’s kinda weird because it made me feel like I was ten again.

Some of the kids were into trying do to some tricks with the plastic launch ramp we found at the dump awhile back. They all had one goal in mind: to jump off the launch ramp.

I felt obligated to chaperone these types of shindigs for two reason: because my 5-yr-old still hasn’t shed his training wheels and thinks its cool to do bar stands on the top of his frame and because two kids in the ‘hood don’t have helmets.

I was trying to give them some pointers on getting off the jump when the peanut gallery chimed in and demanded that I show them “since I know so much.”

One of the things I’ve tried to instill in my sons is that you need to master the basics of a sport before you can excel at it. Last summer I spent many days trying to teach my oldest how to ollie, fakie and kickturn on a skateboard.

So now I’m trying to apply the same basic elements to bmx: if you can do a wheelie, bunny hop and endo then you can safely say they’ll be able to handle anything above and beyond that.

Of course they wanted me to show them how to do a wheelie so I pedaled around in circles a few times, readied my footing, pointed my bike uphill and went at it. I knocked off one – a huge one – about 30 yards (passed two driveways) and as soon as my front wheel hit the ground, howls of joy and excitement erupted from the gang.

I then made a bet with them: that I would try and make it to the top of the hill by the end of the summer. I figured that way I’d have something to do while I was out there “supervising” the kids. But after a few days it became more like a circus act with other kids coming over and asking to see me “pull a wheelie.”

One day an elderly neighbor- while on his daily walk through the neighborhood -saw me in the midst of one of my many wheelie attempts up the hill.

“I’ve never seen any thing like that,” he said.
“Darndest thing I’ve ever seen… really” he paused then said, “Ya ought to charge for that”

When I came back down the hill the kids asked me what he said and I told them he told me I should charge for it.

“Yeah!” said one kid. “Like 50 cents!”
“No, no… two dollars!” said another kid.

All this talk about being the wheelie king of the ‘hood got me thinking about my own bike gang growing up and Rockville BMX .

I worked briefly at Rockville BMX. I would put spokes in rims and then hand them over to Tiger who would tighten and true them. There was a whole cast of characters at that place starting with the owner Jay and his sister (?) Root Girl and right on through to every nicknamed employee.

It was there that I met two of my best friends Scooby and Nubby. The guys I had met at the Alligator Pit jumps - Jeff, Andy and Joey – were regulars there as well. Rockville BMX wasn’t just a store, it was a place to hang out and Jay was the ringleader. He had a soda machine that had a mystery button on it: you could get a V8 or you could get a beer.

The place was also a stop on the bmx trick team circuit and every summer a team of riders would come out and do demos. The bible of bmx, Freestylin’ magazine, would run photos of these contest and suddenly The East Coast had reared its head as a viable spot for bmx, it didn’t just belong in SoCal anymore.

Even Pennsylvania got in on the act, with York being ground zero for the Plywood Hoods. Plywood Hood alum Mike Daily went on to be the editor of GO:The Rider’s Manual, which was the publication Freestylin’ had morphed into. “Martin’s BBQ Waffle Potato chips, Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets and peanut butter Kandy Kakes with Turkey Hill iced tea was all we ever needed,” said Daily in a recent e-mail.

Times were simpler then.

This summer, a coffee-table book retrospective was released. Freestylin’: Generation F chronicles those simpler times when bmx wasn’t an actions sport sponsored by the Dew. The book had a limited run but you can go here and peep it.

Eventually, part of my crew would be absorbed into this traveling circus. Scooby and Nubby would leave and return from tour with a bunch of swag, an assload of stickers and mighty tall tales from the road. “I use to take care of shit,” said Scooby during a phone conversation I recently had with him after I tracked him down in Colorado. “The East Coast invasion changed bmx,” said Scooby, again without explanation.

One kid, the runt of the bunch that was probably 60 pounds soaking wet, named Spoke left and soon migrated to California for greener BMX pastures. Somewhere along the way, Spoke became Spike.

Yeah, that Spike.

I’m not sure why Scooby and Nubby never made the move out west. I know both of them had very close-knit families and I guess that is what kept them coming back to Maryland.

Years later, after bmx faded, Scooby and I took up mountain biking often riding to work together to our job at Topel Blueprinting. And much like the days of Rockville BMX, Topel became the place to work. And again another colorful, motley crew came together called the Dickie Boys but that’s a whole ‘nother post right there…

Pictured: Brian Blyther, summer 1987, Rockville BMX