Checking in After a Year Away: New Projects

Well, I’m back. I’ve been away for nearly a year. Actually, more than a year. I started a new job last June at VSI Products, which designs, markets and sells Intense BMX and Speed bikes and frames, Sinz and Sinz Elite components, THE helmets and protective gear, ITS tyres and Eye and Avenue freestyle frames and components. My job keeps me very busy. As a result, I’ve neglected FortyFour16.

I haven’t ignored it. I’ve just stopped pushing and promoting it. But I still get plenty of inquiries and orders and I build a few special plates for myself. Among the new projects I’ve done this past year are a few Aero Stadium plates, a series of iconic Pro Replica plates for my office wall, Type 2 plates, Series One-style plates, a limited number of 1979 Torker National Number One Team Ad plates and this week, the JT plates Bob Haro designed for the company in 1979.

I love doing replica plates for myself and for others, be they Pro Replicas or replicas of personal plates used back in the day. When I started at VSI, I gave my new boss, Toby Henderson, a replica of his No. 300 Haro plate. As it turned out, the original plate was one of two things he saved from back in the day. It was a thrill to see the plate in real life and use it to learn how Bob Haro made it in 1979. I then remade the No. 300 replica the same way. Last week, I sold a Bottema 195 replica made the same way.

Toby's original compared (right) to my replica (left).

The Torker National Number One Team plate replicas I made were reproductions of the plate that appeared in the 1980 Torker ad with the team. I made it to celebrate the Torker Team reunion with the Johnson Family at the BMX Society Show and Reunion. I made four of them, one for Steve Johnson, which I had autographed by the 1979 Team members—Eddy King, Doug Olson, Jason Jensen, Doug Davis and Mike Aguilera. I also had one autographed for myself. The last two, I left unsigned. One is on a replica of the bike used in the photo shoot for the ad and the other I put on my wall at work.

This is one of the photos from the ad photo shoot, but since it includes two new riders, it didn't make the ad. But it's the one I chose to reproduce for the Torker Team Runion.

Today, I finished up samples of the JT/Haro plates in all three colors. I recently got a request from someone to make a replica of his personal plate. Since I have long wanted to do the JT plate, (I loved them BITD, but never saw one outside the pages of BMXA.) I accepted the job. I think they turned out great. I’m really stoked on them. I plan to turn the red sample into a replica of Toby Henderson’s 1979 No. 16 plate he used at the Jag World Championships for my office wall. The blue one will go to a good friend of mine, done up as a replica of his 04R plate.

This is where I started. . .a replica of the customer's personal race plate.

The replica. He didn't want the NBA and NBL stickers.

All three color schemes. I love these.

For those of you interested in getting a plate, please contact me at info@fortyfour16design.com. Plate prices start at $70 plus shipping. You can see samples on Face Book at http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.115202041831398.14553.115099715174964&type=1 or check the FortyFour16Design website, www.fortyfour16design.com.

A Special Order for a Special Father

Me with Evan and his dad Donnie, the newest member of the BMX Hall of Fame.

Recently, Evan Atherton contacted me about making him a couple of number plates. He said he was building a replica of his dad’s Schwinn Sting. His dad is none other than Donnie Atherton, one of Schwinn’s top racers in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was regualrly featured in Schwinn ads and in the pages of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine and others.

Evan sent me a few photos of his dad running three different plates. He had a favorite, but it wasn’t the plate that his dad ran on the bike he was replicating. Unlike the Haro-style plates I usually build, these were the earlier and more common square plates. I told him I couldn’t make the plates, but if he could fine two of them, I’d gladly replicate all the graphics I could. Some of the stickers were beyond my current abilities. He was cool with that.

Evan asked me to make two plates, one with the number 20 and one with the number 3. Donnie ran both plates in 1979.

I made both and was really stoked on the results. So was Evan. He plans to put one on the replica when it is finished. I plan to write a little story here after he gives it to his dad.

Here are the plates Donnie ran and the ones I made.

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Two New Plate Shapes for Forty Four 16

We’ve been busy developing new plate shapes of late. Since starting the company last summer with the Original Round plate we’ve added our own Square, Original Square, Wizard and our Micro-Mini/Cruiser plates. Now, we are offering two new plates that fit a little better the larger Pro-size bars that were popular starting in the mid-1980s. The two new plates are based on the popular Haro Type 2/Colored plates and Aero’s Stadium plate. Both are available with modified lightning-bolt graphics.

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The Wizard plates, which, for now come in red, white and blue and black and yellow digitally printed graphics also fit larger bars. These plates are special order only and may take more time to complete.

Our Micro-Mini/Cruiser plates fit modern cruiser bars, as well as vintage mini bars. Like all our plates the width can be trimmed to custom fir smaller handle bars. These, also, come with our popular retro lightning bolt graphics. These are quickly catching on with the today’s racers who are old enough to remember the originals. Soon, we’ll be announcing a team sponsorship with these plates.

I Started a New Job Today

Since I wrote the entry below and saw Toby’s real plate, I made another. This one is much closer to the original. I’m pretty stoked on it.

My replica plate is on the left. Toby Henderson's original plate is on the right.

I started my new job today as marketing manager at VSI Products, which is the parent company of Intense, Sinz, THE, Speed, EYE, AVE and ITS. Toby Henderson is my boss.

I made a very special one-off number plate for him. It’s a replica of his old plate. He was stoked and said, “Now I have something for you.”
He went into his office and came back with the original of the plate I replicated. He said it’s the only thing he kept from back in the day. It was so cool to see it and how Bob Haro made it. (Toby didn’t give it to me, BTW. Just showed it to me and let me keep it on my desk all day. He took them both to Rockford.)

The plate I made for Toby.

I used the cover shot of Toby and Jeff to make the plate. I couldn't really tell if the original numbers had a red stroke or not. I was 50/50 that it didn't. Still, looks good. VERY cool to see them side by side.

Toby said he watched Bob take a blue and yellow silk screened Factory Plate, cut the blue top out and replace it with a piece of precisely cut red vinyl. If I'd known that. I'd have done it the same way. Next time I make one, I will.

BMX Society Show and Reunion Was Best Ever

Saturday I took part in the 2010 BMX Society Show and Reunion at the Bellflower BMX track. What a super event. This was the third I attended and the second I exhibited in. There is no doubt it was the best yet. The new venue at the Bellflower track, with live BMX racing and the opportunity for  show goers to ride and participate in two vintage races, was stellar. What great luck that Peck Park, the original site, was closed for renovations.

It seems that the new SoCal event may have reached a tipping point. The number and quality of the bikes on display was dazzling. There were so many spectacular bikes that I can’t even remember seeing a single mediocre build. From Denis Dain’s collection of his personal 1970s race bikes to a number of lager freestyle collections and even mid-school bikes the entire history of old-school BMX was covered. More old-school pros and elite racers showed up this year, too. The few I saw (or remember seeing) include Eddy King, Craig Bark, Toby Henderson, Perry Kramer, Harry Leary, David Clinton, Denis Dain, Mike Miranda, Kim Jarboe, Eddie Fiola, Mike Dominguez, Woody Itson, Todd Lyons. . .

Jim Melton, the JM in JMC, was there, too. Steve Brothers, the man behind the BMX Society website and the event, presented Jim with a special lifetime achievement award. It was obvious that he appreciated the recognition almost as much as all of us in attendance, especially we JMC owners, appreciated him making the trip out to SoCal from his home in Missouri. Jim and his staff built some of the most technologically advanced and beautiful BMX frames of the time. He continues to contribute to  the BMX community by sharing his knowledge, memories and production records with anyone who asks for his help. He’s a real treasure.

The freestyle show as, as usual phenomenal and master of ceremonies Dan Hubbard’s non-stop announcing was a perfection. Despite the hot SoCal sun and a lack of food and water consumption, he never stopped his narration of the event. He’s a real pro and I want to thank him for plugging Forty Four 16. I was blown away by Eddie Fiola. His skills are undiminished . And it was fun to see him and the other old-school freestylers juxtaposed with today’s young riders. Fifteen-year-old Daniel Sandoval, who rides for Eye,  blew everyone away with his big air and insanely technical tricks.

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(I’m still trying to track down all the names of the photogs who’s images I used here.)

I want to thank Steve Brothers and the BMX Society staff and the other volunteers (Sorry, I know you were there, but not sure who you all are.) for organizing and managing the show; Tammy Estep for stepping in at the last minute to host the event at the track; Steve Blackey, for his cool trophies and for encouraging me to go through with my idea of making mini number plate trophies; Paul Morton for use of this EZ-Up and for acting as my personal photog; Eric and Max at Garage Graphics for printing the mini number plate stickers; Toby Henderson and the Intense staff for the free food; Craig Bark for the Torker swag and William LaRoque for the killer Torker sticker.

Finally, congratulations to all those who won awards for their bikes. There were sooooo many killer bikes on display, the  judges must have been pulling their hair out trying to pick a single winner in each category.

  • 70’s 20 inch BMX – Donnie Baird with his Webco
  • 80’s 20 inch BMX – Hector Aguilar with his VDC Changa
  • Old School 24″ BMX Cruiser – Tony Hartt  with an RRS 24″
  • Old School 26″ BMX Cruiser – Shawn Duex with a Torker 26″
  • Freestyle BMX – Mark Webster  and his VDC Freestyler
  • Mid School BMX – Steve Arndt  and his Kastan
  • Retro BMX – Brian Garcia with a 2010 L&S 26″ Cruiser
  • Side Hack – Eric King  with his Two Wheelers Hack
  • Pit Bike – John Dunphy with a Redline Square Back Pit

Congrats. You guys deserve to be very proud.

Though barely recovered from the last-minute push to get ready for the 2010 event, I’m already looking forward to next year’s show on June 4.

More Media Coverage; This Time in Japan’s Pedal Speed Magazine.

Funny story: My brother-in-law was in a book store in Tokyo (He’s in the Navy Reserves and was there on maneuvers.) and saw a cool-looking bicycle magazine on the shelf that he thought I might like. He picked it up and started flipping through its pages. The magazine opened up to a familiar face—mine.

In April and May I did the interview and photoshoots for the article with Yasu Tsuchiya, a locally based freelance writer and photographer. I knew it was coming out, but still hadn’t seen it. Not until my brother-in-law gave me a copy today. Yasu said it would be “only six pages long.” I thought that was plenty enough. But the eight I got is killer.

I gave it a quick read this evening—my Japanese is rusty, but good enough to get most of this article—and it’s a cool little piece. I’m super stoked.

Vote for Steve Johnson for BMX Hall of Fame

Last week, the American Bicycle Association (ABA)  started asking for nominees into the BMX Hall of Fame. Each year, the ABA adds the names of those who significantly contributed to the sport. Nominees in the categories BMX Pioneer Racer (1979 or earlier), BMX Racer (1980 to modern day), BMX Industry Member and BMX Freestyler are voted on by the public, a public that has forgotten the contributions of many of those who were at the forefront of the sport when it was still in its infancy.

One of those pioneers is Steve Johnson, Torker’s president from 1976 to 1984. Steve has been on the list of nominees for years, but he and his groundbreaking company and race team apparently are all but forgotten. The role Steve played in the early years of the BMX industry and racing was as revolutionary and vital as those played by other revered industry legends whose names are uttered and written almost daily in conversations and on the Internet by BMX collectors and fans who reminisce about the good old days.

Last year, I voted for Hall of Fame inductees for the first time. As I scanned the list of nominees, I was shocked by the number of people I assumed were already in the Hall. Steve Johnson was among them. He immediately got my vote for BMX Industry Member. I also attended the induction ceremony in San Diego where I ate dinner with Hall of Famers Bobby Encinas and Eddy King. As Eddy and I chatted, he noted that he, too, thought  there  were a lot of people who deserved to be in the Hall who weren’t. Steve Johnson was first on his list. We agreed right there to get him into the Hall of Fame.

And so, my campaign to get Steve in the BMX Hall of Fame begins here, today.

Although I have never met Steve, I have spoken about him with his father, racers who were on the legendary teams he put together in the 1970s and 19980s, as well as others who worked with him back in the day. Everyone I’ve spoken with liked and respected him. Spend a little time reading through old issues of BMX magazines from the 1970s and 1980s and it’s clear that he had a huge impact on the sport. It’s also clear that the industry recognized his impact, even then.

In the November 1980 issue of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine, Bob Osborn wrote the following about Steve Johnson.

One of the neatest things about the Great Lakes National was the way Steve Johnson, the young owner of Torker, handled the sponsorship of this race.

The Torker gang arrived early and hauled buns all week long to assure that the race, as well as their sponsorship, was a success. You might say they were max-imizing their investment as sponsor.

In the past, some sponsors have forked over their fee, stuck up some banners, and suggested that the race announcer give them a mention now and then.

Steve Johnson decided to go full boat. During the week he visited as many local shops as he could, to pump up the race and Torker products.

Borrowing from Grand Prix tradition, he set up a Torker hospitality area where the press, shop owners, and public could meet the Team Torker racers. And sodas and sandwiches were available to cure any rampant munchies among the VIPs.

Steve also prepared assorted promotional blurbs for the race announcer, Merle Mennenga of the ABA.

Torker banners were placed strategically where the pro photobugs would most likely be shooting pics for their publications. Then the blank spots were filled with other banners and posters.

Promotion wasn’t the only thing on Johnson’s mind. Saturday saw him and his Torker lieutenant, Karsten Berg, manning the shovels and working with the race officials to make sure the rain drenched track was prepared as well as humanly possible.

In taking such total and dedicated control of the promotional aspects of the race, Steve Johnson established a guideline, a new standard for sponsors wishing to get their money’s worth out of an event.

What Torker did in Lansing was demonstrate just how much goodwill and publicity for a sponsor’s products can be realized by jumping in feet first and doing a super job that benefits not only themselves, but everyone attending or participating in a national.

Steve Johnson (Left) with BMX Hall of Famers Eddy King and Sandy Finkleman. Steve co-sponsored Eddy with Sandy, owner of Wheels-N-Things, before he launched the Torker Factory Team in 1978.

Between 1976 and 1984, Steve took Torker out of the family garage and built it into one of the BMX’s best-known and best-selling brands during the sport’s first big boom.

He had a knack for identifying and signing some of BMX’s all-time best riders, allowing him to build and manage one of the BMX’s most dominant and successful race teams. Torker’s First Factory Team earned the rank of National Number One in 1979.

The list BMX Hall of Fame members who flew the Torker colors at one time during their careers is impressive. It includes Eddy King, Clint Miller, Tommy Brackens, Kevin McNeal, Bob Haro, Mike Miranda, Richie Anderson and Mike King. Other notable Torker Team members include Doug Davis, Jason Jensen, Doug Olson, Kathy Hannah, Kelly McDougal, Willie Huebner, Dave Marietti, Craig Bark, Jennie Zeuner and Todd Corbitt.

Steve was a talented promoter. Besides using racer and event sponsorship, he developed strong relationships with the media. Between 1977 and 1984, the Torker logo appeared on hundreds of magazine pages. In addition to his role as brand builder, Steve, with his mother Doris, father John and brother Doug, ran Torker and Max while overseeing the Torker factory in Fullerton, CA. He also had a hand in designing Torker’s celebrated frames and components.

Here’s a timeline of Steve Johnson’s tenure at the helm of Torker

  • 1976: Steve takes control of his father’s small, contract, MX frame production company, Texon. He renames it Johnson Engineering and buys the company’s first production tooling. Johnson Engineering builds early frames for Peddlepower (later Powerlite) as well as the first Torker frames.
  • 1977: Steve renames the company Torker, using the word torque as his inspiration. He introduces the first  Torker frame, an all-4130-chromoly, air-craft-quality, heli-arc welded and stress-relived frame that was designed with the aid of structural engineers, metallurgists and aircraft welders. The technologically advanced frame was met with rave reviews from the media and was an instant success. He shows an eye for picking talented riders and signs Kevin McNeal to ride for Torker.
  • 1978: Torker redesigns its frame to better meet market demands and adds a variety of new models as well as a fork. All are well regarded in the media as well as among racers. He signs Eddy King and introduces an Eddy King Replica frame, one of the first racer replicas. King, one of the fastest amateur racers in the world at the time had been cosponsored by Torker and Wheels-N-Things. Torker sponsors numerous local, regional and national races.
  • 1979: Steve builds one of the all-time great teams in BMX history. Among the racers  of the team were Eddy King, Jason Jensen, Mike Aguilera, Doug Davis and Doug Olson. Clint Miller joined Torker later in the year. The Torker Factory Team hits the road in an RV on a national tour. The team earns the National Number One title. Torker continues to heavily sponsor races as well as bike shop teams and local amateur racers. Torker introduces two bike models. Sales boom.

    Steve Johnson (Right) with the 1979/1980 Torker Factory Team

  • 1980: Torker riders continue to dominate their respective classes while Steve continues to promote and build the company, adding products and getting press for Torker racers, products and sponsorship of national race events. (See BMXA article above.) He sponsors freestyle pioneer Bob Haro. Max clothing and accessories is added to the Torker family.
  • 1981: Despite losing Eddy King and Doug Davis to Diamondback, Steve continues to garner huge amounts of press with Torker products and the racing success of Jason Jensen and Clint Miller.
  • 1982: Steve adds Kelly McDougal and Dave Marietti to the Torker Team. The company, its racers and products continue to get massive exposure and positive reviews in the magazines. Responding to market demands, Steve takes the company in a new directions with lower-cost complete bikes. New products continue to hit the market. Clint Miller dominates the Pro Cruiser Class on Torker’s new 24” cruiser. Torker begins producing frames and forks for Bob Haro’s Haro Bikes.
  • 1984: Steve attempts to bring new glory to Torker by building another team of star racers. The team has impressive results and brings new attention to Torker. Steve compares the team to the original Factory Torker Team of 1979. The team includes Mike Miranda, Tommy Brackens, Richie Anderson, Craig Bark, Willie Huebner, Jason Foxe, Jennie Zeuner, Todd Corbitt and Jason Theodore. Sadly, after years of losing money and despite Steve’s effort to save Torker, the Johnson Family decides to close the company’s doors. Torker and its assets are sold at auction. Steve quietly retires from BMX racing and the bike industry. He takes a job at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, CA, where he works for 20 years until his retirement. He also was a volunteer for various organizations.

Today, Steve enjoys spending time with his kids. His hobbies include photography and computers. He remains a deeply private person. —Michael Gamstetter