To the Max: The History of Torker (Part 8)

End of an Era To be honest, it has been difficult from this point on to track the Torker product line. Torker seems to have developed a split personality. It was developing high-end products for its racers, but was pushing its price-point bikes on the general public.

Close inspection of race photos featuring Torker Factory riders Kelly McDougall and Dave Marrietti show them riding the new Pro X frames, but Torker’s advertising was focused on the price-point 280. The ads were again high-production quality, full-color, full-page ads, but they featured arguably cheesy themes.

The Pro X, a longer frame set with a 19.5-inch top tube, made its debut in 1983 and was the frame ridden by racers such as Tommy Brackens, McDougall and Richie Anderson, but it got relatively little media coverage. Torker also rarely, if ever, promoted the frame in advertising, opting instead to put its marketing dollars into promoting the 280.

The frames got a variety  of new features, some of them technological in character, others simply cosmetic. The Pro X, for example had a machined head tube and bottom bracket shell. The design innovation improved strength and helped prevent flaring.

Torker built the Pro X frames with Ishiwata butted tubing and replaced the fish-scale gussets with gussets under the down tube similar to those found on the Haro frames and Redline Prolines as early as 1978. The Pro X serial numbers ended with the letter “P” and looked like this, TLL 0125 P.

In August 1983, the 280 and 280X saw the first change to the fish-scale head tube gussets since 1978. Vertically oriented elliptical cutouts in the two gusset plates replaced the old round holes.

Torker began to alter its frame graphics in late-1982 and introduced a new oval headbadge late in the year. But this was short lived and was replaced by a “T” headbadge that was part of a totally redesigned graphic look used on all Torker frames from 1983 on.

Getting a handle on just what Torker offered in its 1984 line is not easy. Based on what can be seen in photos of racers that year, the line appears to have grown and evolved. But few ads or marketing materials have surfaced that clearly outline what the company offered.

Photos of a small (You might call it a mini.) bike under team racer Jason Foxe show a frame that, like the earlier mini, lacks head tube gussets, but unlike any Torker before it, seems to have a single top tube and an integrated seat clamp.

Another bike recently surfaced in a collection that shares some of the characteristics found on Foxe’s frame, but that definitely has a new style double top tube.

Instead of two tubes diverging from the head tube and connecting to a plate at the seat tube, the frame’s two tubes run parallel to each other until they wrap around the seat tube and become seat stays. No gussets or plates connect the two tubes.

Its serial number, TEE 1260 RP, shows that it was made in June 1984. The ending letters, “RP” are interesting in that they are a combination of the “R” used on minis and the “P” used for the Pro X. The frame shares some characteristics of both, but its size—it has an 18.5-inch top tube—puts it in between both frames.

The frame also has a 7/8-inch OD down tube and fork legs. The head tube is machined and there is an integrated seat clamp.

The sticker set on the frame is the new 1984 version where Torker’s traditional white, black and yellow logo received the addition of a red stroke. Pads and jerseys at this time also got this treatment.

The bike appears to have been sold as a complete. Besides the frame and fork, other Torker parts include Junior T Bars (25 inches wide with a 5 1/2” rise), four-bolt stem and Torker-stamped cable clamps.

The stem is nearly identical to the so-called prototype 4-bolt stems made a few years earlier. (See the “Torker Made Sweet Components” sidebar.)

Some Torker frames made during this time had round brake bridges. And it appears that Torkers were available in chrome or white.

It was at this time that Haro took its production off shore, leaving a hole in Torker’s fabrication business.

“Haro left in 1983 and by early 1984 was importing frames and later complete bikes from Anlun in Taiwan. Our job-shop cash-cow dried up,” said Harold McGruther.

John Johnson, however, diagreed. “We didn’t make a lot of money off Haro. Bob was a big help to us in the beginning. He helped a lot with design work,” Johnson said.

Yet, despite their close relationship and the fact that Bob Haro was a pioneer in the freestyle movement, Torker made little effort to enter the scene when it was starting to boom.

“The Johnson family was extremely slow to embrace the freestyle movement, too, even though their sister company Max leathers sponsored a bunch of freestylers like Mike Buff, Martin Aparijo, Woody Itson, Fred Blood. We built a freestyle prototype for Martin Aparijo in the summer of 1984, but the company filed bankruptcy four months later,” he said.

Aparijo’s  two prototype frames are now in the possession of friend and fellow freestyler Woody Itson.

In the summer of 1984, Steve Johnson put together a top-notch team and went on a media blitz to promote the team and the brand. His push, however, came too late.

Super BMX magazine published an article on the new team in the November 1984 issue, but Torker was already headed for bankruptcy.

Clint Miller left Torker for Kuwahara in 1983, and was replaced shortly afterward by Tommy Brackens.

Mike Miranda joined Team Torker in January 1984, but left in September when the company was unable to pay him. Richie Anderson joined the team in July and left in November when the team was disbanded and Torker filed for bankruptcy.

Johns Johnson said Torker’s bankruptcy was the result of more than 10 years of losing money.

“Torker was always a non-profit organization. By the time you paid everyone off, there wasn’t much profit left for the family. Doris and I  worked for free.

“The big guys were getting into BMX like Murray and Schwinn and we couldn’t compete with them. We couldn’t lower the price. Now, I think we didn’t charge enough for our bikes. We never figured in the overhead. And we had a very expensive team. The ads alone cost a lot of money,”
Johnson said.

He added that he and his family saw the bankruptcy as a necessity.

“It was our planned exit strategy. You might say we were tired. We didn’t hurt a lot of people by going bankrupt. Most of our suppliers shipped to us C.O.D. and we paid our bank in full. We saw it was going to happen, so we bought extra parts for the Haro frames and sold those to Bob.”

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13 responses to “To the Max: The History of Torker (Part 8)

  1. I have a Torker.I don’t know what year or model it is,it’s serial #WV0C09847 TK-200.The rear brake weldons are down on the chain stay.Could some one help with info. Thanks

  2. Hmmmm. . .sounds Asian made. Email me some pics. I’m curious. info@fortyfour16design .com.

    Cheers,

    Michael

  3. Daniel Paulson

    I was reading your article on Torker History, “To the Max: The History of Torker” and I liked it, anyway I thought you could help me positively identify my Torker. I believe it to be a 1998 280X ?

    I purchased it off my local graigslist from a guy with a 12 or 13 year old kid that rode it but wanted a more modern ramp-street bike, so the dad had him sell it to pay for his new bike. I thought was cool cause the dad made him make the transaction. I paid cash after talking the kid down only twenty bucks. I paid $180.00 which I was told they cost about $280.00 new ?

    The story goes, the dad bought it from a BMX shop in Klamouth Falls OR. he says about 4 years ago, and that the shop let it go on clearance because it was an older floor model and they were going out of business. He gave it to the kid as a gift, but the kid never really rode it much, so the bike is is very good stock condition!

    The reason I am interested in the Torker serial number is WV8A00001 and all the original decals and stickers are in very good shape! Yes I did change the Handle grips and will the pedal, because the kids changed them and put RL Freaky tires on, which I changed back to the skinwall 20×1.75 Comp IIIs as soon as I got it.

    I have always liked Torker bikes, I am now 36 but as a kid I can remember my brother and neighbor having one, I could not afford one back then, but I guess now I can. I have 7 good bikes now. The bike is too nice to take out and tear up so it just sets in my room on display.

    So my hope is you tell me I have something worth something, but either way it still looks good!

    Thanks for any help; I do have more detailed pix!

    Daniel Paulson
    Epiphone SG 025.jpg ‎(89.6 KB)0705101838-00.jpg ‎(568.1 KB)

    • That one is too new for me to help. If it’s a 1998, it’s waaaaay too new. I’m not sure if Torker revived the 280 name that late, but it’s possible. In the 1990s Seattle Bike Supply (SBS), the parent company of Redline, brought the brand back with a line of high-end race frames and mid-to-low-price bikes. All but the high-end frames were made in Asia. Taiwan or China. Not sure which.

  4. I have a Torker with the serial #WVoCo9847 and cant find anything out,it’s chrome and the rear brake welds are on the bottom chain stay area.How can I send a pic?

    • Sorry, that one is way too new for me to help you. I know what went on back in the early days only. Sounds like it might be fairly new. For sure Asian made.

  5. Daniel Paulson

    Ok, I think you are rite! Because all the originals stickers are there in good shape even the SBS on bottom bracket and the Made in Taiwan on the bottom front of headtube. It is just like all my REDLINES, they all say the same thing. Anyway is is still a very nice bike, thanks for the help!

  6. hi i have a 83 pro x that i got to pick out at the fullerton factory as a trade work deal because my dad hand lettered the race teams helmets . i went to our sign shop after school , i was in the 3rd grade at the time. i remember walking into our office and seeing this bad ass looking torker and noticed it was a 280 and my dad said if i didnt like it then we can go see what else they had and im glade i did because the bike i picked was used in a bmx magizine riden by tommy brackens so they gave me the bike and a copy of that magizine. my serial number looks like this,”t11 0345 x” and not like, TLL 0125 P. actually i wonder if t11 is tll? thanks for any info you can give me

  7. Hi
    just wondering if you can give me any info on my recent find, it looks the same as a Pro x its blue with chrome forks and bars and Torker stickers on it but the serial number is 11840895 P and that is on the inside of the rear dropout. any info would be great.
    Thanks
    Stewart

    • ok thanks for the feedback, does that mean mine was made in Asia and do you know if they did it in blue?

      • Yes, that’s what I was saying: your frame was made in Asia and is outside my knowledge base. If it’s a Torker 2, yes, I believe they were available in powder blue.

        Check the Google for Torker 2 360 Air and 540 Air. It could be one of those.

  8. I’m only familiar with the 1976-1984 Torkers made by Torker in Fullerton, CA. The serial number guide I have here is for those frames only. Anything that falls outside the parameters of this guide were made after the 1984 bankruptcy in Asia. I have not done any research on these frames and therefore have no insights or knowledge on them. Congrats on your purchase and good luck finding out more info.

    • Thanks, I googled the 360 and 540 air and mine looks nothing like them its the same as a Pro x it has the machined bottom bracket and head tube but its the serial number thats confusing me?? Thanks anyway

      Stewart

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