Category Archives: BMX Research & History

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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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

A Guide to Famous Torker Bikes

As I did my research for To the Max, I came across a wide variety of Torker bicycles, some produced and sold by Torker, some individually built to the personal spec of Torker Factory Team riders and others offered by Torker Distributors. What follows is a list of those bikes and their specifications as best as I was able to determine. I plan to add a few others in the near future.

Torker MX in the Oct. 1977 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: Torker 4130 Chromoly, MX
  • Forks: Speedo (bent during test)
  • Headset:
  • Stem: Ashtabula Single-Clamp
  • Handlebars: Box-Type
  • Grips: Unknown
  • Brake Lever: N/A
  • Seat Clamp: Steel Band
  • Seat Post: Unknown
  • Saddle: Elina Super-Pro Padded Saddle
  • BB: Unknown
  • Cranks: Takagi 7-inch
  • Spider: Addicks
  • Chainring: Addicks
  • Pedals: KKT Rat Trap
  • Brake Calipers: N/A
  • Wheels: Araya Steel Rims, Sunshine Black Alloy Front Hub and Bendix Coaster Brake, 105-Gauge Spokes
  • Tires: Cheng Shin
  • Geometry and other facts:
  • Stickers: Red or yellow, Johnson Engineering MX headbadge, lightning-bolt logo down tube stickers and either two “Chrome Moly” stickers or nothing on the seat tube.
  • Retail Price: $210 on the West Coast; $220 on the East Coast.

Torker L.P.G.T. in Mid-1978 Ads

  • Frame:Torker 4130 chromoly, L.P.G.T. with European bottom bracket shell
  • Forks: Torker
  • Headset: Unknown
  • Stem: MCS 6-bolt
  • Handlebars: New Torker Alloy
  • Grips: Unknown
  • Brake Lever: Shimano Pre-Bent
  • Seat Clamp: Steel Band
  • Seat Post: Unknown
  • Saddle: Unknown
  • BB: Unknown
  • Cranks: Shimano Dura-Ace
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Shimano Dura-Ace
  • Pedals: KKT Rat Trap
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano
  • Wheels: Alloy, but Unknown
  • Tires: Cycle Pro Snake Belly
  • Geometry and other facts: The L.P. had an 18.5-inch top tube, dual head tube gussets, a round brake bridge, a relaxed 64-degree seat tube angle and was available in chrome, red, blue, black and white. The July 1978 Torker Dealer Catalog, which was never distributed, shows a gold option and no white option. No gold Torkers are known to exist. Serial numbers for Torker frames made through 1978 were on the bottom bracket shell. It is assumed the serial numbers ended with “L,” for L.P.
  • Stickers: Red or yellow MX headbadge (unlikely Johnson Engineering version), lightning-bolt logo down tube stickers and two “Chrome Moly” stickers on the seat tube. Forks have lightning-bolt logo. The logo on the new vinyl pads is in the original Torker logo font—the lightning bolt logo—but minus the lightning bolt.
  • Retail Price: Unknown, but the wholesale price was $185.

Maxflyte in Various 1979 Ads and Catalogs

  • Frame: Torker 4130 Chromoly L.P. with American or European BB Options
  • Forks: Torker
  • Headset: Tange
  • Stem: Torker
  • Handlebars: Torker Alloy V-bar
  • Grips: Oakley
  • Brake Lever: Shimano Pre-Bent
  • Seat Clamp: Steel Band
  • Seat Post: Alloy Fluted
  • Saddle: Unknown
  • BB: Tange
  • Cranks: Shimano Dura-Ace or 600
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Shimano
  • Pedals: KKT Rat Trap
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney
  • Wheels: Araya alloy 7C rims, Shimano Cassette Hubs
  • Tires: Mitsuboshi Comp II
  • Geometry and other facts:
  • Stickers: Red MX headbadge new non-lightning bolt down tube stickers, one 4130 Chomemoly seat tube sticker. Fork stickers are new non-lightning bolt logo.
  • Retail Price: $288.75, jumped to $318.75 in 1980.

Torkflyte in Various 1979 Ads and Catalogs

  • Frame: Torker 4130 chromoly or mild-steel L.P.
  • Forks: Torker
  • Headset: Tange
  • Stem: Torker
  • Handlebars: Torker Alloy
  • Grips: Unknown
  • Brake Lever: Shimano
  • Seat Clamp: Steel Band
  • Seat Post: Unknown
  • Saddle: Unknown
  • BB: Tanke
  • Cranks: Takagi Chromoly OP
  • Spider: Takaig
  • Chainring: Takagi/Shimano
  • Pedals: KKT Rat Trap
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney
  • Wheels: Araya 7C, Shimano Cassette Hubs
  • Tires: Unknown
  • Geometry and other facts: Available in all the Torker colors with contrasting anodized parts (gold, blue).
  • Stickers: Red MX headbadge new non-lightning bolt down tube stickers, one 4130 Chomemoly seat tube sticker on chromoly frame and none on mild-steel frame. Fork stickers are new non-lightning bolt logo.
  • Retail Price: $209.75 in mild-steel; $239.75 in chromoly.

Everything Bicycles Special Tork Pro in Jan./Feb. 1979 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: Torker 4130 Chromoly or Mild-Steel L.P. (chrome)
  • Forks: Torker (chrome)
  • Headset: Tange (chrome)
  • Stem: MCS 6-Bolt (silver)
  • Handlebars: Alloy (blue)
  • Grips: Oakley 1 (yellow)
  • Brake Lever: Dia-Compe Pre-Bent band-clamp (silver) with blue rubber sleeve
  • Seat Clamp: PL-1 (silver)
  • Seat Post: Alloy Fluted (blue)
  • Saddle: Unknown Suede (blue?)
  • BB: Unknown
  • Cranks: Suntour VX (blue)
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Suntour (blue)
  • Pedals: Reedy
  • Brake Calipers: Dia-Compe 890 (blue)
  • Wheels: Araya 7b Rims (silver) Unknown (Bullseye?) Small-Flange Hubs (blue)
  • Tires: Mitsuboshi Comp II (blue 2.125 & 1.75)
  • Geometry and other facts: Yellow Torker pads. Everything Bicycles designed the parts packages for its bike dealers and sold them disassembled and shipped them in two boxes, one for the frame and fork and one for the parts.
  • Stickers: Has standard stickers, but two Chromemoly seat tube stickers
  • Retail Price: $495

Everything Bicycles Special Torkflyte in Jan./Feb. 1979 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: Torker 4130 Chromoly L.P. (white)
  • Forks: Torker (white)
  • Headset: Tange (chrome)
  • Stem: MCS 6-Bolt (red)
  • Handlebars: Alloy (blue)
  • Grips: Oakley 1 (yellow)
  • Brake Lever: Dia-Compe Pre-Bent Band-Clamp (silver) with Rubber Sleeve (blue)
  • Seat Clamp: PL-1 (silver)
  • Seat Post: Alloy Fluted (blue)
  • Saddle: Unknown Nylon (blue)
  • BB: Unknown
  • Cranks: Suntour VX (blue)
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Suntour (blue)
  • Pedals: Unknown Rat Trap
  • Brake Calipers: Dia-Compe 890 (blue)
  • Wheels: Araya 7C Rims (blue) Unknown Large-Flange Hubs (blue)
  • Tires: Mitsuboshi Comp II (blue 2.125 & 1.75)
  • Geometry and other facts: Blue Torker pads. Everything Bicycles designed the parts packages for its bike dealers and sold them disassembled and shipped them in two boxes, one for the frame and fork and one for the parts.
  • Stickers: Standard
  • Retail Price: $369.95

Eddy King’s Race Bike in June 1980 issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: E.K. Replica, European BB (chrome)
  • Forks: Torker (chrome)
  • Headset: Tange
  • Stem: Torker (gold)
  • Handlebars: Torker alloy V-bar (gold)
  • Grips: Grab-On (first-gen)
  • Brake Lever: Shimano Pre-Bent (gold) with Rubber Sleeve (black)
  • Seat Clamp: Addicks (black)
  • Seat Post: Chromoly
  • Saddle: Cinelli Unicanitor (black)
  • BB: Phil Wood No. 3
  • Cranks: Campagnolo Gran Sport (G.S.) 170
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Dia Compe 44T (black)
  • Pedals: KKT Rat Trap (filed)
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney (gold) with Mathauser Finned Pads
  • Wheels: Araya 7b rims, Phil Wood hubs (36H), 80-60-Gauge Stainless Steel Spokes
  • Tires: Cheng Shin 1.75 Front; Mitsuboshi Competition II 1.75 Rear
  • Freewheel: Suntour 16T
  • Geometry and other facts: The E.K. Replica has the same geometry as the L.P. The only difference is a European bottom bracket shell.
  • Stickers: Eddy’s personal bike had the yellow headbadge and the lightning-bolt Torker logo down tube stickers used on the pre-1979 frames. The red headbadge and non-lightning blot down tube tickers were stock on the Eddy King Replica frames sold by Torker. (Eddy’s personal bike may have been an earlier 1978 frame.)
  • Retail Price: Unknown

Maxflyte in Dec. 1980 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: Torker 4130-chromoly L.P. in Standard, Long or European B.B. (Formerly the E.K. Replica) models in chrome, red, blue, white or black with blue, red or gold components
  • Forks: Torker
  • Headset: Tange
  • Stem: Torker
  • Handlebars: Torker Alloy
  • Grips: Finishline
  • Brake Lever: Shimano Pre-Bent
  • Seat Clamp: Addicks
  • Seat Post: Chromoly
  • Saddle: Kashimax MX
  • BB: Shimano 600
  • Cranks: Shimano 600 (175)
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Shimano 44T
  • Pedals: KKT Lightning
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney
  • Wheels: Araya 7X rims, Shimano Cassette Hubs, 80-Guage Spokes
  • Tires: Mitsuboshi Comp III (spec’d, but bike in article had Comp IIs)
  • Geometry and other facts:
  • Stickers: Standard
  • Retail Price:

Clint Miller’s Bike in the Dec. 1980 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: Torker 4130-chromoly L.P. Long
  • Forks: Torker Custom with 1-Degree Steeper Geometry, Painted Black
  • Headset: Tange
  • Stem: Torker
  • Handlebars: Cook Brothers Chromoly
  • Grips: Oakley
  • Brake Lever: Front and Rear Haro Handles
  • Seat Clamp: Addicks
  • Seat Post: Chromoly
  • Saddle: Kashimax MX
  • BB: Redline
  • Cranks: Redline Flight, Non-Pinch
  • Spider: Takagi
  • Chainring: Shimano
  • Pedals: KKT Lightning
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney
  • Wheels: Araya 7X rims, Campagnolo Large-Flange Hubs
  • Tires: Carlisle Aggressor 2.125 front Mitsuboshi Comp III rear
  • Geometry and other facts:
  • Stickers: Standard
  • Retail Price: Unknown

Torkflyte in Jan. 1981 Issue of BMX Plus! Magazine

  • Frame: Torker 4130-chromoly L.P.
  • Forks: Torker
  • Headset: Tange AW-27
  • Stem: Torker
  • Handlebars: Voris Dixon Alloy V-Bars
  • Grips: Finish Line
  • Brake Lever: Shimano Pre-Bent
  • Seat Clamp: Steel Band
  • Seat Post: Chromoly
  • Saddle: Troxel
  • BB: Tange
  • Cranks: Takagi Chromoly OP (175)
  • Spider: Takagi
  • Chainring: Shimano 44T
  • Pedals: KKT RT-E-MX Rat Trap (Trashed by Greg Hill after 30 mins. of testing.)
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney
  • Wheels: Araya 7X rims, Shimano Cassette Hubs, 80-Guage Spokes
  • Tires: Mitsuboshi Comp II
  • Geometry and other facts: Test bike came with Suntour hubs because the stock Shimano hubs were back ordered. Bike got positive reviews, but the rear drop out was poorly butted to the seat stay. After the pedals were destroyed, the testers put on KKT Lightnings.
  • Stickers: Standard
  • Retail Price: $300

Jason Jensen’s Bike in the April. 1981 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: New Torker 4130-chromoly mini (black)
  • Forks: Torker Mini(black)
  • Headset: Tange MX-5 (gold)
  • Stem: New Torker Ultra-4, 4-bolt (gold)
  • Handlebars: Laguna Alloy Mini V-Bars (copper lacquered)
  • Grips: Oakley .5 (black)
  • Brake Lever: Team Products (copper lacquered)
  • Seat Clamp: Tange (copper lacquered)
  • Seat Post: N/A
  • Saddle: Uni Seat
  • BB: O.M.A.S. with Alloy Crank Bolts
  • Cranks: Shimano 600 (170) (copper lacquered)
  • Spider: N/A
  • Chainring: Shimano Dura-Ace 44T
  • Pedals: Suntour MP1000 (copper lacquered)
  • Brake Calipers: Shimano Tourney (copper lacquered)
  • Wheels: Araya 7X rims, Shimano Dura-Ace Large-Flange Hubs with Track Axles, 80-60-Guage Stainless Steel Spokes
  • Tires: Raleigh Red Dot 1.75 front Mitsuboshi Comp II 1.75 rear, 16” inner tubes
  • Freewheel: Suntoru 16T
  • Chain: Sedisport 3/32”
  • Geometry and other facts: The new mini frame, like the new cruiser, lacked head tube gussets. It had a 17.5-inch top tube, a 7/8-inch O.D. down tube, a European bottom bracket shell and used 13/16-inch O.D. seatposts.
  • Stickers: Standard
  • Retail Price: Unknown

Clint Miller’s Cruiser in the Sept. 1981 Issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: New Torker 4130-Chromoly 26” Cruiser
  • Forks: Torker Cruiser
  • Headset: Tange
  • Stem: Torker 6-bolt (black)
  • Handlebars: Prodyne Crsuier
  • Grips: Oakley .5 (black)
  • Brake Lever: Shimano DX
  • Seat Clamp: Addicks
  • Seat Post: Chromoly
  • Saddle: Elina Lightning (no bolt)
  • BB: Redline
  • Cranks: Redline Flight
  • Spider: Addicks
  • Chainring: Addicks Graphite 44T
  • Pedals: MKS BM-10 Filed
  • Brake Calipers: Dia Compe MX1000, Mathauser Pads
  • Wheels: Ukain Rims (blue), Shimano Large-Flange Hubs (blue), 80-Guage Stainless Steel Spokes
  • Tires: Mitsuboshi Silver Stars 2.125 Front and 1.75 Rear
  • Freewheel: Shimano 20T
  • Chain: HKK 1/8”
  • Geometry and other facts: Torker vinyl pads. The frame lacked gussets and was built with larger-diameter 5/8-inch tubing (20-inch frames have ½-inch tubing) for the top tube/seat stays and the chain stays. The rest of the tubes were beefed up a ¼ inch to 1¼ inches. The wall thicknesses, were 30 to 40 percent thinner. Miller’s bike weighed 29 pounds, 14 ounces.
  • Stickers: Standard
  • Retail Price: $185 for Frame, $55 for Forks (The 1981 Wes’ BMX mail-order catalog listed the frame and forks for $170.)

Torker 280X in the Sept. 1982 issue of Bicycle Motocross Action Magazine

  • Frame: New Torker 4130-Chromoly 280X
  • Forks: Torker
  • Headset: Tange AW-27
  • Stem: SR MS-240
  • Handlebars: Torker chromoly Pro “T” Bars
  • Grips: A’me Tri
  • Brake Lever: Dia-Compe Tech 2
  • Seat Clamp: Addicks
  • Seat Post: SR Alloy Fluted
  • Saddle: Torker
  • BB: Redline
  • Cranks: Suginoa Chromoly OP (175)
  • Spider: Sugino
  • Chainring: Sugino 44T
  • Pedals: MKS BM-10
  • Brake Calipers: Dia Compe 890
  • Wheels: Araya 7X Rim, Suzue Large-Flange Hubs
  • Tires: IRC Z-1 2.125 Front and 1.75 Rear
  • Freewheel: Suntour 16T
  • Geometry and other facts: Basically a Torker L.P. Long (the 280 is the standard size frame) sold only as a complete bike.
  • Stickers: Standard with the short-lived vertical headbadge.
  • Retail Price: $280 (A 24” cruiser similarly spec’d and called the 340 was available for $340.)

© 2010 Michael Gamstetter

To the Max: The History of Torker (Part 9: The Final Chapter)

The Post-Johnson Years According to McGruther who was there, in November 1984, the owner of Seattle Bike Supply (SBS) bought the bankrupt company at public auction. “Bob Morales bought the Max name for $300. Seattle Bikes bought the Torker name for $3,000. I bought my wooden desk and office chair for $25,” he said.

Johnson said he didn’t remember how much money the auction raised, but it was insignificant. “We didn’t get much out of the bankruptcy. We paid our big creditor, the bank, and that was pretty much it,” he said.

Todd Huffman said he and Morales walked the auction and bought all of Torker’s excess parts inventory. “We got all sorts of components. I remember getting a lot of Torker stems and wheels. We used those to start a distribution company that eventually became Auburn,” he said, adding that all of Southern California’s local builders were there. “They were buying the jigs and tooling. Some of them were just walking around. I think everyone was in shock to see all that being sold.”

Morales said he wanted the Max name just to put it out of business. As the owner of Dyno, one of Max’s main rivals, he got a bit of a thrill buying his competitor for next to nothing and then removing it form the market.

Torker would quickly find its way into the hands of the Marui Brothers, who also own Tioga. At the height of the freestyle movement, Marui reintroduced Torker as Torker 2 with freestyle bike and frames like the 360 Flite and 540 Flite and a newly designed 280X, which were built by Akisu in Japan.Torker operated under Marui until about 1989.

In the mid-1990s and under new ownership, Seattle Bike Supply (SBS) reacquired the brand from Marui, an acquisition that reportedly cost SBS $1, and brought it back to life with a race team anchored by Matt Hayden and Clarence Perry.

“We had a relationship with Tioga because we used their tires. They weren’t doing anything with Torker, so we asked about it and bought it,” said Craig “Gork” Barrette, SBS’s marketing manager.

The high-end ST frames SBS sold under the Torker name in the 1990s were built in California by Mike Devit, who also was building SE frames.

The Torkers were built using 6061 T-6 aluminum with modern features such as 1 1/8-inch head tubes and cantilever brake bosses, but retained the dual-top tube design.

Torker also offered a range of low-end and price-point frames and bicycles, some with the double top tube, some without. The revival, however, was short lived.

Torker is now a beach cruiser and unicycle brand. At the 2008 Interbike Expo, the bicycle industry’s largest U.S. trade show, SBS unveiled the U-District, a single-speed bike for college students. The all-black, flat-bar road bike has the original Torker logo on the down tube and the Torker 2 headbadge.

Now owned by industry giant Accel Group, SBS also owns Redline, which has become the focus of its BMX business.

SBS does, however, offer a re-manufactured sticker packs for early Torker frames. Sticker packs for later models are expected to hit the market in the future.

The Johnsons Now. John, Doris and Steve still live in Anaheim while Doug splits his time between Sitka, Alaska, and Puerto Princessa the Phillipine Islands.

After John, now 86, retired from the FAA, he wrote inventory control programs and operated a billing service for about 10 years. He remains active with computers.

Steve, Torker’s president, went to work at Hughes Aircraft in Fullerton, CA. He retired after 20 years with the company.

Today, he enjoys spending time with his kids. His hobbies include photography and computers.

Doug built a home on Maui, Hawaii, and worked a number of years for the Parsons Company, which removes exploded and unexploded ammunition from the island of Kahoolawe.

After the bankruptcy and prior to this article, no member of the family spoke publicly about Torker. “No one ever asked, “ John said. “We thought everyone forgot abut Torker.” —Michael Gamstetter

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.”

The Effect of One Number Plate

From the first time I saw one in the Jan./Feb. 1979 issue of Bicycle Motocross Action magazine, I wanted a Bob Haro number plate. Not only did they look cool and give every rider who used one an air of  invincibility, they represented the pinnacle of  California BMX chic.  By July that year, photos in the BMX magazines showed three types of Haro plates in two shapes. There were Haro’s original hand-made plates in round and square, the interim Bob Haro’s Factory Plates, also in round and square, and the best-known Haro Pro Plates—the one with the lightning bolts. My fave, the square Factory Plate.

This was one of the first photos I ever saw of a square Factory Plate. I wanted one so badly. To this day, I've never seen one in real life.

I wanted a square Haro plate so badly, but BMX stuff like that was impossible to find in Dayton, Ohio, at the time. By the time I saw one in the July issue of BMXA, Haro had long since stopped making them and had switched to the Pro Plate graphics. Of course, I didn’t know this. I just assumed my local bike shops were too lame to order and stock them. By the time Haro plates made their way to Ohio, all you could get was the Pro Plates. (I got my only Haro ProPlate or my birthday in 1980. It was red and black.) After doing a fair amount of research (I still haven’t asked Bob Haro.), as far as I can tell, Haro made one run of the Factory Plates. Maybe he only made 100 or so. However many and for however long he made them, it wasn’t a lot and it wasn’t for long. To this day, I still haven’t seen a real Factory Plate, either round or square, in real life. I’ve only heard of one rumored to be for sale. It was round, well-used and in SE colors. The price—$800.

Three people have sent me this photo asking if I could replicate it.

When I started making my replica plates, I did so only for myself. I borrowed an old plate from a friend and used it to make a template. I used my computer to design the graphics and to make patterns I used to hand cut colored vinyl. When I tried to build my first prototype plate with my patterns, I discovered a problem. The graphics didn’t fit. I had traced a Type 2 Plate and designed Pro Plate graphics. Until then, I had no idea there was even a difference between the Pro Plate and the later Type 2. So, I set out to find an Pro Plate. As luck would have it, I found a hand-made Haro plate to trace. A hand-made plate was what I wanted to use, but I assumed I’d never see one.

As before, I made a template, cut out a couple of blanks and then decorated them with colored vinyl I cut from some old scraps I had. I also used two vintage Haro Panel Covers I had been saving for the day when I figured out how to make a decent number plate. The plates looked pretty good. I was stoked. I got some flack from the diehard anti-reproduction crowd, but that was expected. Others asked me to make a plate for them. I wasn’t ready. Then, I bought more vinyl and made a couple of plates based on the handmade plates Clint Miller and Eddy King ran in 1978. They looked great. I was ready to make a few for sale. That’s when I first saw the $800 Factory Plate.

My first Pro Plate-style prototype.

Over the past six months, three of my customers have sent me the same photo of that plate along with their requests for me to reproduce it. My first-ever customer was the first of the three. He wanted an SE-colored plate for his OM Flyer and that was the plate he had in mind. (It was him, by the way, who told me it was for sale. He had considered buying it, but couldn’t see paying more than $500 for it.) At the time, I was still building plates using a mix of  hand-cut and computer-cut vinyl. I had no way to do details like the black outline and the “Factory Plates” logo. He was cool with that. I built him a plate in brown and light blue. It was nice.

The first SE plate

Months later, another guy sent me the same pic of the same plate, asking if I could make it. By then, my skills had been honed and I was using a computer-controlled vinyl cutter and the black outline and logos were within my ability. His plate was brown and blue and had a couple of small SE logos and a black outline around the center oval like the original in the photo. I also added a number 7 and the word Expert like had had on his old race bike.

SE plate number 2.

About a week later, I got my third request for the same plate. I made him a plate similar to the one  the last guy got, but decided to try something new, too. I had been experimenting with digitally printed graphics. Printing meant I could do more complicated graphics and, I had hoped, would reduce production time and complexity. But I had reservations about the process. Sure, it was a little more convenient, but would the quality stand up?

The first printed plate I made was for a guy who wanted a Wizard plate. He sent me a photo and  two dimensions (width and height) and asked me to recreate one for his JMC 3.1 XL. I did. It turned out nice, I thought.  The buyer loved it and said he’d be buying another when his next bike build was completed. I made a similar plate in black and yellow for my Torker rider/race bike. I wanted to test the durability of the process and material. Not long afterward, a second JMC owner asked for one. Since the plate on my Torker was holding up well, I decided to make one for him. He loved it, too. I took their approval as an indication that the quality was good.

I used this photo to design and make a custom plate for a customer.

I made this plate to test the durability of printed graphics.

When the third SE-colored Factory Plate request came in, I thought I’d try making one digitally, not for the customer, but as a test. I also made a few ovals printed with the black outline and the Factory Plates logo and a bunch of two-color numbers. Everything turned out pretty cool. I made a second Factory Plates sticker, in Torker colors of course, that I have yet to mount. It also looks good.

A Factory Plate prototype based on the plate above.

I showed the “SE” plate and numbers to a couple of my best customers and their feedback was super positive. One guy wants me to use the digital process to recreate his holy-grail of number plates—an Aero Stadium Plate. “I’ve been chasing this plate since my childhood,” he said. I think it’s going to happen. Like the Wizard plate, I’ll be designing it using photographs.

So, I’ve reached a place where I must decide how far I want to go with this number plate project. What stared out as a simple question that I asked myself, “I wonder if I can figure out how to make a number plate exactly like the ones Haro made?” and the desire to put number plates on all my bikes, has turned into a tidy little business, with the emphasis on little. It’s a business that takes loads of my time, however, and one that has yet to provide me with enough of an income to quit my “day job.” (My day job, by the way, is applying for jobs.)

I now offer six different hand-cut and molded shapes—Pro Round, Original Square, 44-16 Square, 44-16 Mini/New-School Cruiser, Wizard Large and Type 2—with cut vinyl or for the Wizard plate only, digital graphics. And all are custom made-to-order. It’s a complex and slow process, but one that ensures high quality and, so far, perfect customer satisfaction. (Almost all of my customers have come back for more plates.) It was this process, however, that led me to announce last fall that I’d make 100 plates, then stop. I assumed by the time I made 80, I’d be ready to shoot myself and 100 would be my limit. But, the truth is, at just over 60 plates made, I really like making them. That said, I have yet to make any serious capital investments (I could sure use a nice vinyl cutter and a quad-core iMac.), so it’s not too late to stop at 100.

The Forty Four 16 number plate catalog has grown to include six shapes and a variety of graphics options.

For now, while I remain unemployed and with plenty of free time on my hands, I’ll keep making them “the old fashioned way.” But keep an eye on this blog for news and announcements regarding new products an changes here at Forty Four 16 Design World HQ.