Category Archives: Random Thoughts

From Dirt to Pavement to Dirt to Pavement

It’s been a looooong time since I last banged out a story or report or posted anything new.  Why? Call it life.

Like many of you, I spend a lot of time at work in front of a computer. Unlike may of you, I assume, my time at the keyboard is filled with writing and editing stories and creating and editing photos and artwork. It’s an awful lot like managing a Blog. Often, the last thing I want to do when I get home from a long day typing and mousing-around on the Mac, is sit down and do more of it.

Not to mention, I’ve never ever made any effort whatsoever, to monetize this. So, the motivation to keep at it waxes and wanes. Mostly  the latter.

Where Have I Been?

What have I been up to since August 14, 2011? Well, I left VSI where I was the marketing manager for Intense BMX and a slew of other brands, to help Toby Henderson launch the Box Components brand. My title was Brand Manager but my job duties included, but we not limited to, product design, product management, marketing, team and rider liaison, sponsorship director/coordinator, graphic designer, mechanic, event marketing guy, copy writer and, of course, brand management.

As you may know, Box was a very very successful brand launch. Within two years, I’d estimate Box was the number one component brand in BMX racing. We developed some 80 or more products from scratch under the Box and Promax brand names, won something like 10 Elite and Junior BMX World Championships and were the official number plate supplier to the Rio Olympic Games. I’m quite proud of what we did there in those just three or four years.

Last July, I needed a change, so I left Box to help lead a relaunch of the Airborne Bicycles brand. It was a tall order. The brand had been through so many iterations, owners, managers and visions since its inception in 1999, no one knew what it was. Few even knew it existed still. I also was going to help DK Bikes with product development.

As when I was at Box, I was given one title—Brand Manager—but lots of duties. My main job was to be product manager and create a new bike line. My vision was to take our product up market by improving quality and spec, developing relationships with high-end brands and, eventually, develop our own innovative product lines. This would allow us to improve margins.

Step one, was to simply put together a bike line that told a cohesive story of who Airborne is with more than pinch of quality and value. While, at the same time, actually make some money.

This was to be a multi-year process with the first step—a new bike like–taking 18 to 24 months. After less than a year, management grew impatient with my progress and let me go.

I put together a very nice 12 or 13-model line up of mountain, road and cyclocross bikes. The first of my new bikes were to arrive only two months after I celebrated my one-year anniversary there. Most of the rest would arrive, if all went well, in the spring. The remaining models would be there in the summer, in time for ‘cross season. I hope to see some, if not all, of my bikes for sale some time soon. Again, I’m proud of the work I did there.

Back at it With a Twist

So, once again, as when I started this Blog, I find myself seeking employment. It’s not a bad thing, really. At least it’s not as emotionally debilitating as it was the last time. And I don’t plan to go back to school and rack up another $60K in student loan debt. All I need at this point in my life, is to make enough money to pay my bills and lead a simple life. If more comes, I won’t complain. But my focus is going to be on quality of life. I’m no longer interested in making or willing to make major personal sacrifices for a low-paying job that requires me to work 60+ hours per week. Been there. Done that.

Since my departure from Airborne/DK, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what’s next. What I’d love to do, is find a way to make a living involved in the world of vintage road cycling, a not-so-new passion of mine.

I’m not interested in buying old bikes and parts low and selling them high. I dig all that, but not as a way to make a living. I enjoy to riding my bikes. Looking for bike deals is a time-consuming affair, unless you’re established and people know to find you. Maybe that will come.

No, I want to do something else. I have a lot of ideas. Not a lot of funding with which to launch them, however.

Initially, I’m going to launch a line of T-shirts featuring some of my vintage BMX and road bike inspired imagery. If that goes well, I’ll move on to the next step. If it doesn’t go well, maybe it will end up like my number plates—steady but small sales. I can’t pay my bills or eat well on number plate sales, but they do allow me to occasionally pick up a nice vintage road bike part or two.

 

 

I’ve also started doing a series of vintage road bike portraits. Some of the images are my personal bikes. Others are bikes I’d like to add to my collection. Still others are the bikes ridden to victory by my cycling heroes. I am looking into to doing a series of limited-edition fine art prints of these and the components above. If there is interest, I might even do commissions of bikes from other collectors.

 

 

Riding Old Road Bikes

About three years ago, I read about an event called L’Eroica. It was a bike ride in Italy started some 20 years ago to celebrate the heroics of road cyclists of the past. To participate, you had to ride a bike no newer than 1987, had to use toe clips, down tube shifters, non-aero brake levers and ride in period-correct clothing. It sounded awesome. I had been doing this by myself back in the 1990s.

I bought my first vintage road bike back in 1995. It was an early Italian-made Masi with Campagnolo Nuovo Record parts. I bought wool jerseys and shorts and a pair of vintage shoes. I rode the bike in era-correct garb all the time. I was the only guy I knew doing it. I didn’t care. I just liked riding the old bike. Sadly, I sold the bike just before moving to California in 2001. It’s probably here somewhere, still. I believe the buyer, a woman, was in the San Diego area.

Anyway, I had to do L’Eroica. But getting to Italy was not going to be easy—financially speaking. When I went to the L’Eroica website, I discovered there was a ride in California, not 250 miles from me. Yay! I started looking for a bike. With the help of a friend in the Netherlands, I found the frame I was looking for in Denmark. I was able to build a replica Team Hitachi bike in a few months using parts I bought a long, long time ago at a Velo Swap in Denver and newly acquired parts. Soon I had the beginning of my outfit, too.

I missed the following Eroica California due to work. But I was able to get a couple other bikes to ride, if I chose to, and a bunch of new vintage clothing to go with them.

I signed up for the 2017 Eroica California with finger crossed no work would get in the way. As time was running out, I had my friend Dave Marietti at Hot Shoppe Designs in San Clemente make me a set of replica Hitachi Team bib shorts. I made the art work and his people did the printing, cutting and sewing in record times I could look my best at the ride in April.

I looked good, if I may say so myself, if a tad overweight. The ride was a blast and despite suffering more than I had in any race ever before (due more to my poor fitness than the difficulty of course, although it was difficult) I couldn’t wait to go back.

 

Ride Like Roger (pronounced Ro-djay)

As of this past summer, I added two new bikes to my collection. Both are Gioses. One is a real honest-to-god Brooklyn Team bike. I’m a huge fan of the Brooklyn Team and it’s star Roger de Vlaeminck. I put out word that I wanted a Gios from the 1970s. Within hours, two in my size were presented to me as for sale. Unfortunately, both were 1979s, two years after the Brooklyn Team disbanded and one year after Gios changed the frame graphics and fork design. I wanted a Brooklyn Gios from between 1973 and 1977. About a month later, I found one in Belgium. And it was even a Brooklyn Team rider’s old frame. Better yet, it was my size–53c-c X 54 c-c. Not many bikes are built with that geometry.

It took waaaaay too long to get and after the seller balked on his promise to sell me all the parts I needed to build it perfectly era-correct, waaaaaaay too long to make ridable. But it was worth it. It is, hands-down, my favorite vintage road bike in my collection. The limits of Nuovo Record when compared to Super Record, not withstanding.

 

 

Along the way, when I was calling a seller about a Gios pantographed chainring, I accidentally bought a second Gios. This one, a 1979 model with Super Record. It also is a fantastic bike to ride.

My plan for Eroica California this year is to ride the Brooklyn Team Gios in full Brooklyn kit. I’ve already purchased a replica jersey and plan to get matching wool shorts from the fine folks at Magliamo in Belgium.

Last year, I picked the newer Merckx over my super-sexy Colnago Roger de Vlaeminck because I could run a 39 or 38-tooth front chaining with a 28-tooth rear cog without bastardizing the bike with modern parts or using a non-racer long-cage rear derailleur. I wanted to keep it strictly real. I was simply too fat and too weak to push the 42 (41 available) x 24 gearing  the RdV had on it.

This year, however, I’ve been training on the 1973 Gios Brooklyn bike, RdV and 1979 Gios almost exclusively since July. I also ride the Merckx, but it, like the others just mentioned, is now fitted with a 41-tooth front chainring. I have a range of max rear cogs on the other bikes, depending on what the derailleur can handle and what I own, of 23 to 26.

For Eroica California, I’d like to get a 28 to work, which I hear is possible with a later Super Record derailleur. Still unsure if the earlier Super Records can handle a 26 or 28 instead of the max of 24 for the Nuovo Record. Just not sure I want to put a 1980 derailleur on my 1973 bike.

I’ve noticed a big improvement in strength and endurance lately and have lost about 12 ponds over the past three or four months. If I keep this up, I should hit my weight loss goal of 30 to 40 pounds by April and be plenty fit enough to push the 41×24 or 26 gearing up the steep hills outside Paso Robles.

So, that’s where I’m at. Other than to say, today, I started applying for jobs. The first one I applied for has me super, super excited. I hope they call.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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