Friday, February 12, 2010

Mad Dogs and Circuses

Yesterday I posted a shot of this Defgrip shirt:

Here's the original Hutch ad it came from:

I remember when that ad dropped. It was some mind-blowing shit. Which, since it so clearly looks like a circus trick to our jaded new millenium eyes, requires a bit of explanation.

I'll try to make this short, because it's told much better in Joe Kid on a Stingray anyhow:

BMX, or bicycle motocross, came from moto. Bob "Hurricane" Motherfuckin' Hannah, y'all:

In the early days, racing set the tone. Racing gear emulated moto gear. The early BMX companies were owned basically the equivalent of Steve Jobs making a computer in his garage. People like to give a lot of shit to the fat, unmotivated money grabbers that supposedly owned all the BMX companies prior to the S&M sparking the rider-owned in 1987. They may have ended up this way, but guys like GT's Gary Turner and Mongoose's Skip Hess were initially in it for the love. (And, lest we forget, Bob Haro had the first rider-owned BMX company--no offense Mad Dog.)

The point here is, the first wave of BMX companies stayed attached to the sport's initial moto image. When freestyle broke, they were still attached to the moto-based image, but pushed it as something new and wacky by adding fluorescent and pastel colors. This is a classic example of top-down marketing. But we bought it, and hence I got a lot of shit from chromed-out Boss loyalist Nor Cal stoners in Camaros yelling "Faggot!" out the window as I rode along on my pink GT Freestyler. This isn't it, but it's close:

I've always found a way to make myself a target. To this day, I've got love for the old school freestyle color schemes--even if it was a ploy to jazz up what is essentially the same simple machine, like all of the useless platforms that dropped in this era, it still set us apart. From the racers--although guys like Mike Miranda and Greg Hill would start rocking pink JT gear, from the skaters, as well as from teenage males with any kind of self-esteem. Maybe this is why I've got a predilection for stuff like pink G Shocks:

Guys like Ron Wilkerson and Chris "Mad Dog" Moeller started blowing up this image in favor of a more real look. The half pipe replaced the rickety quarter, Mad Dog coined BSR, or "Bicycle Soul Riding" in an interview in Homeboy magazine, and the streets got hot. (By the way...I just discovered that the only Homeboy mag I have left has the BSR article...expect a scan soon.)

But freestyle wasn't there yet at the time of Woody's handplant. It was still having growing pains. Were we still moto? Did it make sense to rock number plates and goggles which never left the top of your helmet at contests? If street was the new steez, who wears a full uni on street? Or on a backyard ramp? Moeller went as far as to question if we were even BMXers anymore, hence his coinage of BSR, which, despite seemingly dropping off Google's radar, was a hugely popular term in late '80s zine culture.

Itson's handplant also marks a phase where what was an acceptable trick and what wasn't was changing. Balance tricks were on the way out, and specialists like Robert "The Master of Balance" Peterson were fading from the scene. People were starting to see the difference between riding and posing. There was a time in flatland where you could lay the bike on the ground in the midst of a trick, and as long as your feet were touching bike and not asphalt, you'd "pulled it." In hindsight, this seems like a game of Twister, or maybe Marco Polo ("Fish out of water?" "No!"), but the Hutch ad came at a transitional moment between the balance/posing era and the newer rolling/scuffing moves.

At the same time, bikers were borrowing from the raw vibe of street skating, which was starting to blossom with Mark Gonzales, Tommy Guerrero, and Natas Kaupas. Street handplants were considered perfectly legit--we were raw as kids without a whole lot of access to the superstar vert ramps. There weren't skateparks in every town--hell, there really weren't skateparks at all. So you aped Cabellero's tuck knee inverts on a basketball court. Soon enough streetplants faded into the circus realm, even though some variations were a bitch--yo yo/muscle plants and ho ho's, specifically:

Check the comments: "It's nice, but it's not really a trick." Is it skateboarding, or a gymnastics floor routine at half speed? That's why stuff like this looks so dated now.

All of this makes Woody's handplant an iconic, transitional image in freestyle, which is probably why the astute Defgrip guys made it into a shirt. On the one hand, it's a prime example of what Jon Peacy's quote in a recent issue of Dig: "I'll admit it man, BMX was fuckin' kooked out for years, and god, I was embarrassed for dudes because so much tard shit was all the rage." On the other hand, you've got to be more forgiving: it's rad. It's roots. Sure: freestyle's roots are partly in Pipeline, curb cuts, and plywood propped up on a cinder block, but they're also in moto style unis, pastel and fluorescent, and circus tricks. Sometimes it's easier to love yourself as an awkward teen instead of a squared-away adult. You didn't know where things were going at this stage of the game. Now, BMX seems fairly settled: slammed seats, no brakes, big bars, and tight jeans. In the mid to late '80s, it was all up for grabs.

The BMX handplant moved on from a purely static display of gymnastics to a legit trick, first pulled by Todd "Wildman" Lyons in the early '90s:

Reuben Alcantara tried them in the X Games during his Mongoose days. Jim Cielencki has them down, both on regular quarters and over spines. Peep his part in Kink's "Cheap Thrills":

Nowadays, there are a fair amount of guys that do some kind of handplant move on ramps or street...while moving, and usually not while wearing a pastel Hutch uniform. Check S&M flow guy Andrew "Boog Dawg" McIntosh (it's good to see the good nicknames weren't all used up by Mad Dog, Wildman, and the Master of Balance):

Andrew "Boog Dawg" McIntosh from Nathan Sykes on Vimeo.

The cake, however, has been taken and eaten by Morgan Wade, inventor of "the infamous bike flip":

Morgan basically upped the ante to un-uppable levels with the 360 backflip handplant. Which I would go ahead and embed here, but there's no code for it. I figure if I've bored you for this long, clicking a link won't kill you.

Just because handplants have moved on, doesn't mean that BMX has left the circus. Here Marcos de Jesus, owner of one of the most bitchin' names in history, does 63 Pinky squeaks in a row, all the while dressed in his finest Cirque du Soleil, "finery."

My question is, how did they let the goofy trials dude get away with street clothes? 108 front wheel hops is clearly not as intense as 63 Pinky squeaks. Once again, BMX gets screwed...and by trials? Really? (Danny MacAskill notwithstanding, of course.)

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