Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bash Brothers

Time to re-visit the Subrosa Bash bike. I wanted to get into more detail today, only Sher never wrote me back. Ron Bonner did—to say that Sher had gotten my e-mail and to never hesitate to e-mail either of them with questions—but that's it. At least Subrosa ran a better photo of the bike (and some of the thoughts behind it) on their site. I'll post another update if/when I hear back from Ryan. I'm curious to know some things that aren't revealed on the site—like the price, availability and any sort of specs.

But for now, let's get into a little history, shall we?

Like I mentioned before, the Subrosa's bashguard is just a scaled-down version of the old Bully design, as seen below:


So let's talk about Bully. It's kind of an odd frame—and an odd company—to pay homage to. R.L. Osborn, who started Bully, was one of the most well-known freestylers in the '80s, thanks to his dad—BMX media mogul Bob Osborn, the founder of BMX Action and the owner of Wizard Publications (later responsible for Freestylin' and Go). R.L. was not only a member of the BMX Action Trick Team, he also got quite a few covers over the years. It's possible that his last name may have had something to do with this. Later on he entered contests, but it was obvious the future belonged to up-and-comers like Rick Moliterno, Kevin Jones and Dennis McCoy.

Then in the late '80s, everything changed. Street riding happened. All of a sudden uniforms weren't cool, contest runs were secondary to the riding that went on outside the venues, and meticulously color-matched neon bikes were out. Born showmen like Martin Aparijo and Woody Itson went the way of the bolt-on standing platform. Others survived: Pete Augustin, once a flatlander for CW and Schwinn, was reborn as "The Disgustman," a ripped, tattooed, neighborhood-terrorizing skinhead. Dave Voelker showed he could shred just as hard on the streets as he could on a halfpipe. A crew of grimy San Diego misfits started calling themselves the Dirt Brothers. And then there was R.L.

R.L. was one of those guys on the fast road to irrelevancy. He'd spent his career wearing uniforms and riding in demos and contests. Not very street. Also, he was already over 25—ancient for a freestyler in the '80s. Only he was making piles of money and, oh yeah, his dad ran the BMX media. So he had no problem staying in the magazines. R.L. went from clean-cut Cali boy to slightly more "street" to patently ridiculous in no time flat. (Admittedly, he made fun of himself in a Hammer ad.) He was 26 when he added the ridiculous fake dreads (think Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places), and was allegedly pulling down $350,000 a year. So with his first company, the aforementioned Hammer Bodywear, doing well, and no main bike sponsor, he decided to start a bike company, too. That was Bully.

Osborn used his considerable influence (and even considerabler bankroll) to put together a killer team. There was vert vet Mike Dominguez (below), who—if you believe the stories—only rode in contests, never took his bike out of the box otherwise, and rode with everything hand-tight, yet still killed it. There was British skatepark rider Craig Campbell, who'd moved to the States and become a miniramp and street destroyer. There was Indiana flatlander Perry Mervar, famous for "Perry's Doom," a rolling leap of faith from the rear pegs straight to the grips. And later there were Cali street riders Vic Murphy and Mike Krnaich, who enjoyed mismatched wheels and must have broken a frame a week. Others who eventually rode for Bully included Jon Byers, who went on to start Eastern, and some crazy Canadian kid named Jay Miron.

The bikes? Well. The first Bullys were sewer-pipe disasterpieces with sloppy welds and absurdly relaxed angles. Best thing about them were the Marc McKee designed graphics and the two-tone paint. They looked street enough, but I knew flatlanders who broke them.

Funny thing is, Bully later went on to produce a frame with no bashguard (from an allegedly higher grade of chromoly) that was ridden by Mervar as well as Murphy, who ran a Sprocket Pocket for his sprocket-protection needs. I'm convinced Dominguez only rode a bashguard bike because he didn't care what he rode—he could have done 540s six feet out on a beach cruiser. And R.L. himself, who was about as street as Richard Marx, rode a bashguard bike because he was in the business of selling bashguard bikes. In the most self-serving (and embarassing) bike check in BMX history, R.L. ran down the parts on his personal ride—a box-stock Bully, of course—for the February 1990 issue of Go. (Sample text: "WHEELS: 'Aluminum wheels, rubber tires, ahhh...'") This from a guy whose impressively anal bike checks in BMX Action used to feature blow-by-blow descriptions of how he modified his rear coaster hub. I'm not saying that people can't change, but R.L. was a real street rider like Milli Vanilli were real singers. And everyone knew it.

Anyway, bashguard bikes lasted for less than a decade before being killed off by solidly built, bare-bones frames from companies like S&M and Hoffman. It was a lot like the early mammals peacing out the last of the dinosaurs, just without the asteroid impacts. (There's a pretty good history of bashguard frames here, if you're interested in the rise and fall.) Bashguard bikes were good for the big companies, because they were able to a) sell new frames to kids who already had perfectly good bikes, and b) promote street riding in their ads despite explicitly prohibiting it in their "lifetime" warranties. According to the fine print, those bikes just weren't built for that sort of thing. And it was hard to claim "just riding along" when your frame was dented to hell, or your tissue-paper dropouts were destroyed. It wasn't planned obsolescence as much as it was mutually assured destruction. Fine if you were a factory rider, not so much if you were buying your own bikes.

Which at long last brings us to the Subrosa bike:


It's more or less a Bully minus the standing platform, but with modern upgrades like an integrated headset, small dropouts and gyro tabs. Not only did they knock off Bully's bashguard design (which admittedly was the best of a bad bunch back in the day, and looks much better when designed around a smaller sprocket), they paid homage to McKee with the skeleton and rose graphics. (McKee's ad for Bully was even awesomer.) The original Bullys came with a cooler parts package, though. Four-piece bars should have been a must, fellas.


I don't see a bashguard resurgence ever happening. And I don't think Subrosa expects there to be one—if they make more than 100 of these things, I'll be surprised. They should be able to sell that many to nostalgia-crazed 30-somethings and curious 20-somethings. Your average weight-weenie teenager wouldn't touch this thing with a an uncut Macneil 330.

What's weird to me is that Sher states that the Bash bike "embodies a time that was about progression and change in control of the riders," when to me it embodies the exact opposite. The companies that pushed bashguard bikes the hardest were the big corporations—GT/Dyno, Haro and Mongoose. S&M was making frames before the bashguard era, but they never made a bashguard bike. Neither did Hoffman. Wilkerson Airlines did, but Ron always was a little different from the rest of us.

Progression? The bashguard didn't represent progression. It was a mere mutation in the gene pool, like standing platforms or Z-Rims. A BMX appendix. Bashguard bikes were heavy and unwieldly, yet they were still weak enough that your average 13-year-old could destroy one in a summer. When they passed on in the mid-'90s, I don't recall a single rider shedding a tear. Around 1993 I replaced my broken 1991 GT Aggressor with a 1985 Haro Sport and considered it an upgrade.

If anything, bashguard bikes represented the Hot Topicification of BMX—big companies finding a way to profit from a legitimate movement. Only riders were slowly waking to the fact that they didn't NEED these companies to tell them what was cool. The time period that followed has been dubbed the "dark days" of BMX, as bike sales dropped precipitously, pro riders were forced to get real jobs, and magazines went out of business. But BMX never died, it just re-focused. Those may have been dark days financially, yes, but they also birthed rider-owned companies like S&M, Hoffman and Standard, not to mention Ride magazine and Props. Dark days? No way. That was the period of enlightenment, as riders realized how much power they really had. What followed was the Renaissance. Bashguard bikes were an end, not a beginning.

Then again, if Mötley Crüe can still sell out gigs, and people are willing to pay $400 for grips that sucked in the '80s, and Knight can produce stuff like this, well, maybe it's fine.

After all, if I've learned anything over the years, it's that there's no accounting for taste.


•••••••••••••••••


I'm sorry, but YouTube embedding being disabled is just plain stupid. That said, I was gonna post this video today no matter what.

But just to have something embedded...


41 comments:

brien said...

where's the integrated quick release?

Clive N said...

Pete Augustin rode for General? I don't remember that... pics? I rembember him on a CW and a Schwinn, but General?

I had a Bully II, mostly used for flatland and light street. Broke the brakebridge doing abubacas on a ledge... Still a cool bike tho.

Russ said...

Great, now I'm wondering whether I temporarily confused Pete Augustin with Pete Kearney.

Off to the archives.

Russ said...

Indeed, I confused my Petes. The cover I was thinking of had Kearney on the cover with Gary Pollak, not Augustin. My fault.

Gonna fix that.

Russ said...

This is the cover I was thinking of.

Anonymous said...

I guess we know what topic to raise to get Russ's blood pressure up.

That's an interesting point that bashguard bikes were just the big companies effort to be street and adapt to what was coming. Still, I wanted a bashguard Haro so bad, even though I had a perfectly good Haro RS2 to ride.

Does Ruben still have that kooky skidplate thing on his bike?

- BUB

Stephen said...

Probably one of my favorite blog entries to date.

Nice work Russ.

Darren H said...

Great entry, Russ.

Reading this made me realize that bashguard bikes weren't the first of a new generation of freestyle bikes, but the last of the old ones. Bashguards were one of the last of the "lets see if this works" things that came out in the 80's.... like framestands, spring loaded flip up forkstands, seats with holes and spring loaded extensions in them, and handlebars and stems with standing platforms built in. What a freestyle bike was wasn't really established yet, and it took probably 15 years to figure out what worked and what was needed to progress (deep socket pegs, gyros) and what didn't (fork pegs 3/4 of the way up the fok legs, Skyway Spinmasters, a handle welded to the seatpost).

I've said it before, but I cracked my own Bully II 3 times before I finally trashed it. I wish I had kept it though, if for no other reason than kitsch value....

dayday said...

A little harsh on RL, no? Yes, the publisher and photographer all shared the same last name, but the guy did have style, he was no slouch. As for his street riding cred, he was on point for every trick during the first MTS in Santee. His wall rides were a bit higher and smoother than everybody elses, he didnt call, abubacas, fakie wall rides, wallrides to table...wasnt too shabby. Also, he did cut his hair and become more "presentable" to sell gigs for the bmxa trick team, before that he was a long hair hippy. As for the extensions, i dont think anybody wants to talk about that.

Anonymous said...

I think of the first Bully as the last '80s freestyle bike, too. But Wilkerson Airlines and Bully did seem, at the time, to restart the rider-owned thing, cheesy images and not-quite-awesome products aside.

Except for the serious racers who had ELFs and Titans and Free Agents (they were good then), everyone was on a Mongoose/GT/Diamondback/Redline/Haro. Haro had been one of us, but didn't seem like it anymore; that was just the name of some huge company. SE got bought and faded. Etc.

Bully and WA felt like something new (and old). And they seemed, at the time, to have inspired Hoffman (and others) to go back to what worked in the pre-boom business: guys making bikes they could use, for other guys like them.

Maybe not. It may have just happened at about the same time, and Bully's ads and designs were the most memorable, so some of us think of them as something like the World Industries of BMX. The Subrosa guys apparently do.

And their frame looks good. I'd buy one if they were sold separately. I haven't had my bike fly out from under me on a sprocket stall in almost twenty years. Good times.

But completes are furniture. WTF guys?

todd from albe's said...

top notch post today.

Duncan said...

Yeah, Russ, I found the analysis spot on, but at the same time, perhaps a bit too vitriolic. I was 7 years old in 1978 when I got my first real BMX--a Mongoose Motomag frame w/Arayas. The simple fact of that time was kids who rode idolized RL and Mike Buff. Buff faded out with brake guards and endo variations, but RL stayed relevant with rolling variations (did he intent the backwards infinity roll/scuffing thing?) and bar rides. Bar rides might look like a circus trick these days, but they were a the cutting edge in the late 80's...and led to insanity like Perry's Doom. Also, try doing a backwards grip ride...that's still no joke.


Was there nepotism in RL's coverage and image variations? Sure. Of course. Yet, at the same time, in the early days of freestyle, he was one of the few guys innovating stuff...front wheel 540s, that cover with him and Buff doing the pedal picker thing with direct drive hubs--that seems to foreshadow modern flat moves somewhat. Was there a kid in Minnesota or Nebraska who got no coverage and was as good as the BMXA trick team? Probably. Them's the breaks, but it's not all bad...there were kids from places like Oklahoma and Kansas City who rose to the top on sheer talent and will.


And in terms of "rider owned," Bully was rider owned, and sponsored some amazing guys when BMX was dying. You can hate on it by thinking RL's money was tainted somehow--he did get out of the sport whereas Moeller and Moliterno stayed--but he put his money where his mouth was, at least for a time. You've also got to remember that the original jumbo companies were all grassroots BMX lovers at a certain point--Haro was a rider, Gary Turner and Skip Hess of GT and Mongoose, respectively, were drag race dudes who pushed BMX technology immeasurably from the Sting Ray days, and they both got into it at a time when there wasn't buckets of cash to be had--it started with love and ended up making money. I don't know if either was still involved when bash bikes came out, but the way I remember that time was those companies weren't immediately suspect like they are today.


In terms of rider owned, though, Bully really seemed to be something original. The McKee graphics were a huge step in pushing away from that moto image to something more raw. Maybe they put the image before quality control, and that's perhaps why they didn't last, but at the time it seemed to be something new. Hindsight is 20/20, and your vitriol against RL and Bully seems to be based on too much on a knowledge of BMX history, without remembering how it felt at the time. Sure, RL was involved in some dorky stuff--leathers, goggles, hopping tricks, "showmanship"--but BMX went through some growing pains and, looking back, they weren't so pretty.


I've got to say though, it seemed like a more honest--and exciting time in the scene. The candy ass, self-censored, helmets all the time, no mention of drinking, drugs, or sex, smiling image of the early mags has its drawbacks, but is better than a million shit-talking anonymous Come Up kids shooting everything down 5 seconds after it appears. I'm probably saying this because I'm in my late 30s and a nostalgia hound somewhat, though I still ride, and ride a modern set-up. The Subrosa is limited, retro, and mostly for old guys. That's not so bad...look at all the retro skate decks out. Remembering our roots at this juncture can't hurt...especially when Ride does little or nothing to teach kids where this shit came from--they think BMX fell out of Mike Aitken's ass fully formed in girl pants with huge bars, a 4 pound frame, and no brakes. Bash bikes were fun to grind on, though perhaps not so durable. But this is also when sprockets were dinner plates, and paper thin, and folded all the time. You could replace your sprocket every week, or your frame every summer...


Sorry for blabbing so long...

todd from albe's said...

Duncan, top notch comment today.

hitmanbikes.com said...

"THIS IS THE COVER I WAS THINKING OF" HITMANBIKES.COM owner comment: Hey i'm in that issue! ORE contest backwards bar ride. also bash guards were rider invented as we had gotten sick of replacing paper thin 44t sprockets and chains every weekend. Street was new, bash guards were trails used already by GT. Riders told comapanys and companies responded. This was the beginnig of legitimate street and the cool thing was to be first to new inventions like bash guards, 990 brakes, and 1 1/8th headsets some good & some bad ideas. Hitmanbikes riding since 1976and still going.dont worrie no bash guards planned here, but mabey twin top tubes...

Anonymous said...

sounds like duncan needs a blog of his own.

rully said...

oh God please...

MR. BMX said...

very enjoyable read today, russ.

12/10

CHROME_RIMS_YO said...

i miss my hammer big macs shinguards.

Clive N said...

Quote from Lorenzo on Vintagebmx.com:

"Back in the early nineties I rode a few times with Ruben Alcantara in Malaga (Spain), where we grew up. That was before he had entered any sort of competition or becoming a pro. The last time I ever saw him he was riding a Bully Bashguard bike... which I was amazed with.

I thought it was funny to see that he was prototyping a bashguard all those years later..."

noel said...

Good work, Russ. Duncan: well put when you stated that Bully and others focused more on image than QC. They meant well but left out the important part. I remember that McKee-drawn Bully ad and thinking it represented something soooo cool. Granted, I was 13 years old, but the changing of the guard was about to happen and it was an exciting time. I really DID think of bashguards as progression then. Admittedly, though, I confess that I also wanted the seat that Darren referenced. That thing was like the Leatherman tool of bike seats (who made it anyway? Schwinn?).

Tron said...

Enough RL "bashing" russ. Yeah, he did some kooky shit but who didn't in the 80's? I know that long after RL left the spotlight he still rode for himself. He had a killer spine/street ramp in his backyard during the mid 90's. He built it over top of his swimming pool (think Keith Treanor in Dirty Deeds). He could have built a flatland area or a vert ramp but he didn't. And let's not forget the famous Bully warehouse ramp. I always wanted to ride there.

rich said...

cool, time to buy some shitty dk grips and save them for 20 years!

Clive N (again) said...

"Those may have been dark days financially, yes, but they also birthed rider-owned companies like S&M, Hoffman and Standard..."

S&M was born in 87, prior to the dark days.

John Paul said...

Wow, so wrong on so many levels, and, you are indirectly saying Dave Clymer wasn't progressive during the bashguard era. That's certainly punishable by death with a Kore removable bashguard. It would be hard to calculate how many "racers" rode S&M's with Kore bashguards during that time. The disregard for RL's riding is pretty out there.

Stephen said...

Come on, John Paul...calculate it! Try! You seem to know everything else!

Stephen said...

Actually, I am sure John Paul does know everything. The cool part is that he wrote it all down and put it into a Warpig toptube. Somewhere, out there in someone's garage is the BMX knowledge of the ages.

Or maybe it is just a dirty sock.

Anonymous said...

you should be a journalist or something, that was pretty well written

g. edward jones, jr. said...

"It would be hard to calculate how many "racers" rode S&M's with Kore bashguards during that time."

Hell, I'm pretty sure Todd Lyons is still riding one now. And screaming "I told you so," at everyone at SE HQ.

Anonymous said...

http://www.23mag.com/mags/go/go9202.jpg

Anonymous said...

if you were into street riding in 89/90, bashguard bikes made sense.

AXLES, PEGS, and DROPOUTS had not evolved yet to withstand peg grinds and stalls, without having to replace axles constantly.

as for rear frame-mounted pegs, Hoffman put them on the first Condor. and peg-boss fork pegs stuck around a long time. S&M Ditchfork being primary example.

Russ said...

Just a couple of things:

1) Should have remembered R.L.'s long-hair days in the MFM beginnings. Ditto his riding in the MTS comps. Still thought he was a dork. A bit too harsh? Perhaps. Maybe I'm just still bitter about my own personal experience with Bullys.

2) Mike Buff was jumping off buildings to flat in the early '80s when no one much else was doing it. There was a great sequence of him jumping off The Bicycle Source (I think) roof on a PK Ripper with Z-Rims. He was a shell of his former self by the time he ended up on CW, but Buff was one of the first true street riders, IMO.

3) Definitely aware that S&M started in '87 and that many of their riders ran Kore guards (I've referenced the epic Clymer Go cover before). That said, seemed to me (as an East Coaster) that S&M didn't, uh, metastasize throughout the BMX body until a little bit later. Mammals and dinosaurs. Also, bolt-on guards were a whole different animal.

4) I remember hunting down Redline Flight sprockets because they were the thickest ones available and a lot more sturdy than all the flimsy "CD" sprockets. Somewhere I think I still have an entire shoebox of grind-damaged Izumi chains.

5) I believe history has shown that the Sprocket Pocket was superior in just about every way to the built-in bashguard. Lighter, cheaper, replaceable.

6) I just think the Bully was wrong in so many ways. Yes, it looked cool, from the low-slung toptube to McKee's graphics to the neon skidplate. If you were a BMX kid in '89, you wanted one. But underneath the cool exterior was a supremely shitty frame. Classic bait and switch, just all in one product.

bill said...

Unless I'm confusing facts, wasn't Bully a spin off of MCS Bicycles? I remember the Bully Piston (yeah I come from racing) being nothing more than a MCS Magnum w/ a few minor tweaks. My point is; MCS was always a stand-up company that made very good frames. It's surprising to me that Bully frames were such piles. Anyone know the affiliation?

And I never had a Titan or an Elf...But I still have my old Hawk F-20L. Talk about gimmicks... Square tubed aluminum frame. For strength! I fell for it as a 14yr old BITD. And to think I sold my 91' Holmes f&f to buy my Hawk frame. I'm going to hell.

Anonymous said...

impressive post!!!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure MCS bought Bully at some point after Bully had been around for a while. i may be wrong. and since most people may not even realize it...Bully is still in business, still owned by MCS and still making bikes. it's true.

Mr Carpet cleaner said...

Check out RL riding street in Santee. Way cooler than 25grind variations on handrail.

Mr Carpet Cleaner said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCm2Rb3fMCk

John Paul said...

"Later on he entered contests, but it was obvious the future belonged to up-and-comers like Rick Moliterno, Kevin Jones and Dennis McCoy."

Wasn't he kind of a top dude in pro flat for more than a minute, if not the dude? And it looks like he got third in "pro" at one of the first street contests, weird. I guess he was too much of a dork and dressed too foolishly to be a real street rider.

Who was the dork in the Boss racing jersey? That shit ain't street at all. There's also some kook in the background with a number plate.

Mr Carpet Cleaner said...

During the 1987 season, RL placed top three in the pro class in all six AFA events. He beat both McCoy and Moliterno in the pro class at some AFA events in 88.

Fairly obvious the dude in the Boss jersey can't ride street at all: http://www.23mag.com/gens/vada83.jpg

And that kook with the number plate is probably some local poser. Can't imagine he has accomplished much: http://www.biltwellinc.com/images/maddog.jpg

Jason said...

here's a question (trivia of sorts...)?

What was the dudes name that use to ride for bully, who did 540 footplant wallrides (fo-shizzle)... (He had a sequence in GO either doing a 540 wallride, or the footplant version of one...)

I believe his name was mike ALSO (not Kranikcicnckch)... he was also pre-mini-ramp-revolution circa 1991/2...

I remember her was on tour with Byers, Perry and I think Pete Kearney in or around 91...


Joe Rich rules.

surfer_atomico said...

Yeah,I had the removeable GT bash guard back in the day,was heavy,waist of money,didnt use it often.

Austin Williams said...

Have you lost your ever lovin mind??You and all these seat slammers should be kissing R.L. Osborns ass and thank him and his family for the sport of Free Style. bashing R.L. for his last name and saying he really wasnt that godd is a joke.Everything he touched turned to gold and was the most paid rider in the business.Sure he tried the street look and didnt do such a great job with it,but he loved the sport so much he wanted to change with it.Then you have all the cookie cutter bikes of today!I have a great idea,lets have 40 companies besides Standard Bykes all share a cookie cutter and mass produce junk!!!Lets see how many bikes R.L. rode back in the day theat people blow their savings on to own.Bashing one of the pioneers of freestyle and saying he was in the mags due to his fatheris not true .He rode the contests and won!He was paid the most for a reason.Sure Rick M and Kevin J. did harder and better tricks.Its called phasing out for the up and comers who learned the tricks R.L. ,Martin and Woody did and took it to another level.Thats what the sport is all about.Bully might not have been the strongest bike,but R.L. also had the hands on say about the General Osborn Pro,the R.L.20 and 22 ,so he was doing something right to have a say in all of that.Another thing.Mike D was the best vert rider in the world for a reason.He went higher and harder than any other rider in his time.Yet another pioneer of the sport.I think your article is a joke and you should apologize to R.L. for talking trash about him!!!tectobc and