Saturday, March 18, 2017

People who changed BMX that you forgot about: Rich Bartlett

Here's Rich Bartlett in 2015 on a mountain bike.  He's still riding trails.

In the summer of 1987, I got a call from Dave Alvarez, the genius video editor at Unreel Productions.  He's the guy who actually edited the six American Freestyle Association videos I produced in 1987, so that's how I knew him.  He told me he was being sent to shoot video in Lancaster that weekend at Rich Bartlett's house, and since it was a BMX thing, he said he'd give me a ride.  We rode up in the Unreel Toyota van, north of L.A., to an event that changed the course of BMX jumping forever.

BMX Action editor Craig Gork Barrette and pro racer/jumper/vert rider Rich Bartlett had this idea to throw a BMX dirt jumping jam.  It was the first King of Dirt jam, held at Rich's trails built at his dad's house.  Everyone who rode a BMX bike back then jumped on dirt.  But there were no jumping contests and there were two schools of jumping then.  The traditional BMX racer school of jumping focused on jumping at speed, smoothly, over big sets of doubles.  Their tricks were mostly the classics: tabletops, the Leary (lookback), X-ups, and maybe a one hand one footer.  The other school of jumping then was the freestyle jumpers.  Freestylers couldn't pedal worth a damn, and mostly loved flyout jumps with no gap to clear.  Freestylers did 360's, Leary's, and more technical variations with much smaller air usually.  Both groups didn't think much of the others.

That first King of Dirt brought riders from both schools of jumping, and from all over the U.S. (and even the U.K.) together for the first time in a big way.  There was a smaller track near the house which both groups liked.  Then there were the bigger jumps spread over the huge lot.  Rich had built those jumps in a way none of us had seen before.  It started by pedaling fast to a big tabletop jump.  All day long he kept telling us all, "If you clear the tabletop, you don't have to pedal through the rest of the jumps."  That was totally new then.  To the best of my knowledge, Rich Bartlett built the first rhythm section in BMX.  The racers got the rhythm idea down first, although most still wanted to pedal between jumps.  Us freestylers, who rarely jumped that far, had trouble.  But most of us were coasting through some of the jumps by the end of the day, even if we couldn't clear that first table top.

To put that 1987 day in perspective, when we went to the local McDonald's for breakfast that morning (about eight of us crashed on Rich's floor the night before), jumping phenom Chris Moeller was panhandling money for breakfast.  He and friend Greg Scott had just started making "Mad Dog" frames under the name S&M Bicycles, which stood for "Scott" and Moeller."  About a year later, Chris bought out Greg and went to town with the little company.

There were a handful of guys from England there, and that was the first time I met Will Smyth, who went on to publish DIG BMX magazine (and now an awesome website) a few years later.  Another kid made his debut that day, a kid from Utah named Tim "Fuzzy" Hall.  There were probably 40 or 50 riders there, maybe more.  It wasn't a contest, and the main sponsor was the local Domino's Pizza place, which gave Gork and Rich a discount on pizzas for us all.

It was an epic day in BMX, and everyone there rode, and Dave was about the only guy shooting video because Vision Street Wear was a co-sponsor.  Most of the craziest jumps went to the young S&M team with Moeller, Dave Clymer, John Paul Rogers, and a couple others flowing 360's and stretching Nac-nacs.  Freestylers tried to pedal with more speed and die hard racer/jumpers tried 360's, which dinged a few rims as I remember.  Everyone had a great time.  One goofy kid who couldn't jump very well started trying tailwhip jumps, a brand new idea at the time.  I remember that part, because I was that goofy kid.  All kinds of riders tried new variations, and went home with serious stoke on dirt jumping and what was possible.

The day ended with Fuzzy Hall trying this ridiculous canyon gap of about 35 feet or so.   He made it a couple of times, as I remember.  Everyone thought Chris Moeller would be the guy to do it first, but he'd just had his bike stolen, and didn't attempt it on a borrowed bike.

But the big takeaway that day was Rich Bartlett's idea of rhythm sections.  That became the standard way to build jumps over the next couple of years, and the trails have only gotten bigger since.  Here's a few of the epic rhythm sections inspired by Rich's idea:

Posh Trails- 2015 Halloween Jam
Sheep Hills- Boozer Jam 201?- Costa Mesa, CA
Ninth Street Trails, Halloween Jam- Austin, Texas
Brian Foster and Justin Inman
Red Bull Joyride 2014- Whister, BC, Canada

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