FREESTYLIN’ : Teen-Agers Have Wheel Fun ‘Tweaking That Undertaker’ to the Beat of the Beastie Boys
Danny DuBois of Granada Hills rides his bike up to five hours a day, perfecting his stubble duck, tail whip, infinity roll, cherry bomb, squeaker, grasshopper and fork wheelie.
Sometimes, he says, when he performs these gymnastic stunts in parking lots with friends, police tell them they’re causing trouble.
“What we’re doing is not causing trouble,” said DuBois, 16.
But one day, DuBois and a friend were given tickets by police.
Danny’s read: “Supporting himself on handlebars while spinning bike.” His friend’s offense was “Riding backwards in circles.”
In freestyle lingo, DuBois had been doing a boomerang. His friend’s stunt was an infinity roll. And with the help of a videotape from a freestyle competition, they fought the tickets in court and won.
Freestyling is a pastime in which mostly teen-age boys perform creatively named stunts on specially equipped bicycles to the beat of the Beastie Boys, Bauhaus and The Dead Kennedys. Anyone sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the name Haro or Awesome is probably a freestyler, as is, most probably, anyone who speaks in the peculiar jargon of the sport.
“He tweaked that undertaker” translates “He did that trick well.” “My brakes are dialed in” means “My brakes are working well.”
Freestyling was invented in San Diego in 1974 by then 16-year-old Bob Haro. The bicycle motocross (BMX) racer experimented with stunts usually performed on skateboards. He later worked out routines, including steering a bike up a ramp and flying off (called “getting air”), with R. L. Osborn, the son of the publisher of Torrance-based BMX Action magazine.
After Bob Osborn featured the two teen-agers in his magazine and as a between-races act at a BMX show, the sport took off. Today, it would be hard to find a suburban adolescent who hasn’t attempted some level of freestyling on a patch of neighborhood pavement.
‘This Isn’t Stamp Collecting’
“When freestyling was first coming in, I was a little scared it was on the fad side,” said Steve Giberson, editorial director of the Canoga Park-based magazines called Freestyle, and Super BMX and Freestyle. “My crystal ball is kind of fuzzy as to its future, but as more people become aware of it, I don’t see it slowing down.”
Freestylers are different from skaters and skateboarders, Giberson said. A popular skateboarder slogan is “Skate or die,” while a freestyler saying is “Ride, don’t pose.”
Still, he said, “this definitely isn’t stamp collecting, that’s for sure. They’re into heavy music, wild styles, and are definitely very outgoing.”
With a circulation of 45,000, Super BMX and Freestyle is in its 14th year (the “Freestyle” part was a later addition). Freestyle, circulation 42,000, started as a single issue in 1984, went quarterly in ’86 and went bimonthly in May.
Mike Carruth, a 20-year-old Sherman Oaks freestyler who is advertising director of Mission Hills-based American Freestyler, said the year-old magazine’s circulation is 60,000. BMX Plus magazine, which also contains freestyling features and is published by the same company, has a circulation of 102,000. The median age of their readers is 13.
The magazine business isn’t the only one capitalizing on these young bike riders.
“Since the advent of the sport, bicycle manufacturers adapted their products with foot pegs off front and rear axles for footholds during tricks, and redesigned brake cables,” explained Larry Manayan, 18, a Mission Hills freestyler so good he has a sponsor--SE Racing, a bicycle manufacturer.
Bob Morales, president of the American Freestyling Assn., said freestyle bike sales have outpaced BMX sales.
Skip Hess, president of BMX Products Co. in Camarillo, said sales of freestyle bikes have been increasing steadily. “We haven’t been able to keep up with the demand because the market is better than we forecasted” he said.
According to market research, Hess said, the freestyle bike is most popular style among 20-inch bikes. The usual price of a BMX bike is from $135 to $250. A freestyle model ranges from $200 to $375.
The sponsorship of big business is crucial to the sport. Bike and clothing makers sponsor freestyling exhibits and competitions.
The Huntington Beach-based American Freestyling Assn., which has about 2,000 members, gives awards of up to $400 for competition winners. But top competitors depend on sponsors for new equipment, clothing and expenses for nationwide tours.
The 1987 Socko Freestyle Championships, the first major freestyling event in the San Fernando Valley, drew an enthusiastic group of competitors; among them, Danny DuBois and Fred (Captain) Blood of North Hollywood.
Blood, 24, said he was a champion roller skater and car racer before he took up freestyle biking. Now he is a salaried pro who rides for General Bicycles, based in East Rutherford, N.J.
“I still do some roller skating at shows, but no longer just for fun. I can’t afford to get hurt,” he said.
Blood said will ride two more years, then “I’d like to get involved in corporate takeovers and that kind of stuff. Aggressive business.”
Larry Manayan said he rides freestyle “for the fame right now, not the money.”
“It’s practically my life, except for school and girls, I guess.”
Manayan rides two to four hours a day, but said he gets frustrated with the new tricks coming out. “There’s a lot of hot up-and-comers.I tell myself it takes time, but I’d sure like to hit No. 1.”
Most Are Young and Restless
While most freestylers are between 13 and 18 years of age, those who compete seriously are usually between 15 and 21. However, one champion freestyler is 8, and a 30-year-old still wins contests.
At the Socko event, Nancy Moore, 43, of Hacienda Heights, was the only female competitor and at a recent contest in Dominguez Hills she was one of two females among the 165 competitors.
“Except for a few girls around the age of 15 who are into gymnastics, there are no women in it,” said G.G. Gregory, a 27-year-old tour coordinator for General Bicycles who is engaged to Captain Blood.
Freestyle magazine’s Giberson says the percentage of freestylers--men or women--who compete will always be very small.
“They can do it on the driveway, in front of the house, at the corner gas station, and ramps in the backyard. That’s what neat about freestyle. It can happen anywhere.”