30 years goes by fast! I thought it might be interesting to share the full text from this article titled Freestyle: How Much Radder Can it Get? – to review what the authorities of the late 80s thought the future might hold for freestyle. (Keep in mind, this was originally written for an audience of 13 year olds!) If you read this, or part 1 here, I’d really love to hear your feedback below in the comments or on our social media for this topic.
Freestyle: How Much Radder will it get?
By Mike Collins
Call this a position paper. Or an outlook. Or a bunch of people talking about things they know a lot – or little – about. We like to think of this article as a story about success. The success of freestyle. How a few burnt-out BMXers got together and made something from nothing. Today that nothing represents one of the largest segments of the bicycle industry, with kids freestyling in every city and town by the thousands.
Yet there have been the naysayers and doomsayers. “Freestyle is Dead!” They shout. They point to low turn-out at a few contests and dropping sales by a few manufacturers. The facts are quite different. Contest participants have never been higher in some areas and freestyle sales are very steady, except that a few manufacturers are losing some of their market share to the more noted companies like GT and Haro.
But there’s a big world ahead for the sport to address. Lots of kids who would like to get involved in freestyle aren’t, and we were kind of curious why not. We talked with several people who may have an opinion on what the future holds for freestyle. No one predicted demise, quite the contrary, everyone we interviewed felt freestyle would grow and expand over the next several years. Three segments of the wacky world of freestyle are represented: Bob Morales as a freestyle promoter and sanctioning body; Rich Long and Bob Haro from the industry; and Dennis McCoy and Woody Itson* as riders.
So how much radder can freestyle get? Let’s see . . .
If there’s one single area that holds the key to the future of freestyle, this is the area. Both with respect to the contests and to the way the sanctioning bodies and promoters reach their audience. Bob feels that’s what it’s going to take to “keep the whole sport going.”
One example is a local event the AFA along with McGoo at GT is promoting in Southern California. “Bob’s promoting this little thing called Stonehenge, which is like an organized jam circle. It’s just a local deal here in Huntington Beach, and we’re also recommending that to all the local AFA affiliates across the U.S.”
To be successful, such local jams have to happen everywhere, not just in Southern California. That’s where the media comes in. According to Morales, the AFA “promotes the non-freestyle people as much as we can through newspapers, radio, TV, those types of promotions.” That’s good exposure, without question, but it really hasn’t resulted in either great spectator interest at his contests, or a big influx of new riders.
Dennis McCoy, on the other hand, is approaching exposure a little differently. Together with his agent Micki Conte, Dennis is syndicating a TV show to be carried on ESPN. McCoy already feels freestyle as a sport has benefited: “TV coverage is helping out a little bit. There’s more public awareness of the sport through TV and other mediums.”
The last bone of contention in the promotion arena seems to be with the increasing number of contests. It is already apparent that freestyle is going the way of BMX: Too many “national” events that really don’t mean a whole lot. Currently there really aren’t more contests than the participants can handle, but every year more events do crop up, and we wonder when this trend will stabilize. Dennis McCoy doesn’t see the current number of events as out of control, but he is concerned about the way they are being scheduled. “I think to a certain extent there are too many just because of the way they’ve been scheduled. One the weekend right before the other. They should spread ‘em out a little better.” Nevertheless, both the AFA and ABA have to watch it when it comes to the number of contests they promote.
EVENTS AND MORE EVENTS
Freestyle takes place in a variety of ways. First there are the traditional flatland and quarterpipe events, the ABA calls Freestyle Nationals. The AFA has the Masters Series. Then there are the halfpipe contests, currently promoted by Ron Wilkerson through his 2-Hip King of Vert Events. The latest entry in the world of freestyle is the street-style event, an area where Bob Haro, for one, feels the sport may be headed: “This street-style stuff is going to be good. I think it’s getting back (to) the environment of what kids really do. ‘I really ride on the street, and I really hop off curbs and I do footplants and wall rides and all this kind of stuff.”’
The halfpipe contests are exciting, but for another reason. They really don’t feature that many participants, but from a spectator’s standpoint they are exciting. According to Bob, “ I think Ron Wilkerson has brought a kind of non-stop entertainment thing to the kids. It’s a fairly quick contest, but it’s for the most part, non-stop action. The ramp is a lot faster and more entertaining. Things are going on all the time.”
But Bob has a little concern over the traditional freestyle events, particularly the AFA’s Freestyle Masters Series events: “ I think the format has to be entertaining and maybe sometimes some of the AFA things, I think they have to be careful in their format in that they stay abreast of what the kids want.” Bob’s recipe for success for the AFA: Make the contest quicker and pack more action into each moment.
Finally, there is no question but the number of ‘stylers who enter the contests is diminishing. Is it an irreversible trend? No, but the promoters have to take some quick action to stem that tide. A quick solution: The AFA has to once again open up its big contests to entry level riders: “Taking away the novice and intermediate classes at the major comps has hurt the sport,” says Dennis McCoy, who feels that the AFA especially has kept the new riders from getting involved in freestyle: “novices and intermediates don’t have any goals to push for except for some far-off goal. Maybe in two years they’ be able to compete against Joe Gruttola, or something like that. If he had a short term goal, buying a bike and competing in the beginner’s class in six months, then they may be a little more interested.” Dennis makes a good point – – the sport has to cater to those kids that want to get into it, not keep them away by making it too hard to get started.
TOURS VS. CONTESTS
The sport of freestyle thrives around two very separate elements: Shows during the summer and contest the rest of the year. Each are similar, yet they are nothing alike. Most people are exposed to freestyle on a first-hand basis through the tours. That’s where hundreds and thousands of kids gather to watch their favorite riders entertain them. But, on the most part, the tours don’t give the kids an opportunity to participate. That’s where the comps come in, especially the locals where very new riders can participate. McCoy, for one, Feels that contest are the most valuable aspect of freestyle for those who compete. “It gives you a lot more to shoot for, like a goal to push for, to practice hard for; it forces you to learn new tricks.”
Dennis also sees the value for those who just go to the contests to watch. “Everybody’s riding at their best, everybody’s competing to beat the next guy so they’re pushing really hard.” In addition, you aren’t limited to who you see at a contest: “You see a whole variety of riders, not just one team.”
But Bob Haro sees it a little differently. “I think there’s more value personally, at shows. Because it’s (normally) free, and when we have a show we can get a couple of thousand kids to show up for a show.” Bob makes a valid point, each year tens of thousands of potential freestylers watch the tour shows. Only a fraction will go to a contest. Those that are participants unquestionable find a lot of value at the contests, but the mass exposure comes at the tour shows.
PARTICIPANT OR SPECTATOR, WHICH IS IT?
Which leads us to the question of the late ‘80s. Is freestyle a participant or spectator sport? We think it’s really a little of both. At first, freestyle had the makings of a true spectator sport. There were a few hard-core enthusiasts and a lot of people willing to pay money to watch ‘em. Lately, there are fewer spectators and more participants, but there are still not enough riders. “I think if it was truly a participant sport, I’d think we’d have more entrants,” said Bob Haro. Bob Morales is working on making it big in both areas: “ I hope it becomes both – successful in large attendance for the riders and successful in large attendances for the crowd.” But to make that a reality, the AFA and ABA have to get their promotion act together.
Participant or spectator? At this moment, we’d give it to the participant. Lately it seems that the only people to come out and watch have a specific interest (friend or relative) of someone who’s entered the contest.
In freestyle, the bike has always played a very important role. It didn’t take long for the bicycle manufacturers to start redesigning their 20-inch bikes to adapt them better to freestyle. Although freestyle began on regular BMX models, the manufacturers made a few slight adjustments, slapped the label “freestyle” on their bikes and created a new market. Today that market is beginning to stabilize and the challenge for the manufacturers is to design a bike that continues to be appealing.
GT’s Rich Long fully understands the role of the bicycle manufacturer in the freestyle equation: “I think part of the burden is on the manufacturers and designers to create new and interesting products.” What Rich alludes to is the fact that there aren’t very many more components specifically for freestyle left to invent, so they need to find a way to continue to market their “freestyle” bikes.
Rich’s outlook for the future is straightforward: “My feeling about freestyle bikes is that they’re going to get simpler, not more complex. In terms of the complexity of the components, I think it’s gone a bit overboard. I think it has deterred individuals from buying freestyle bikes. I don’t know what that means for Gyros and U-brakes, but I think as we’re seeing in colors and other things – it’s back to basics. If Rotors and Gyros are important, then they need to be designed so they function properly, the cables don’t break, and there are no headaches in brake adjustment. And that goes for other components as well.
Point well taken. Besides driving the price of the bikes up, all of these special components seem to be getting in the way. They may be perfect for hard-core riders, but for the average ‘styler they are seeming to become a nuisance. Rich’s answer: “The components that we’re trying to design are based on function and not gimmicks. Less gimmicks, that’s what I see, and that’s what I think we need.”
TRICKS AND NEW TRICKS
Freestyle has always been based around tricks. No matter how many tricks have been invented, there will always be room for one more. There’s no need to worry about a lack of new and exciting tricks – there’ll be a new one every day. Just like five years ago when most ramp riders where barely reaching three feet of air and most ramps were way under vert. Today, ten feet out is almost commonplace and ramps are being built over eight feet tall with three and four inches of vert. That’s really what’s so exciting about freestyle. There will always be somebody wanting to show off his or her latest creation. That’s why there will always be another contest, a new member of a factory freestyle team and another tour show.
That’s the future in Bob Haro’s eyes; the eye’s of the father (at 30) of the sport. The new riders have had the chance to see what tricks have come before and get even radder. “I think today the kids have a better advantage. They’ve had the opportunity to see other riders and how they do it.” From a trick standpoint, he says, freestyle has come a long way. “There’re so many more variations and combination tricks and stuff like that, it’s just a lot more advanced.”
There May be no limit to how high a rider can go above a ramp –that is, no limit beyond those set by a rider’s own sense of self-preservation. In most cases (but not all) a rider can do a five or six foot air and crash without serious injury. However, once a rider starts going more than ten feet above the top of a ramp serious injury becomes almost a certainty. Matt Hoffman has reportedly gone over 13 feet out of a ramp. If he’d crash from that height we’re not sure if he’d ever ride again. Fear and good sense are definite limiting factors; only riders who absolutely know they are capable of successfully pulling off such stunts will even attempt airs into the 12 to 14 foot range. It’s possible, but like climbing Mt. Everest very few people attempt it.
Nevertheless, freestyle is getting radder. The promoters know what they have to do to spark more participation. The manufacturers are ready to build bikes that you’re going to want to buy and there will always be another trick, one more insane than the one before.
We’re ready for the future. Ready for the 90s – the decade of freestyle!
*Although the intro lists Woody Itson as a contributor to the article, there don’t appear to be any quotes from him in it. Perhaps they got left out, or maybe quotes from Woody got attributed to McCoy?? -Paul