Old enough to remember the first bike I ever lusted for was made by a company called DG. Old enough to remember my trips to the drugstore the first week of every month to see the latest issue of Bicycle Motocross Action. Old enough to remember my first bicycle hero was a guy named Scott Clark.
For about 90 minutes this evening, I was young again – thanks to a movie called “Joe Kid on a Stingray”. A film by “Plywood Hood” Mark Eaton, it explores the chronology of BMX. From its Schwinn Stingray roots, through the Miami Vice colored 80’s Freestyle scene, all the way to present day break-your-neck gladiator gala of the X Games.
The film was projected from the DVD to a large screen here in Durango, at the Abbey Theater. Proceeds from the showing benefit a local riding association known as DEVO, A community based junior program to develop high school age (14-18) kids in the mountain bike race arena to promote skills, experience and competition.
Narrated by Jesse James, the film opens with a brief overview of bmx, it’s influences, and notable names of the first movers and shakers. Mix in a some nostalgic photos and 8mm home movie clips, and the movie starts to dig in.
The first half hour is spent revisiting the 70’s, and much of the charm may be lost on younger/contemporary viewers. Interviews with people like Scott Briethaupt, Stu Thompson, Jim Pratt, and others shed some light in to the real attitude of the day. For old timers like me, or true enthusiasts, these snippets are a treat, they put faces to names we never saw, and voices to faces we never heard. And it’s also an eye opener – as some of the footage is brutal – mostly the crashes, but also seeing what these kids rode, out of necessity. You couldn’t run down to the bike shop back then and get a new set of 3 piece cranks, some beefy jumping forks, or other modern conveniences. Back then it was all built in shop class, or maybe you had a parent that happened to be a fabricator.
The other striking thing about the older footage is seeing the race tracks, especially those that were of the downhill variety. These days, mountaincross is like all the racing rage – and you might be surprised to see how much this resembles the racing that took place 30 years ago, on 20 inch bikes with no suspension. Even the speeds are similar.
I might as well get this out of the way… The set up/style of the film is, by it’s nature very similar to the Dog Town Z Boys flick. Well, it’s a documentary – so naturally it will seem similar. But by no means is a copy of, or was it necessarily inspired by that movie (although I admit that while watching the Dog Town movie, I secretly wished for a “bike version” to come out). But it seems in the past decade, these sort of documentary revival flicks are popping for about every subculture. The first I ever remember seeing was (as mentioned in Joe Kid Stingray – “On Any Sunday” – look it up). Still, you have now this, the Dog Town flick, The Freshest Kids (breakdancing), and my personal favorite – Style Wars (graffiti). That all said, I will also admit that this flick never really hits the same apex that the Dogtown movie did. I’m not sure if it was the soundtrack, the overall pace of the movie… it’s certainly not the lack of character, as there’s plenty of that. But there’s a certain feeling one gets at the conclusion of Dogtown that Joe Kid never really reaches.
The film then fades from the 70’s BMX scene in to the evolution of trick riding and freestyle. You get to see Bob Haro interviewed, Eddie Fiola, and even see footage of one Hugo Gonzales launching from a skate park bowl to fence ride, and back in to the bowl again – years before “street riding” became a separate discipline of riding. We’re also introduced to one Bob Osborn, creator of Wizard Publications and subsequently BMX Action Magazine, and later on, Freetylin’ Magazine. And if you’re really old school and down, you’ll be pleased to know that there is an appearance by Wendy Osborn, as well as Andy Jenkins. Perhaps the neatest thing about watching this movie with a ton of strangers – mostly all riders though – was when they interviewed Spike Jones. There was an audible gasp when he appeared on the screen. Actually, the gasp didn’t come until they showed his name because most didn’t recognize him.
After they finish reminiscing about the new wave 80’s, they move along to the evolution of street riding, rider owned companies (and the subsequent end of riders donning silky knickers to ride in) and rider controlled contests. Here we are introduced to Matt Hoffman, Dennis McCoy, Ron Wilkerson, and others (have to leave a few surprises…). They go over the 2 Hip contests, the Bicycle Stunt series contests, and all of this eventually leads into the present day X Games, and we talk with modern day gladiator Dave Mirra.
If you started riding after the year 2000, and have not delved much into the history of the sport, you might not appreciate a lot Joe Kid’s content. But if you’ve been around a while, and names like Greg Hill, Ceppie Mays, or PK Ripper mean anything to you – this movie is a must see. As I mentioned, overall it doesn’t have that killer feel one gets from the Dog Town experience, but again, it’s a whole ‘nother thing here. If you were a part or player in the bmx freestyle world at any point in the last 20 years, you will definitely walk of the movie with “I just saw Rocky” kind of adrenaline pumping, and you’ll be guaranteed to do wheelies all the way home.
Even so, when I left the movie, I had sort of disappointed feeling – maybe because I couldn’t share my excitement with the friends that I lived through all this with… I dunno. But as I exited the theater, this feeling was alleviated by seeing how everybody locked up their bikes: one giant pile of frames, forks, wheels, handlebars – seriously about 7 feet tall. A good old fashioned bike pile. Very nice.
Joe Kid on a Stingray is available on DVD now, and the website can be found here: