Sunday, November 13, 2016

BMX - OLD SCHOOL vs. NEW SCHOOL – The Undeniable Difference


I started out on a Mongoose Californian that had been converted into a freestyle bike. Back in the day, that meant pegs, an ACS rotor, a Potts Mod, a laid back seat post, freestyle friendly tires and ditching the BMX pad set. I rode flatland on my bike like that for 1.5 years. In 1986, I got my first freestyle specific bike – an SE Trickmaster. The SE didn't stay in my life very long. In 87, I got a Haro Master and fell in love with Haros. I rode the 87 Master up until they released the 1989 Haro “Bashguard” Team Master. I ordered one from Trend Bike Source as soon as I could and still own the bike to this day. I rode the 89 Master up until I fell out of riding. And during my brief stints back into BMX during the 90's and early 2000's, I stayed with the Master.

It wasn't until I started riding again in 2013 that I decided I wanted a bike without a bashguard for flatland and general riding. I wanted it old or mid school at the time so I picked up a 1999 Haro Zippo from a guy on Craigslist. I drove a couple hours to get it because of the condition and the price. I scored a $50 Revo from another guy while I was there that was in immaculate shape as well. I ended up selling the Revo and making all my money back. I changed a lot of parts on the Zippo and set up a pretty fun bike. But there were issues. Not only with the Zippo...but with old / mid school bikes in general.

Back in the day, I never understood why freestyle bikes kept such long rear ends. The frames weren't much shorter than racing frames..if at all. 15 and 16 inch chainstays ensured that the bike wanted to stay with its wheels on the ground. It was a lot of work back in the day to yank those 30+ pound bikes around. And with the geometry as it was, it was like adding another 10 virtual pounds to the bike. The 99 Zippo, even lightened up, was around 30 pounds..as was the 89 Master. The Zippo wanted it's front end on the ground even more than the Master and it was really frustrating to me that the industry hadn't figured out that chainstays needed to be shortened...even in 1999 when BMX was exploding. How could they overlook this? The vision I had in my head for freestyle bikes in the late 80's and right up until someone actually started producing them was almost identical to the St. Martin “Ten” and St. Martin “Diamond” frames. Very low top tubes that flow right into the seat stays, very short rear ends and short top tubes. The St. Martin “Ten” frame was so close to the designs I've had in my head since the 80's, it was almost freaky.

I wanted to ride a new school bike so bad but I couldn't afford it. It just wasn't in the cards. My old friend John had moved to San Diego and was riding new school bikes and progressing. He still is. I think it's awesome that people are riding and moving forward rather than just collecting old shit. We talked a lot via text and in October of 2016, he changed my world by sending me an Odyssey zero offset Flatware fork, a St. Martin X26 stem and arranging for me to pick up a 2011 Hoffman Strowler frame that he had scored cheap from a friend / local rider here in Detroit. Within a week, I was building a bike that actually had the geometry I had always thought about. After sourcing all the small parts I needed and spending almost a week building and dialing the bike in, I finally got to ride a bike that should have existed in 1989 or 1990. Not only was the bike 8 or more pounds lighter than my previous bikes, the real difference is that you are actually in control of a new school flatland bike. The feel, the snap, the ability to pull the front end straight up with little effort is exactly like I envisioned it. Even if these new bikes were 30 pounds, they would feel much lighter due to the geometry. It took until October of 2016 for me to be riding a bike from the 21st Century and I won't go back. I still love working on and cruising on my old Haros..but trying to progress, especially in flatland, is strictly ghetto on an old / mid school bike.

Geometry aside, integrated headsets are extremely smooth. Having sealed bearings everywhere is unreal. Hell, I even have sealed bearings in my Demolition brakes. Gearing is better and can actually be customized instead of every single company making a 43 or 44 tooth chainring. This is a great time for someone who likes to try different shit. I'm running a 33 tooth chainring on a typical freewheel and it's fun as hell for flatland. I'm sure I'll go to full-on micro gearing at some point..but I'm having fun trying all kinds of shit. Freestyle means you're suppose to do whatever you want. Not just how you ride, but how you setup your bike.

Odyssey has not only survived since I was a kid, they're still revolutionizing shit to this day. My flatware fork is a work of art. And the zero offset reminds me of my Mongoose Californian forks from way back in the day. In fact, it took me forever to get used to forks with offset when I switched to a “freestyle” bike. It feels great to be running zero offset again..and it's the same geometry I originally learned on.Compression bolts that allow you to work on the headset without removing the front brake cable. Odyssey has and always will understand simplicity as well. Look at the ridiculously simple Springfield Brake. I don't run them but it goes to show where they are coming from.

The Hoffman Strowler frame is almost perfect. From what I came from, I'm in awe of the design. It's a light, simple, flatland frame with style in a world full of generic looking frames..and the geometry is magical. I'm hoping to score a St. Martin Diamond 'Ten' or other 12” chainstay frame in the future. But the Strowler is so awesome, I can't see me getting rid of it. Ever.

If you're an old school rider getting back into it, don't bother messing with old / midschool setups. It might take some time to get used to the aesthetics and the feel of new school bikes..but it's well worth it. Once you adapt, trying tricks on your old school bike will feel like you're trying to ride flatland on a Schwinn Stingray. The front ends are much stiffer, you don't have parts like headsets coming loose all the time and the main thing that this blog focuses on - Geometry, geometry geometry.

Thanks to John Rodriquez for expanding my horizons.

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