This week I am stoked to present a new Company Check and interview with FBM’s Steve Crandall. I grew up in Syracuse New York, which is about an hour from Ithaca, New York where FBM was born and Binghamton, New York where FBM headquarters has existed for quite some time now. As a young rider getting to see and meet guys like Steve, Kelly Baker, Mike Tag, Magilla and all of those dudes really had a huge impact on me. Back then those were my first experiences of meeting and actually talking to “pro” riders so it was a huge deal. Years later after knowing riding with Crandall and a majority of the FBM guys I actually was asked to be a part of the Grassroots team they set up and that again had a huge impact on me and my outlook on riding in general forever. FBM has always just had this amazing vibe and feel to everything they do and that simply comes from having the most genuine, honest intentions based around having a good time and enjoying life. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be doing what you want in life that makes you happy regardless of the amount of money you are making. I remember hearing Crandall once say “you can always make more money” in regards to taking advantage of an opportunity and living life as opposed to heading to work and regretting your decision to skip out on an adventure. I always think back to that moment whenever I need to make a quick decision and since then, I always choose to do what makes me happy over what will make me more money and that to me is what FBM is and has always been about…that, and making some seriously kick-ass BMX products. This isn’t an introduction to FBM, as you should already be quite familiar with them but it’s more an opportunity for Steve to answer some questions, voice some opinions and get people stoked on what the FBM crew is up to lately, and where they are headed in the coming years. Sit back, relax and prepare yourself for an interview with one of the most dedicated riders and company owners that I know.
After you check out the interview, don’t forget to check out the PHOTOGALLERY giving you a full tour of the warehouse!
Crandall provided us with a rad self portrait.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone out there. Tell us who you are, where you are from, and your role over at FBM Bikes.
Hi, My name is Steve Crandall, I am originally from Ithaca NY, I am the Founder of FBM, and I currently work as the creative director and co-owner, with Mike Erb, who runs the internal infrastructure of the business.
I know that you used to make t-shirts and sell them out of the back of your car long, long ago but how long has FBM officially been around as a company?
At some point I decided FBM officially started in 1993, but I later found some stuff dating back to the summer of 1992, when Tag, Gilly and I all graduated High School.
So we have unofficially been around for about twenty years. Two weeks ago, I was at Texas Toast, selling T-shirts to pay for fuel in the FBM Bus… the more things change…
What does FBM actually stand for? Over the years it has always seemed pretty open to interpretation so lets clear the air with that one. Also, who came up with the name?
I came up with the name FAT BALD MEN, and sent an ad with a fat guy to Chris Moeller for a Zine he was doing at the time called Roget’s Junkie, which I think was a joke making fun of Zine people, which I was way into at the time. At any rate, my interpretation at the time was that businessmen were all fat bald men. Fat Cats getting rich. I was 17, and I thought it was funny. As times changed, our rowdy bunch became known as the FBM crew so FIRE BEER MAYHEM was born circa Albert St. Since then it’s been Faith Brethren Ministries, Fidelity Bicycle Manufacturing, Fist Banging Mania, Friends Bikes, Music. It doesn’t really matter. What FBM really is, is just a reflection of the good people involved, and the hard work everyone puts forth to make their lives better through riding bikes.
If you had to summarize what FBM is all about as a company how would you go about it?
It’s all heart! In short, it’s a hands-on, real life, badass, BMX Company. We make our bikes and we make our local spots. Also, people who are affiliated with FBM contribute to a BMX community. Ramp builders, trail builders, and local heroes all play a role.
If you know FBM at all then you know that you guys have gone through some significant changes over the years with employees and team riders alike. What’s the deal with that and who keeps the gears turning these days?
Outside of fires, floods, locusts, and having to move, there haven’t been that many significant changes… maybe some lineup changes, but it’s pretty much ran the same since the late 90’s. Internally, John Lee and Mike Erb run the show with Joby Springsteen leading the way in the machine shop. Our newest Staff members are Paul the cowboy, and Ryan Swarts who are also kicking ass. Mike has always run the Business side of things, and John Lee has long been in a loosely defined Management position. Outside the building I try and get people stoked on FBM through road trips, video and photo media, social media, and working with the team to promote our DIY approach to being a part of the BMX community and the industry. We have always tried to work as a group to keep the gears turning so to speak.
FBM has been based in Central New York since day one; do you picture that changing any time?
Unless someone drops a load of cash in FBM’s lap in the near future I imagine it will be business as usual. Central New York is affordable in many ways and we probably owe a lot of staying in business to that. We have never made much money. A Brewster’s Millions Scenario would be Ideal.
What does it mean to FBM to support American made products and what exactly do you guys make in-house these days?
The whole idea isn’t necessarily based on being USA-made, it’s more of a community based concept. We have always been aware of where we spend our money. In the beginning we could have paid a factory to make FBM stuff and a distributor to sell it to bike shops, but we chose to use that money to build our own factory, our own warehouse, and pay people we were friends with to do those jobs. It’s the same with T-shirts and other vendors. We always paid printers we were friends with, and I feel like it’s these ethics that have defined who we are, as well as keep us poor as shit. It’s better this way though. It’s the same idea as buying from a local independent retailer in your community, versus shopping at Wal-Mart. Your community will never see direct benefits from the latter, a storeowner and his family will. Concerning what we make in-house we make frames, and forks in-house, do all the shipping, sales, planning, organizing, partying, high fives, etc… We are proud to make frames in the USA. Quality handcrafted badass bikes, made of the highest quality materials; that is the one of the most crucial defining elements of FBM.
You guys jumped into the complete bike game for a little while there but word is you are taking a break from that for now. Care to explain?
We simply don’t have the cash to effectively compete for floor space with larger bike companies that can afford to more actively promote, advertise, and buy in larger quantities. As a smaller brand, we were somewhat limited, and we are currently focusing on what we can do best, and then see what happens down the road.
With all of your experience over the years how do you compare the industry as a whole as opposed to say ten years ago?
It’s hard to say. There are so many brands, pros, and pro-model frames. There are way more rider based brands with complete lines. I don’t know if BMX as an industry as whole has grown exponentially, but there is definitely a lot going on. I bet there are seventy-five different pro model frames on the market, and like twenty-five companies all competing for the same piece of the pie, where as ten years ago, there were fewer numbers. It was less cluttered, less saturated, and dare I say less homogenized. I also feel like there were more events specifically aimed at the average rider. There was also a healthier response to videos, which outside of real life interactions is the best way to get people stoked on a brand, or a rider or what have you. I guess nowadays as a brand, you just have to work way harder for less, and be more creative to stay relevant. Unless someone with a lot of resources financially backs you, you have to be absolutely dedicated to what you are doing. Nearest I can tell, all things point to the positive though. There are more skateparks than ever; there are really prevalent trail scenes in the Northwest, Austin, the Northeast and the UK. Street riding which is the most accessible and popular form of BMX is progressing faster than we have ever seen before, BMX is in the Olympics, on NBC, and Nike has riders on billboards in Times Square. Shit, BMX is even on YouTube now! All this is good, it’s overwhelming really, but there seems to be a disconnect from the way the Industry has changed, and what BMX media has to offer to keep things cohesive, I think that it is an important hurdle BMX needs to figure out to keep moving forward in a healthy manner. There is more of everything these days, but outside a few of the big league players, a lot of companies seem to be struggling financially. A company like “brand X” with a ton of money, celebrity power, and whatnot, can release a web edit in this day and age, and a fifteen year old kid from any town USA, can film a ledge edit and reach the same amount of people. I’m not sure if that’s a problem, if it’s great, or if I am just some old weirdo. But as a guy that works in promotions and has worked hard to support BMX and promote BMX from a team level through contests, events, road trips, videos, supporting brands through production, and even just as a rider I feel like its consistently more difficult to try and reach riders in today’s media, and explain to them why they should give a shit that FBM has BMX’s back, We make fucking great bikes and we care…basically, riders are better than ever, bikes are better than ever, there are more places to ride than ever, which is all good. I’m just not sure the industry as whole is as healthy as the riding scene seems to be. At the very minimum it’s pretty cool to see so many riders involved with our industry, ten years ago there were fewer riders in key positions.
You personally have had a big hand in the art direction/design/look/aesthetics of the brand since day one. What has been the goal behind the image of FBM and what kind of stuff influences you these days compared to the beginning?
There has never been much of a goal when it came to the art direction which is probably why if you look throughout the history of FBM, it’s been all across the board. I suppose it’s always just been a reflection of who was involved, and what we were into. The fundamentals haven’t really changed much. It’s just a lot of hand drawn graphics, inspired by music, friendships, traveling, adventure and good times. I have always paid attention to other artists, and brands with similar vibes, and looked to them for inspiration. Not so much in the BMX industry. Without ever being intentional, I guess I have always hoped to portray FBM as a badass, but playful group of people, like people you wouldn’t wanna’ fuck with, but would love to party and ride bikes with. Tough guys smiling, and cracking jokes, that are brave enough to live out there dreams as riders, with or without the riches and glamour of celebrity. Our Product line has always shared that vibe too.
How much time do you spend on FBM related stuff on a given week?
Most of my activity is somehow related to FBM whether it be travel, art, riding bikes, shooting video or photos, even drinking beer. Sounds ridiculous, but FBM is my life so that’s a hard question to give an accurate response to. A few nights ago I was editing and updating the website at midnight but other times it could be in-between the work week nine to five and I’ll be doing what might appear to be absolutely fucking off. It’s less structured and more abstract than most people in my position but hopefully being a part of a brand that has survived independently for nearly twenty years with little or no money show’s that I have a done a couple things right. And the list of mistakes I have made during this process is way too long to acknowledge.
The team has always played a big role since day one in helping shape the company into what it is now so why don’t you give us a full run-down of the current crew.
O.G. members include Mike Tag R.I.P, Jeremy “Magilla” Reiss, Kelly Baker, Ryan Corrigan, Derrick Girard, Dave King, Fisher, John Lee and myself and we are all still riding! The Current dudes representing as the FBM crew are The Ginch Bro’s Adam and Garrett Guilliams, Tom Blyth, Kenny Horton, Wormz and Eric Hennessy. Most recently Neil Hise, Eric Holladay and Jackson Allen have supported FBM on the level as well! These dudes are ALL badasses!”
How exactly does one become an FBM team member?
No one “becomes” an FBM rider. What really happens is someone already IS an FBM rider and we recognize that, and it just happens. No one on the team has ever sent a sponsor-me video, or asked to be a part of the group. It’s in the blood; orphans raised by wolves, outcasts of BMX without the marketable image that other brands want. No real money, riders that aren’t just about BMX, but about the lifestyle. FBM riders don’t do a trick and set the message boards on fire… FBM dudes roll up with a hardened gaze, with an earned status and just do their thing. People are like, whoa, these dudes are living it!
Living it is way more real than learning the latest trick, or having the hottest line in the freshest new web edit. Some online pros, skateboard BMX’ers, and fashion goons could never be FBM riders. To be honest they probably would never want to. They just could never hack being broke, and ugly, without really knowing what it means to just enjoy the ride.
Who are some of your favorite riders that have thrown a leg over an FBM over the years?
Obviously I am super proud of any and all past and present FBM dudes but off of the top of my head some of these dudes are like heroes of mine. DMC a.k.a Dennis McCoy; that dude rules. Troy McMurray, Ralph Sinisi, Scott Towne, Keith Mulligan, Jeff Z, Dave Mirra, Stew Johnson, John Dye, Jason Stieg, Leland Thurman, Aaron Ross, Brian Venable of Lucero and more. Ryan Nyquist did a 720 on my bike once, but I don’t think that counts. In all honesty though I am humbled and grateful that anyone has ever ridden an FBM, and I am so proud of the fact that people get behind FBM and choose our bikes!
Seeing Kelly Baker’s kids rip it on FBM’s is pretty awesome too!
It almost seems more like a family than a team. Where does that come from and is it necessary to love pizza to ride for FBM?
Pizza is kind of like an edible metaphor for all things related to FBM. It’s really simple but with a few key ingredients anyone can make it happen. Pizza is awesome. Sometimes you get a slice and it’s not the best one you have ever eaten, but its still pizza. It’s still awesome, and everyone loves pizza. You know sometimes you only have a dollar and a few quarters and you are starving so you get this huge greasy delicious cheesy slice of wonderfulness. Then you and your buddies are sitting on a bench, with your bikes in a pile, and you and your dudes are just stoked…that’s FBM right there!
How much fun can one possibly have on an FBM frame?
I am still working on this answer!
FBM recently took a pretty hard hit with the passing of Mike Tag and in honor of him you are re-releasing an updated version of the Night Train frame, which was his signature frame. Can you give us some details on that and let everyone know how they can support the cause.
The Tag thing has been a super difficult thing to go through the past year and half. Like for me personally, I have had a lot of trouble with it. The only good thing is that he is no longer suffering through such a nightmare. It’s been amazing how the BMX community at large has shown such compassion. Hit up the site for details. We will continually make efforts to honor his legacy!
Get a closer look at the frame RIGHT HERE
Can you give us a good story from the road? Past, or present.
In late 1993 or 1994-ish, we literally couldn’t afford to eat, and we were stealing food so Gilly and I got on food stamps… I was one signature away from enlisting in the Army because we were so desperate and there was an enlistment bonus kind of like a bribe. Luckily, we got 3rd shift jobs for $4.25 an hour and worked for a little while, saving up a small amount of money. Gas was $0.86 cents a gallon back then and three of us packed up three dudes, three bikes and a camera inside a 1980 Datsun and went to California for $90.00 bucks. That’s how much it cost us to get there…$30 bucks each! We ate grocery store food that was paid for with food stamps, we stayed with friends, and literally started living our dreams. The details aren’t important outside the Naked Raygun cassette tape, the cop who found my piss bottles that pulled us over in New Mexico and freaked out, and that we solidified an idea on that journey. You didn’t need all the money, all the talent, all the skill, or resources, or sponsors, or anything really to live your dreams, especially in BMX. All you really needed was your bike, your friends, and the courage to go for it. That trip yielded one our first videos, – “Ring of Fire” and from then, we never looked back.”
Obviously FBM has come a long, long way from selling t-shirts to being one of the most respected brands in all of BMX. How has the ride been and where do you see FBM going in the future?
It has been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It has also been a wild ride with some of the best people I have been fortunate to cross paths with. It’s never been easy, or ideal, and often times it seems so fucked up, but overall FBM has been a gift for better or for worse. I hope we can continue to make really kickass bikes, inspire people to have a good time, follow their dreams and enjoy their lives! We are coming up on twenty years so I just hope people are stoked and continue to support FBM! I recently travelled thousands of miles with some amazing people. I met new friends, visited old friends, witnessed people smiling while riding bikes that we made at FBM, and I did a Tabletop. I’d like to see that keep happening for a little while longer. It’s pretty Fucking cool!
For a History Lesson, watch “I Love My Bicycle”
Any last words?
I hope that all of BMX knows or learns how truly grateful we are to be a part of all of this. Thank you Mom and Dad, Gilly, Kelly Baker, Erbles, John Lee, and all of the FBM Crew for being great. Mike Tag Forever.
That’s it for this week. I hope you all got the same vibe that I did putting this together. I have a ton of respect for FBM and hope to see them continue to be one of the best BMX companies to ever do it. Be sure to support the companies that are doing it right. FBM surely falls into that category and without companies like that, BMX would not be quite as amazing as it is. Thanks for taking the time to give it a read and be sure to check back next Wednesday for the thirty-eighth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Also feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @JEREMYPAVIA.