When an idea hits sometimes you just have to run with it. That’s exactly what happened when I was on a recent trip up to Santa Cruz, CA. I knew that Ron Wilkerson lives up that way and even though I was only there on a quick trip I had to make some moves and try my best to track him down for an interview. Ron is a straight up legend, he started and owns his own bike company, has incredibly deep roots in BMX. If you don’t have some serious respect for the guy, you might as well just forfeit your title as a BMX’er right now and stop reading this feature. Since the early days on his path in BMX Ron has always had an incredible passion for riding and his mindset is truly focused on bettering the industry. He grew up as one of the top pros in the industry, still rides and has crazy sessions to this day, and he continually works on developing innovative products. To say the dude is a lifer would be a serious understatement. I met up with him one morning for some good conversation and a fresh Acai bowl at Samba Rock Acai Café, which is an amazing place that Ron and his wife own right in Santa Cruz. This one took some work to make come to life so needless to say I’m proud to present the first edition of “Industry Talk” so sit back and enjoy.
Start out with the basics…
Name: Ron W
Age: 17 plus 30
Hometown: Santa Cruz, California
Years Riding: Shit… 34?
When did you have the realization that freestyle BMX was made for you?
The moment that I hit a dirt jump with my little brother’s Sting-Ray in, ah, 1979?
What is it about riding that keeps you coming back for more after all of these years?
Well, first of all, I never do “come back” to riding, because I never do leave it to come back to. But with riding, it’s real simple; it’s just a part of me. The connection of my hands on my grips to my feet on the pedals, while I hit big transitions going really fast and getting really high. It’s so simple, but yet deep enough to keep me psyched for every single next time that I get to ride. If I think about it, it’s actually NOT so simple, because there’s a definite science to the kind of riding that I like the most which is big tranny vert riding. That’s what keeps me psyched to ride: The angles, speed, body positioning, the pump, the roll in, the style, the AIR. For me it’s all about pushing yourself to ride better and progress through constantly paying attention to every detail about how you ride. After every run I’m thinking, “hmmm, well I need to do this thing differently next run…or that thing different next time” or sometimes I do get that perfect run where it all clicks and feels so fucking’ RAD, and all I can do when I’m done is think, “Fuck yeah!” It’s funny to think that I’m that serious not even riding at the PRO level anymore!
When it comes to the current state of BMX, what are your initial thoughts?
Wow, that’s a really big, big question that I’ll try and make small even though there’s no way that I can make it small because I have a LOT to say. And the timing of this interview and question is just too perfect because I’ve been going through it and I’ve thought a lot about that subject lately. So go get yo-self a drink and some popcorn and make yourself comfortable. I’m gonna’ ramble, but it’s all straight from the heart.
1. The BMX RIDING: Unbelievable.
The level that the BMX pro’s are riding just blows my fucking mind. I don’t really play around on my computer ever, but I just saw an edit the other day of Mark Webb- Webbie Show 2. Holy fucking shit. It was mind blowing. The level of riding these days just melts my mind. Riding with Simon Tabron on Tony Hawk’s most perfect ramp makes me unbelievably psyched. Going to the amazing Woodward camp and riding with Coco Zurita and watching his moto-style airs is rad. Wow, I can’t wait to go back and ride with him. Riding and chilling and drinking) with Jake and Wesley in Aruba, I can’t wait to go back there with either of them.
2. The state of BMX and the BMX Industry: Shit… pure shit.
BMX is so trendy it’s disheartening. I mean, BMX has always been trendy but there were always be new and different things going on and coming out. If someone had a new idea for a product they would just come out with it and lots of people would buy it because it was new and different and unique. There was none of the thinking going on. “Oh, we have to make it THIS way or it’ll look too different and riders won’t buy it.” There was lots of cheesy stuff sure, but there was a lot of groundbreaking stuff as well. It’s the same with riding. There were so many different styles of riders, and so there were so many different styles of tricks!
I saw it coming long ago, starting with the ‘black years’ where the only frickin’ thing that would sell was black, and then “progressing” to now where so many riders get into BMX because it’s the trendy thing to do and they’re cool because they ride BMX which is the exact opposite way of how BMX started.
And so now in BMX – the magazines, manufacturers, shops, outside sponsors – market right to the masses of kids that got into BMX because it’s “cool.” It even happens that some of the guys who got into BMX because it was “cool” are the ones in leadership positions in companies! An example of it is how I vividly remember talking to the RIDE BMX editor Mark Losey during the ‘Black Years’. I was perturbed about why the amazing BMX event, the 2hip Burning Bike jam had such poor coverage in RIDE. I mean, this event was so amazing; it was the real deal. Tons of pros and riders shredding dirt, flat, park, everyone camping out on an Indian Reservation in Arizona all weekend partying and riding, bands playing including my band and The Orange 9mm from NYC, and the burning bike, covered feebly in RIDE BMX “The Rider’s manual.” He told me that the X Games (which was new at the time) had to be on the cover and have the bulk of the coverage because it was recognizable to the people on the newsstands because they had seen it on television. WTF? Are you fucking kidding me?
Step one of BMX giving its SOUL away…
And so it continues to where we sit now, having given up everything to these outside companies that are there solely to milk BMX for everything it’s worth while they make their bucks off of the popularity of the “trend” of the moment and then move on. BMX is just a “budget cut” to them.
And so continuing on, here we are now living the results, having sat back and allowed the whole culture of BMX to change, and so it is that even the BMX businesses run away from contributing anything new or different or unique at all to BMX. Everything is fucking safe. No one in the BMX industry is taking any risks whatsoever except for the pro riders! Every single company plays it safe, with no one in the industry really saying “What the fuck” and doing anything different because if they do then they will be looked at as “weird” and their products won’t sell. Fuck you, fuck off, and go to fucking hell. The BMX companies run away from trying to do anything different and unique at all because that’s how BMX is now and we wanna’ sell product! We need to be looked at as “popular” to all the new kiddies that want to buy bikes that look like all of the others.
It cracks me up, and sometimes I even get attitude from shop owners that think they know more about BMX than I do and that they’re too “cool” for me, or 2hip, just because they’re close with the local trend-fucker-nu-skool kiddie that’s making weak ass web-edits every week and building a big web-following by doing these trendy ass tricks that everyone else does, and then “their guy” tells their shop that “2hip is not cool” because 2hip doesn’t have the guys on our team that are portrayed as the “cool guys” in the magazines every month. The way it started was that the BMX shops got the new stuff and showed the riders what was cool and new and unique and different! Now the shops will only carry what’s trendy. Even some of my “FRIENDS” that have shops won’t carry 2hip because it’s not “trendy” to them!
Which brings me to another part of the industry that’s disturbed me… the big corporation BMX magazines. I mean, when BMX Freestyle started, Freestylin’ magazine made Freestyle cool by the unique and creative ways that they covered it. Showing the diversity of those involved, adding to BMX Freestyle. But then during the “Black Years” the magazines stopped creating what was cool and then took the position of just simply reporting what was going on! So in some ways it’s a good fucking thing that the Internet has come along and taken much of the power that the magazines have had and abused. C’est la vie. Time for creativity and diversity to shine.
It’s this vicious cycle from strictly an impressions point of view, 2hip has been basically shunned by the big magazines. Over the years sure, we’ve sponsored some dopes, but we’ve also had lots of amazing, hungry, hardcore riders that are riding for the right reasons, and killing it but how often do you see a 2hip rider in the mags? Ha-ha, funny right? The only time is an occasional road trip article thrown in here or there to give us a bone to make us think that they “care.”
And then you have corporate magazines in such a cool thing as BMX playing the same exact corporate greed game that is so prevalent in our society and doing things only for money, and even giving coverage for money!
BMX is a labor of love. BMX is not something that any person just does for money. You follow your passions with all you got and the money comes. If you do it just for money, you don’t last long. Kind of like on Vert – when you try and go high, you ride worse. And please don’t get me wrong, Z’s photos in RIDE are spot-on and holding it down, and Keith is from day one in NY BMX, but yet that Ride mag has a policy that they’ll only put new products in the ‘New Product’ section of their mag if you advertise – I heard that from Keith and I almost shit my pants… How is a company that’s making new products supposed to grow into a company that can advertise without the BMX press getting behind them?
More BMX PRESS hypocrisy: I did an interview for that “cool”, “trendy”, “hardcore” UK mag, Albion, which they buried as a combo interview w/Ryan Nyquist? Don’t get me wrong, Ryan Nyquist IS BMX, that guy is a living anomaly, but him and I only know each other as acquaintances, and sharing an interview? Whatever. But more perfect is that when I first saw the mag, I was crashing in Sean Burns’ room, and so when they asked me if I was stoked, and I wanted to do a real good ‘tell all’ interview…and okay…here’s the “hardcore”, “punk”, “say everything” magazine interviewing me, and the interview gets to the subject of companies not sticking to their ideals and being completely fucked up, and so I tell the atrocious, despicable, beginning of the current We The People BMX/Stephan Prantl story that makes me want to vomit every time I even think of it (of which story the WTP advertising influence has done a masterful job of BURYING)- and this punk rock, hardcore, UK magazine wouldn’t even print it… why?
Because We The People is one of their major advertisers!!! Fuck, that’s almost as bad as the We The People stealing the company from their friend story itself.
I mean I’ve been running a BMX company since BEFORE the black years, when things started changing with BMX to become an “official” industry. Watching BMX sell its soul and be stripped of the creativity from the industry… natural progression? So now I feel it’s actually a GOOD thing to see that BMX sales are slow these days (as it has happened before), to lose all this SHIT and hopefully get BMX back to where the riding and what’s best for BMX is what’s most important.
Yeah, I’ve lived this BMX thing, getting my first hardcore Freestyle bike in 1980, promoting BMX, been a pro rider inventing tricks and styles adding to Freestyle. Starting a company and creating things that are normal in BMX- Street contests, Half Pipe contests, I’ve been a big part of its progression, and seen what’s here right now coming for years, but now it’s really fucking here.
Kids get into BMX now for the exact opposite reason that BMX Freestyle started, and then some of these same people are now the ones that are influencing a lot of the industry of BMX! All these “outside” companies don’t know SHIT about BMX. Their influence isn’t coming from knowing, they just talk to some trick-ferret-trend-fucker riders and then throw their money around, it’s gross. I mean, there’s been a few really cool things that have happened from the outside corps, but there’s really NO ONE that has any roots in BMX that is standing up for what’s best for BMX, and that’s surely part of the downturn that’s happening now. I mean, Mat’s involved with the X Games, right on, but Mat’s only has a little say there, as they’ve bought and paid for their control of what really happens. In the end it’s just a fucking business, and a mass media business at that. Smoothing over the edges and turning it into a respectable “sport.” Making it digestible for the masses, E-X-A-C-T-L-Y what the roots of BMX Freestyle started AGAINST. It’s gonna’ happen, but I vilify the day that BMX Freestyle is in the Olympics! Flatland I could see there…that’s a discipline, vert maybe. You’ve gotta’ be a JOCK to be competitive in Vert these days, ha-ha, but no frickin’ way. I guess that I’ve just lived BMX as a lifestyle, not a sport, for too long, so ANY change to that is gonna’ make me cringe.
Hopefully you can get this analogy- the mass media molding BMX Freestyle into a ‘sport’ is gross in the same way in that it’s so gross that we have mothers of little kids who are playing in their skateboard playground calling the cops because there are bikers riding there against the rules. Cops? Calling the COPS?! No offense Brian Blyther, but the cops are what we’ve all been against. Skaters and bikers, from day one! And the cops are getting called because we’re riding our bikes in a skatepark?
How is it owning a BMX company in 2013?
It rules. I laugh. I cry. I ride more.
What is the secret to making money in BMX?
Work. Diligence. Drive. Focus. Riding. I guess that’s five secrets.
How often do you think to yourself “what the hell happened to freestyle and why does basically every rider look and ride the same?
I think about that fact just about as often as I think about how I’m despaired for the current kids these days from hearing the new music that’s current out there. And that’s a LOT.
What is it about the BMX industry that you love?
I love the fact that there are still riders like Jake Ortiz and Bruce Crisman. Oh, I guess that’s not the “BMX industry.” Um, I’ve loved the challenge of the BMX industry. I’ve loved to be able to activate my punk rock side and say, I don’t care, but I do, but I don’t, but I do.
What is it about the BMX industry that you can’t stand?
See above. Ha-Ha.
Do you think it’s realistic to want to start a brand new company these days?
Ha-ha, what? And make another frame that looks exactly the same as all of the others out there? With the same exact geometry, and probably made by the same company? Sure, go crazy! Though there’s definitely a lot of room for someone who likes diversity and who knows real BMX to start a company that unifies all of the other same BMX Freestyle companies, and gets people together for the progress and the doing what’s BEST for BMX.
How are things going over at 2Hip? Do you ever feel like the only way you can succeed these days is if you pick the same parts out of the same catalog as everyone else and throw your name on them?
30 years in the BMX business, 23 years making bikes, 2hip’s the same as it’s EVER been, all good. I, and anyone who represents 2hip, doesn’t pay attention to what anyone else is doing, maybe to a FAULT. I do my thing, which is working hard, playing harder, looking forward to the next time I get to ride, and every day living another beautiful day in paradise in Santa Cruz. No, but seriously, Santa Cruz is beautiful. And yeah, I do my own thing, and seriously, I’m over it. I like to say that right now, I’m stepping off the treadmill, and stepping onto my bike. Recently I decided that I just wanted to get it back to fun with 2hip and our rad team of riders, and stir up the pot a little bit, throwing things around, doing what WE want, and we’ve got some plans. We got a new super sweet Jake Ortiz frame the “Love” frame comin’out this summer and we have some plans for a few events starting this fall. BMX is desperate for some real punk rock shit to go down. Maybe that’ll save the “industry.” We’re lettin’ our creativity out. I’m pushing the insane shredder Jake, to do some edits to his preferred choice of music- speed metal. I’m pushing Bruce to push his art and his music just as hard as he pushes his riding…and i’m really looking forward to the things that I have planned for myself and BMX.
I know you worked really hard on the Groovetech stem/bar/fork system how has that all been going? Have people taken a notice to it?
I love it, our team riders love it and the people that have it love it. That’s really all I can say. There’s one guy in Arizona who put it on incorrectly and broke the stem, but me and Bruce and Jake have all had the same shit for almost a year now and it’s still a new feeling stiff front end.
It’s a great idea, and solves a very big problem as far as bars moving and keeping your stem straight with your forks. Who came up with the original idea and how long did it take to go from concept to production?
Not only does it hold everything together, I’ve also noticed that it completely stiffens up your front end. Me, myself, and I dreamed it up ages ago, and after literally years of testing, prototyping, changing manufacturers, and working things out, it’s real. Trend-fuckers need not apply.
Do you think that the product is a little too “freestyle” for the majority of BMX’ers today?There’s always a reason against progress.
I feel like sometimes BMX has lost that very essence of freestyle and I’m sure you agree. I envy you for growing up riding when BMX was so pure and unexplored. What are your thoughts on that?
I could say, “see above” again, but I really want to say some more here. BMX started because dudes hated the school “popular jock-team sports” thing. Guys that started riding BMX Freestyle were unique individuals that enjoyed being different, and enjoyed not being like all of the other guys. They/we enjoyed looking different, acting different, caring different, living different, and that linked us together. It’s definitely an awesome feeling for any old school cat to look at BMX now, having been through those times. Now it’s not the same as it was by any means. You don’t really ever have people making fun of you for riding those little bikes, sorry… and you don’t see a guy riding a BMX bike down the street and feel the same connection. Just get on your bike and don’t give a fuck, that’s BMX, that’s punk rock. Ignore the bullshit and think about how good it feels to do the things you like to do on your bike. You certainly have a lot more to ride than we ever did before! Don’t think about another single other thing, or other person than what you’re doing at that moment, on your bike. The same thing that I try and do every single fucking time that I get on my bike. The second that I lace up my high tops tight and stick on my pads and pump up my Intense tires to 110psi, I’m transported right back to loving it for what it is and I can’t wait to roll-in. Just the same why BMX is so good! FUCK EVERYONE ELSE, it’s just you and your BIKE!
What advice do you have for someone looking to do their own thing in BMX and not follow the trends?
Ha-ha. Start dressing differently, go to the thrift store and buy the most fucked up things you can find. Cut your hair really dorky. Ride a coaster brake on street (it’s good), grow a cheesy mustache. Learn some 80’s flatland, be yourself. Yeah sure, do things that others think is stupid, be a unique, be a different person first, and then the riding will follow. Get off the fucking computer, get off the fucking television, fuck shit up, make it your own, and live your OWN life creatively.
How long do you plan on riding? It seems like you are still out there getting it and that is inspirational to say the least.
Ha-ha, you’re funny…you think I could ever STOP?
Riding-wise, what is it that you are personally into? I mean, what is it that gets you stoked after all of these years?
That is a great question! I’m feeling better riding than I have in years. I’m just going to’ write about the “Man Bowl” whether you asked me that question or not. Dude, there’s this 12 and a half or 13 foot deep cement bowl at Lake Cunningham in San Jose. I learn something every time I ride it. It’s really a fucking dream for me to live a quick hop over the mountain riding the very best roads on my R6 to it (my BMX is left in SJ). I really could ride ONLY that bowl for the rest of my life and still be progressing and still be perfectly STOKED to ride. Every time. Forever. Always.
Do you keep current on web videos?
Ha-ha, you’re funny again. I barely have time to wipe my ass, let alone watch web videos. If I did have time to wipe my ass, like if I was actually done working, or riding my BMX, or road or mountain bikes, or playing racquetball, or doing Bikram, or hanging out with my NEWEST creation, five month old Xander W., then I would use my computer to wipe my ass with. As when I’m done working and answering billions of emails between my businesses, and looking at porn, I don’t even wanna’ SEE a computer. But as far as web videos go, I really cannot wait to make this Ron W. web edit that I have in my mind. I never ever even thought of making a web edit until I heard this one song, and it all just started flowing, now I have to make this edit… For myself.
Do you have any in the works? It seems like the more grassroots contests the better these days.
Ha-ha, aren’t grassroots contests always better? We are working on a Meet the Street series, a King Of Vert, and a 2hip Kick-Turn jam, and a celebrity charity golf tournament! Details forthcoming. We’re gonna’ blow some shit up re-starting this fall. Re-starting the BMX industry being fun for myself. Stay tuned to 2hip.com, or search 2hip on Facebook.
Well that about wraps it up, do you have anything else you would like to add?
Fuck the man. Live who YOU are.
How about you give some shout-outs and thanks.
Wow man, umm, how do I say this flow of consciousness? Jarrod Allen doing it, Jake Ortiz’ being the man, Bruce Crisman’s originality, Bill Silva’s influence, Vanessa rocks, Xander’s smiling, Tiffany’s got it, Erica’s drive, Rich Ranson’s support, Kevin’s stories, Hamido’s bragging about Tom, Ian’s a punk rock fukr, Danny’s a pro, Mike D’s a pro too, Jkind’s love, Calder’s diversity, Joe Hawk’s interest, Enarson’s skill, Squirrel’s, um, squirrel, Drob’s photo of Vander, Bob Haro’s creativity, Jim Ford’s organization, Gumbyman’s Energy, Dave McDaniel’s solidness, Sargent BB’s calm, Team Mgr Xman’s graciousness, Demers from Southbridge, Chris from BS of Staten Island, Hans and Margaret from Wheaton’s, Double A Ron from Bike Trip, Drugs, Sex, Rock and Roll, drinking, NOT drinking, Bikram, Spike’s body piercings, Andy’s WAL logo, Dave Carson’s 2hip logo, Lou’s rock walks, Eric’s eye of the tiger, Joe Rich’s style, NYC God of fashion, DARRYL, Al’s cad skillz, Waylon’s passion, Gracie’s family, Bernie’s Schneidie, Carlo Griggs for Mayor, Tabron’s shred, Dean Dickinson’s shred boner, my family, Ozzy’s Blizzard of Oz tour, The idea of Heaven, God, The Devil, Buddah, Ghandi, Hitler, Martin Luther King Jr., that kid from Austin- Tom Dugan, Voelker and Vic Murphy’s pop, Brad’s SD 1-foot table photo, Jello Biafra, Quicksand’s SLIP, Toxicity ‘Not the Final Master’, Mraz and Bushwalla, Seanie’s success ethic, Dom’s dedication, Airton Senna w/extra peanut butter, spirulina, & 2.5 scoops of granola. Ride like a man.
Thank you for doing this interview! Do you have any last words?
My book ‘What Pipes Blood’ out this Fall! Note: It’s not a “kids” book. And no, thank you Jeremy and The Union for the interview to speak my peace—your timing is impeccable.
That’s it for TTL #69, I hope you enjoyed the first edition of the “Industry Talk” series. I am definitely looking forward to the next one. On that note, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the seventieth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram as well @jeremypavia.
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