By Brett Ashley Hawkins
From humble beginnings in a dirt lot at 7th Street and Bellflower Boulevard in Long Beach, the now Olympic sport BMX (bicycle motocross) is celebrating its 40th year of intense races and risk-heavy maneuvering with a few events geared specifically for BMX fans and anyone interested in the history of the sport.
BMX itself was founded by Long Beach native and motocross veteran Scot Breithaupt. He held the first official BMX race on Nov. 14, 1970 to a great turnout and positive reception. “Kids used to imitate me as I rode and practiced on my Yamaha 125 in the fields at 7th and Bellflower,” Breithaupt said. “There were around 35 kids there one Saturday while I was resting. They hit my jumps, and the lightbulb went off. I went home and got some trophies from my motorcycle racing and had ‘pedal-cross’ races. It went well, and the next weekend about 150 kids showed up!”
With the state of bicycle manufacturing in the 1970s, there were no specific models built to handle a dirt course for racing. In BMX’s early stages, the Schwinn Sting-Ray became the bike of choice due to its availability, handling, performance, and size. “Back in the sixties and seventies, the bikes weren’t as technically advanced, but bikes like the Stingray were nearly indestructible,” Breithaupt said. “Most of the motorcycle companies then got into making parts and accessories that fit the Stingray, which bolstered its dominance in the race scene. It wasn’t until 1974 though that manufacturers made BMX-specific designs. My original Stingray had a fake, thick-ray gas tank and fenders.”
In the next few years, BMX saw an exponential growth in both participants and spectators. “There were, at first, 100 to 150 [spectators] each week. By 1974, I had built new tracks all over and promoted the Yamaha Bicycle Gold Cup series. There were over 1,000 riders at each event! We held the finals in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and about 16,000 spectators were there, probably the biggest BMX-related event ever to this day. It was just huge,” he said. “I then promoted BMX races in Signal Hill from 1975 to 1977 with then City Manager Vern Lawson.”
The increase of interest in BMX spread worldwide after it grew in the United States. Breithaupt and other BMX experts toured Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Aruba, Australia, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany, Chile, Spain, Japan, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, and several more countries. “We used to get invited by racing organizations in other countries starting in the 1980s,” said Breithaupt. “We were invited to come down and teach racing clinics and compete against the local stars.”
Breithaupt worked his way through several facets of the industry he started. He has served as a creator, promoter, competitor, BMX bicycle designer, and BMX team manager. Chief among his later achievements were the formation of the SE Racing crew (his own racing team that began at 1667 E. 28th St. in Signal Hill in 1978) and the creation of BMX Plus magazine in 1978, which is the world’s largest BMX-related publication.
Though fun and thrilling for adventure seekers, BMX is one of the most dangerous sports in terms of injury. “ I thought I was Evel Knievel, Superman, and Destructo-man all in one,” Breithaupt said. “Now I limp pretty bad. It’s almost ‘what haven’t I broken?’ It’s mainly been fingers, ribs, shoulders, my left leg and ankle, some bell-ringer concussions, and countless stitches.” Being not for the faint of heart, BMX race winners are true daredevils and trailblazers.
With 40 years of BMX going strong, this month’s usual First Fridays festivities in Bixby Knolls on Nov. 5 will feature pieces of BMX’s 40-year history. The showcase will be on display at the Expo Center, 4321 Atlantic Ave., beginning at 6:30pm. It will feature photographs, classic collector bicycles, vintage jerseys and uniforms, banners, bicycle parts, early event fliers, artwork, magazines, awards, and national championship trophies. BMX riders such as Bob Haro, Stu Thomsen, Eddie Fiola, Todd Lyons, Toby Henderson, Jeff Utterback, Harry Leary, and more are also expected at the exhibition at that time to share their tales as well. Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster will also present Breithaupt with a proclamation for BMX Day at the First Fridays display. Admission is free.
Other November BMX events include a second showcase at the Expo on Nov. 13 from 10am to 1pm. A bike ride will take place from 2pm to 5pm that same day with an after-party to wrap up the day from 6pm to 10pm. Lastly, on Sunday, Nov. 14, Hollywood Sports Spark will host a BMX exhibition with BMX-speed bicycles and races on the new Bellflower BMX track.
“It is really the countless volunteers, track operators, parents, and kids around the world that share a passion for a healthy family sport that have built it to what it is today,” Breithaupt said. “And through planning this celebration, I feel like a 17-year-old again.”