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Kawasaki BMX, Race Inc, and Bill Bastian


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32 replies to this topic

#1
AncientRebel

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Like some sort of Karmic accident, my first real job was welding bicycle frames for a company under contract with Kawasaki. I donít know the details, but it seems that Bill Bastian contracted with Triple-A Accessories to use their facilities to make BMX bikes for Kawasaki. On June 28th, 1975, I was hired by Bill Bastian and Addison Edward Penfold III to use TIG welding to produce the first (as far as I can tell) production BMX frames.

We made both steel and aluminum bikes for Kawasaki back then. They had rear shocks and fake rubber boots for front shocks and that was about it. The steel ones were green and the aluminum ones were of course ball burnished silver. At some point they recruited a racing team. I only saw them once, and it seemed to me they were quite young.

I donít know whether Bill is dead or alive, so Iíll be kind to him here. My mental picture of him has him in a tan Memberís Only jacket. His blonde hair was thinning and his face was in the first stages of wrinkles, but there was always mischief in his grey eyes. Iíll never know if he liked me but it is pretty to think so.

Triple-A was an armpit of a place, based on cheap labor and no amenities. The toilet was caked with years or uric deposits. A guy I went to welding school with named Brian and I were hired right out of high school. Neither of us really knew how to weld, so we spent a few weeks welding scrap metal and generally screwing off.

Eventually we got our act together and started making bikes. Ed Penfold of Triple-A helped Bill with the fixtures and equipment. We had one ancient TIG machine and one workable Cobra MIG. Brian got the MIG while I started working the TIG when we got a new Lincoln welding machine.

You can tell the earliest Kawasaki bikes by the rear sections. The first ones were TIG welded and have an appearance much like the rest of the welds on the bike, but the later ones were MIG welded (by Brian) and the welds are much rougher just because of the process, not because of Brian. Okay, maybe a little because of Brian.

I never welded a steel bike, Brian did those. I did all of the aluminum bikes. I started out making about three a day. It was hot, July heat and no air. By October I was cranking out three an hour. By spring I was doing 35 a day. I think I was making about $2.75 an hour.

I still have a red tag that Bill left for me after I complained about a fixture not working properly. When I came in to work the next day I found that my rig was tagged. It says ďIt worked fine until some IDIOT broke the toggle boltĒ. They meant that I did it. I think Ed Penfold wrote the words on the tag, but Iím not sure. Either of them had the personality to say that.

You may or may not know this, but welding is an absolutely hot and generally dirty job. At SCROC, (Southern California Regional Occupational Center) I was taught how to weld by Mr. Capitano (who, as it later turned out, was a friend of my grandfather, who lived in Pennsylvania and used to play pro football). One of the things that Mr. Capitano stressed was personal safety. To that end we were mandated to wear leather protective gear in class. Along with strict adherence to eye protection policies, on the job we gradually peeled off the leathers as the weather and conditions in the shop demanded. Many are the t-shirts that faded by exposure to the bright light of the welding torch. Many, also, are the burns I suffered by placing my arms on a section of a bike frame that I had just welded. I can still show you the scars, some of them.

The way the bikes were made was pretty primitive by todayís standards. Picture this: I stood next to my new Lincoln rig with only a small window facing west, thankfully. I faced a large fixture with a huge hole cut in aluminum tool plate and fitted with holes and fingers and clamps that were intended to accept the parts that would eventually become a frame.

This next part can be pretty boring but is intended to document for the reader how the frames were built.

On the far side of the frame fixture were the pieces I would assemble into the front part of the frame. I left my welding station to clamp and press the frame together. I would first put the seat tube in place by dropping it into a nested finger on the fixture then inserting a pin through the top of the large fixture and through the seat tube. I didnít set it completely, but had to place the crank tube as the seat tube was inserted. There were two plugs for the crank tube, one built into the fixture and the other, both made of copper, was clamped to the other side of the crank tube as the seat post was placed. It had to be coordinated and the holes had to be aligned.

Next the two down tubes from the rear loop were inserted into the crank tube and the upper part of the rear loop was clamped into place. The gussets fortifying the union of the rear loop and the seat post and the crank tube were spring clamped into place. The left (I think) side of the gusset pair were stamped with the serial number that the bike would eventually carry. I still have one of those. The union between the seat post and the rear loop pieces had to be hammered (okay, gently tapped) into alignment.

The airfoil-shaped top tube went in next. The rear portion of the part had been milled to the proper shape, as was the front. The bottom tube was similarly milled and always fit snugly. As the top and bottom tubes sat in their nested fingers, the head tube was added, inserting both tubes into milled holes in the head tube as the large head tube pin was inserted through the fixture and the head tube. Finally the head tube and bottom bracket gussets were added and clamped into place.

It took some time for us to figure out, but the large pin (think of a banana-sized hatpin) used to hold the head tube, rested in a slightly larger tube filled with soapy water when not in use. The soap helped to ease the unloading process, but as the day wore on and the welding went faster, both the large pin and the soapy water grew hot.

After the frames were heat treated and burnished they went to the assembly line next door. They attached the gooseneck to the handlebars and set the rear wheel to the frame and put on the seat. That was a wild bunch of charecters. My eyes were opened to different life styles and drugs and music that I never would have encountered before. I remember some of those guys.

I left Triple-A in 1977 for another job, but when Bill went on his own he needed a welder to help him make his first bikes, so he called me. I worked for Bill after doing a full day at an aerospace shop. He had a small service garage on some alley in Gardena. He had a surface plate, a micrometer, a tube bender, a lathe, a mill, a saw, and a cot upon which he spent many nights. A small office with a drawing table was attached.

Bill hand measured each bend, each cut, every detail on those first bikes. His new design was much different from the Kawasaki. Bill eliminated the rear suspension and moved the seat post up. He eliminated the rear loop. He put a triangular throat for the rear stays in and beefed up the wheel stays, creating a solid union with the crank tube. Those first few bikes werenít perfect, but he had them ball burnished and/or anodized and took them on road shows.

Thatís when he came up with the simple Race, Inc. sticker he put on the head tube. As the first trade show was near, one night (we always worked late those first months), Bill sent me to a Carrowís restaurant for some dinner. He gave me some cash and told me to get what I wanted and whatever looked good for him. As we ate on the granite flat, bill started to sketch a logo out. It was just Race, Inc. inside a circle, but as the ink bled out it created a scalloped effect along the edge of the circle. I shrugged. At that point I had a crush on his daughter and had little else on my mind.

As a profile, I experienced Bill as an intelligent, determined, and gentle man. He was honorable and hard working. He was quick with a smile and was never cruel or decietful. He treated me fairly and honored my contributions. I donít know a lot about his family life, but I do know he loved his son, Bill Junior, very much. In 1977 he bought a yellow Corvette and, even if it was at the expense of the company, he enjoyed that machine. You can likely guess how the tag on that car read. I donít want to get into his business deals, but I am sure he had some backers that would appear from time to time.

Eventually Bill moved his shop to a location not at all far from Triple A. We went into production soon after. I got to do everything on those bikes in the first year. I bent the handlebars, cut the head tubes on the mill, cranktubes, too. I bent the downtubes and deburred the gussets. I welded my head off, and learned a lot by doing that.

I donít know whyÖ okay, I know why but Iím not going to tell youÖ I used to whistle while I worked at Race. I became known in some circles as ďThe Whistling WelderĒ. I was thus dubbed by the son of the other welder at Race at the time. The other welder was more senior than I and we had a tacit competition. He could weld faster than I, but my welds were more appealing, smoother and hotter. And when I was on my game I was still even faster than my competition.

I left Race, Inc. in 1978 to work in aerospace in completely other capacities. That has been a wild ride, and a whole Ďnuther story, but those days with Bill Bastian, his son, and his company were juicy, rich days. I missed out on his daughter, though.

I have a lot of stories about those days if anyone is interested.

#2
mongoosedrummer

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I read this over at the Museum... Great story! Count me in for wanting to hear more. :rawks:
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#3
S.Brothers

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Nice anecdotes of the early days. :cheers:

#4
Roc

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I think the time has come to put this Bill Bastian puzzle together. Looking forward to hearing more...
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#5
rumblerdave

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Great story, keep posting! :ThumbsUp:

#6
rydah

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lol, brah, i went to SCROC too, nice stories, do you have any of the race incs you welded.

#7
COASTY

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Wow cool stories. I like reading this stuff so bring it on. I was an Aluminium welder myself welding alloy boats. Your right. Prick of a job. I got good at it but. I never did Tig but always wanted too learn it.
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#8
Brian Hays

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WOW. Finally. You have no idea how long us Race Inc diehards have been waiting for Bastian or someone like you to appear!!!!! It is my understanding that Bill is still alive but has not surfaced anywhere to do with old BMX yet. Tell us ALL your stories PLEASE.
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#9
cw

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great read... tks for posting!

very interesting to hear an early participants insight..


and yes! WE WANT MORE!

#10
mmmmitsajelly

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This cat needs his own section and a mod to move it to U of OS as soon as he posts. This is gold.

#11
dunphy1

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this is what i believe to be a 1976 race inc. serial number 24407 is stamped under the bottom bracket. originally sold to chula vista cycle sport, ca. any information is greatly appreciated.

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Edited by dunphy1, 30 April 2009 - 04:59 AM.


#12
Guyster

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Ancientrebel, That was a great read. Maybe you can tell me a little about one of my Kawasaki frames? This one is different: It has 2 add'l gussets, by shock mounts. No one has been able to shed any light on this particular frame. Any ideas?? Thanks in advance. Guy
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#13
OC Dave

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Great story.Kool to get a differnt story like this.

#14
1966bmx

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very cool . i just got an AAA rascal frame # 72 made . so you probably welded it . we need more stories . very cool read man ,
donnie
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#15
AncientRebel

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We messed around with a lot of different gussets, but I don't remember this set. Is there a serial number on the frame?


Ancientrebel, That was a great read. Maybe you can tell me a little about one of my Kawasaki frames? This one is different: It has 2 add'l gussets, by shock mounts. No one has been able to shed any light on this particular frame. Any ideas?? Thanks in advance. Guy
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#16
MeredithJL

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Ancientrebel,
Thanks for the stories, and keep them coming! Here's a pic of one of the Race, Inc. pro's from back in the early 80s. Mickey Lundy was also featured frequently in BMX Plus and BMXA because he was such a fearless and talented dirt jumper. We were friends and he gave me these pics. I posted them in a separate thread recently, but am reposting here as this is Race Inc related.
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#17
Guyster

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We messed around with a lot of different gussets, but I don't remember this set. Is there a serial number on the frame?


Ancientrebel, That was a great read. Maybe you can tell me a little about one of my Kawasaki frames? This one is different: It has 2 add'l gussets, by shock mounts. No one has been able to shed any light on this particular frame. Any ideas?? Thanks in advance. Guy
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There was a serial # on the frame, but most has been scratched off. The # is near the BB on this frame. My other frame (no gussets) has no serial # stamped. It had one of the sticker serial #'s. Sorry for late reply, but I havent logged on in awhile. I have yet to see another frame like this. Thats why I havent been able to part with it.

#18
1966bmx

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guyster ,
i still need those CYC scans . lmk . thanks
donnie
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#19
Guyster

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Digging your TSOL avatar BTW

Edited by Guyster, 26 November 2009 - 03:06 AM.


#20
big fire

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iam looking for kawasaki parts if anybody has anything??????. thanks fire
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