When he agreed to speak with me regarding the BMX Society "Collector Spotlight" Series, I knew it was going to be interesting. Hopefully, you will enjoy the discussion that follows:
Welcome, Lee. Let's begin. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Family, work, where you were born, where you live, etc.
I was born in Subic Bay, Philippines in 1966. I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico. I have been married to my wife, Beth for nineteen years. We have two boys: Trevor is eleven and Luke is nine. We have lived in Highlands Ranch, Colorado since 1999 and I’ve been working in the nuclear industry for 20 years
Please give us some background as it relates to your love of bikes? Your first bike, earliest memories, etc.
My first bike was an orange – fade to green Huffy Dragster (1971). I didn’t even know what BMX was back then but I remember in 1972 seeing a Schwinn Stingray-type bike with the fenders removed. It had Cheng Shin – type knobby tires on the front and rear. I’d never seen anything like that before, thought it was the coolest thing ever and knew I had to have something like that. In 1975 my dad bought me a BMX conversion kit from a local Gibson’s, which included handlebars, grips, crossbar pad and number plate to convert my Huffy into a BMX-type bike. The local bike shop started carrying BMX bikes in 1977 and on June 30, 1977, my dad took me to the bike shop and bought me a CYC Stormer MXR with a Tange TS-500 fork and Tuff wheels. I really wanted a Mongoose but the CYC was cheaper. I loved the bike and rode it through the summer. Later that year, I rode it to the hobby store to pick up some Testers modeling glue. I was only in there for a couple minutes, but when I came out, it was gone. My dad and I drove all over town for several afternoons looking for it but it was never recovered. The theft was a blessing in disguise…early in 1978 my dad bought me a 1978 Motomag Mongoose, complete with Motomags and a Roger Decoster fork. This was the first bike I ever raced. The local bike shop maintained a decent BMX inventory and I was able to upgrade this bike with Comp II tires, Redline V-bars, double-clamp stem, Oakley grips.
So you began racing in 1979, but how about the 1980’s? What style(s) were you drawn to? Only racing? Freestyle? Street?
When I started, there was no freestyle discipline. In 1980/81, freestyle began to develop and all racers tried “trick riding” – it wasn’t called Freestyle then. I followed all the trends from the magazines and started with curb endos, break endos, bunny hopping, rock walks, 360 rollouts etc. When BMXA came out with plans to build your own quarter pipe, I went to the lumber yard and bought the materials needed for the ramp. Finished it the summer of 1983 and found I really liked riding quarterpipes and was on several local freestyle teams including the legendary Desert Ratz team out of Santa Fe, NM. I did several demos over the years and competed in 2 local freestyle contests.
Which bikes, brands or riders do you remember admiring as a youngster?
My favorite national riders were Toby Henderson, Jeff Bottema, Tinker Juarez, Stu Thomsen, Denny Davidow, Timmy Judge, Mike Poulson, "Hollywood" Mike Miranda, Darrell Young, and Bart McDanials. Locally, Leo Rantannen and Joey Guerra were riders I looked up to. Mongoose and JMC were my two favorite bike manufacturers.
What about bike-related injuries? Anything serious or nasty?
I fractured my knee cap at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in February, 1988. I was racing my Boss at the time. This injury required 2 reconstructive surgeries over the years. Over the years I suffered 2 broken collar bones, multiple fractured ribs. In 2005 while racing a national in Colorado, I went down and broke the ball off the top of my femur. This required 3 screws in my hip, there was a 50/50 chance I’d need a full hip replacement. I still have my original hip but this was pretty much the end of my competitive racing career.
You have two wonderful sons that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on numerous occasions. Do you share in collecting, riding or racing with your boys?
Definitely! Trevor, my oldest son, has been on a two-wheel bike since he was 3 – no training wheels. His first BMX bike was a ‘78 SE DB-IV. This led to the infamous root jumping sessions at Rockford. Since then, he’s graduated to an expert size 1993 ELF, which he currently rides at the track and really enjoys riding skate parks.
My youngest son Luke also started riding at 3 – no training wheels. He started on a 1981 JMC mini, which he still rides. He is anxiously awaiting the build of his 80 Redline Microline. He started racing on the JMC and still loves it.
I’m always curious to know….what do the other people in your life think about the fact that you enjoy collecting old BMX bicycles? Can you give us any anecdotal stories about the reactions/comments from family/friends?
My family has always been supportive of my racing and knew about my passion. My wife, girlfriend at the time, was at the Boulder County Fairground race where I fractured my knee cap. She still remembers me keeping my pink Hutch Hollywood in my dorm room at CSU. I still surround myself with bike racers – they’re a good group of people. When my wife and I lived in CT, I switched over from BMX and started racing Mountain Bikes. We traveled all over New England and the northeast to follow the race circuit. We didn’t have any children at the time so it was one racing adventure after the next during the race season. Even though I was racing mountain bikes, the other riders/racers (those with any talent anyway) were transplants from BMX.
The funniest story as far as collecting happened at my high school reunion. I rode up to one of the outdoor events and one of my old buddies said, “Wow, the last time I saw you during high school, you were on a BMX bike in shorts, T-shirt and Vans and here we are 20 years later and you’re still the same”.
Tell us more about racing mountain bikes. It must have been fun traveling around with your wife.
I was racing BMX in the early 90’s, and noticed some BMX Pros were starting to transition over to MTB racing, Downhill and Dual Slalom specifically, and doing very well. It looked interesting to me, so I decided to get a Mt. Cycle San Andreas, which was an early DH specific MTB. My first MTB race was in 1993, at the NORBA national at Mt. Snow Vermont. It was way more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I had no idea how to set up suspension of disc brakes. And at that time, there was only one class for dual slalom, so I was competing against Mike King, Dave Cullinan, John Tomac, etc. I got smoked that first race, but I found that I really liked the MTB scene, being in the mountains with a mature group of competitors, instead of a bunch of kids like a BMX race. It took a few months to figure the sport out, but I finally got the bike set up dialed in, and started getting some solid finishes under my belt. My wife and I spent every weekend throughout the summer for the next 7-8 years racing all over New England. It turns out that most of the guys in the MTB scene were current or former BMXers, so overall, the scene was pretty much like BMX. However, BMX races are run far more efficiently, and the points system for BMX is much better than anything I was involved with during my MTB career.
You mentioned living in Connecticut in the mid-1990’s, were you able to be in attendance for the birth of ESPN’s X-Games? They actually began in CT. in 1995, correct?
Yes, I was a participant in the first Summer X-Games (summer of 1995) and also the first Winter X-Games in 1997. The ESPN headquarters are based in Bristol, CT., which was only 45 minutes from where I lived. The Extreme Games was a new concept at that time, so they (ESPN) were struggling to get competitors for the MTB events. During the Summer Games in ’95, they had a list of “invited” athletes (top National and World Cup Pros) for the two MTB events, but some were not able to compete, so they held open qualifying session for locals to try fill the remaining spots (they wanted 32 athletes per event). I managed to qualify for the DS event, and made it to the round of eight before being eliminated. Toby Henderson was also there, and was eliminated the same round. Toby had made the transition to MTB a few years earlier, and along with Tomac, brought the BMX look (uniforms, box vans, etc.) to MTB.
DS on snow was a popular event in NE, and when ESPN was gearing up for the first Winter Games during the winter of 1996/1997, they decided to include DS and DH MTB on snow for the debut event, to be held at Snow Summit resorts in Big Bear, CA. Since I had qualified for the summer games in ’95, my name was on the list for the winter games, and I was actually invited to participate. Somehow I managed to qualify in the top 10 for the elimination rounds, and ended up taking a Bronze medal that year. Toby Henderson ended up with a Bronze in the DH event.
Directly to your bikes, can you share with us a list of the complete bikes you currently own?
- 13 BMX products – includes 1980 Supergoose that I acquired from one of my original riding buddies (I was with him when his parents bought it for him in early 1981) back in 1985, 2 Teams, 4 Motomags, 1 Jag, 1 Roger DeCoster, 4 Kos Kruisers.
- 10 JMCs – 2 DYs, 5 Standard Longs, 2 Minis, 1 Pit
- 6 SE racing – 2 Loop Quads, 1 Loop Pk, 1 Reynolds Quad, 1 loop Floval Flyer, 1 DB-IV
- 5 GTs – 1 ’82 Pro, 1 ’84 Pro, 1 ’85 Pro, 1 ’86 Pro, 1 GT 26”
- My original ’83 Boss 20”
- 2 Hutch – 1 XL24, the other is my original pink Hutch Hollywood
- 1 ’76 Centurion
- 1 Yamaha Motobike
- 1 Traker
- 1 Powerlite 3-bar 24”
- 1 ’84 GHP Cruiser
- 1 DG Banty (Pit)
- 2 Littlejohn – 1 Pit and 1 20”
- 1 Torker 280X
- My original ’89 Free Agent Pro Limo
- 1 ’83 Haro Freestyler
- 1 ’85 Haro FST
- 1 ’86 Haro Master
- 1 Kappa Pit
- 1 Patterson PR-240
Do you have a hands-down favorite?
If I could only keep one…it would be the 1980 Supergoose. However, the 1981 JMC standard-long with the Gen I Graphites (that bike is a replica of the bike I raced ‘81/’82) and my original Hollywood mean a great deal to me as well.
The JMC Pit you own. That was Mr. Melton's personal bike at one time, correct? Tell us the story of how you came to acquire that bike.
There’s no real story – I was looking for a JMC pit bike and had the opportunity to acquire this from Dave Connonetz. He’d mentioned that it was a low serial number – P16 2 – the second pit built but at that time, I didn’t have concrete information regarding the history. I didn’t get it for the serial number; I just wanted the pit bike. After owning it for a few years, I contacted Jim Melton to see if I could get some more information on it. Jim let me know that this was his personal pit bike that he used to demonstrate the JMC quality work when he was pitching the brand to dealers.
What was his reaction upon seeing the bike this past June at Bellflower?
When I first contacted Jim regarding the serial number, he mentioned it was one of his favorites. When he saw it in June, he said, “Look Vera (his wife), this is my old pit bike”. She later said, “I remember that hanging in our garage for years”. He was very humble about it, but I could sense the pride he has regarding JMC and his involvement in BMX.
Do you still have any “must do” projects? If so, please tell us about them…
No must dos but I’m always on the lookout for a 77 - 79 Redline Proline, an 82 Patterson – long and eventually, I hope to run across a JMC Andy Patterson. I’ll continue to grab any Graphite Tuffs, JMC Standard Longs, and Team Mongoose frames I run across.
You and I have been to many of the same bike shows since 2005, but wow how the times have changed. The hobby has exploded in good ways as well as not-so-good ways (depending on your viewpoint). What's your take on the changes in this hobby over the past 5+ years?
It’s definitely grown and I appreciate this. There are several sites that have matured into useful tools as well as entertaining places to hang out. The best part to me has always been meeting guys that were active in the sport, still passionate about it and hearing their old race stories.
Let's move to present day. Tell us about this Colorado Vintage Race Series you have.
I’ve been racing vintage bikes since 2003/2004. I saw that AntDog had been doing a vintage series on the East Coast. I have wanted to do the same thing here but didn’t know if there’d be enough interest. Last year I committed to starting the series this race season. I didn’t want it to be heavily regulated but to maintain the spirit of racing older-style bikes. So far, it’s been very successful. There’s been increasing interest and the best part is after the races, bench racing with the guys and swapping stories.
With all that is involved in running your race series, do you find that you still enjoy the collecting aspect of the hobby?
It hasn’t been too much work since I have friends that share in the legwork. I don’t really consider myself a collector but more of an enthusiast, so the race series complements my interest in the hobby very well. If anything, the series has enhanced the local “collecting” scene because it has encouraged several older racers to start digging through their garages/basements in search of their old bikes/parts. However, my interest in the hobby has been on a fairly level trajectory since I acquired my buddy’s “old” Supergoose in 1985. I’m not after the high-end, most expensive bikes and components. I seek and build bikes that have significance to me…bikes that I’ve ridden/raced in the past. I’ve always been a racer, which is why I have bikes in my basement. There’s meaning in each bike I own…they may not be meaningful to others but they mean a lot to me and I can tell a story about each one – the reputation of each bike back in the day, the top riders who raced that particular model, the evolution of the bike and components over the years and how it ties into my riding/racing history.
I have to ask about the truck! The Toyota truck. The one that has been driven to Pluto and back. Tell us about the truck (mileage, long treks, funny breakdown stories, etc). Do you still own it?
Yes, the infamous ’89 Toyota 2x. I bought the truck in July 1992 with 60k on it. I’ve always been interested in desert racing and I wanted a vehicle that I could convert to a desert race truck. In 1992, Downey Off-Road came out with a bolt-on, long-travel suspension system…the Pro Desert system, which would enable someone outside the off-road epicenter (So. Cal) to build a pre-runner. I searched for a truck on which I could install this system and found a used one in Denver. Since this was to be a secondary, play/toy vehicle, I assumed I’d put about 5,000 miles/year on it. I installed the kit, beat the vehicle senseless over that summer and the next year a job change forced a cross-country move. It was then relegated to commuter duty and transportation to the races in New England and the NE states. It went to every mountain bike race in which I ever competed. We’ve been from the eastern tip of New Hampshire to San Diego in it. 5 cross country trips that I can remember. We brought both boys home from the hospital as newborns. I jumped it hundreds of times (the longest being ~65 feet, highest, over a trash can off of a loading dock). I have never done anything more than basic maintenance on the truck. The only time it broke down was when I was headed to CA for the ’09 Peck Park gathering. We were in Southern Utah and I heard a noise that sounded like a car from the Jetsons (turns out the noise was bearings/shrapnel from the water pump). The check engine light came on so I hit the next exit after which steam started coming from under the hood. I popped the hood, and found coolant everywhere. The water pump bearing that holds the fan disintegrated and the fan put a fist-sized hole in the radiator. The nearest Toyota dealership was 90 miles away so I decided to roll the dice and see if I could make it to St. George. I cut the fan belt off, filled the radiator with Mt. Dew, and took off. I had to pull over every 10 miles to add fluid but it made it to the dealer in St. George where I dropped it off, rented a mini-van and headed to the OS event.
In August of 09, I sold it and to my wife’s disgust, recently reacquired it. So, after almost trading it in on another Toyota in 1995 and getting back again after selling it - it is now called the Boomerang. It has 640,000 miles on it, and still runs great. I even towed our ’68 Karmann Ghia convertible 100 miles with it over the weekend.
With 640,000 miles on it and all those jumps, have you ever received any sort of recognition from Toyota?
No, it hasn’t received any awards or anything, probably because I never pursued it. I’ve been asked that question many times though. About 10 years ago, there was a Toyota commercial with some lady with a Toyota truck that had just reached 300,000 miles. The truck had been painted white with black spots, like a dairy cow. My truck had over 300,000 miles on it then, and I remember thinking I’d jump my truck over a herd of dairy cows if I was on that commercial!
NOTE: It is worth mentioning that Lee also had another of his Off-Road vehicles profiled in a two magazines. Check it out:
Lee, it has been a pleasure talking with you. We appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to participate in the interview. It's been fun reliving memories that have been locked away for years.