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Rad Rides

A comprehensive look at the best BMX bikes of all time seen through the eyes of design

by Karen Day in Design on 16 April 2012

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As motocross became an increasingly popular sport in 1960s Southern California, boys wanted to emulate their favorite riders, and began hacking together bicycle frames. Realizing this potential gap in the market, Schwinn created a bike that would answer their racing-specific needs. The Schwinn Sting Ray launched in 1963, giving life to BMX—bicycle motocross—and taking it from California dirt tracks to the Olympic game it is today. The new book "Rad Rides" chronicles this evolution through a comprehensively diverse range of bikes submitted by BMX enthusiasts from around the world.

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Written by London-based design studio Intercity, design pundit Gavin Lucas and longtime BMX competitor Stuart Robinson, "Rad Rides" looks at the history of the sport through bike design. According to Lucas, the "basic geometry of the BMX hasn't really changed much over the years," but like any sport the relentless quest for greater strength and durability "has led to much experimentation—in welding techniques, in alloy composition and bike construction."

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"The real joy of putting this book together is that no one way of doing things, with regard to building a bike, is the 'right' way for every single rider and their particular style of riding," Lucas explains. The sport itself is separated into two approaches, racing—where it's all about speed—and freestyle, which is broken down into vert, park, trails and flatland disciplines. The variety of ways in which people handle the bike has led to an industry where customization is king. From freestylist Woody Itson's legendary '85 gold Hutch Trick Star to Jim Bauer's colorful hand-painted tiles on his 2006 Metal Rebel Contender, the aesthetics are as important as the mechanics.

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"Rad Rides" is also a useful reference for anyone thinking about piecing together their own BMX bike. Each example features a complete set of specs spanning grips, pedals, cranks, seat and more. For his handsome green 1985 Skyway Street Beat, Lucas sourced the parts on eBay, including matching Skyway Tuff II wheels and Odyssey limited edition Jim Cielencki pedals that glow green in the dark.

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"Rad Rides" declares at the beginning that anyone who says they don't love a BMX bike is lying, going on to validate this sentiment throughout the book. Since many fell for the miniature frame when it landed a crucial role in "E.T." in 1982, it endures as a beloved fixture of pop culture. A visually compelling and insightful history of BMX, seen through the eyes of design, "Rad Rides" is out May 2012 and is available for pre-order from Laurence King and Amazon.

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