In late '87, a ramp and flatland rider named Craig Grasso forever entered BMX notoriety after riding one of his runs at the 2hip King of Vert in Leucadia, Calif. without any clothes on. His motivation -- $200 to fix a radiator in his broken down Honda Civic.
Grasso, a member of the growing General Bicycles team, was dropped by his sponsor following the incident, but gained the attention of the entire BMX community, including Mat Hoffman's father, who allegedly chased after him following the nude 2hip run.
Before that incident, Craig Grasso was a sponsored rider that made appearances in the magazine. After the incident, Craig Grasso's name was burned into the BMX conscience.
In the 2008 Freestylin' Magazine book "Generation F," Grasso spoke about the nude run. "It was one of the best moments. Even though it was kind of my downfall at some point, it was positive and just made me push on and not care what everybody thought. And I think that was where street riding was going at that point. You had to rebel."
In 1988, Grasso landed back on his feet with new sponsors, including Vision Street Wear and Diamond Back, and a new focus: street riding in the South Bay area of Los Angeles. Throughout the next year, Grasso pushed the boundaries of what was possible on a BMX bike in the natural landscapes of Redondo and Hermosa Beach, and because Freestylin' Magazine was located in nearby Torrance, Grasso enjoyed heavy coverage in the magazines.
For many riders, Grasso's approach to BMX riding, from footplants on shopping carts to no-handed fakie tree rides, was some of our first glimpses into what was possible in street riding. Through the lens of Spike Jonze and Windy Osborn, Grasso helped introduce BMX to a new form of riding which shirked uniforms, competitions and the establishment, and preached self expression.
Alongside his revolutionary approach to riding, mystique around Grasso continued to grow. He dressed differently, grew his hair into dreadlocks, and pursued his own music on top of BMX. And as time went on, he left Diamond Back for Ozone and built up his bikes in increasingly more street-like setups, loosing the pegs and gyro in favor of a then unheard of straight back brake cable on a freestyle bike.
The cult of Grasso had arrived just as BMX freestyle was transforming from a marketing strategy into a lifestyle, and Grasso's street riding approach was one of the major reasons for the change. The change ushered in a major recession in the BMX industry, but as I've said before, it was necessary for the organic growth to continue.
As the '80s ended, Craig Grasso moved to San Francisco and slowly drifted from the BMX scene he had helped to create. He played more music, became a bike messenger and did the occasional 2hip tour with Ron Wilkerson. Eventually, BMX moved on, and so did Craig Grasso. But his influence on street riding has remained an important part of BMX culture.
Earlier this week, Craig Grasso, now living in Vermont, was stopped by police in Jericho Center for a broken tail light on his Toyota. According to WCAX news, he gave a fake name and took off on foot. The officer on the scene ordered Grasso to stop, then deployed his Taser, which did not affect Grasso due to the heavy jacket he was wearing. Grasso ran into the woods and disappeared. Vermont State Police brought in a K-9 unit to help the sheriff's department track the suspect. But they lost Grasso's scent.
Unfortunately, I had not really thought much about Craig Grasso's influence on BMX until reading this news earlier today. And as the news spread through the older generation of BMXers, a comment from Keith Treanor grabbed me. "Even though BMX is not as big and glorified as other sports, it's still hard to find yourself once it's gone," said Treanor.
Grasso remains at large and now faces charges of driving with a suspended license, eluding police and resisting arrest.