For almost the past decade, the summer X Games has traditionally happened at the end of July, edging into August by one or two days. Based in Los Angeles, the BMX portion of the X Games, headed by sport organizer Mat Hoffman and the Hoffman Sports Association, employs a selection of judges who travel to LA and are traditionally housed in a hotel near the airport, the Sheraton Gateway Hotel.
For as long as I can remember, that has included BMX vert, park, street legend Leigh Ramsdell, who judges the majority of BMX categories at the X Games and spends most days at home in Raleigh, N.C. working at Eastern Bikes. Leigh's birthday also happens to be today, August 1. And for as long as Leigh has judged the X Games, he's celebrated his birthday in the hotel lobby of the Sheraton Gateway with fellow BMX judges.
This year, because the X Games happened one month earlier, Leigh Ramsdell is back at home with his family. And because this is an unusual circumstance, I thought it would be appropriate to take this time to discuss all that Leigh has contributed to BMX in his thirty plus years on a BMX bike.
Ramsdell picked up his first BMX bike in the late '80s, and although he picked up quickly on everything from flatland to dirt, his brand of fearless, try it and see what happens attitude focused his exploits on quarterpipe and halfpipe riding. Ramsdell competed in early 2-Hip King of Vert events, wrote letters to BMX Plus! when they misspelled his name in the results and generally started getting pretty good at boosting ten-foot airs with stretched variations. (In his more flexible days, Leigh was in the barhop air club.)
In the early '90s, after some time in the amateur vert ranks for sponsors such as Diamond Back and Badd and Company, Leigh Ramsdell started a BMX zine called "Orgasmic Toaster." It covered the BMX scene in his area of North Carolina, and featured random drawings from Ramsdell. He also hooked up with a rider named Hal Brindley, who had started an irreverent clothing brand known as 2B Homecooked Garments. Ramsdell was an early team member, and the subject of 2B's early video, "Baking with Leigh." (Ramsdell worked at Dunkin' Donuts alongside riding, hence the name.)
The video featured Ramsdell riding whatever was in his path, with innovative tricks. Unfortunately, it's not on YouTube. But it remains a seminal classic in the spectrum of early BMX videos. It didn't exactly cement Leigh's status as a huge pro or anything, but that seems more to do with the fact that Leigh was never the person to pursue the elusive "pro" title. He just rode, had fun and went for things that didn't seem possible.
Fortunately, people took notice. By the mid '90s, Leigh was sponsored by brands such as Wilkerson Airlines and Bully, placing in the top ten in vert and mini ramp categories, and traveling the world to do demos on tours such as the Warped Tour. By the time the X Games rolled around, Leigh was an automatic invite in the vert category, placing top five in vert at Mat Hoffman's Bicycle Stunt contests, and riding for brands such as DK and Airwalk. He had also started a small t-shirt company of his own, known as Useless, and every now and again, to this day, Useless continues to manufacture products.
By the time the late '90s/early '00s rolled around, Leigh was a well known pro with slew of endorsement deals that included DC Shoes and Jnco. He was also getting attention for his all or nothing approach to street riding (huge rails, forward and backwards were no problem for Leigh), and his transition into television personality for Mat Hoffman's CFB series and the X Games. Magazines, videos, Leigh did it all, and his humorous approach to the pro lifestyle influenced a new generation of pros to push the envelope on their riding while not taking it too seriously.
Throughout the next decade, Leigh's riding continued to progress, as he made the transition from established pro to legend status. He switched bike sponsors, landing a spot on Eastern Bikes, which eventually transcended into a full-time job, and made the transition into contest judging. There are many pages I could fill with all of the hilarious hijinks I've encountered along the way with Leigh Ramsdell, but in the nature of Internet reading spans, I should end this.
In an era where most riders are afraid to be different, Leigh Ramsdell continues to remain an original influence on BMX. He retains a fearless approach to his riding, and he does take it very seriously, but as soon as it's over, Leigh Ramsdell is back to hijinks, irreverent doodles and making people laugh. There are times when I wish Leigh would pedal at the biggest quarterpipe in the skatepark and stall out a bloody booger nosepiece (a Ramsdell original move), but at the end of the day, I'm just glad to be able to call Leigh a friend and know that he's a true influence on the BMX scene.
Happy 42nd birthday, written not far from the Sheraton Gateway Hotel lobby.