The Legend of Homeless Bikes
During the dark days of 1991, before the Internet, when the only form of media still alive and kicking was BMX Plus!, a movement among dedicated BMXers began to arise in the form of rider-owned BMX companies. If you know me, or keep up with this blog at all, you probably know this introduction like the back of your hand, so I won't go into it again. I'll just say that BMX freestyle came to a point where it almost seemed like it was not going to survive. Thankfully, it did.
It's not that people weren't riding. They were, and the sport was definitely progressing, but there was no unified scene, no contests to attend, not enough magazines to read, not enough videos to watch and not enough quality bike parts available.
That was the impetus behind start-up rider-owned companies such as Hoffman Bikes and Standard Byke Co., which began around the same time (1990-91) and are all still around today as respected brands. But there were additional, now lesser known brands that came onto the scene and made a huge impact, such as Austin, Texas's own Homeless Bikes.
At the time, a high school student named Dave Parrick had created his own "Club" which was a spoof on Club Homeboy, a club made popular by the editors of Freestylin' Magazine. Parrick's club was called "Club Homeless. In the beginning, Club Homeless made videos and t-shirts which were sold at Austin's own Trend Bike Source. Eventually, Parrick, Club Homeless partner in crime James Shepherd and Ruben Castillo turned their thoughts to bikes. "We just did it for fun and people seemed to like the name homeless so we used it for the bike company," said Parrick.
Homeless Bikes was officially born in 1991. In the beginning, they manufactured two frames: the Mack, a no-frills street/jumping frame, and the Soul Bro, a shorter, flatland-based frame with a standing platform. Additionally, Homeless released US-made forks with ¼" thick dropouts, shin guards, self-sealing tubes dubbed 'The Fatty', apparel and accessories. The team was a heavy cast of then unknown rippers from the Texas area, including Parrick, Shepherd and Castillo, along with Steve Orneales, Ed Koenning, Eben Krackau, Jeff Harris, Kevin Gutierrez and a revolving door cast of riders from the U.K. (Jason Davies, John Yull), California and more.
Under the direction of Parrick and Shepherd, Homeless created two videos which would go on to become legendary in the realm of BMX videos: Highway To Hell, released in 1992, and Trash, released one year later and described as "A film based loosely on the handrail." Both broke new entirely new ground on the riding of the era, and I honestly don't have enough words in my vocabulary to explain why they are so integral to the progression of BMX riding. Mat Hoffman may have been the first rider to figure out how to grind a handrail, but it was the Homeless crew that opened up BMX's collective eyes to the possibility of what could be done on a handrail; something that is still being explored almost twenty years later.
But that wasn't the only influence that Homeless had on the BMX scene. Without even trying, the Homeless brand and team possessed a certain aesthetic and stylistic approach to BMX, which, at the time, really wasn't on anyone's minds. They hired an artist named Gregg Higgins to create the look of Homeless ads and graphics, mixing black and white '70s era images of pimps and cretins with progressive riding photos, such as tailwhips over spines, icepicks down rails and fakie peg stalls on street signs. Sometimes, the ads made outrageous claims (such as a Craig Grasso pro model), and sometimes, the ads simply quoted rap lyrics from The Black Sheep. It was a bizarre mix of original, technical street riding, backlash against corporate BMX companies and subversive imagery. And maybe it was just me, but at the time, I ate it up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Things changed pretty drastically for Homeless after the release of Trash though. The brand, which was being run by James Shepherd and Gregg Hansen, was purchased from the original owner by Hansen. Following the purchase, Shepherd was pushed out of the company, leaving Homeless entirely to Hansen. Most of the team followed Shepherd, and attempts were made by Shepherd to start two new companies: Homeless Jr. at first, and later on, Family Bikes. Nothing ever came to fruition with either company, but once again, the ads created by both ventures were truly iconic.
Original Homeless partner Gregg Hansen soldiered on with Homeless for a few more years, moving their manufacturing in-house to a machine shop in Austin, sponsoring the likes of Dylan Worsely and Nate Hanson, and releasing new frames such as the 'Pornstar' and the 'Player.' Slowly, Homeless became an entirely different entity, from the product to the team to the very feel and ethos of the company. And then, in 1997, according to various sources, the Homeless Bikes machine shop burned down in Austin, TX.
Unfortunately, this turn of events led to the demise of Homeless Bikes. But the influence that Homeless had on riding, whether you know it or not, is going to be felt for a long time to come. Now do yourself a favor, head on over to YouTube and watch Trash. Or, relive the glory years of Homeless through the Homeless Bikes blog, which features past ads, bike builds, autographed photos of Lee Sultimier and more.
Or just grind a handrail and tweet about it to former Homeless rider Ed Koenning.