Following the news regarding Mike Brennan leaving longtime parts sponsor Animal in an effort to pursue a new parts brand dubbed Merritt, I got to thinking about other instances in which riders had left sponsors to pursue their own brand. I started a list, filled in the blanks, and in less than an hour, had compiled ten instances of the "rider leaves sponsor to start new brand" phenomenon. Some of the behind the scenes developments are different, but it seems as though a lot of professional BMX riders yearn for the chance to start anew with a fresh brand to mold around their ideas, starting in the '80s and continuing into the present. What follows is my brief account of riders leaving sponsors to pursue their own brands.
1989: R.L. Osborn leaves General Bicycles, forms Bully Bicycles
In 1989, R.L. Osborn parted ways with General and started Bully Bicycles. As street riding took on popularity, Osborn designed bikes with bashguards and allowed the brand to have a more raw vibe than his previous sponsors. Freestylin' Magazine dubbed Osborn "one of the first to go out on a limb and pursue rider-owned." "I didn't even know what an economy was," said Osborn. "I wasn't worried at all." He sponsored emerging legends such as Jay Miron and Todd Lyons, produced complete bikes and grew the brand quickly. Eventually, the pressures of riding and running the brand became too much, and Osborn sold Bully to MCS in Florida. "I just couldn't sell my soul anymore," said Osborn.
1989: Ron Wilkerson leaves Haro, forms Wilkerson Airlines
Following a life-threatening vert crash in late 1988, Haro rider Ron Wilkerson felt that the "edge" in freestyle was gone. "With Haro, they'd always been really into what was going on with contests and the team. And then, with the "slowdown" of the business of BMX, they just were not into it anymore -- that was my major reason for leaving," says Wilkerson. He created Wilkerson Airlines in early 1989, and helped to usher in the era of overbuilt frames. WAL evolved into 2-hip Bikes in the late '90s, and operates under the helm of Wilkerson from Santa Cruz, Calif.
1991: Rick Moliterno leaves Haro, forms Standard
Rick Moliterno, still riding for Haro at the time, joined forces with Bill Nitschke and Krt Schmidt to create Standard Bykes in November of 1991. "I went to Haro and offered to redesign their bikes and be a team manager to select riders that we're of that new style at the time for them. They pretty much said you can redesign our bikes but we are not going to pay you. I told them that I did not want to ride for them anymore and that I was going to start my own thing." Standard received their first prototype frames almost a year later, and Standard continues to exist to the current day, with Moliterno still at the helm.
1992: Mat Hoffman leaves Haro, forms Hoffman Bikes
In late 1991, Mat Hoffman remained one of the last members of the Haro freestyle team. But he was breaking bikes, fast. "I'd been offered a chance to have my own signature bike on Haro. I should have been stoked, but my 'question everything' mind-set was provoking me to do a lot of soul searching. If I was going to put my name on a bike, I didn't want it to be at the mercy of bean counters. I didn't want somebody's lackluster bike sale stats to control who I wanted to be," said Hoffman. He called Linn Kastan, designed the American-made Condor frame and had prototypes by the end of the year. Hoffman Bikes continues on, and the Condor frame remains a steadfast part of the brand's line-up.
2000: Robbie Morales leaves Terrible One, forms Fit Bike Co.
An original member of the T-1 team, Robbie Morales left the brand in 2000 to pursue Fit, with Chris Moeller of S&M. According to Morales, "It took two years to get 50 of my frames made, and it was putting a stress on Taj Mihelich and Joe Rich because they were having to research manufacturers. It was just a losing battle; we could never get it right. Chris Moeller approached me one day out of the blue and said: Hey, I have the capabilities to make frames and get them done in a timely fashion and super-high quality. I checked with Taj and Joe and they thought it would be a great opportunity for me to do, so I'm going to go for it."
2000: Jay Miron leaves Schwinn, forms MacNeil
Jay Miron reached the end of his contract with Schwinn after the X Games in 2000. He handed his bike to a fan in the crowd, and drove to Solid Bikes in Sacramento to pick up samples of his new MacNeil brand frames. "Schwinn was listening to the riders less and making way too many suit and tie moves. So I decided to leave. I was laced with a tough decision -- ride for another corporate company and risk dealing with the same problems down the road, or start my own company," says Miron. MacNeil revolutionized the industry with their Pivotal seat design, before Miron left the brand in March of 2010. MacNeil continues to operate from British Columbia in Canada, while Miron reportedly pursues custom furniture making.
2004: Greg Walsh leaves Primo, forms Coalition
In March of 2004, Tip Plus/Primo brand manager Greg Walsh left the brands behind to form Coalition components. Walsh, with Primo since the late '90s, took a good part of the Primo team with him to Coalition, including Taj Mihelich, Joe Rich, Brian Terada, Mike Tag and Nate Hanson. Coalition's early components included updated Taj Mihelich grips and an innovative stem designed by John Povah. Coalition remains a part of Sidewall Distribution, and continues to offer an array of components, though the team has been through its fair share of changes.
2006: Dave Mirra leaves Haro, forms Mirraco
After over ten years of riding for Haro, Dave Mirra intended on finishing out his career with the brand. But in early 2006, that plan changed. "Considering how far apart we were in negotiating a new deal, I figured I could do better on my own," said Mirra. Mirra employed former Haro president and CEO Jim Ford, and the brand had created a line of complete bikes by the end of the year. Mirraco continues to offer a line of complete bikes under a distribution deal from Trek, and although Mirra spends much of his time racing Rally, he still dusts off his Mirraco and shreds from time to time.
2006: Ian Morris leaves Federal, forms United
In mid-2006, Federal brand manager and team rider Ian Morris left his position at Seventies Distribution/Federal to start his own distribution and bike company, dubbed United Bike Co. Morris took a good chunk of the Federal team with him, including Corey Martinez and Kye Forte, and started fresh. Meanwhile, Steven Hamilton and Jared Washington stayed on at Federal, and with the addition of Dan Lacey, the brand slowly emerged with new logos, new team riders and more advanced frame designs.
2009: Robbie Morales leaves Fit Bike Co., forms Cult
After almost ten years with Fit, Robbie Morales decided to leave the brand in late 2009 in pursuit of a more raw approach to BMX brands. "The Monday after Interbike, I was pushed to my breaking point," said Morales. He employed Neil Wood (formerly of S&M) to design parts, and took a good portion of the Fit team with him, including Dakota Roche, Chase Dehart, Chase Hawk and Trey Jones. Fit riders Mike Aitken, Justin Inman, Brian Foster, Van Homan, Edwin De La Rosa and Tom White remained with the Fit team, and eventually new members such as Ben Lewis and Tom Dugan were added. Cult continues to operate not far from the S&M building in Santa Ana, Calif., and is set to release their second full-length team video this fall. "Things are way better now, says Morales.