Behind The Shield - 30 Years of S&M BIkes
A DIG 99.8 Re-Reprint
— S&M is the most punk rock company in BMX. As the product of smart ass wild-child Chris Moeller, the company’s start date finds itself in 1987, but the soul of S&M goes back almost to the beginning of BMX. Born and bred in the SoCal hotbed of everything cool, Chris staked his claim at the track as a member of the outlaw Peddlepower bike shop team, but was introduced to the BMX public as a test rider for BMX Action magazine in 1985. Almost overnight, the Mad Dog nickname was known to everyone in BMX.
— In that era (pre-internet/social media), the magazines were the entire BMX media. BMX videos didn’t really exist yet, save for some corny shit like RAD and a couple other laughable productions that just made BMX look bad. Appearing every month on the pages of BMX Action was all-star status for teen-aged Moeller. BMX Action was the big dog of BMX magazines and had a fairly short list of test riders to have graced its pages, but being a “chosen one” for the legendary photographers of the mag to shoot with was as good as it got - maybe even more than being a factory sponsored rider. Adding “Most Factory Magazine” test rider to his existing status as a troublemaker local racer at the Orange YMCA BMX track gave Moeller star power.
— Chris’ frequent, abusive encounters with less than stellar equipment for the magazine: A mixture of delicate racing bikes and the onslaught of sub-par overseas BMX equipment that emerged in the mid-80s, demanded the need for a better bike - if not just for himself, but for everyone. Partnering with an older local racer/jumper in Greg Swingrover, they transformed their ideas to paper and paper to product, and the original S&M frames were born. Being located dead-center in the mecca of BMX industry had it’s advantages, and S&M enlisted the likes of legendary 1970’s BMX brands Cook Bros. Racing and later, Voris Dixon, to make it’s first frames. These were first-generation BMX companies, as well as independent fabrication shops, and they knew how to make a proper frame jig, miter tubing for the strongest joints and lay down clean weld beads to hold it all together. They understood head tube angles, tube diameters and thickness, dropout spacing and how it all effected the ride of the finished frame. With sage craftsmen bringing the S&M designs to life, Moeller, along his more subdued partner, they brought the personality to the public. S&M had instant credibility when the first K-9 D-Zine frame hit the track, dirt and street - and it was the first frame designed to do it all. BMX took notice, from riders with an open eye for the latest product developments, to the industry heavies churning out the bikes Chris had been thrashing up until that point. S&M was on the map, right out of the gate.
— As a business grows and evolves, people start having different visions of the future. A couple years into S&M, Swingrover had to make bigger moves, leaving a toddler S&M in the hands of Moeller to guide it along the way. The early 90s were not good years for BMX on a “big picture” level. The industry was barely producing a pulse and there were very few companies or pro riders making any kind of a living solely involved in BMX. However, this is the exact scenario in which a scrappy motherfucker like the Mad Dog thrives. Chris’ “Dog Bites” magazine article from this time, about re-purposing used cups and salad bar plates at Carl’s Jr. To get endless free food and drink, is a published example of his resourcefulness - assuming he was also paid to write the article as well, he came up twice on that one. The Mad Dog MO showed early on. Working every angle and everything in his path, and with help from his punk rock/Orange Y BMX friends like Paul Green, S&M slowly gathered momentum.
— From the start, S&M attracted a certain “type” of rider. Down for BMX because they love it, down for S&M because that same love is evident within the brand and it’s products. Call it core-integrity or simply “hardcore”, it’s been a constant theme for the brand. Guys like John Paul Rogers were on board early, traveling cross country with Moeller in a VW bus, hoping to win back enough money from the A pro class at each race to keep the wheels in motion. Always doing it on the cheap, and not just out of frugality, but necessity. There was no money and no consistent way to earn it back then, but the movement continued for S&M. The quality and ride-ability of the frames spoke for itself, and the characters aboard the bikes did the rest.
— Keeping with his early reputation as a troublemaker at the track, there was constant conflict at nationals across the country as the S&M show hit the road. Moeller himself spearheaded most the controversy, having run-ins with the legendary likes of DD Leone, Turbo Harry Leary (AKA “Onionhead”), Greg Hill and several other notable combatants. These incidents often ended with a suspension for Moeller, but not after a moonwalk on the infield amid cheers and jeers from the crowd. Kids loved it. Parents hated it - or at least acted like they did.
— The action extended beyond the track, and keeping with the race/jump/street intention of the original S&M frame, Mad Dog brought his S&M machine to every type of event. From the first 2-Hip Meet the Street contest (with a trick list taped to his number plate), to dirt jump contests in a leather jacket and a Stars N Bars motorcycle helmet (don’t forget the smoke bombs), the presentation was funny, but when push came to shove, Moeller was always a serious contender (or winner) of these events.
"A mixture of delicate racing bikes and the onslaught of sub-par overseas BMX equipment that emerged in the mid-80s, demanded the need for a better bike - if not just for himself, but for everyone"- Scott Towne
— The first S&M Frames set the standard for everything that still works in BMX. “Double-Diamond” technology has always been the frame configuration of choice - not much in the way of gimmicks, but clean designs that work, with embellishments to make them last. The original K-9 D-Zine is not a whole lot different than a modern frame in the S&M line - except for the 1-1/8” headtube, of which S&M was one of the first to incorporate into a BMX frame, and a mid-BB, another feature S&M latched onto early. The Mad Dog frame, the Dirt Bike frame, then the Holmes - the first extra-long BMX frame designed to take it all, the beloved Challenger race frame - the lineage of S&M frames goes on, but never fluctuates a whole lot from the original in terms of functionality or appearance. Truth be told, S&M’s iconic Slam Bars are pretty similar in design to some of those produced by smaller 80s brands, but the legacy of Slams is one that continues today. A good design works, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it - just make sure the crossbars are welded on straight.
— As S&M slowly grew, so did the crew. Early devotees to the shield include Dave Clymer, a mysterious and malicious rider who was as wild on the track as he was at a street comp. Guys like Jimmy Levan, with strong roots in racing, then onto dirt jump contests and legendary street status, was an early Dirt Bike pilot. Shaun Butler, AKA “Goldie LaShaun”, was a Sheep Hills local who took dirt jumping (and S&M Bikes) to the next level.
— Never forgetting their early BMX heritage, S&M logos and jerseys paid homage to many iconic brands: The red and yellow FMF-inspired logo saw light on Slam Bars, jersies and more. The iconic GT wings got a sarcastic nod from Moeller more than once, speaking to the love/hate relationship of Moeller and the mothership of Huntington Beach BMX. The white/black S&M jersey with the red stripes saw more exposure (X1000) on the backs of S&M riders than it ever did in its original incarnation as the Panda Bikes uniform. In recent times, S&M’s take on the classic JMC Racing logo has been in place on their racing frames for the last few years. You’d have to know to know, but if you do, you know it’s an honorable homage to the golden years of BMX.
— There is always a fine line between patronage and parody with S&M. Are they serious? Sometimes it was obvious they were, but often it was not. Print ads of the day always made a statement. The triple-clamp fork bong conversion may have been the one that got them banned from Ride BMX magazine (and prompted the creation of Faction magazine out of spite). The nightstick assault on the Biker in Black and the Free Agent brand started a notable shitstorm. The Chinglish-influence for the announcement of an Asian-made S&M pedal is an unforgettable ad for anyone who’s ever read a bicycle trade magazine. Repeated tormenting of Moeller’s OC BMX neighbor (and one-time employer) Todd Huffman at Auburn Bikes came in the form of a paid page devoted to the attributes of a new bolt-together S&M frame, dubbed the “BS-20” (that, no doubt, some now-40 year-old rider still thinks was real), as well as naming an early S&M video “44 Something. Todd Huffman doesn’t Ride” just to pour gas on the fire. More recently, Moeller himself starred in a print ad aboard a surfboard racked beach cruiser for the “Rider Stoned” ad campaign that made waves, bro. Marketing 101 tells us that paying to advertise bogus parts, in a negative light, just to piss some people off and confuse others is 100% the wrong way to promote your brand, but it worked for S&M. Fact: The still-popular “Perfect 10” handlebars were first debuted as a joke, but kids bought into the idea, and bought into the bars, making them one of the most popular items in recent Shield history. Sometimes the jokes on you, but in this case, the joke came back to the bank.
"There is always a fine line between patronage and parody with S&M. Are they serious? Sometimes it was obvious they were, but often it was not."- Scott Towne
— Jokes aside, S&M is as real as it gets. The legacy of riders to honor the Shield is long and mighty, from the famous to the infamous: Dave Clymer, John Paul Rogers, Jason “Timmy” Ball, Jimmy Levan, Tim Strelecki, Anthony Sewell, Shaun Butler, Josh Stricker, Matt Beringer, Neal Wood, Cam Wood, Keith Treanor, Marvin Loetterle, Mike Griffin, Sean McKinney, Brian Castillo, Tony Cardona, Cory Nastazio, Troy McMurray, Kris Bennett and so many more. The characters involved in the team’s history are comprised of as many personality types as the character who runs the company, and that says a lot. Pissing off as many people as they get stoked has always been the S&M way, but the scales usually tip toward the Shield.
— In recent times, S&M has become the epitome of “mid-school” cool. Dudes that came up on late 80s and 90s BMX scour the ends of the earth for original S&M frames and parts, but the catch is that there is no catch. S&M hasn’t ever stopped producing Grade A, USA-built BMX products. There are no “replica” bikes in the S&M lineup, they are all the real thing, whether they were built by GT for S&M in 1992 or build last month at the in-house manufacturing facility at S&M HQ. The current lineup of frames and parts offers something for everyone in BMX. These days, there isn’t just one frame designed to do-it-all like the K-9s or Mad Dogs of the early days, but there is a frame designed for just about every category of BMX. The current S&M team is as diverse as the product offering, with technical street prowess of Charlie Crumlish and Craig Passero, to the raw and wide-open street approach of Mike Hoder, to the high-profile dirt performances of Hucker, to the backwoods soul style of Clint Reynolds or the dedicated flatland that Chad Johnston provides, everyone is moving in a slightly different direction, but make no mistake, everyone is moving, and doing it for S&M Bikes.
— Since day one, S&M has managed to walk the line of rebelling against the father-figures of BMX while honoring their heritage at the same time. It’s a punk rock formula that doesn’t necessarily make sense on paper, but it has worked, in practice, for over 30 years. S&M has had the same “shield” logo since its inception. How many BMX brands can say that? None. The longevity of this branding speaks to the heart and soul of S&M Bikes: Unwavering, reliable, and always kicking ass. Piss off the status quo, while building a legion of dedicated followers at the same time. Rebel against everything while setting the standards for craftsmanship and performance, all with a DIY approach. S&M does it their own way, and it’s worked for over 30 years. Here’s to 30 more. - ST
— The new S&M Bikes book, 'Behind The Shield' is due out sometime in 2018.
"Fact: The still-popular “Perfect 10” handlebars were first debuted as a joke, but kids bought into the idea, and bought into the bars, making them one of the most popular items in recent Shield history. Sometimes the jokes on you, but in this case, the joke came back to the bank."- Scott Towne
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