BMX sales have soared recently, buoyed by the recent emergence of a new BMX movement called BikeLife. In this condensed and edited Q&A, SE Bikes Brand Manager Todd Lyons talks about the business side of SE bikes—initially designed to appeal to old-school BMX riders they’ve become the bike of choice for the BikeLife movement.
Q: How do you explain BikeLife to people who don’t know it?
A: When you talk about BMX there are so many different segments. They are all done on 20-inch BMX bikes. But then you have this new BikeLife segment, which is almost done exclusively on bigger wheeled 24-, 26-, and 29- inch bikes. The riders are concentrating on wildly unique wheelie tricks, riding with their friends and occasionally doing rideouts with 15 to 600 people or more.
Q: When did you first hear the term ‘BikeLife’?
A: A little more than three years ago. I first saw DBLocks [famed BikeLife rider Darnell Meyers] on Instagram doing wheelies in the streets of New York on one of our bikes. He had twenty-something thousand Instagram followers. I was like, holy cow, that was crazy back then to see somebody with that many followers. I was just watching him a little bit, his posts, and he was already riding SE bikes. We sent him one of our new bikes that was coming out that year and I made sure he got it first. He started taking screen grabs of messages that people were sending him saying “Oh, man, what bike is that?” Then I sent him a Big Ripper. He sent me screen grab after screen grab of people asking, “Where can I get this bike, I need that bike,” and that really kicked it off. There’s a lot more to it than that, but the rest is history, as they say.
Dblocks and Twisted 700 (Photo courtesy SE Bikes. Credit: Michael Wikan)
Q: How has SE formalized its relationship with Meyers?
A: He is a sponsored rider under contract. I come from from a pro racing background so it was kind of weird for me at first to pay a guy that does wheelies in the streets, who is just having fun and doing his thing, not entering contests, not racing, not riding in skateparks. But he is a great brand ambassador and he has helped sell more bikes for us in the last three years than anyone has in the last ten years.
Q: Tell me about the original vision for the Big Ripper?
The 20-inch PK Ripper [named for legendary BMXer Perry Kramer] is pretty much the most famous BMX bike of all time, an SE bike created back in 1979. That word, PK Ripper, and the vision of the bike really resonates with guys who were teenagers in the 80s. So we have the 20-inch PK Ripper in our retro line. But we have been more successful making a bigger version of it, the 29-inch Big Ripper, and marketing it to guys in their thirties, forties, and fifties. If you want to pinpoint the history of the Big Ripper, we made four of them for an episode of an MTV show called Rob and Big, about a pro skateboarder and his bodyguard. Once the episode aired, we got inundated with people asking for the bike. So we brought it to market. But we brought it to market for old-school BMX guys. That was the concept.
The Big Ripper has been in our line for ten years now. But a few years ago this whole new demographic, BikeLife, started riding the bike.
Twisted 700 (Photo courtesy SE Bikes. Credit: Michael Wikan)
Q: Do you think SE’s success with BikeLife is replicable?
A: No. . . it happened totally organically. And social media is king here. Without social media we’d probably still be oblivious to it.
It’s not a market that some brands want to to be associated with, either. Yeah, sometimes on a big rideout it does get a little unruly. But there is also a kind of self-policing thing. Older guys don’t want the community to have a bad name. And also part of a BikeLife is just riding with your friends, and learning cool and unique wheelie tricks. It’s kind of like when freestyle BMX emerged in the early 80s. There were no rules and nobody cared, it was just about expressing yourself and having fun.And that is what this whole BikeLife movement is about.
Also what kind of defines BikeLife is it is getting an entirely new demographic on bikes. A lot of these riders, I know from hanging out with them, they were not riding bikes a year or two or definitely three years ago.
Pat [Cunnane, president of SE’s parent company ASI and chair of the PeopleForBikes Coalition Board] easily could have told me, “Todd, do not promote that side of cycling.” But he didn’t. He said,