BMX Legends Interview with
March 16, 2010
Karl Rothe - My brother and I got into dirt jumping with our neighborhood crew in the early eighties. Soon after, when ramps became popular, we built a quarter pipe in our backyard. We bought a copy of BMX Action’s freestyle how-to book and we tried to learn some of the tricks R.L. Osborn and Mike Buff were doing. We were into it for about a year, I’d say. Then one day we went to a local BMX track to buy some parts and we met Oleg Konnings. He was riding flatland in the pits…doing the coolest tricks with this totally unique, freaky style. He just blew us away. Right then and there we both got the burn for flatland. We didn’t know where it would lead, we just liked sessioning and learning new tricks. It was fun. For the next five years, flatland was the only thing on my mind. I was totally obsessed with the sport….it consumed me.
BMX Freestyler - I remember the first time I saw you in Freestylin’ Magazine showing the world the Karl Kruzier. How does it feel to have your name immortalized forever?
Karl Rothe - It seems silly now. (laughter) The trick should have a cooler name. My friend Mike Bartlett invented the side squeak and all I did was turn that into a rolling trick. He should’ve named it. I’m sure he would’ve come up with something better….something like “The Turnbucket.” (laughter)
BMX Freestyler- You are known worldwide for the creation of the Karl Kruizer. What other tricks have you invented?
Karl Rothe - Like most riders back in the eighties, you’d come up with new stuff almost every time you sessioned things like links, combos, different intros and exits…stuff like that. The one combo that stoked me was a backwards wheelie to a 180 decade. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it felt good when you pulled it clean.
BMX Freestyler-- Did you ever imagine a 360 degree bar-flip from a Karl back to Karl when you created it?
Karl Rothe - No. (laughter) That sounds unbelievably difficult. I’ve never doubted the unlimited creative possibilities in flatland, though. The new stuff I’ve seen is impressive.
BMX Freestyler - What is your most favorite memory from being sponsored and riding in the AFA days?
Karl Rothe - Other than getting free bikes, gear, and plane tickets…I’d say my favorite memory is simply how much fun it all was. It was a complete adventure: hittin’ contests across the country, doing shows on tour, hanging out with a bunch of nutjobs. Just crazy. No one should be allowed to have that much fun at such an early age. It messes up your sense of reality. (laughter)
BMX Freestyler - Who have you kept up with over the years from BITD?
Karl Rothe - My best friends are all old school freestylers from the Golden Gate Park days. Most of us are into mountain biking now and I’ve sessioned with them in NorCal and around the Southwest. It seems like not all that much has changed. We still heckle each other when someone wrecks. (laughter)
BMX Freestyler - When the AFA days started to fade and popularity declined what did you see in the future for our sport and how does that compare to modern-day riding?
Karl Rothe - The recession hit right around the time many of us were contemplating college or careers. The scene disintegrated quick in 1988 and things just seemed scattered. The industry was frantically trying to figure out what the next big thing was going to be. I thought street riding was going to be the future of BMX freestyle. What I didn’t know was that it was going to evolve into “park” riding and help transition flatland and vert into the era of the X-Games.
BMX Freestyler - I saw that you’re riding a mountain bike right now. What kind of parts are you running on it?
Karl Rothe - Up until about a year ago, I was riding a custom, Karpiel freeride bike with a works Marzocchi triple-clamp fork. I built it up with a combination of Chris King, Shimano, Azonic, Titec, and Race Face components. I wrecked it into a tree and ovalized the headtube. So bummed. Right now I’m riding a Trek Fuel EX-9 trailbike close to stock. I’m on the fitness tip these days.
BMX Freestyler - Do you ever pick up a BMX bike and do some old tricks or work on something new?
Karl Rothe - I visited my brother last year and I jumped on my nephew’s bike for the hell of it. I was surprised that I was able to kick out some basic tricks without hurting myself. (laughter) I haven’t engaged in a progressive flatland session in over twenty years. I’m just stoked that I can still do a boomerang. (laughter)
BMX Freestyler - What other kinds of activities do you like to do when you’re not out riding?
Karl Rothe - I like going to concerts in venues large and small. I like to snowboard. I like to hike. Mainly, I like to spend time with my family and do things together.
BMX Freestyler - What do you do for a living these days?
Karl Rothe I’m in chemical and equipment sales. Our customers are mostly restaurants, hotels, schools, and hospitals. Sell, sell, sell.
BMX Freestyler - Do any of your co workers know about your BMX Days?
Karl Rothe - No. (laughter)
BMX Freestyler - Everyone has a good bail story what is the worst accident that you were in?
Karl Rothe - I lost control of a handstand….I think it’s called a Top Gun. I gave myself a piledriver of sorts. I was knocked about for few seconds and I separated my shoulder. My right shoulder is about an inch lower than my left.
BMX Freestyler - Who are the Top 5 Flatlanders on your list to exist?
Karl Rothe - As far as the history of the sport goes, who knows? But I can tell you the flatlanders who influenced my riding and the style of tricks I chose to do. In chronological order, they are: Oleg Konnings, Woody Itson, Jason Parkes, Chris Day, and Mark Eaton.
BMX Freestyler - Who has made the largest contribution to the community and what was it they did?
Karl Rothe - Two people: Bob Haro for inventing BMX freestyle and Mat Hoffman for getting the X-Games off the ground and onto T.V. for millions to see.
BMX Freestyler - Age-old question: New School vs. Old School--what is your take on this never- ending debate?
Karl Rothe - Uhmm….I don’t know what the debate is. (laughter) Is it which group is more awesome? (laughter) I’m a fan of the New School. Out of the new stuff I’ve seen, my favorite riders have creative ways of getting into and out of their sequences. I’d like to see someone do a bunnyhop tailwhip and land directly into a megaspin….and then after about four rotations, tailwhip back out of it and land on the pedals and ride away. I can almost feel it.
BMX Freestyler-- If you could go back into time to do it all over again, would you do anything different?
Karl Rothe—No, not one thing. I feel fortunate to have been part of that first wave of freestyle.
BMX Freestyler- Okay, lets play a quick game: you tell me the first word that comes to your mind for each word I give you.
1. Cru Jones = Fruitcake
2. Kevin Jones = Balance
3. Eddie Fiola = Skatepark
4. Woody Itson = Pro
5. Matt Hoffman = 900
BMX Freestyler-- Thank you so much for your time. It’s truly an honor to be doing this interview with you. Do you have any shout-outs or last words?
Karl Rothe—Ride on.
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