Sunday, March 7, 2010

BMX Legends Interview with R..L. Osborn

Interview - 2/05

Chris Ard and Jeff Slavik

R.L. "El Cid" Osborn

Let me first start off by saying, Thank you R.L. for taking the time to do this
interview with us. Without you, I honestly don't think we would've known this
wonderful thing called BMX Freestyle.

What have you been up to since your freestyle days?

Let's see. I've been running my carpet cleaning business. And for awhile I ran Hammer and Bully.
then I sold that. You know, which that was a whole other thing. Actually the carpet cleaning
business was going really well. And Hammer and Bully were really going ok too. I chose to sell
Hammer and Bully because I knew so much about the inside of the industry. You know, big
company screwing the little company and stuff like that. I was basically in the industry for the money
at that point, which was totally not the reason I got into it. So I sold the companies and got out. At
that point I came back and I kept riding, just rode on my own though. I started building custom
Harleys from the ground up. And I'm also raising my kids.

Do you still ride?

As of right now, no. Too many injuries.

When did you stop riding?

Lets see. I stopped riding probably about 4 yrs. ago. No. I stopped riding about 5 yrs. ago. If there's
ever any kind of break-through surgery that can heal my injuries then I'll start riding again. I really
do want to get back to it. A big dream of mine was that, well, one of the reasons I sold my
companies, was to completely shed all the business side of the bicycle business, get all of that out.
Just come back into it as a regular person. Just riding totally for fun, nothing involved what-so-ever,
just riding clean. And for awhile I got to do that. And that was such a great feeling. Something I
hope to do someday.

When you look back on your riding days, what do you reflect on most?

Probably my touring with Mike Buff was the most fun. That was when we had the best times.
Because that was before a lot of money came into it. And that was when Buff was a total character.
Just a total nut. Very entertaining. And that was when Duke, David Duke was involved, and Winkle
was involved. And that was actually the best time in my career, my time with Buff.

What do you think was the reason for the decline in popularity of freestyle in the late 80's
early 90's?

It came in so fast, you know? And it's just typical for anything. Any sport coming in always has to go
through a cycle. And the bike industry runs in cycles. You know, it goes from freestyle to road
bikes, to mountain bikes, and then back around again. Not necessarily in that order. And since this
was it's first time around, that was part of it. It's just that some people thought it was a fad, it's
gonna die off, and it had been around for awhile, so everybody was just kind of looking for it to run
it's cycle, looking for it to go down. And then there was also the recession. A heavy recession came
in. So you know, I think everything hit it all at once, and that kind of drove it back down, which is
very typical. Skateboards did the same thing. But then when it starts back up again, if this sport
does start back up again, that's when it makes it's second strong stand and usually will be around

What are your thoughts on the old school vs. new school scenes?

I really have been totally out of it. I really don't know too much about what's going on except for,
you know, the stuff the riders are doing, like the double backflips. The tricks that the guys are
doing? We couldn't dream of them. You know, like before, when we were riding and we were
dreaming of it. Like when I was riding ramps. Stuff that I would dream about, in my wildest
dreams…they're doing stuff that is crazier than what I dreamed about. I mean the stuff they're
doing, when they do it I still can't believe they're doing it. I really can't. It happens and you go, "That
didn't happen". They truly are amazing. Guys like Hoffman, Mirra, and Jay Mirron. One thing I think
about history know, I think Mat Hoffman is unbelievable, and so is Dave Mirra, but listen,
before those guys there was Mike Dominguez. Mike Dominguez set limits and standards back then
to show those guys what was possible. And those guys would not be doing any of that stuff without
Dominguez. And again, I truly admire them and think they are just unbelievable, but, I just think
when those guys are doing interviews, I don't know if they do, I haven't read any, but I really do
think they should really be thanking, and bringing up the name Dominguez, a lot. That was our
teacher, that was the guy that showed us what was possible.   

(During the interview, R.L. and I would sometimes go off track on a question and just get
into a great discussion. During one of those moments, he thought of something to add
about this original question...)

You just reminded me of something Chris. You asked me the difference between now and then.
You know, I used to race BMX. I was riding BMX at the beginning of BMX with Stu Thomsen and
David Clinton. And the reason why I quit BMX, was we used to race at a place called Del Mar (Or
Somar? Hard to make out on the tape) and Soledad. Soledad Sands was first then Del Mar (Or
Somar?), but we raced on downhill tracks with big gnarly jumps. Huge, huge jumps. And that was
truly moto-cross. And then, BMX became a flat track with you know, bumps. And that was one of the
reasons I got out of BMX, because of the changing parts of the track. But when I was racing with
Stuart and David Clinton, I mean, I didn't race in their classes, they were just my heroes. David
Clinton rode a Kawasaki bike factory sponsored by Kawasaki, and Stuart was riding for Dirt
Master's I think. The tracks that we used to race on were insane. I mean, the jumps were 6ft. high
right in the middle of a downhill straight away. And that was another thing that I missed. I miss
seeing that. And I've got to be straight, I haven't been to a BMX race in a long time, maybe they do
have some really big jumps. But I really do miss those downhill jumps. You know, when I was 12,
and I was racing BMX, this is before freestyle, Greg Hill and I, in the 12 yr. old class, owned the 12
yr. old class. Me and Greg, it was really funny, that's my history with Greg Hill. We were the fastest
12 yr. olds. I think it was the 12 yr. old class. We would change for the lead. We just owned that 12
yr. old class. Anywhere we ran, either Greg won or I won. That was my history with Greg.

Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the old school? Bob Haro?

No, no one. When I got out, I got out. I knew too much about the inside of the industry, the ugly side
of the industry. And so, I just wanted to completely shed it from my life. I just wanted to go back to
riding,  just on my own, you know, just be riding for myself. And that was the whole reason. But no, I
don't keep in touch with anyone. I kept in touch with Mike Buff for a long time after I got out. We
lived in the same area/neighborhood, so I did keep in touch with Mike, but I haven't talked to him in
probably 3 or 4 yrs.

What are your thoughts on old school bikes vs. the current ones?

I really don't know too much about the current bikes.

Of all the bikes you owned/ridden, What was your favorite? Why?

Redline. Lynn Kasten who owned Redline was all about quality. He was one of the first guys in the
sport to taper a tube. Everything he did just had to be the best. He taught me a lot about metal
working and stuff which brought me into building Harleys and stuff. I use a lot of stuff, today I still, I
mean right now, I'm standing in my garage and I've got a full mill, lathe, tig welder,
know, it's a whole metal shop. And a lot of what I do in here is from what Lynn taught me. So
Redline was definitely my favorite bike.

What was the first trick you ever did? What was your favorite trick to do?

My first trick was probably...I thought Bob Haro...I think I saw him do a Curb-Endo, or a Rock-Walk.
That was when Bob came to live with us way back when. I don't remember when it was, but
probably a Curb-Endo and then a Rock-Walk came after that. It could've been vice versa, one of
those two. My favorite trick...the Rock-Walk way back then was like, you know, of course that was
my favorite trick but, out of all the tricks that have passed, as far as ground tricks go, the most
amazing...the trick that I saw in the early days that really blew my mind; I was in Las Vegas and I
saw a kid do the first part of a Rock-Walk, so you do the 180, but when he did that 180, instead of
landing the back wheel he rolled out of it on the front wheel, backwards. You know how you do the
180, It takes you out, the back wheel flips around instead of landing, it keeps on going around and
you roll out of it on a backwards nose wheelie? He couldn't pull it off, but he could roll backwards
about 10 feet. And that just blew me away...he was doing it in a parking lot... it blew everybody's
mind. And that was where rolling tricks started, right there. Because that was the first time
somebody started rolling in a different direction on the front wheel. (being the quick thinker I am, I
immediately thought of the "History of Freestyle" thread and asked R.L. if he might remember the
yr. he witnessed that. He said he's "really guessing" but he is thinking either 81' or 82'? He also
went on to say that the first person he ever saw "linking" tricks was Jason Parkes. He said he was
"lightening fast".

What was your most memorable contest?

Well, I always did well in California, the Dominguez Hills Velodrome contests. I always would win that
contest, except for the one time Dennis beat me in a run off. But I would always win that contest. So
I always liked that contest. No particular yr. Just that one, anytime it was there. The AFA contests
you know. My most memorable one was the first freestyle contest that I ever went to that Woody
went to. That was my very first contest with all the guys that were touring and doing shows like me,
Bob Haro, Buff, Ronnie Wilton, and all those guys. Nobody wanted to compete, but the contests
were starting and I went to one back east somewhere, I don't remember where I was, and I was so
scared because we were considered the best riders just because everybody knew us. We were out
touring all the time and everybody else was at home practicing all the time. And they wanted our
jobs (laughs) They wanted to be touring all the time. So they were practicing all the time and we
were working all the time. So, I had to go to this contest. And that scared the shit out of me you
know? We were laying everything on the line. I know what Woody and Martin were thinking is; "Hey,
if we can go to a contest and beat these guys, we could take them out with one clean punch, and
we would be the kings". So I went to that contest and I think Woody won and I got second, but it was
really close. And it was really good because I think a lot of people thought that Woody and Martin
well, Woody was going to smoke me, but I had a lot of new tricks. From then on I won every contest
that I was in for like a yr. or two straight. I just won everything. So I gained the respect from a lot of
people. A lot of people thought that we were just famous because we were in the magazines all the
time. And so it was a really hard time because I had to prove myself. It was really scary. That was
the most memorable. Not memorable in a good way, but an experience.

What did you think of the AFA, and the whole "organization" aspect?

Yeah, I liked what Bob Morales was doing. I thought it was cool. The AFA contests I thought were
really cool. I thought everything was good about it. Those were really good times. Back then it
wasn't so serious. Everybody was having a really good time. We'd all meet at the contest you know.
And you always had your entertainers like Craig Grasso, and Large Ray. It was great.

What do you think of the tricks being done today?

The ground tricks are just as mind boggling as the ramp stuff. You know, no brakes and all that
stuff, is just...I mean these guys are just...unbelievable.

What is your opinion on today's underground look, compared to the sponsored, uniform
look look of the 80's?

Well, the whole thing about the uniforms that I didn't like was...and to be honest, the only reason
why we wore uniforms was because we were trying to sell appearance. They served no purpose.
They were uncomfortable, slippery, and so again, it was about money. You know? So I think that
people should dress how they want to dress. I really don't think they should try to be anything
they're not. They should dress for what's comfortable for them.

How many times have you watched RAD? What was it like filming it, any good stories?

Umm, that's an interesting story. You know Eddie Fiola was kind of a BMX director on that right? He
was on the set. This is the way I remember it. He was there to tell the stars, to teach the stars to
talk like we talk. But they had called me originally and wanted me to do it, but I was burned out from
touring. I remember I was sitting in a tub in Maryland and I was so burned out, I was just dead. My
manager was calling me on the phone, and they kept calling me and offering me more and more
money, and it was very hard to turn it down but I just kept turning it down. And that's why I'm only in
the beginning and the end. I'm not in the movie. Eddie did all the stunt riding. You know, like when
the actor has to actually do some kind of a move, that's Eddie riding. Eddie doubles for the actors. I
was just too whipped. I couldn't do it. And so they went to Eddie, but Eddie was really good with that
stuff so he did a really good job. So I was just in the beginning and the end. I wasn't really involved
in any of the shooting. We did a little touring with Talia Shire to promote the movie, press
conferences, and that was about it. But you know, they just shot the beginning and the end at a
couple of sites and that was it. I really wasn't that involved in the movie. I think I watched the movie
one time. That's all I really saw it.

What souvenirs have you kept from your old riding days?

I have two helmets. And that's it. Let me see, I’ve got my General helmet with the #2 on it. And I've
got a JT helmet...So, I've got my General helmet and my JT helmet. Which if anything ever came up
and if it was worth anything, I don't even know if it's worth anything...I'd be more than happy to
donate that General helmet to Brian's foundation thing. (I mentioned about the Gold TS project that
was being sold to help with Brian's medical bills, and R.L. right away asked where he could send a

Are you amazed at what the old school stuff sells for on eBay? Did you ever think things
would be this collectable?

I don't know anything about it. (As I proceeded to give R.L. a few examples, I think it's safe to say
that he was shocked at the least, LOL)

What are your future plans?

Future plans are...Well, I keep thinking of building another Harley. I might be starting one, maybe in
the next 6 months. So I'm just starting to kind of get the bug to do another one. I just finished one
up about 6 months ago, a yr. ago. So, build another motorcycle. (I asked him how long it takes him
to build a motorcycle, and he said about a yr. Because he actually builds a lot of the parts on the
bike). Probably in the next yr. to 2 yrs. I'm going to probably slow down with work. You know, go to
like a half schedule, work a lot less, do more building motorcycles for fun, spend more time with the
kids. Maybe I'll figure out a way to start riding bikes again, who knows?

R.L., It's been over 25 yrs. since you and a guy named Bob Haro started doing tricks on
BMX bikes, trying to "outdo" one another. Little did we know what was to become of it.

Thank you,

Chris Ard and Jeff Slavik


  1. Trickeystyler was the kid RL was talking about that blew his mind in las vegas . The name of the trick is the Wizzbanger.

  2. The whizzbanger is also known as the G-turn!

  3. Wow I always wondered where R.L. was these days. Even thought this interview is old. It was a great interview with one of my all time favorites when I was growing up. Wish he still rode. He was inspiring.

  4. Thanks for this interview. And thank you R.L. Us kids in Wyoming worshiped the likes of you, Mike Dominguez, Eddie Fiola, Martin Aparejo, Woody Itson, Matt Hoffman, Dennis McCoy, and countless others. Money may have left a nasty taste but the net gain was something special. BMX freestyle gave me and my buddies an alternative to getting the shit kicked out of us on the football field. It was great to be a part of that movement. I hope more is done to capture and conserve the history of BMX Freestyle.

  5. Awesome interview. Thanks much. I grew up in Torrance and remember his house, sister, and dad. Rl used to ride down to Redondo Beach Pier, and go up and down to Hermosa, and even Manhattan Beach back then. Even though he was considered a bmx superstar back then, he was so modest and down to earth. Great guy. Great times indeed.

  6. Thanks so much for this. R.L. Osborn was an inspiration to me back when I rode; his tricks, his style and his professionalism represented what I wanted to model my own riding after. So many hours spent pouring over the latest issues of Freestylin' and watching and re-watching what precious little actual video footage existed back in the day. Still have my General Osborn Pro frame and fork in the garage :)

  7. great interview! big r.l. fan. i cried when he told me i was the smoothest rider he had ever seen. del mar skatepark1984. he also got me into knotts berry farm under someone elses name where i got to ride the vans half pipe between shows.tony murray and i rode buffs ramp and had a great time. tony would always study bmxa and see what r.l. was using down to the valve caps. b.c.n.u.

  8. RL is a freestyle BMX Icon and the RL 20 II is and will always be the best bike ever built.I have 2 of them and they are Awesome!!!!

  9. We got to ride with RL after he showed up at my friends house in NJ during the shooting of Stompin' the States back in the mid 80's. It was just the three of us out in this street in the Summer. My friend Dave H. was linking tricks and nailing everything. RL was very complimentary and excited just to "hang out". When your 15 and RL asks to hang out and ride for fun, you just go with!

  10. El Cid!! I never thought Id be back into the 80s era freestyle bikes but fond memories of 86 87 and RL Osborn and the ever so awesome RL 20 II....Im now the proud owner of a 86 RL 20b. This interview has definitely got my blood pressure up with excitement!! RL Osborne is no further than 45 minutes away!! Im gonna go see if El cid would be so kind as to autograph my bike. Then I can die!!

  11. Ive followed rl for years as a kid in the magazines and bike shows near my hometown. Its truly great to hear he still has a sincere affection for the sport and innovation in not only riding but creating bicycles that inspired so many kids in the early days, something I agree people seemed to have gotten away from in modern day bmx. Thanks RL, RR Pachoud

  12. I began my fascination again with old school BMX/freestyle late last year. I'm currently in the process of reacquiring parts for rebuilding a couple of my favorite old school bikes. RL Osborn is definately one of my favorite riders of the day. If it wasn't for his family, I would not have the great memories of one of my favorite sports as a kid.