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Sports

Remembering a BMX Pioneer

Scot Breithaupt didn’t invent BMX. But it would have been a lot different without him.
July 11, 2015, 5:50pm
Courtesy USA BMX

The 1970s were a heady time for action sports in Southern California. While the Zephyr Team of Dogtown was inventing modern skateboarding, Scot Breithaupt and a few others were creating what the world would come to recognize as BMX racing. Breithaupt, who died at 57 years old on July 4, 2015, didn't build the first track and he wasn't the first to ride a bike on dirt, but carried a lot of weight in those early years, and inspired a lot of people to ride. He had relentless energy, an expansive mind for ideas, and a contagious enthusiasm.

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"He charged fucking hard," says Perry Kramer, who first met Breithaupt in 1976 and raced BMX for Breithaupt's company for several years. "He would have a vision, and he could make you see that vision, and he could get you pumped about it. People wanted to be a part of what he was doing."

In 1970, a 13-year-old Breithaupt organized what he called pedal-cross races in Long Beach, California. Those races featured the first rules, point system, and classifications for what would become BMX. He started building tracks and organizing events. He was 14 when he helped land a $100,000 purse for a race series that ended in a championship that brought thousands of people to the Los Angeles Coliseum. In 1974, he was instrumental in bringing Yamaha to BMX, the sport's first big-name sponsor.

READ MORE: Building the Red Bull BMX Silverdome Shoot

In 1977, Breithaupt founded SE Racing, which has since become SE Bikes. Early on, SE Racing became a leader in the BMX world.

"I was on the Mongoose team when Scot recruited me [in 1977]," says Kramer. "Mongoose had everything. They had money, they had bikes, they had a bitching van. Scot didn't have anything, but I said, let's go, let's do this."

SE Racing represented where Breithaupt wanted to take BMX, and the company grew wildly in the late '70s and early '80s. He gave the riders bold, loud uniforms, he started putting logos on pantlegs, and his team kicked a lot of ass nearly every time it showed up at a race. With that momentum, Breithaupt branded everything about SE that he could.

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He named every component, part, and bike design he could. He made some of the most successful early bikes, and he liked to name them after his riders. One of his bikes, the PK Ripper, which appeared in the 1986 film Rad and is named for Perry Kramer, featured the first high-quality aluminum frame and is still available from SE Bikes, 35 years after it was first released.

"I stand behind that the bikes Scot created were among the most famous in the BMX world," says Todd Lyons, current brand manager for SE Bikes. "In the early 80s who ever had a PK Ripper was the baddest dude on the block."

Breithaupt in 1979. Courtesy Sean Ewing

Breithaupt's contributions to BMX are obvious and lasting. His pushing and promoting BMX helped the action sports industry acquire a national audience.

Breithaupt also promoted windsurfing, skateboarding, and other fringe sports, like skateboard luge. He partnered with the department store JC Penney to hold skateboard safety clinics in shopping malls. They built half-pipes inside malls, and lifted the public awareness of the sport. He set up a company called LM Productions, which made action sports videos for ESPN in the '80s—a sort of precursor to the X Games.

On a tangible level, Breithaupt built skateparks and worked with cities to get money for parks. He announced and promoted races. He added products to the industry through SE Racing, and he had some of the best riders in the country racing for him. One of Breithaupt's less-quantifiable contributions to action sports was the number of people he inspired to ride or skate.

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"He wanted a cool team with fast riders with panache and showmanship and a good product to back it up," says Stu Thomsen, who raced for SE Racing from 1977 to 1979, and was inducted into the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1998, and now works in law enforcement. "He pushed me to be a better rider, and he pushed all his kids to be better. He could bring that out in people. I had good mentoring under Scot."

Through the mid '80s Breithaupt's priorities led him in directions that veered away from some of his old acquaintances and from SE Racing. He had more than one scrape with the law, and he fought drug addiction. But he recognized his bad decisions. During that time, he met Sean Ewing, who remained a close friend throughout Breithaupt's life and raced on SE bikes for several years.

While Breithaupt's life changed from what it had been as a teenager in the '70s and he existed on the periphery of the professional BMX world, he remained a figure within the industry. Ewing remembers Breithaupt giving don't-do-drugs lectures for school districts.

"For one of those talks, he came out in an orange jumpsuit that he had," Ewing says. "I'd made these handlebars for him with two bars going up-and-down, and two going crosswise so it looked like he was behind bars. I think the kids were a bit scared."

Courtesy USA BMX

Nearly everyone who knew Breithaupt remarks on his love for BMX and his passion for it to develop and grow. He was an advocate for riders and loyal to fans. He was eloquent and charismatic and talked his way into a lot of opportunities for himself and SE Racing. He was rarely without a new plan or a latest drawing or a promising enterprise that needed investment. His insatiable drive and energy, when directed toward BMX, made the sport better.

"When he was on, no one could touch him," Perry Kramer says.

This Saturday night, July 11, as part of a monthly BMX ride called the 4130 Subway Series (4130 is a steel alloy, and everybody rides the subway back to their cars after the ride), hundreds of BMX riders will ride in honor of Breithaupt. The following weekend, on July 18, a memorial service and ride will take place in Long Beach.