Interview – 30th Anniversary Project - Dom Phipps and Joe Hawk.

As Haro gets ready to launch its 30th Anniversary Freestyler we sat down with Joe Hawk, Haro’s COO and Dom Phipps, Haro’s Project Manager to find out a little bit more about how this whole project came about and how Dom was selected to lead it.

Dom, How did you get into collecting old BMX bikes?

I started collecting and restoring 80’s BMX’s around ten years ago, mainly as a kind of practical hobby. I found a few on ebay and restored them and really enjoyed the reconnection to what I enjoyed so much as a kid. I found a guy in the UK with some of the original 85 Haro Masters and Sports that had never been used and I decided the challenge was to try and build the bike I always wanted in my younger days. Time passed, more bikes came in and soon I had quite a collection of early to mid 80’s Haro Freestylers. I found a couple of forum websites online and guys right across the world were doing something similar with other brands as well as Haro. My deal was I wanted more than just a collection of bikes, I was interested in how the sport and the hardware developed and how guys like Bob Haro and Gary Turner built their businesses as inexperienced young men in the melting pot of the early days of BMX. I spent most of my childhood wanting what they were creating, and also watching the guys that they sponsored riding these bikes. I rode a lot as a kid and it was easy to have an appreciation of it again as an adult with the fond memories, the creativity, and the camaraderie with other kids that rode. The Industry took a big dive in the late 1980’s and riding BMX was only cool amongst other kids that rode at a certain point in time. It’s a hobby isn’t always easy for others to understand, but it’s a great thing to be involved with and it got me here working for the brand I love.

And getting connected to Haro Bikes, how did that happen?

Through my collection of bikes and with a couple of collector friends I got to meet Bob Haro and help support the Haro reunion show in Cologne in 2009. Bob and I had been emailing back and forth for a year or two on various things and we became friends. The reaction to the show in Cologne was pretty amazing and I think everybody including the guys riding were taken back by it. After Cologne, I decided with the help of a friend to create a website which indulged what we knew about the history of the brand, and became a reality after around a years work. Then in September 2011, I travelled to the US with Stephan Prantl (BMX Worlds facilitator) for a vacation and we stayed with a lot of the ex pro riders, including Bob, Ron Wilkerson, Xavier Mendez. I also got to meet Joe Hawk, the modern day president of Haro Bikes down in a local Mexican restaurant in Encinitas that he and Bob are local too. Bob had introduced me to Joe via email, and we had been in contact for a few months. Through Joe, Haro Bikes had already contributed to some of the overhead for the Haro history display that we had taken to the Cologne BMX Worlds that year. In Encinitas, I made both Joe and Bob aware that 2012 was the 30th year anniversary of the Haro Freestyler, which was the frame and fork that Bob designed back in 81/82. It was the first Freestyle specific frame in existence. Haro have released a few retro models over the years but never anything truly authentic, so we agreed it had potential to become the history project that Joe and Haro Bikes were looking for.

Hawk added: I’m a bit ashamed to say that Haro had little to do with the success of the 2009 Demo and all of the exposure that it received. It was a bit of a wake up call albeit a slow one for the company. We completely underestimated size and importance of the collector market as well as the undercurrent of love for this brand, and its creator Bob Haro. As Dom said, Bob introduced us and endorsed Dom early on as an authority on Haro history. Since I joined the company after its sale by Derby in 1993 I was interested to learn more about the period in time that I missed. The first piece of this was to offset to a small degree the costs of his Haro display in Cologne in 2010 and to provide with permission to use the Haro brand name, making them an official licencee of the brand. When Stephan and Dom visited us in September of last year I really had not understood fully the significance of what had been done in 1982 with the Freestyler. We as a company had been so fixed on our founding year of 1978 and telling the somewhat worn story of kitchens and number plates that we overlooked all of the magic that was to follow for more than a decade. Stephan and Dom highlighted the significance and that drew us deeper, and deeper into conversation. Our previous attempts to release a “retro” model served no master-to make matters worse, on more than one occasion. They lacked authenticity, and it weren’t truly rideable. At that point, I committed to never do another project until I had the right resources available that could ensure authenticity.

Was Haro Bikes keen to see this happen? Definitely. Joe had been looking for an authentic way to reconnect the brand with its history. Bob was an obvious person to help in that process, but he sold the brand and left the company back in the early 90’s. He also has his own new project within BMX, and he needed to put his energy into the future. As Joe regularly reminds me, Haro has had an interesting journey through the years with a few new investors along the way and a fluctuating market. The modern company, like most others, spends most of their time looking forward, to ensure that they HAVE a future. The staff is relatively young as you would imagine and they don’t have a lot of historical knowledge. Joe was adamant that if Haro were to indulge a history project, that it was done in the right way and not just a token gesture. History is important and sometimes you need to reach out to get the resources that you need to tell your story.

Joe: I couldn’t agree more. We were so busy looking forward through the years and making history that we never took the time and interest to record it, and we didn’t look back. Now that we are further down the line, we look around at our competitors and there aren’t too many that have the heritage and history that Haro has. Our goal is to reconnect our history, our past with our present. But to do that, we have to piece together our history in an accurate, and meaningful way. Those things that defined the brand are still relevant, its our identity and sometimes in the fight for growth and market share you waiver a bit from your identity until you recognize the need to gain your balance. Dom has helped us to achieve our objectives. He’s not an easy guy to work with and I mean that in a good way, I’ve asked him to keep us on the straight and narrow, and he’s taking no prisoners.. I wouldn’t have it any other way and we are lucky he’s on the job.

So how did you get started? I returned home to the UK and started producing a plan based on the potential to make a replica of the frame and fork. There is quite a lot to consider in that process as collectors tend to be suspicious of the motivation behind reissues or replica’s. The main point for me was that this should be a collectible and be packaged in a way fitting of its significance. So I was appointed as the Project Manager and I began the process of finding the resources we needed to deliver a fitting tribute to that moment in Haro’s history. Joe found the original Torker blue print in the Haro archives and I own one of the few surviving early Haro Freestyler frames, so the authenticity of the product was assured, which was the most important factor of all. We had to find a US manufacturing source, which isn’t an easy prospect, and isn’t the most cost effective option. Our vendor was actually introduced to us by Bob Morales, who we had interviewed the day before for a book I am writing for Haro. I told him what we were trying to create, and he directed me to True Torch, a small machine shop in Santa Ana owned and run by an ex BMX racer named John Severin. John has a great history in BMX and was one of the first guys to run one of Bob Haro’s factory plates in the late 1970’s and he has done a great job on the frame and fork.

Hawk reflected: Its funny how life becomes a connect the dots sort of thing. The Morales interview was intended to run about an hour and the conversation was so rich that Bob called and arranged for his kids to be picked up by his wife so we could spend a little extra time. That extra time was the difference between staying with our existing tenuous producer of the Anniversary model and shifting to a legitimate Orange County based machine shop, small, gritty, authentic, and capable of the care and love this project deserved.

What were the important factors in remaking a 30-year-old BMX Icon? There were a few non-negotiable factors. We knew that it had to be made from 4130 Cro-moly steel like the original. We also wanted to ensure that a few subtle differences were evident from the original to ensure they could be identified as replica’s, so we made the weep holes inside of the Bottom bracket shell larger, and created a unique serial number format. The big decision was do we make the Gen 1 or Gen 2 model. Torker in Fullerton produced first Generation (or Mark 1) frames in around July of 1982, and they had two noticeable differences from those created after December of 1982 which we refer to as the second Generation frames (or Mark 2). The first difference related to a weld beneath the head tube gusset, which was left open on the Gen 1 to allow the frame to flex. The second difference was the head tube angle, which was much slacker on the Gen 1 and was made steeper on the Gen 2 to make the steering sharper. We opted for Gen 1 to be truly authentic. Another challenge was how to remake the decals authentically. I have an original unused set which were art worked by my designer to a minute degree of accuracy. Bob actually drew parts of the artwork by hand with a rotoring pen back in 1982 so we did the same thing on these. The bigger challenge was how to recreate the original shade of green within the decals, which doesn’t match any modern day pantone and cannot be replicated through the digital print process. So I decided to investigate the screen-printing route, which held the answers, although the colors still needed to be mixed by hand to ensure the correct shades were printed. The other unique piece in the box is a short DVD edit of the manufacturing process. Haro’s in house videographer and I travelled back and forth to Santa Ana (where the frame was being produced) and filmed the fabrication and finishing elements of the process. The chrome plating was carried out in Garden Grove, CA, by Bush Plating, who plated virtually every Californian BMX brand’s products (Including Torker) through the 1980’s and 1990’s, and its possible that they actually plated the original Haro Freestylers back in 1982. We also felt some energy from the modern riding team through their own involvement in the BMX Worlds demo in Cologne, Germany. We spent time capturing their thoughts on the anniversary and the company’s history, and it was insightful so we felt it should be communicated on the edit. The production DVD will only be available within the Freestyler frame and fork package.

I think part of the magic is all the moving parts of this project. It started simple and straight forward, but quickly exploded with a few creative sessions that Dom and I had along with our Videographer Terrell Gordy at my home in Encinitas. The video was not part of the original concept. That and a whole lot more changed as time went on and the excitement and energy of the project continued to build.

You are making 300 for sale, why not more? The quantity was a big decision. On my website I have a database called the Haro Registry, which lists the surviving first and second generation Freestyler frames that exist in the hands of collectors, and there really aren’t very many. They are probably the most collectible Old School BMX frame and fork around, and collectors who prefer to appreciate them in pristine condition have restored some of those that have been found. In some people’s opinion, restoration removes the authentic historical edge that the individual frame has, so introducing a relatively small quantity of effectively new and authentic frame and forks, may help to keep some of the survivor’s original, and allow more people to enjoy them. The other major factor is the finances of the project. This isn’t a moneymaker for Haro Bikes, in fact the revenue we hope to generate is swallowed up in other Old School projects (more to come) including the 2012 Haro reunion show held this year in Cologne which was financed entirely by Haro Bikes. We just about balance the books on the Freestyler project after some donations to a couple of related charities, so it’s actually more of a moment of appreciation of the efforts of the collecting community over the years, than an opportunity to exploit any body. As a collector myself, I was keen that the priorities were all about making something authentic that can be appreciated for years to come, and maybe alert more people to the history of BMX. Would I buy a 30 year anniversary Freestyler? Absolutely, they are stunning!

Joe: Unlike previous projects where demand exceeded supply and we built more bikes to match, the limited edition 30th Anniversary Freestyler is just that, limited and there will be no second production or third production. We recognize that while this will be applauded by many it will be equally frustrating to others that cannot get their hands on one but this is the nature of limited items such as the Freestyler. As Dom said, the proceeds of this entire project get rolled into other related areas that highlight Haro’s history and benefit its athletes. In addition, the first 10 serial numbers will be silent auctioned off with a minimum bid and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to 2 important causes soon to be announced.

What comes next? We are working on two additional projects. One is an era book about the brand in the 1980’s and the personalities that contributed to the brands success. We also have a video project underway although its more of a slow burner and wont be seen until some point in 2013. As for other projects...stay tuned!