Riders Ready, Watch the Lights…

In 1975, Honda was the only motorcycle manufacturer among the Japanese Big Four that hadn’t jumped on the BMX bandwagon. Yamaha was first a few years earlier with their Moto Bike, a janky, half-hearted effort with front and rear suspension, threaded European bottom bracket, and three-piece steel cranks fastened to a buttery soft boron spindle with cotter pins. Suzuki entered the arms race next, with a rigid loop tail number reminiscent of the Webco frame developed for the burgeoning sport by a SoCal hop-up shop of the same name. Suzuki’s effort should have caught on but didn’t, probably because the company failed to enlist a superstar to endorse their product.

Not wanting to suffer the same fate as their yellow neighbors, Kawasaki came to the game armed with a respectable green weapon and a capable racer. Unlike Yamaha’s Asian import, the Kawasaki BX200 A1 was made in America by Bill Bastian. Bastian’s Race Inc. job shop in Gardena, CA, was where Scott Breithaupt and motocross exhaust guru Donny Emler commissioned the FMF frames that carried BMX legend Stu Thomsen to victory before SE Racing and the STR-1 were born. A 15-year-old kid from The Valley named David Clinton rode for Team Green in 1975, and took the NBA #1 plate that year aboard a Kawasaki made rideable with a pair of rigid struts where the spongy rear shocks used to be. Kawasaki would give up the bicycle game as quickly as they had entered it, but David’s innovative 6061 aluminum bicycle made an impression on one mid-pack goon from the Sunshine State that never waned. I dreamed of meeting David Clinton someday to talk about BMX. That day would come five years later at an NBL national in Pompano Beach.

By the time Dave and I met in my friend Greg Esser’s living room the spring of 1980, Clinton’s days as a Team Green factory pilot were long behind him. Now 20, Dave seemed content to rest on his laurels as he rode into the sunset on a Diamond Back in a Shimano jersey. From my cheap seat in the peanut gallery, BMX seemed less like a profession to Dave, more like a springboard to make a bigger splash in California’s burgeoning bicycle industry. I was not wrong. After enjoying a race career any teenaged BMXer would kill for, David Clinton parlayed his notoriety into lucrative positions at a number of bicycle companies in SoCal, Diamond Back and Shimano included. My childhood hero—at the time a child himself—wisely chose business over pleasure. It was a choice I would make two years later at my first BMX race in California, and my last race ever.

Time to move on.

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