The Man behind Transit Race DVDs – Colin Stiles

For the new school, what’s the 411 on Transit?

Transit was a “video magazine” that covered BMX.  I never really stressed the “video magazine” definition of it because I was tired of explaining what a “video” magazine was.  It’s kind of like telling somebody you “race” BMX.  The average person doesn’t hear the word “race”, they just hear “BMX” and think you do backflips.  When I would say “video magazine” they would think that I was putting out a print magazine.  The idea of a “video magazine” is a magazine news type source in a video format.  So when I bought the company in 2002 I dropped the “magazine” name from it and just called it Transit Race DVDs or “TR” for short.

Originally, Transit covered all aspects of BMX; including street, park, flatland, trails, racing, etc.  It was started in 2000 by a guy named Barry Page out of Nashville.  He was trying to compete with Props and I was drawn to it because he was covering racing.  Props Video magazine quit covering racing in the late 90’s.  Well, In Barry’s journey with Transit, by Transit 6 (the original series) he realized why Props quit covering racing in their videos.  Barry discovered that having racing in the video hurt sales overall.  The BMX kids on the freestyle side of things didn’t want to watch racing and sales dropped.  But Barry understood that there was a market for a racing video and decided to do a “racing only” video, which I helped out with during the summer of 2002.  I did a lot of camera work and some assistant editing, for the video which was originally titled “Transit Video Magazine: Complete racing Guide 2002”  Yeah, that’s a lot to say, I later re-released on DVD as, “Transit Race 1 – TR 1”

My mom died in May of 2002 and I got some inheritance money.  In talking with Barry about some stuff, he asked if I wanted to buy Transit.  I felt like there needed to be video media coverage of BMX Racing.  I missed the old Props videos that covered racing.  I know that if Props still covered racing I would have never bought Transit because they did a great job with their videos (and still do). But I felt like there was a void that needed to be filled.  I felt like I was a huge fan of BMX racing, I had the money to go for it, so I took that extra pedal, and boosted the pro double known as Transit Race DVDs.  I didn’t know if I would clear the double or case it really hard.  But I did know that I was going for it (BMX metaphors, you guys should understand it.  If not, you shouldn’t be reading the article.)

Prime years, and how many DVDs did you put out?

When I took over the company in November of 2002, I ditched the other disciplines of BMX and stuck to what I knew best, which was racing and trails.  But Barry produced 9 regular Transits From 2000-02 and the first Transit Race 1.  I came in at Transit race 2 and finished the race series with TR 10. We produced 2 Race DVDs a year. I later went back and did a “best of” the original 9 Transits that Barry did and put out the DVD “Transit: The First Years” (which I know Dale was a huge fan of since it had his World Championship win from 2001 Louisville).  I released that DVD because there was some cool lost footage from 2000-01 in BMX racing history.  Especially, the Vans Triple Crown Downhill series that eventually lead to what we saw in the X Games, and later in the Olympics today as Supercross BMX.  That Vans 3 race series is still the biggest payout BMX race series in our history.  Thanks Magoo.  I just wish you didn’t build the track on a mountain,  “South Park on Steroids” would have worked way better, but that is a different topic.

The total Transit history lasted from 2000-07.  Which I was a part of the last 5 years.  Total DVDs I produced was 12.  First years, TR 1-10, and what I believe to be the best selling BMX race Video/DVD of all time “How to Race BMX: Basic Fundamentals”  The 10 race Transit series sold about 20,000 DVDs total, and the How to Race DVD is over 5,500 copies and still selling.   I don’t know other people’s numbers but the only race video that I can think of that could have out sold the “How to Race DVD” could be Joe Kid on a Stingray.  But for now I’m going to claim the “How to Race BMX: Basic Fundamentals” as the best selling BMX race DVD/video of all time.

What was the vision at the time?

My Vision for Transit was simply to put out a DVD that got people stoked on Bicycle Moto Cross.  When I watched the old Props Videos I was always amped up to go race or ride. That was lost when they dropped racing.  I wanted to bring that feeling back to the racing community.  I definitely learned through the process what was good and bad.  I learned from the mistakes that were made early on, and tried to put out a better product.  I think I figured out the process pretty well of how to best showcase Bicycle Moto Cross.  The best angles, the best time to cut from camera to camera, how to film it (not be zoomed out too much, not too little).  What stories to follow.  Things like knowing when to stay on a crash or a rider because if we don’t get the footage, we can’t put it on the video.  What I see on TV these days irks me a lot.  But I will talk about that later.

It was cool to have TR 3 come out with behind the scenes footage of the X games at Woodward West and have all the pros tell me that what they saw on the Transit was way better then what they saw on ESPN.  That when they watched the highlights Transit had, it really showed what that track was like, and what they saw on TV, didn’t do it justice.  I always tried to help the viewers see the best possible representation of what happened at the races and make BMX racing “look cool”  which brings me to an interesting conversation that I had with Keith Mulligan a few months after I bought Transit.  I was all excited (and green) about the new adventure and told him “That I wanted to make BMX racing look Cool”.  He shocked me with his response that “It’s not your job to make racing cool”.  At the time that rocked me to hear that coming from the editor of the biggest BMX race-centered magazine.  It wasn’t until 4-5 years later that I truly understood what he meant but I tried my best to make BMX and BMX racers to look cool.

A major thing I tried to do to make BMX “cool” was to showcase the stars.  Pretty much every video we did had an in-depth interview with a top pro. We got a better look at Kyle Bennett, Randy Stumpfhauser, Nate Berkheimer, Jason Richardson, Warwick Stevenson, Bubba Harris, and Donny Robinson.  It was awesome to have Stumpy tell me that his interview on Transit gave him more positive response from the BMX community then all other interviews he ever did combined.  He was appreciative of how his section helped him gain a lot of fans in the BMX community.  And I was appreciative of having the honor to showcase him, along with the other pros.

In saying that, I have to talk about my only regret with my time at Transit.  I think the video series did an excellent job at chronicling the sport of Bicycle Moto Cross from 2000-07.  Except I didn’t get the interview with Mike Day.  Looking back I am content with everything that I did with Transit at that time, except not having a look into the life of the racer known as Mike Day 365.  I was recently listening to the “High-Low” with Mikey on it, and I got a little emotional listening to Mikey talk because I remembered that I didn’t get his interview.  I kind of feel like I need to apologize to Mikey for that, because he was a major part of BMX racing during the time of Transit BMX history.  I originally had Mikey scheduled to be on TR 8, but he just got picked up by GT and didn’t want to do his interview on a Staats.  Being that Mikey had a unique body type for BMX he needed a custom frame and it wasn’t going to be ready in the time that we had to do the interview for TR 8.  The schedule didn’t work out at that time.  Then it was getting close to the first Olympic run up.  For Mikey’s interview, I wanted to showcase his talent on a bike.  We all knew that Mikey had crazy skills, but I wanted to really showcase it.  I was planning on having him throw-down some big tricks, black-flips, etc., and I had a weird feeling when thinking about what I wanted for his section.  I wanted to really push him for his section.  I felt that if he got injured filming with me and it messed up his Olympic run that would haunt me for life.  I knew that Mikey had a really good chance at the gold and I didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize that but maybe I should have just done a regular interview with him.  But that is my only regret with Transit.  I am truly sorry, Mikey.

There has been a little resurgence of the Transit Videos recently and I still have DVDs in the garage, and sell them here and there.  It is always cool to hear from fans of the DVDs from the past talk about how much they enjoyed Transit back in the day.  It makes me feel that I made a difference for the sport.  I’ve got to name drop here, but I got a message from “Mr. Gold” Connor Fields.  He grew up on Transit and in his recent moves he lost his Transit Collection.  He had to get the complete box set.  Maybe I did something right?

Would you ever resurrect Transit?

I look at this question as, why I “quit” doing Transit in the first place.  I am trying to figure out how deep I really want to go in a “public” forum with my answer.  I have told this story personally to people, but I have never told it on a level that the general BMX community would see it because in the end, my reasons for shutting Transit down is not something that is good for the BMX racing community to know.  So I will try to touch on it without going to deep.

When I first bought Transit, I knew I had to come up with 2 numbers.  First, how many videos do I have to sell to break even?  Secondly, how many videos can I realistically sell?  The first number is pretty easy to figure out after you do a video or two.  You know what your expenses are and you know what your wholesale prices are.  That is somewhat simple math.  Of course, I knew how to do BMX on a budget, so I was able to get my expenses lower than the average “BMXican”.  The second number, how many videos can I realistically sell is a tougher number to figure out.  I knew I wouldn’t sell a million of these DVDs, but was 10,000 doable? 5,000? 3,000?  In other words, where was the ceiling?  I did my best research at the time by taking the numbers of racers and getting an idea of what the freestyle DVD market was doing.  We know that freestyle is a much bigger market then racing, but that could help in figuring out the ceiling.

So I had my number for the what I thought was the ceiling for sales of a BMX race DVD.  So we are plugging away and are in the range or breaking even with TR 2.  TR 3 comes out and sales are better.  TR 4 and sales are up again, I feel like we are hitting our stride and it is all coming together.  Then TR 5 hits and sales drop about 5%.  I figure it is just a bump in the road, or maybe people didn’t like Jason Richardson (haha his interview was very controversial but also very truthful).  TR 6 and sales drop again.  I’m not liking this trend so I am trying to figure out what is going on.  I know during my time with Transit I outlasted about 6-7 other companies trying to do a race video media of some kind, whether DVD or internet but all of them were coming and going.  Is there a reason for that?

I do know that part of the reason for my drop in sales is due to the internet.  I mean these days it’s almost impossible to sell a DVD of any kind.  And the internet video live streaming thing was coming up and hurting sales.  I also know that we could have done more with overseas sales.  We had people selling in Europe, Australia, and Japan.  People in South America were just boot-legging the DVDs, those bastards, thanks for nothing.  We were working on a shoe-string budget, so getting overseas was hard to do with my model.  My sales model was simply this; I had three distributors in America selling the DVDs in different markets and different parts of the country that had most of the bike shops covered and we were also selling to some bike shops, my company was at over 100 tracks a year marketing and selling product.  For the most part, my model was based on guerrilla marketing.  We were going to be at your track, in your face, showcasing the product.  We had two crews on the road teaching clinics over the summer, hitting nationals, state races, locals, regionals, gold cups, etc.  Basically, we were living in the BMX trenches.  I believe that is the main reason our sales were as high as they were.  We took the product to the people.  I also think that is why we outlasted all the other guys.  Well that and I have learned how to be broke and keep going.  But sales kept dropping each video from 4-10.  Not a trend that can keep me paying the bills and after TR 7 we were under the break even point and dropping.

Overall things needed to get better, and I was beating my head against the wall trying to figure it out.  I met my wife the summer of 05.  Of course it was at the BMX track where we met.  So I moved to Phoenix in October of 05 and then in December of 05 I had a conversation with a head staffer at the ABA where he revealed some shocking information about the NBL.  I thought he was lying to me at first, but his story was very convincing.  Then after some investigative inquiries I was able to confirm what the ABA staffer had told me was true.  But that information about the NBL also revealed some critical info about the ABA.  In other words, he indirectly told me some shocking information at the ABA.  And when I fully understood what it all meant, I knew in my heart, that Transit was done.  I still produced 4 more videos after that revelation, but I knew I was on a sinking ship with little to no chance of recovering.  Had I truly understood that information in the beginning I would have never bought Transit in the first place.

I did hang on the last two years, because I knew the Olympics were coming up and if things went well we could get a bump and things could work out positive for BMX’s Future.  If we did get a big bump from the Olympics, I wanted to have my foot in the door with Transit and be ready to ride the wave.  I also very much “naively” thought that perhaps the executives at NBC would want some consulting help with how to cover BMX in the Olympics and I could help them make BMX look cool.  But of course that was a fantasy.  I know that I did not know the technical side of producing a show and working a camera.  I know many people in the field of video work would look at Transit and think it was garbage from a technical perspective.  I had a 2 day crash course on how to edit from a guy that was learning himself how to do stuff.  But I do know BMX.  I do know angles, I do know how to tell the story, how to make BMX racing look the best possible way.  I might not know how to white balance a camera, but I know where to be to get the video clip that people will be talking about for years.

I don’t have the drive to do Transit anymore.  I could maybe get into helping others here and there but a full time gig, no.  Investing my own money into the venture is a big no.  I would love to see somebody take the reigns and do something similar to what Transit did.  In the end, I had to quit doing it because I have a family to take care of and Transit was becoming a charity and not a profitable business.  Perhaps I could have sold more ads.  But I didn’t really have much faith that I could get 10 BMX companies to do an add for $500 an issue but that could have been a possibility that could have kept it going.  I knew in my heart that I was losing the passion to keep the struggle going.  I am very passionate about what Transit “represents” and I am very proud of what Transit accomplished, but I didn’t have the drive necessary to keep doing it.

There is a lot of work that goes into producing one video.  After spending all the money and effort traveling, filming, getting all the footage into the computer, I usually spent about 4 solid weeks just editing.  I know I could have just slapped things together quicker, but I wanted to make each video as enjoyable to watch as possible.  I would usually watch the sections at least 10 times before it ever was finished.  I would go back and see if a different angle would show something better then another angle.  I was always looking at how to make it better and I think when people watched it they knew that.  The motivation to put in all that work is tough when you know you have bills to pay and the potential for sales doesn’t look feasible.  Plus, you run up a lot on credit cards and that can ballon up before you know it.  But when people ask me why I quit doing Transit the answer comes down to money.

In a today’s world, we consume most of our race action through live feeds. Any thoughts about it and any old tricks of the trade they could use from Transit?

Things are changing rapidly.  We still get coverage and footage of events but how we consume it and on what platform is ever fluid.  Before radio people got their drama by going to a theater and seeing a live action play.  Before TV, people get their dramas by sitting around the radio and listening to a story teller pick up on this week’s installment of the story.  Then TV came in and people could watch it in black and white, then color.  Now people are streaming their dramas on Netflix, or Hulu, or Sling, etc.  The people are still wanting their entertainment, they just get it in a different way, which can make it harder on many of the people in the entertainment field.

What we get with a lot of the live feeds is free and instantaneous but it isn’t always the best.  Many times you get what you pay for.  The live feed at things like the World’s this year and what we get at the Grands or whenever the ABA does it, is usually pretty good but most of the individual reporter doing a Facebook live feed with an iPhone doesn’t do that much for me.  And, the individual reporter doing a Facebook live with an iPhone is cheap.  To put on a professional feed like what we saw at the World’s or when the Sanction does is costs more.  So we don’t get that too often but stuff like that is good when we do get it.   I just wish we could get it more.  But the question as always is, who’s going to pay for it?

I do consume BMX racing through some live feeds, internet video and different platforms.  I just ask that people get better camera angles and use the zoom better.  It’s so hard to see what is going on most of the time.  I would also love that if you are going to put up a race online, hit the record button no more then 10 seconds before the gate drops.  I hate clicking on a video and I am watching the riders on the gate for 40 seconds before the cadence starts.  Cut that out.  Don’t waste my/our time.  That is just a personal request.  I had a philosophy when editing Transit.  “If the people have to fast forward through the video, then I failed as an editor”. If people skipped a section or the end of a section that is fine with me but if they constantly fast forwarded through stuff then I didn’t do my job in servicing the customer.  So, just a thought.  If you post a video online, cut out the stuff I don’t need to see.  Again, just a personal request from me.

As far as giving away the “Old Tricks from Transit”, I can’t do that.  I went through a lot to figure that stuff out to just give it away for free.  Now, if you work for NBC and are going to cover a big race, then I will tell you all I know but I do feel like I have some knowledge to give on how to make it something that people can appreciate.  For me to give away those trade secrets I would have to have the right situation.

You’re an avid fan of the sport and still involved and follow it closely. How do you see BMX Racing’s media as we sit in 2017? 

What media?  Just kidding.  There is BMX media out there, but it isn’t as powerful as it used to be.  With everybody being their own reporter, there is more crap to have to weed through to get to what is important.  More is not always better.  There are some good BMX media sources out there but they just don’t have the power to sell and change minds like they used to.  I guess you can say that I was a BMX media member with Transit.  One philosophy I had when doing Transit, is that it was my job to take the 16 hours of racing on a given national weekend and condense it down into a 4-8 minute part that could easily be consumed by the viewer.  I wanted the viewer to know the important things that happened at that event.  I think in general that is what the media’s role in our society is.  Give the people the information they need to know, and weed out all of the  unimportant stuff. That was a goal I had every time I sat down to edit a Transit.  Give the people the best of the best.

It would be nice to see that happen more in BMX, but our sport is a labor of love and running a successful media company is more and more difficult.  We see magazines in general going out of business and when you are in a hobby niche sport like BMX, it is even more difficult to get the best BMX journalists out there.  There used to be a time when we looked forward to getting a BMX Action or a SNAP (for you youngins reading this and don’t know what those magazines were just know that they were both bad ass magazines that all hardcore “BMXicans” lived for).  Now-a-days we don’t have that one true source that all the BMX community turns to.  I wish we had that.  I guess now you have BMXnews.com and BMXmania.com and then the podcast revolution is starting to take off.  Perhaps the podcast thing could fill a void in the BMX media that is lacking right now but it is tough to utilize the media for good when the main players are struggling.  What I have seen from BMXWeekly so far has been really good.  Hopefully, that can continue in value.

You’re a co-host on Rail the Berm Podcast Show. How’s that going?

I have always kind of had a love-hate relationship with BMX on so many different levels and for different reasons.  BMX started to consume me a little too much so I had to step away about 4 years ago but you guys know that when you are a hardcore “BMXican” it’s hard to fully quit.  So I still pay attention to what is going on.  I have been hitting state races for the last two years selling shirts, hats, and DVDs.  That has been fun and helped me out mentally.  Getting back to the roots.

But doing Rail the Berm has been therapeutic for me.  I have been able to get some stuff out and get back into the sport that I dedicated so much of my life too.  Rail the Berm is a way for me to be connected to BMX but not too connected.  Although, recently there have been some things that are heating me up – the show has doubled its downloads per month since I got on the show in April so we are making progress and people are tuning into Rail the Berm and the new Micro Minis.  I just hope that listening to the show helps the BMX community in a positive way.  I know that we get negative at times, but sometimes things need to get called out.  Recently, I got a text from a fan of the show who filled me in on his knowledge of the BMX hotels “pay to play/stay to save” situation and how it negatively affected his track.  He liked the points I was making on the show and wanted to lend his knowledge.  He said that I was the “Matt Drudge” of BMX.  Not sure if that is a good thing or not, hahaha.

Final thoughts and links?

If somebody wants to get a hold of me just look up Colin Stiles on Facebook.

Make sure you check out Rail the Berm, The Bicycle Moto Cross Show available for downloads every Tuesday morning wherever you get your podcasts.  Or go to railtheberm.com for more information.  If you need an extra BMX bump between the weekly show you can check out the Micro Minis.  Why “High-Low” the turn, when you can “Rail the Berm” and get more speed for the next straight… haha.  Just giving you an elbow Dale, it’s BMX, rubbing’s racin’.

My final thought is this… I know that we have no control over the networks, but I have a hard time watching BMX racing on TV and enjoying it.  I see so many things that they do with covering BMX that make no sense to me.  The way they switch cameras, the camera angles they get, and most importantly how they piece it together irks me.  I wish they covered it like how they cover the NFL.  To explain what I mean by that would be too difficult in text.

I know that people were excited about the men’s main in Rio last year and it was an exciting race but the coverage of it could have been so much better had they done it more like the NFL, AND had the people in place that knew what was going on.  I listened to your “High-Low” with Johan and there were a lot of things I would have liked to know more about.  Most of which goes back to a question I asked Johan in 07, before the first Olympics.  I couldn’t read his body language enough at the time to know if, he was surprised that he didn’t think of this, or he was like “shut up I don’t like that guy.”  BUT WHY THE HELL IS MIKE REDMAN NOT THE GUY COMMENTATING TO THE TV AUDIENCE.  Is there anybody who can explain BMX better, knows BMX better, and can sell BMX Better to the people then Mike Redman?  If you guys know of somebody better then him for that job, I would like to know.  I look back at that glorious men’s main and come to 2 main conclusions.

If Nic Long didn’t hit his pedal in the second turn, the men’s main ended pretty boringly with with Nic, Connor, Jelle 1, 2, 3 with no photo finish.  So when you talk about how exciting the racing is, understand that it could have been pretty single-file and boring.  The track didn’t make that race exciting, the fact that the lead rider made a critical mistake at probably the worst possible place on the track, is what made the second half of that race exciting.  Other then Stephanie Hernandez’s move in the first turn, the women’s main was pretty boring.  Her move in the first turn was worthy of a bronze medal by itself, but the rest of the women’s main was single-file but I don’t think the track played a big role in the excitement.  A more traditional track would make the racing more exciting IMO, but that’s a separate topic. Commentators that can educate the public on the small details of a play.  I knew instantly when Nic bobbled in the second turn that he lost the gold.  That is something that Mike would have spotted and called out at the moment.  Just like watching the Super Bowl when a perfect season is on the line for the Patriots AND before the ball is snapped I hear Chris Collinsworth say,  “Plexico Burress is singled on Ellis Hobbs at the bottom of the field watch out”.  Then 3 seconds later the ball is hiked and Burress catches the ball in the end zone to essentially win the game and end the Patriots perfect season.  That is why they had Collinsworth there.  Collinsworth saw it and called it before it happened he knew what was going to happen before it happened.  That is because he is a true NFL analyst and commentator.

Jamie Bestwick is nice guy and he can commentate Freestyle events very well.  He can call out the small details of all the tricks on a vert run while it is going that is what Jamie does.  He knows vert tricks inside and out.  That is what we needed for the men’s Olympic main and REDMAN WOULD HAVE DONE IT.  He could have called out and explained all of it.  Redman has extensive knowledge of all the ins-and-outs of BMX racing.  I’m not opposed to Bestwick working the race but Redman should have at least been in the broadcast booth with him.

We need people in the leadership roles that understand BMX.  We just had Neil Cameron, president of BMX Australia, on Rail the Berm last week and he was on point with so many things.  He is a guy that is in touch with the BMX community.  He wants to take BMX in a positive direction and I like his ideas so far.  He gives me some hope for the future of Bicycle Moto Cross.  The control of the sport is out of our hands.  It is up to the leadership to make BMX great again.  That is a frustrating part of being involved in the sport of BMX.  In many ways, we are hopeless to make real, solid positive change.  I really think that is what Keith Mulligan was telling me, as we sat at an Applebee’s outside of Vegas on our way to Phoenix (I was filming for TR 2).  I was a new member of the BMX media.  Keith had been in the BMX media game for a long time.  He knew what I had yet to find out… that BMX media can only do so much to make BMX racing “cool”.

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