Interview – The Godfather of European BMX, Gerrit Does – Part 1
It’s pretty well known and documented on your site universityofbmx.com that you brought BMX to Europe at the very beginning. Give us a little insight on how you found BMX and how it impacted you?
Well, I came to the US for the first time in 1974, early September. I brought 2 Dutch motocross internationals with me, one of Pierre Karsmaker’s (my brother in law) younger brother Frans and his friend Henny Beekmans. Through a promotor they got a sponsorship deal from a Yamaha Dealer in Kansas City called “Independence Yamaha”, run by Mr. Perkins.
It was at this motorcycle shop that I saw for the 1st time BMX bikes and right away the idea came up – that’s the way to educate young kids in handling a bike, imitating motorcycle motocross riders. No better school then that for young kids, ages 4-5 years till around 12, 14 years. When they were old enough, put them on a motorcycle and let them grow from there.
Young kids learn balance, gain strength as well as a mental attitude, and riding with max 8 kids will teach them how to pass, race in a group and still respect your competition, etc. I was very enthusiastic about that and thought “in the future I want to start a BMX school for the youngest kids”.
Well it took till early 1978 to finally make this idea come true. Pierre Karsmakers, who was a Yamaha and Honda motocross works rider in the USA from 1973 till 1979, imported motorcycle parts, helmets, uniforms and such from the US to Holland-Europe, also imported several BMX bikes in 1976-77. Among them the brands WEBCO Inc., Race Inc., and Laguna BMX.
I visited Pierre several times after 1974 and he showed me around California, orientating and learning what BMX was all about. Did meet with Ernie Alexander, Skip Hess, Linn Kastan, Renny Roker, Howie Cohen, Jim Jannard (Oakley, just starting his company) the main man at Laguna BMX as well as Darwin Zense from Webco Inc. USA.
We went to BMX events to see how things were done, like at the Van Nuys track in L.A. Saw evening races organized by Ernie Alexander and met Renny Roker there again, saw all the well known names riding there like Stu Thomsen, Perry Kramer, Bobby Encinas, David Clinton and so on. We also went to the Irvine BMX track to see what was going on and saw a race at the Elks Track in L.A. I took lots of pictures and took videos from it all. Learned a lot, got all the paperwork, rulebook etc. from Ernie Alexander (NBA), later on NBL and ABA documentation on how to organize events and that’s how I learned what BMX was all about.
In 1978 I stopped coaching and training Dutch motocross top riders and I introduced BMX in Holland during an international motocross early April, really a wrong thing to do. The difference between motorcycle MX and BMX was too much for the motocross fans (same what you saw at the MXGP this year with those E-mountainbikes, one never should combine these 2 disciplines in one event. And by the way, E-bikes belong with the UCI is my opinion!).
In October of 1978 we held a press conference, professionally organized with around 15 reporters from regional and national newspapers, also a representative from a Dutch national TV station was present.
This really was the start of things and I still had in mind, setting up a BMX organization with the idea of educating/training youngsters for motorcycle motocross later on.
Who were some of the key guys in the US you connected with and worked with to help get things off the ground in Europe?
As I stated before, besides Ernie Alexander (NBA) in around 1976 and half a year later George E. Esser (NBL), I also contacted ABA’s Merl Mennenga. I got promo packages from all 3 organizations and started to study their literature. My choice was to use the NBL and NBA rules and regulations in a mix. They used the Olympic system for qualifying and that sounded to me the best, thinking of a possible international interaction in Europe and maybe even world wide. We were already used to that system in all other sport disciplines over here.
Beside rules and regulations, the actual materials (bikes, parts, tracks, etc.) were important to me. Quality was essential as well as safety. Luckily my brother in law knew his way around in California being a professional motorcycle motocross rider for Yamaha there, from 1973 till around 1979, winning 10 National MX titles in the US. He helped me out meeting people from the BMX industry, some of them I mentioned above and I learned a lot from them regarding materials for BMX, such as bicycles, helmets, clothing, shoes, etc. This was in 1976-78.
In the early days (1978 – 1983) I travelled at least 2 to 3 times per year to the USA, mainly Florida, to be present at NBL National events and learn from it all. My “coaches” then became good friends, George E. Esser and Mary Esser (both RIP) from the NBL. George taught me a lot and I could always stay at their house. Great people, miss them till this day.
What other countries were you working and collaborating with to grow the sport?
1979 was a busy year for me. Promoting BMX all over Holland as S.F.N. (Stichting Fietscross Nederland). S.F.N. was the registered name of our foundation, in 1978 and on. I was the founder and Chairman, explaining what BMX was all about at road bicycle clubs, motorcycle clubs, anybody interested in starting in BMX. With the so-called “Lucky 7 BMX team” we gave demo’s all over Holland.
I had my work as Personal Manager at a Dairy company in the daytime and in the evenings at an average of 3 evenings per week, I travelled from South to North and from East to West all over Holland to explain what BMX was all about and promote the sport.
At the same time, several motorcycle enthusiastic people in other countries learned about BMX and wanted to get organized as well. Through publicity, they heard that BMX was getting organized in Holland and they started to contact me, asking for information, rule-book, how to get organized etc. René Nicolas from France come over, stayed for a day to learn more about the sport, so did Juan Ventura from Spain, same situation. From Sweden Stefan Ekwall, working for former World champ MX Torsten Hallman, came over. From Germany several talks have been going on with Mr. Teichreber, Mr. Hoffher, Mr. Heidkamp and several more.
In Belgium Mr. Bert Dekker and later on Mr. Armand Blondiau were the men trying to get BMX going there. From Norway a main man at DBS Bicycles got involved and did a lot of good work, Mr. Lars Forus. Also contact was established with England. People from Halfords were very active in getting things going, like David Duffield and Alan Rushton, the Jarvis family are also considered pioneers in this matter, as well as former cyclist Geoff Wiles. The list goes on and on.
They all wanted to get started with BMX organizations in their countries and I was able to help them with detailed information like rules and regulations, with advised how to go about starting and promoting BMX. A really great time this was, the pioneer period.
A I said, a very busy time specially the first year Europe, which was waking up on BMX in 1979. And the work I did was all on a volunteer basis, I wasn’t paid, it was my hobby! I even invested money myself in the organization. The S.F.N. was run by 3 persons in the beginning. Louis Vrijdag, a good friend from motorcycle motocross and working for the city of Eindhoven, became secretary and my wife Mieke Does-Karsmakers helped us out acting as secretary at the “office” (our kitchen!).
Luckily a good friend who’s job it was finding sponsors for athletes was able to get S.F.N. 4 potential sponsors bringing in some funds to pay for costs we had to make. Those sponsors were: Wrangler, Milky Way, Tivoli (cigarettes, not possible now-a-days anymore) and Protec – Helmets.
Besides the above, Intersponsor bureau, together with me, brought in a National TV Station called AVRO. The were very interested in BMX and wanted to make a special program on the sport of BMX. A rather long history of TV racing became a fact already in 1979 and came to an end somewhere around 1985. This was one of the reasons Holland had around 8,000 license-holders in 1985-86 (out of our 12 million inhabitants in Holland at the time).
Can you remember the first official race in Holland? How was it promoted and how was the turn out?
Our 1st official track, built by the city of Eindhoven for 5,000 Dutch guilders, was ready mid 1979. Before that date we organized “test” events with only a few riders (max 20/50).
Our first official BMX race at the BMX track Welschapsedijk was a Holland-Belgium event and the city of Eindhoven officials (loco-mayor) opened the track and event. I believe there were around 125 riders present and racing. NOW BMX was on it’s way. We all had a very special feeling and we had only enthusiastic riders, parents, supporters, spectators and officials. It was a great success.
We only promoted BMX at a local level for this event. We wanted to have everything right first, before making a lot of “noise”, you know what I mean. Still another TV station called “Veronica” heard about this BMX event and came over for an interview and did some filming. Well, in 1980 we were able to set up a series of good events, and promotion came in very quickly when the AVRO organization broadcast their first 50 minutes of BMX racing from the Waalre track in 1980. Licenses doubled in one year.
How did you get Ponypark on board to build a BMX Track then go onto host the 1983 IBMXF World Championship, which even today is still highly spoken about and documented?
Well, thats another interesting story. As you can read on my website universityofbmx.com. a company called AVRO (radio and tv), broadcasting at a national level, first came to Waalre to register the AVRO FIETSCROSS TROPHY events in 1980 en 1981. I am from the city of Hilversum where all the radio and TV stations were and still are located. My good friend from school worked for AVRO and the man taking care of our sponsorship deals talked to that particular friend of mine at the AVRO offices. When he mentioned my name, ice was broken and a deal came out of it.
AVRO TV already broadcasted from Ponypark a music show and a show for kids called “Ren je rot” (meaning run like crazy). Ponypark had all the facilities needed, ready for TV there and during 1981 the AVRO management talked to Mr. Bemboom about BMX. They asked him if he was interested to host the AVRO TV Fietscross series from 1982 on. Mr. Bemboom said YES and I just was informed about that decision and knew that a lot of work would be taken out of my hands arranging facilities , etc., it was all there in place already at Ponypark. So, thanks to the AVRO organization we moved from Waalre to Ponypark Slagharen.
Right away there was a “click” between Mr. Bemboom and myself, I just had to come up with plans to built a track and all that was needed to organize an international BMX event. Ending 1981 we started to built the new facility and in 1982 during the summertime period 4 TV events were taped at the track and during June, July and August, 4 shows of 50 minutes each were broadcasted. They were a hit instantly, and ending 1982 the numbers of license holders were booming.
They had asked me to write a special program for these TV series and I came up with a kind of Motocross of Nations set up with 8 teams of selected riders from different provinces all over Holland, where BMX’ers were active. Those kids taking part got their complete outfit like helmet, shirts, pants, shoes, gloves for FREE from a sponsor. Invited participants only had to bring their own BMX bikes. This TEAM thing worked perfectly, just like in motorcycle motocross. People from the provinces where a team came from became fanatic supporters for that team and its riders. It was a success.
Besides this regional team thing, AVRO had at each show a top artist or pop group present, performing during the intervals to keep the many spectators busy and entertained. I have still got all the video tapes available in my archive.
The cooperation with Ponypark Slagharen was perfect. Anything I asked for was organized and they did that all those years till the last E.C.C. (European Challenge Cup) in 1993.
To be continued.