Lar Massey / Fifteen BMX Interview
Other than 5 years in Boston after college, I’ve lived in Dublin, Ireland, my whole life… not a bad place to be.
When did you first discover BMX and how was your local scene? Please share about your personal history in BMX over the years.
I’m not great with dates but I think it was mid 1982 when I first got a BMX, but I’d been building ramps on our street for years prior to that and jumping over the neighbour kids on my Raleigh Boxer. The early 80’s were all about Raleigh in Ireland, everyone had a Burner. My first one was a Super Burner (that I spent ages peeling the gold plastic coating off), then an Ultra Burner, then an Aero Pro Burner, all brilliant, and rubbish at the same time. After Raleigh, I graduated to the world of the Irish Redline team with the likes of Will Smyth of Dig BMX and Lyndsey Gilmer who was Euro Champion at some point.
I can’t remember when the first track was built, probably 83 (I’m going to get loads of correction messages now). Prior to that, Raleigh had wooden ramps and tabletops that they drove around the country setting up in fields and running races on. The BMX scene, like everywhere, was huge here during the mid ‘80’s, we’d get probably 300 riders at a race, which was massive for such a small population. There was a couple of years here where you couldn’t turn around without bumping into a Ruffell, or Schofield, or one of the UK Redline Team.
Of course, everyone was also a freestyler back then, so there where quarter pipes everywhere too, especially after BMX Action Bike published the step-by-step instruction on how to build one. I had huge 8’ high one in our small back garden, you had to loop around the shed twice and duck under the clothesline to get to it with any speed! The neighbours loved us.
Once tracks started to pop up, and racing really took off, we inevitably discovered racing in the UK and Europe, and all without the internet. We’d all pile into buses and vans and get on ferries to the UK Nationals and Euro races. I had a lot of fun with Wigan’s King Kong and Chesterfield’s, no pedaling required, downhill track.
Just before the ’86 Worlds in Slough I crashed and broke my collarbone, so I ended up sitting in the stands, but did get to meet some of the US pros, some much nicer than others! Meeting some of them was a thrill because you’d only see them in magazines up until that point. I was all about Geth Shooter though! Glad he went into the UK Hall of Fame first time out!
My interest waned after missing the Worlds and by the end of ’86 I’d found other things to occupy my time, I rode jumps for another year or so and then the bikes stayed in the shed more often than not.
When I lived in Boston in the mid 90’s, we had a couple of interns who raced BMX locally in the company I work at, so I’d regularly take their bikes and jump off curbs out the back of the office. But it wasn’t until BMX turned up in the Beijing Olympics that it took hold here again. A bunch of 80’s riders got back together through the magic of Facebook, got bikes, rode trails, build tracks by hand, and started the sport up again … so Facebook, the Olympics and a handful of determined middle-aged men and women are why we have racing again in Ireland. It’s better now than ever!
When did you start up Fifteen and what was the idea behind it?
I was running the BMX Ireland website when we were building the sport back up here, as it progressed, I started to include international news as well as Irish information. The site started to get a decent following and I was enjoying it. But I wasn’t thrilled with the direction of the sport here. We were concentrating on trying to get Elite riders in green jerseys rather than building a solid base for the re-emerging sport. I don’t include Kelvin Batey in that… he was huge for Irish BMX at the time. Thankfully the course has been corrected now and I think the sport is in a much better position to grow and prosper in the future.
Anyway… by the time 2014 rolled around I had just lost patience with the direction being pushed here, so while sitting in the stands at the Rotterdam Worlds I decided I was just going to do my own thing, no more frustrating meetings for me. While there were lots of good BMX racing websites around, they were mostly just focused on national news from the country they were based in, I thought I could do it with an international slant and focus mainly on the Pro riders. I wanted to be more like a magazine of old.
It was never the intention to make money from Fifteen, it was always just for fun and to promote the sport. I thought the riders and sport deserved better promotion. I’m just a fan at heart, I’ve always been a fan.
You have grown your site and social to the most well-known and followed for BMX Racing around the World. How do you keep up with all the updates with all the results and news? Do you have contributors helping you?
Thank You! While I do think we do a good job, there are probably other factors as to why we grew quickly. A few years into our adventure other sites that had existed before us started to close or fade in popularity… I’m not going to speculate on the reasons on why that happened to multiple sites, but Fifteen BMX is still growing…
And yes, we have lots of help. Kirby Cronk in the US gave us a presence at nationals there early on which was great. Unfortunately, he has retired for the most part now… so if anyone over there wants to contribute regularly, please get in touch.
Right now, we have Sandra Smith from SJS Photography in the UK helping us out. Damien Ethalon writes reports on all the French Cup rounds and Alan from Kaptur Photography supplies the brilliant images. Mike Albright in the US gives us images when he gets to an event. The legend that is Jerry Landrum, of BMX Mania fame, has shot US Nationals for us, James Pennucci and Steve Diamond have hooked us up. Craig Dutton helped a lot early on with images, and lots of advice, as did Bart from FatBMX! Bruce Morris and Adam Carey over in Australia have written articles for us, and when we get lucky Connor Fields will drop something really interesting in our inbox. It’s rare that we ask a rider to contribute or answer questions and we don’t get a response. Laura Smulders always goes above and beyond for example. Bill Ryan at Supercross has been very supportive too! We’ve been very lucky.
Do you have a normal job as well or is Fifteen your full-time gig?
Yea, I’ve a ‘normal job’ that pays the mortgage and all the other bills and keeps Fifteen afloat. I’m continuously amazed, impressed… and maybe a little jealous, of people, not selling product, who can fund their life via BMX. It might be possible in the US but not in Europe. If Fifteen BMX was my full-time gig we’d be homeless… it has the potential to be a money pit. All advertisers welcome!
What are your thoughts on Media for BMX Racing these days as the landscape continues to change?
Some of it is pretty good, I enjoy all the podcasts but, holistically, it’s not brilliant is it. The sport deserves better. To be fair, I don’t really think it’s the lack of desire from people doing it, I think it’s the lack of, or rather the inability to fund it. I’ve a long list of things I want to do, but without being able to invest more time into Fifteen, I have that ‘normal job’, the list just keeps growing and not much gets ticked off. If a group came along and did a much better job than Fifteen, I’d be thrilled, I might even offer to help.
What are your pet peeves about some of the other race media outlets out there?
I don’t really have any, I just concentrate on what we want to do… push forward and stay positive, as much as possible anyway.
What Pro/Elites do a good job in your eyes on Social?
So many of them do good things. Mariana is a beacon of positivity in the sport. Her and Alise are a sponsor’s dream. Nobles too, lots to learn from him. Eddy Clerte and Michael Bias have great riding content that everyone should soak up. One of my favourites right now is Mathis Ragot Richard, great riding content, great edits, excellent sponsor visibility and he does it all in a cohesive style.
Any drama or behind the scenes scoop you can tell us when it comes to BMX Media that maybe we don’t know about?
There’s always drama somewhere, but it’s usually just petty stuff that I won’t bore you with. Fifteen’s only goal is to promote the sport in a positive light…
Favourite photographers in BMX?
All the ones who contribute to Fifteen, easy question haha!
Seriously though, there are so many, and for lots of different reasons, some of them are listed in the questions above. I grew up looking at Windy Osborn images, so many iconic photos. Jerry Mania is approaching that category too, I think. I personally really like Craig Dutton’s images; pretty sure I could pick his out of any photo line-up!
We all love to talk about growing the sport and everyone has their opinion which is always a good debate. What are your thoughts?
Yea, there is always a lot of talk, but you never really hear viable solutions to the growth question. And by growth, what do people actually mean? How big do you want it? What do you want to compare it too? It’s a niche sport, it always has been. All ‘action sports’ are niche. That’s what I love about it… it’s not for everyone, not everyone can do it. We’re unique! I sometimes wish the sport had retained some of the rebel (for want of a better word) culture, we may be trying to be mainstream now when we’re not… I guess there are positives and negatives to both.
For the most part I think we’re in a really good place, the US nationals are attracting huge numbers, the UEC rounds this year have been bigger than ever, UK Nationals are bigger than ever (well last year anyway), a French Cup could be approaching 100 Elite Men, which is nuts for a National. If we got much bigger a restructure might be in order to cope with the numbers… maybe you’d need to qualify for nationals/euro cups for example, with the main focus being on local races.
I think the UCI are doing good things in the Elite ranks. I love the World Cups! A huge amount of time and effort goes into staging them, and I just can’t see them being a big money spinner for them. The Worlds are always amazing, the caldron of electricity they created in Nantes last year was phenomenal. I can’t wait for Glasgow! Should Elite riders get paid better, yes, of course! Is that up to the UCI, UEC or National Federations? I’m not so sure. I think there is a role for everyone. We, BMX, needs to figure out how to get people in seats at Pro events, increase the demand for tickets and the money will increase, the sponsorship will increase, and the riders will benefit. But the BMX community complaining about it and then not turning up in the stands is reductive. We’ve all seen empty stands at World Cup events, if the BMX riders and their family don’t want to go then we’ve little hope in convincing the general public. What might help is running these big events like World Cups in populated areas. I don’t want to drive two hours to a show I’m not 100% committed to, but I’d probably hop in a cab for 20 mins to go to one. Make it accessible. The problem, I guess, is the cost and logistics of putting on an event in a city… but the UCI have done it before.
The usual complaints you hear like ‘BMX was better in the good ole days’, ‘the Olympics and the UCI rules are killing the sport’, the ‘8m hill is dangerous’, or ‘there’s no passing in Supercross’ are all easy to debunk. Overall, I think there is a lot more to be positive about than to complain about.
How’s racing over in Ireland these days? It’s good to see you posting and reporting on the current scene BTW.
It’s going well, like I said above, I think we’ve found the right balance here now. The focus has shifted to the base, and we are building. There is a great bunch of volunteers who put a huge amount of time and effort in, lots of club coaching and lots of club racing.
Covid hurt us a lot because we were forced to close all the tracks while the football pitches where still operating, we lost a lot of riders to MTB and other accessible sports. But it’s coming back, we just had a big turnout for the first National of the year, a steady stream of rider’s race at the UEC rounds, we’ll have lots of riders in Glasgow for the Worlds and I’d expect plenty of main’s appearances … so I think we’re good. Not 80’s numbers but we’ll get there.
Who’s your Elite Men and Women’s Podium for Scotland UCI Worlds this year?
It’s hard to look past the current crop of consistent superstars but I think change is coming. Zoe looks increasingly good in Elite Women, as does Cam and Izaac in Elite men… but would you bet against Kye Whyte and Beth Shreiver on home ground if they can get a good run of races under their belts before August. I bet they will be able to ride that track blindfolded by the time the Worlds roll around.
Last up, do you get to ride much yourself these days?
Assuming it’s not raining (I don’t do rain), I get out for a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday. Maybe an hour or two a mid-weeknight if I’m lucky, my local track, Lucan BMX, has flood lights now! If I’m really lucky I’ll squeeze in an hour at the skate park too. There’s a new Velosolutions pump track about to open just up the road from me, so that could suck up lots of my time too, it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun.