When The Best Bike in The World Gets Stolen from a 12-Year-Old Boy
- Category: Dad's Dirt Roads: A Blog
- on Mon Oct 7, 2013
- by Mark Stephens on Mon Oct 7, 2013 - (11) Comments
In the mid-1970s a pimply faced adolescent named Perry Kramer probably had no idea whatsoever that he'd be making one of the longest standing marks on the fledgling, and largely amateur, early BMX racing world. He was just about 15 or 16 when he started snatching titles around the southwest and scored some sponsorships. In 1976, the year I was born, he ranked second in the first pro national event, the real deal that made a circuit from California to Florida. Not quite 18 years old, he landed on the cover of Bicycle Motocross Magazine in May of '76.
And then things got really interesting for Kramer, if you're not already impressed. SE Racing, a company he co-founded, launched a new and pioneering bike frame made out of aluminum. Building aluminum frames back in those foggy days most often resulted in lackluster, fragile bikes because the material is more finicky to work than hi-tensile or chromium-molybdenum steel. Because aluminum is so light, it promised to make a ripping-good BMX bike if the boys could figure out how to make a viable frame from it. And that they did. The company had dialed in the process, the geometry, the tube shape, the joints, the welding and yielded a highly durable bike that could take all the pounding administered by a 17-year-old kid chasing the riches of a $200 race purse. Because of the difficulty and expense of working with aluminum, and the great measure of badassness, the bike was nearly legendary overnight.
So they called it the P.K. Ripper, using Kramer's initials. If you're not already aware of the P.K. Ripper, I'll lay it out: if this bike wasn't the most coveted BMX ride in the early 1980s, then it was the second most coveted. Which is really saying something when you consider the target demographic was a stoked-and-broke teenager in the 1980s. The P.K. Ripper is still made today by SE Bikes, and though modernized it's still boasting an aluminum frame as are most BMX bicycles now. We can thank those gents for the venerable P.K. Ripper and the advancement of aluminum BMX construction.
In 1982 my brother Greg was 12 years old and had a paper route like most suburban American white kids of the era, and he had a crush. He spent his spare time hanging out at the local bike shop, stroking the amazing frame of a particular black P.K. Ripper with gold lettering on display in the front window — and likely annoying the large-sized owner we called Dell. I should know. I did the same thing when I turned 12 and had my eye on a particular blue Haro and a set of white freestyle pegs in the glass case.
Greg had to get up early in the morning, sling papers around the neighborhood, collect payment, and save his coin. He put it all in a big glass jar. Little by little the jar filled up with wads of dollar bills and mounds of change. One day, the glass jar was emptied and left with just a fistful of dimes and pennies at the bottom. I knew what that meant right away. Out front in the cul-de-sac I found my dad and my mom watching my brother take his first ride on the neighborhood street on his new P.K. Ripper, the same black-with-gold-lettering bike we'd learned to love in the bike shop.
My brother worked for every dime that paid for his black P.K. Ripper. He bought it at a local bike shop because there was a time in this land when that's where you'd actually buy a bike when you wanted to buy a bike. We now know that times have changed. I digress. He worked hard for the best bike money could buy at the time.
Just four months after he bought it, Greg took his P.K. Ripper to the local ABA track with his friends. Long gone now, the track was in old town Scottsdale, Arizona right next to the police station. Being 1982, Greg's black and badass P.K. Ripper got a lot of attention. Kids from all over wanted to look. Wanted to touch. Wanted to ride. And he was proud and stoked.
He caved. A much older, and obviously intimidating, teenager with a crappy Mongoose sporting two convenient flat tires demanded to ride the P.K. Ripper. "Come on man, you can hold my bike until I get back. I just want to take a quick ride. Come on, man. Come on."
What else would a 12-year-old boy do? He handed over the P.K. Ripper. The older kid hopped on and fled without an ounce of regard for the unseen things he was stealing along with the bike. Greg was left standing there holding an inferior bike with flat tires like the world's worst slap in the face. And he hasn't seen his black P.K. Ripper since.
Greg is 42 years old now, for all we know today could be the 30 year anniversary of that event. I recently took my daughter to a sporting goods store and saw in the bike section a killer little white and blue Lil' Ripper in the line up. The Lil' ripper is one of SE Bikes modern iterations for the legendary P.K. Ripper -- and I wanted to buy it right there for my daughter. Immediately I was reminded of Greg's bike, and how it shook our entire household when it was stolen. I haven't thought about it in such long time, so I shot a picture and sent him a text.
"Check this out," I wrote him. "P.K. Rippers live on. Remember when yours got stolen?"
Why did I even ask? I should have sent the pic and moved on.
Surely I pinched a nerve, "Yeah" his response began. "Those were bad fuckin' times, bro."