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Lance Gamma

The RRS Chronicles

Joe Kundig was the owner of Redlands Schwinn, having purchased Griswold’s Sporting Goods from the retiring Mr. Griswold in 1969 and converting the establishment to a dedicated Schwinn franchise.  Joe had 2 sons, Craig and Jim.  Craig was my age and became my best friend in junior high school.  Over the years, we worked together off an on, helping out in the Kundig family business.   We unloaded boxcars of  Varsity’s and Stingrays into old orange packing warehouses, sometimes stacking those heavy suckers 5 high to make room for a Christmas shipment.  Craig’s dad was looking for a way to get us out of his hair and decided to buy out another retiring couple in Riverside.  Thus, Riverside Schwinn was born.  We had the run of the place (I honestly can’t remember Craig’s parents EVER setting foot in that store) and immediately jumped into the thriving BMX scene busting loose in Riverside County (all Southern California for that matter).  Craig had been to Schwinn school and was very proficient at all things bicycle.  He taught me how to true wheels, assemble head and bottom brackets, set up brakes, etc.  When the local kids found out that a couple of nut-jobs were running the bicycle asylum, a race team was soon to form.
It was 32 years ago but the names I still recall are Kirk Claveau, his brother, Joe, Keith Peel, Kevin McNeal and Mike Miranda.  Mike’s friend, Sam was the one who designed the team’s RRS logo.  It was fun to think that we were as serious an effort as the Big Boys, but the truth of it was that we were just a bike shop, not a manufacturer and had limited resources along with a store to run full time.  Our first new product design was the RRS Hidden Bolt Stem.  This gem was going to make us RICH!  The stem featured a cro-moly shaft (split 4 ways for the last 3� ) and top plate with a threaded I.D. and used a tapered plug with a 6 mm hex center.  To tighten the stem, you would remove the alloy top bar block and insert a 6 mm allen wrench into the shaft to tighten the tapered plug upwards until the shaft expanded and locked in place.  Very light and very different.  Oh, yeah, and junk.  The design didn’t have enough offset to be effective and would not stay put.  It was our first attempt to offer solutions to problems no one had.  Later, when we developed the RRS chassis with its innovative design features, we weren’t trying to please the masses.  Instead, Craig and I were going to make things the way we wanted for our own reasons.
Craig’s coaching skills were formidable and perfectly suited to working with younger riders with talent.  He naturally gravitated to Geoff Rutherford and offered his dad a sponsorship package that helped us win the coveted ABA #1 plate for California in 1978.  Geoff was a very intense 9 year old.  I wonder what has become of him?   I worked with the older guys and built bikes capable of winning at the national level.  We developed a good reputation with the national caliber riders in the Riverside area and tuned bikes for Stu, Greg and Kevin and Lee.  We were always finding new and innovative components such as Phil Wood hubs and spindles, T/A cranks from Italy, Suntour Superbe Pro alloy headsets (ten speed size with spacer rings to fit the BMX frames), etc.  A word on the T/A cranks.  I would bet that no one has ever heard of them.  Denny Davidow (Formerly the top pro from Team DRP) turned us on to them.  Denny liked to run long cranks.  Standard length was 170 mm from spindle center to pedal eye.  Some manufacturers such as Campagnolo and Shimano offered 175 mm but Denny preferred 180 mm arms.  T/A’s were made in Italy (like Campy) and were the strongest forged aluminum cranks we ever tested.  Kirk Claveau could jump higher and farther than anyone we ever saw.  He had a way of landing as soft as a sponge form scary heights and was surprisingly easy on equipment.   His brother Joe, however, could jump just as high but landed like a bag of cement.  Joe went through alloy cranks by the case.  Campy’s, Dura-Ace, it didn’t matter.  Dust in a week.  The T/A’s lasted a whole year and came in ANY length from 150 mm to 185 mm in 2.5 mm increments.  Great stuff.  Denny and brother Dirk had a lot to do with how the Factory RRS race bikes turned out.
We had a national star with Geoff and figured it was time to design our own chassis.  Custom bikes were the norm with the smaller riders of the day and we needed to comply with Mr. Rutherford’s expectations for support.  He didn’t have to twist our arms too hard.  Craig and I had given quite a lot of thought to how our racing machines should take form.  Looking back, we would have been better served thinking about what the buying public wanted to spend their money on, but truth be told, we never gave it a thought.  A classic diamond frame in 4130 was a given, but ten speed sized headsets, vertical dropouts, cantilever brakes and eccentric bottom brackets (only seen on high end tandems at the time) had even our most ardent supporters (RRS race team members) shaking their heads and wondering if we were dropped on our heads as babies.  No matter.  We knew it was bitchen’ and figured that the rest of the world would just have to catch up.  (Here it is 2010 and we are still waiting!)  Geoff’s first RRS prototype was built by Mr. Gary Turner.  You might know him (and his bike shop owning partner, Richard Long) better as GT BMX.  Gary’s workmanship was exemplary and since our shop was selling a lot of GT’s, he was happy to help.  Later, when GT decided that custom projects interfered with their efforts to sell a TON of GT frames, we started to work with a fabricator in Yucaipa named Mike Toth who helped us develop our own geometry and fine tune the unique RRS features.  About this time (1979?) we picked up former Delta Racing Products factory team members consisting of Dirk and Denny Davidow along with Jimmy Bertoldo.  Denny had very strange geometry needs and was convinced that we should follow suit with the steep steering angle of the DRP he helped develop.  No one could argue the fact the Denny could perform magic on such a machine.  The development schedule was haphazard and hectic.  I remember one incident where we were completing a new frame for Denny’s debut in RRS colors for the Saddleback National.  Mike and I worked till late in the evening to complete the frame and then I had to rush back to the shop to build the bike from the frame up.  Denny and I worked all night and left for the track about 7am.  We were EXAUSTED driving the Ford van down to Orange County.  Denny passed out on the hard bare metal (and dirty) floor in the back and I drove on solo.  I was so tired that I had the radio on full blast and the windows down trying to stay awake.  Denny slept like a corpse through the den.  I was listening intently to the radio to keep sharp but it wasn’t working.  When we a mile away from the off-ramp for the track, I was listening to Deep Purple on the radio.  The next thing I know, someone was blowing their horn and I was thumping along on the lane divider dots listening to the Moody Blues.  I looked around to find the ramp but I had driven right past it, eyes wide open, lights out.  As a result of all my ineptness to get things done in a timely manner, Denny raced that day on an empty stomach and no sleep whatsoever.  He did well but not up to his potential under better circumstances.  I am sure that every Old School BMX’er that toured can relate.  The peak of sleepless insanity was reached a few years later when Craig, Keven McNeal and Joe Claveau were traveling back from OK City in the family Truckster (1973 LTD wagon).  The following story unfolded:
Keven and Joe had been racing all weekend after traveling 1500 miles by car to get to OK.  After an exhausting 2 days of wide open racing, the trip home began at 11pm Sunday night.  Joe was still 15 and not old enough to drive (legally or any other way) so the wheel duties fell primarily to Craig.  Anyone who ever took a trip with Mr. Kundig would know that wasn’t a promising scenario for success.  That man would get sleepy at the smell of car keys.  Kevin drove for as long as he could to prolong the inevitable but around the Panhandle, Craig took over with Joe there to keep him honest (or at least awake).  Craig had a theory on road trips.  The faster you drove, the quicker you slept.   Needless to say he was hauling the mail.  Joe rode shotgun and comatose Kevin was face down with his head to the tailgate.  After what must have seemed like an eternity (15 minutes) Craig was nodding off and giving Joe a pretty good scare.  “Hey, Craig!  Let me drive!�  (the perfect situation for a car hungry kid).  Craig decided that Joe would drive and Craig would stay up with him to keep him sharp.  10 minutes later, with the cruise set on 90, at 2am on or near I-40 Kevin awakes to the sound of his own head thumping off the ceiling and floor of the wagon.  With lighting fast reflexes as only a pro BMX’er can have, he lunges for the front of the car to become the only set of hands on the steering wheel.  The car is careening across the open desert some distance from the highway at a cruise-controlled 90mph with Joe and Craig both dead to the world and evidently wanting Kevin to join them.  Kevin starts shouting at the top of his lungs and smacking the both of them to get someone to kill the cruise and stop this thing.  Get the picture?  By the time they finally started working together to bring this ride to a halt, the car had traveled over 1 mile from the freeway across the barren desert.  They all got out and had to look around for a while to figure out where they were and how to get back onto I-40.Andy Zirzow (a young 15 year old amateur BMX racer from Riverside) played an important part in BMX history but no one knows about it.  Craig and I were in the habit of bouncing any new product ideas off of the team members to see what level of excitement they generate.  We knew that the real money in BMX marketing came not from the frame sales but the more affordable accessories that would sell in volumes 100 times greater than the frames that created the identity of a race team.   Seat posts, pad sets, number plates and, of course handlebars.  In the summer of 1979, Craig and I conceived of a fresh new bar design that would be the next BIG thing after the Redine V-bars.  Our distinguishing feature would be having the grip and crossbar one continuous bar that was a full 7/8�  diameter and straight in the middle.  It matched our style quite nicely and was unique.  The guys liked the idea and we determined to get around to making some within a few weeks time.  Manufacturing wasn’t easy for us as we were primarily a bike shop and had to work with various outside sources for production.  Ideas were a valuable commodity in those days and you needed to move quickly to safeguard against your best concepts growing legs and turning up with someone else’s name on it.  Roger Worsham was a very enterprising and decent fellow that grew out of a bike shop like us to become CW BMX.  He soundly kicked our butt in the business and manufacturing world fair and square.  It was a painful lesson in lethargy when Andy left our RRS squad to ride for CW and then see the new CW bar hit the market 2 weeks later.  The straight integral grip / crossbar design BMX bar went on to become the top selling BMX bar (Huffy alone produced literally millions) of all time.  The original design came from the mind of RRS.   Surprised?  You shouldn’t be.
To give you an idea how crazy it got, Craig and I had a concept for a freestyle seat post that included a bent primary post with a brace.  Nothing revolutionary but at the time it was unique.  A salesman who had ties to China for manufacture came in our shop looking for business.  We gave him our one prototype to get it quoted for production.  One week (that’s 7 days) later, we received a mass mailer sent out to every bike shop in America that was 4 color processed and 6 pages (printed in China) that had a vast array of BMX related stuff available for sale directly from the company.  Amidst the dozens of studio photos was a picture of our prototype post.  Not a copy of the post but the actual one given to the guy one week before.  Unreal.
From this lesson and others, we determined to make sure everything RRS brought to market was produced in Southern California.   (What little there was of it.)

 

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