The History of SE Racing as told by Mike Devitt (2001)
Back when I founded VintageBMX.com, I took the time to interview Mike Devitt about his involvement in BMX and his colorful history with SE Racing. Here is his story.
Mike Devitt has been involved with BMX since the very beginning of the sport. From his Dirtmaster team sweeping the 1974 Yamaha Gold Cup to Dan Gurney All American BMX to his days with SE Racing and now Alliant Bicycles. The stories that Mike has in his head about the people and the industry of BMX could fill a book. We were able to get Mike to talk with us about his adventures and business
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: How did you get involved in BMX?
Mike Devitt: Okay. I’ll go back to Palm’s Park in West L.A. where I’d heard about the kids racing their bicycles on Thursday nights, and I went over and checked it out and a guy named Ron Mackler, a city parks employee, was running bike races for kids. When I went there, I can’t be really specific on the date, but I think it was mid-to-late 1970. My kids were 7 and 9 years old at the time, and we liked it, got involved with it, and went to the races quite a bit. I met several kids there that we hooked up with because I was in the bike parts business making bike racks and stuff. I put together a little team, and it was the Bike-ette Moto-X team. That was the name of my company at the time—Bike-ette. Anyhow, we had shortly after going to Palms and stuff, there were a couple of kids, brothers, who had interest in the same thing, and they lived out in Malibu. They built a BMX track. Again, I hate to call it a BMX track because it’s nothing like a BMX track today. They built it around their house, and kids would go out there. This was shortly after I’d gone to Palms, and we’d raced around—the kids’ names were Dan and Doug Dryer. The Dryer brothers. Dan, as I recall, was crippled. He had problems with his legs. I don’t know whether it was from Polio or an accident or anything. But he was mobile—he wasn’t wheelchair bound but he was very handicapped. He couldn’t ride a bike or run or do anything like that. They ran races around their house and what really popped into my mind as being unique is that he would go walk down the beach and pick up driftwood and would make trophies for the races out of pieces of driftwood that he would paint—like spray paint gold, and then put is on a 2 x 4 base. Then later, they got permission to set up a BMX track. It was up in Malibu in the foothills there, and it was actually--the property was a leased property from the county and it was a nudist camp. And usually everybody would be really discreet when we were up there racing BMX, except one old boy that would lay out by his house trailer there, and if you peeked around the bushes, he was laying there naked. But the kids raced BMX, and there were some really great BMX races there because there was some serious downhill stuff, and for a while we would drive the kids to the top of the hills and they would ride the fire roads down and finish up off a ramp into a lake. That was pretty cool. That was about the same time that Palm’s Park was running. I do believe Mackler was before the Dryer boys, and —I think they were inspired by what they saw at Palm’s. That was my first racing experience—at those two places. And while we were at Malibu, I met a few other guys. The first guys I ever saw from the Valley showed up at Malibu one time, and that included--the guy that brought the kids over is still in the bike business, and that was Russ Okawa. And Russ works for Giant now in the product development.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: The same Russ Okawa who worked at BMX Products?
Mike Devitt: Yes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: He’s been in the industry a long time.
Mike Devitt: At that time, he worked at Canoga Cycle Center in Canoga Park. I give Russ credit for building the first ever—what we used to call “A.J. Wheels.” A.J.’s a heavy-duty wheel with big 120-gauge spokes and all the stuff that was early-day BMX wheel sets, I think Russ built the first ones.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: The first heavy-duty wheel set?
Mike Devitt: Yeah, I think so. That’s what I believe. I don’t know anybody that built them before he did. Anyway, Russ showed up out there, and he had with him kids like John George, who later worked for a long time for Skip at Mongoose in the 80’s. I think John, if I’m not mistaken, was the first rider ever inducted into the ABA Hall of Fame. I’m not sure, but that was in the same era.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: With Dirtmaster, what products were you making?
Mike Devitt: The products we made at Dirtmaster, were handlebars, grips, number plates, gas tanks and all kinds of accessory items like that. I started making the pieces for the kids to race on, and it was still Bike-ette. That’s when Bob Phillips came into my life—this kid that made covers for bikes. He wanted us to distribute them, and he saw what we were doing with the BMX parts and he got all excited about it, so we started Dirtmaster together and had enough fun and a lot going on with that that I sold my interest in Bike-ette to my partners, and Bob and I just went off and did the Dirtmaster stuff. We did that for a couple of years, and that was really hard work. We were van-jobbing, and we had a warehouse in El Segundo and every day I would go in there because I lived in El Segundo at the time and I would go in and load up my van and ship anything out that had to be shipped out and I wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10 at night, and Bob was on the road most of the time because he covered San Diego and Arizona. He would go over to Phoenix and Tucson and Mesa and all around there. He was on the road a lot. He had a van with a trailer. He van-jobbed and I van-jobbed. Then we hired a guy, whose name was Craig McGuire, who later went on to be the general manager of Kuwahara. But Craig was hired to van-job up in the Bay area. He lived in San José. We were on the road just constantly for about two years. It was unbelievable. It was 18-hour days almost 7 days a week. It was nuts. Anyway, Bob kind of got burned on it, and at the same time, the skateboard stuff started coming on. I had done that with Larry a few years previous. So my interest kind of went both ways. I was doing bicycles and the skateboard stuff, and then when Bob left, we just kind of let Dirtmaster go. What we didn’t manufacture but we were planning was a frame and fork at about the time it came apart at the seams and Bob took off. I have somewhere floating around here an original Bike-ette Moto-X catalog. I wish I did but I never kept copies of any of that stuff and I’ve got to give it back to Thom Lund ,who sent me his original catalog , I’m going to get it copied as well as I can and then get it back to him.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And at that point you got involved with Tommy Kamifuji and Dan Gurney All American BMX?
Mike Devitt: I went to work with Tommy Kamifuji. Not really working for him, it was more on a consulting basis and contract marketing. I was doing a lot of skateboard stuff. And we did the Dan Gurney All American BMX stuff, and that was in 1975. Tommy had put this company together, and used their name because Gurney, in the automobile racing industry, his deal with All American Racers, at that time was wildly successful. All American Racers, I think in like ’75, out of 33 starters at Indianapolis, like 24 of the cars were running Gurney chassis, and from All American Racers out in Santa Ana. We got the license to use his name, and it was a great deal because he even let us have the racecar for promotional events and stuff like that. It was terrific. And we built a pretty nice product line with three different models of frames and we had handlebars and forks.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Do you recall the model names?
Mike Devitt: I remember the one with the square-tube rear end was the Pro Model. The Standard one that had round tubes, I can’t remember, and then the monoshock. We used Ashtabula’s finest till we made a Gurney fork later on. I do have our old Gurney catalog and price list and all that kind of stuff. Pretty funny to look at the pricing. A lot of people don’t realize too—those frames back then—the BMX frames and stuff—they were mild steel, they weren’t chromoly. The first chromoly frame that I know of was, I think it might have been a couple of individual ones made by somebody, but production-wise was made by Redline, I think by Linn Kastan and Mike Konle. I think they were the first guys that I know of that did a production chromoly frame. I could be all wet, I don’t know, but that’s the first ones I remember. The ones that we were doing at Gurney were mild steel bikes as was Webco, which was about the same time maybe Webco was a little before.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So Dan Gurney All American BMX started sometime in ’75?
Mike Devitt: Late ’75, yeah. And then it was at that time, while I was doing that stuff, that Scot Breithhaupt got really intimately involved with me because he came to me at the trade show and we talked about it. He became our team captain. Scot actually hung on there at Gurney a little longer than I did. I was so involved with the skateboard stuff and the urethane wheel company that prior to it, I had already done—we had finished the catalog, finished all the marketing program, designed the bikes, everything was done—helped Set up. That was done in-house. The shop stuff, the welding of the frames, stuff like that was done in-house there in Gardena. But anyway, that was pretty much done, and I went on and did my thing with the skateboards; but Scot hung on at Gurney until the day that Tommy slammed the door and then left there and started up his deal with FMF. The Gurney 7, that lasted for about a year, or 15 or 16 months, and when the investors pulled the plug on Tommy, that was the end of that. It just went down like a rock.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: What was the name of your skateboard company?
Mike Devitt: Makaha.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Makaha. I think everyone had one as a kid.
Mike Devitt: Oh, yeah, that they did. We marketed those things pretty crazy. In the 70’s--and in the 60’s it was all through surf shops and stuff like that. In the 70’s there were half a dozen companies that did big-volume business with the mass market. We were amongst those. My biggest customers were K-Mart and JC Penney. So it was definitely nation-wide and it was big business. I say big business relatively speaking. It was a good size. Yeah, it really was.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: How big was Makaha?
Mike Devitt: We made 7,000 skateboards a day for 39 straight months without a day off. It was crazy. It was just rock-n-roll. Like a lot of stuff that kids get involved in, the fad comes and goes, you know, and now it’s to the point where the skateboard business is pretty stable. It’s like BMX when it started.
Mike Devitt: Yeah. The way we started it and Gary Turner started in a garage. Guys like us, Skip Hess. I can give you—from the day Skipper started, I can give you that story. All those guys, it was either garage or a little shop making something else that got them into it. It was Linn Kastan and Mike Connolly getting into the bike stuff. They were really making motorcycle frames and stuff and got into doing bikes. At that time, in the early-to-mid 70’s, mostly the real activity in the mid-70, it was a pretty frenetic pace. It was crazy. There was a lot of stuff going on and it was mostly guys who started out in a hole in the wall.
Going back to the Yamaha Gold Cup, your recollections on that whole event.
Mike Devitt: That’s a book! There were four Yamaha Gold Cup events. There were three qualifiers. The first one was at Birmingham High School in the Valley—in the San Fernando Valley on July 20, 1974—how do I know that? Because I’m sitting in this back office here, looking at that poster! I’ve got it framed, because that’s the one where I got Scot disqualified so I keep it here for whenever he comes in here. It’s like a burr under his saddle. That was the first one in July of ’74, that gold cup event, and then they had another one in San Diego, and that’s the one where Greg Lilly won the Senior class event there—father of Jamie Lilly.
Current Pro girl superstar Jamie Lilly.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, she sure is, she’s just a peach. I wish I had more time and gray hair; we would have made an effort to get her. She’s a peach. There was that one in San Diego and the last qualifier was up in Santa Clara, up in northern California. That was where David Clinton came over and started riding for Dirtmaster also. Then the final was there at the L.A. Coliseum. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the biggest BMX race even to this day that I know of, particularly in terms of attendance.
How many riders do you figure participated?
Mike Devitt: I can’t remember the number of participants, but there were 13,000 spectators. It was a whopper. Yamaha had invested a ton of money in promotion. I have just gobs of photos from back there in that event. In fact, the other day I was going through a bunch of stuff and I found 3 or 4 sheets, pro sheets of color prints, but I can’t find the negatives. I’m looking for them, because it would be great to reproduce them. At that event, there were a lot of kids that went on to BMX careers. Early-day guys like Stu Thompson and David, Bobby Encinas and a bunch of other kids: Tom Lund, Johnny Palfryman, Robby “dirtcloud” O’Hare, so many kids.
At the Yamaha Gold Cup, at the final, how did Dirtmaster do?
Mike Devitt: We swept all three classes, yeah.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, Bobby Watts, David Clinton and Stu Thompson. In fact, Sports Illustrated covered that race. Scot told me later that it just bugged the hell out of the big dogs at Yamaha USA because Dirtmaster got way more copy out of it in Sports Illustrated than Yamaha did, which was crazy. But it figured because all three kids standing on the podium wore Dirtmaster jerseys and stuff like that. It was pretty cool and it was a lot of fun. The format was weird by today’s standards because the kids weren’t classified in terms of their skill levels, but by age and grouped a bunch of age groups together. I mean, there wasn’t like a 9-year-old, 10-year-old, 12-year-old and 13-year-old like there is today. I was like ages 8 to 11 and 11 to 14 and 14 to 16 bunched together. There were only three classes. Yamaha gave away Yamaha motobikes to the winners of each class at each of the qualifiers and then at the finals, they gave them motorcycles. They also gave away big custom-made belt buckles at each of the events. It was really cool. There were the three qualifiers and the final, so there were a total of 12 belt buckles given away and Dirtmaster kids got 8 of them in the course of the whole deal. Thinking about that, that’s probably a pretty collectible thing.
Tell us about Scot leaving Gurney and going on to FMF—
Mike Devitt: Scot went on and did that FMF thing, and that lasted about a year, but he had a devil of a time getting paid to tell you the truth. That’s no reflection on FMF today, because that was way back when and it was different. Anyhow, it kind of busted up, and that’s when he bought an old school bus and he took a bunch of kids on a summer tour. He called it “Scot Enterprises Racing Division.” He didn’t have a damn thing except stickers and T-shirts to sell to help pay for the trip and stuff. There were a lot of pretty well known kids on that thing too, including Stuart and Jeff Utterback, Greg Hill, oh God; a boatload of kids went on that. He went back and then when he came back, he had so much success and dealer interest—they stopped at a lot of bike shops along the way and stuff, and they were so jacked up about what he was doing that he wanted to do a bike business. The bikes that FMF were Selling--the frames, were not made by FMF, they were made by Bill Bastian, and Bill had started Race Inc., but he wasn’t doing his own brand of stuff yet, and so Scot and they had been Selling—what they had sold as FMF bikes were really aluminum frames made by Bill. Scot started SE Racing with the financing from his mom and his dad and myself, the frames and stuff he got were essentially modified versions of what they had done with FMF. He helped Bill design a similar version. For the first 3 or 4 years of SE Racing’s existence, Race Inc. made all of the aluminum stuff to our design. Then Bill started his own product line. Actually, it was interesting because he kind of piggybacked what SE Racing was doing. He made frames that the geometry and everything was identical, and that wasn’t supposed to work that way.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: He just kind of tweaked them with gusset changes and things like that.
Mike Devitt: That’s exactly what he did. Bill made really good tooling, I mean all the fixtures and jigs were wonderful, and we paid a lot of money for them. SE Racing paid $10,000 a whack for jigs and fixtures for each bike. But what he did, he made them all with removal, interchangeable saddles and stuff, so he just pulled the floval saddles out and put a round-tube saddle in and make Race Inc. bike, our fixtures. That was Bill; you’d have to know him well to appreciate it. That was the situation there, so from basically ’79 on or late-’78 on, all the aluminum bikes were made by Race. Then I didn’t really hook up with Scot on a day-to-day basis; actually it was early ‘80s.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Who was making chromoly bikes at that time?
Mike Devitt: A couple of different guys. The first guys that made the Quadangle for Scot was a company--I do business with the guy today that was one of the partners—was down in El Cohona—was called Accessories Plus. They made some chromoly bikes. The first couple of hundred quads that were made was mild steel and then they were made in chromoly.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So the first 200 you figure?
Mike Devitt: Yeah, it was 200 pieces.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Now what’s the legend of the STR-1?
Mike Devitt: The STR-1. That stood for Stu Thompson Replica was what the STR was, and those bikes were prototyped for Stuart, which is amazing because by today’s standards, it’s such a short bike.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: It was an expert-sized frame.
Mike Devitt: Yeah and Stu is such a horse, and that shows how it’s evolved. There was a couple of prototypes were made where the down tubes looped under the bottom bracket and stuff, very rare bikes, and there were only a couple—2 or 3 were made. Then there were the mild steel bikes, and then they became chromoly. We had a lot of problems with the bikes from Accessories Plus. In fact, my first official action when I came in to work full time with SE was to go down and tie the can to Accessories Plus. I went down and I planned to have it and said, “Guess what, guys? We’re canceling all the orders that exist” and stuff like that because the frames were not real straight. There were just a myriad of problems with them and I knew better places, better ways to get them done, so we stopped that. And then we had a guy who made racecar chassis that made the stuff for quite a while, and including the OM Flyers when we started doing that. And that was a company called Sarte Racecars. They had working for them one of the genius drag racing chassis builders in history. It was a guy named Kent Fuller who worked on the bikes. Kent was a superb craftsman. Jamie Sarte was a bit of a crook, but they made the stuff and we had them making _____ of stuff and then we had a shop in Gardena that made forks and handlebars for us. And they had terrible financial problems, this little shop, but they did good work and ultimately we bought them out.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: They came to work for you.
Mike Devitt: Well, that’s when we started making all the chromoly stuff ourselves. We bought that shop out in Gardena; we moved it in-house to our own shop; we rented a little building down in Long Beach near the harbor area, a little about 4,500 square foot Quonset hut style of building, and we moved manufacturing in there and yeah, Several of the guys that worked at that little company in Gardena came over and worked for us, and in fact, my shop manager today who is still with me 20-something years later out of there. So that’s when we started doing it ourselves. That was 1981.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: What was that company in Gardena?
Mike Devitt: It was called Trophy Products.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And you eventually bought them out.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, we bought them out, and we started making our own stuff in-house. For a couple of years we continued to just make all of the chromoly stuff and the aluminum frames were still made by Race. But then Race Inc. went into the tank. At that time, it left us in a heck of a position because we didn’t have all of the material and stuff that we were using, the floval tubing which at that time became our trademark, became unavailable because Bill hadn’t ordered the stuff and the lead time was like six months out of Alcoa and we came close to breaking our back. We couldn’t get the tubing and stuff so we just had to—it was at that point in time where we said, “Oh my God, we’ve got to go overseas and get something to sell.” I had done a lot of business overseas in Taiwan in the skateboard business, so I knew my way around there. So I jumped on an airplane and flew to Taiwan and we got a couple bikes—I designed the Bronco bike and the Hauler, and by that time we hired Toby Henderson as our pro, so we made the Henderson Hauler and the bronco bike, and we named Rob Beckering. That started us doing complete bikes out of the Orient at that point in time, but that was really a necessity by the fact that we were stuck with no aluminum bikes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: What year did that happen around?
Mike Devitt: That was in early ’84.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Okay. Going back to the chromoly product, what was the first fork that SE came out with?
Mike Devitt: You know the very first forks were not Landing Gear. They were essentially almost the same fork as a Race Inc. fork, which just had a kind of a little baloney cut on the backside, and was capped, a nice fork, but it wasn’t the same. The Landing Gear was really Scot’s inspiration. He created that thing.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Do you remember what year, roughly, that was?
Mike Devitt: That was--I’m going to say that was late ’79.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: For the Landing Gear.
Mike Devitt: Yeah. The initial Landing Gear was just--the end cap was just plain, didn’t have a logo on it, that didn’t come until a few years later, actually.
VintageBMX.com: Now, who was building that fork at the time?
Mike Devitt: Trophy Products built that.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Trophy Products built the initial Landing Gear. Now I know some of the early bikes had Cycle Pro forks on them.
Mike Devitt: That’s the earliest ones, yeah.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So by 1980 though, everything was Landing Gear.
Mike Devitt: Yeah.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: How did the Serial numbers work?
Mike Devitt: Oh, geez, let’s not get into that.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: People are always asking questions on our message board, trying to I.D. their bikes.
Mike Devitt: It’s really a non-stock problem with virtually all the companies. What we did—you know, there were a variety of things that happened. The aluminum bikes, of course, Race Inc. was building, and they had some goofy systems of numbering. We tried for a while at Paramount to serialize by year and month, and then a sequence of numbers depending on the volume of pieces and stuff. What would happen, and it would get out of sequence because your numbers—serial numbers—say for October of ’80, you would have said, PK8010 and then a sequence of numbers. But then you wouldn’t use them all up, but you’re not going to throw away the drop outs, so they go on to November, or they might to go on to December. It became a system that didn’t work, so to be honest with you, I really can’t define by—the thing I would have been able to do most easily at one time, up until even two years ago, would have been able to be pretty accurate generally—give or take 2 or 3 months, but all of the old, old records went—SE Racing in the last ten years of its existence, the majority of the stockholders were Chinese. So about four years ago, any records that pre-dated 1990, they had a truck brought in and they destroyed all of the records, all that old stuff which was in storage boxes and you’re required to keep them for Seven years by law. Well, anything over that, they just destroyed it all. So in terms of old—what we used to do when we would sell stuff, we kept a copy of course here, and Serial numbers were listed on the invoices. So we could be pretty accurate by going back to say, a 1983 invoice and looking at the numbers on it and say, yeah, it falls in that range.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So it’s roughly an ’83.
Mike Devitt: Give or take a couple of hundred numbers, it would have been accurate. So it was accurate within 2 or 3 months. But we lost all that; that was gone. So from that time onward, it’s just like, hell, I don’t know, realistically.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So you had the month first and then the year.
Mike Devitt: Yeah. And we did that for a while where the year was first and then the month, and then at any given month, we didn’t do over a thousand of a model frame, so it was usually three digits after that. The only months where we ever did more than a thousand of any one frame was in 1980 and ’81, where we did in excess of a thousand PK’s a month, in about three months of each of those years, but it was like eleven, twelve hundred. And combining it with Mini Rippers, which was really that expert-sized frame, the biggest year we had in terms of frame sales was, I’m going to say—I’ve got records somewhere, I still do have that, and it was recapped and Bill Bastian gave me handwritten of how many we made that year, and it was 12,281 frames of PK’s and Mini Rippers. That did not include chromoly.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: What year was that?
Mike Devitt: That was ’81.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Now were you making Floval Flyers at that point or was that later?
Mike Devitt: That was later.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Okay. When did the Floval Flyer come about?
Mike Devitt: That was about ’83.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And did you have a hand on that?
Mike Devitt: Oh, absolutely. We designed that thing from scratch and in fact got into a real knock-down, drag-out about the tooling cost and we ultimately paid $7,500 for the fixtures and the jigs, and he guaranteed them to us in 30 days, and 6½ months went by before we got the first Floval production bike. Yeah, we wanted to kill him. And because we had showed up at a couple races with the bikes, everybody in the freakin’ industry jumped on the bandwagon. 24-inch bikes were a hot commodity and we’re twiddling our thumbs waiting for Bill.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And that’s the way the industry looked at it. You were sleeping at the wheel.
Mike Devitt: He never showed up at work before 2:00 in the afternoon in his life. This guy, Bill Bastian. Bill didn’t like to deal with the phone and stuff, so he’d come into work about 2 or 3. But he’d stay there until 10 or 11 at night, and that was just his style. Did you ever see pictures of Bill Bastian?
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: No.
Mike Devitt: Do you remember Captain Kangaroo?
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Just like it?
Mike Devitt: The same haircut.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: What was the reason for the design change on the Looptail?
Mike Devitt: The major reason was we had problems with that over the years, and it’s a logical problem. Neither Scot nor Bill were good engineers. The original Looptail Sections were built on mild steel bikes where you could twist it in a knot if you wanted to, unlike the old Mongooses and crap like that. It was an inexpensive way to build a rear end. But on an aluminum bike, aluminum is a peculiar material to deal with, so you can’t do with it what you do with steel. What he did was built that Looptail Section with the horizontal lug that came off the back of the bottom bracket. If you look at that, it’s welded on the outside of that bend. It was a real bad thing to do. It would crack there.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So it was a stress point.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, Serious stress point. And then the only other place that the PK’s had any trouble was the Seat mast would break off above the top tube. They’d crack right there and stuff. And again, an area of a lot of concentrated stress which at that time if you remember people ran their Seat posts way up high and all that kind of crap. So you had a long lever and a lot of impact landing and stuff, and ultimately aluminums got lousy module elasticity so you can’t move it very much without it cracking. The first thing I did when we brought the aluminum production into our own shop and I was finally able to get material was I sat down and I redesigned the PK, and the first thing to get redesigned was the Seat mast. I had a fixation on an aluminum bike we always used drawn tubing, not just extruded tube. I had that in my head and this sounds like a story but it’s true. I woke up in the middle of the night and went, “wait a minute, the Seat mast is not a stressed tube; it just holds those triangles in position.” And when I had that thought I thought hell, I could make the Seat masts out of an extrusion, and I went in the next day and Frank Stone, that was my shop manager, and I sat there, and we sketched some stuff up and we literally took strips of aluminum and welded it on the side of round tubes and stuff and hand-filed and shaped this creation. Took it in and showed Scot and Joe Licklighter that was our sales manager at that time and stuff this idea and they were very concerned that it wouldn’t tighten up on a Seat post. But I knew that it would. And so what we did when we welded—I went ahead the same day and drew the extrusion and ordered the extrusion to be made.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: You had so much faith in it.
Mike Devitt: I was dead sure about it. I had no doubt in my mind at all. And what we did, we made some T-shaped, tubular pieces, about 50 of them, that were 7/8 diameter tube, and when we welded the frames, we would stick this T-handle down inside the Seat mast, and we would tighten the bolt and nut up and then we would weld the frame up. Then we’d pull the T-handle out. We never had a problem with it ever again. That was the end of it. That was actually done in early ’85.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: The design change.
Mike Devitt: That’s when that took place, yeah.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Just going back quick, the change from the dropout in Looptail? We talked about the stress point of welding that dropout onto the bend?
Mike Devitt: Not really the dropout. Well, the dropout on the bend wasn’t a problem. Where the crack took place was where the horizontal lug coming off the back of the bottom bracket? That loop there where you weld it into the outside. There’s not a hell of a lot of stress on that drop because it’s so close to the wheel, but you go into that horizontal lug, and that’s essentially a fairly long lever, and it would ultimately—the cracking mostly took place from lateral side load—guy lands crooked and stuff like that, and it would crack right at the heat-affected zone of the tube, but that was on the outside of that bend and that tube is terribly stressed, and if you were to look at it under a glass or a microscope, you would See that it’s just a whole load of fractures when you’re doing a bend on aluminum tubing like that.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And then you’re weakening it with heat.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, then you heat it up and it’s thinning there also because you stressed it and stuff, so it’s just the wrong thing to do. Wherever possible, I avoid in every conceivable way welding on aluminum on the outside of a bend. I don’t like it at all.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: What was the reason on change on the chromoly frames from a Looptail, just to follow the appearance?
Mike Devitt: Yeah, pretty much. There was another factor—this is how simplistic things happen. When we bought Trophy Products, there was a tube bender there, but it was an old Conrad manual that had been converted to hydraulic, and you could only bend 90 degrees on that bender. You couldn’t bend 180 degrees. So we tried to make everything that we could accommodate our ability to produce it in-house. And so we redesigned the rear ends on those bikes to where we wouldn’t have to make any 180-degree bends or 110-degree bends or 120-degree bends. So we got rid of the loops and in every respect everywhere in the whole product line we got rid of it.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And that was just based on the real simple reason you didn’t have a—
Mike Devitt: That we had a bender that wouldn’t do it!
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Makes Sense. The OM Flyer—were you involved with that?
Mike Devitt: Yeah, to a degree. I mean, I helped Scot, you know, he wanted to do a 26-inch cruiser. I mean, he wanted to do a cruiser, period. I mean there was no cruiser class at that time, but racing at Corona downhill. And he was right—he thought it would go a hell of a lot faster. So he built a 26-inch cruiser to race on, and the cruiser class started off being a 26-inch class, but everyone quickly figured out that the 24 was quicker and it evolved into a 24-inch class pretty quickly. But we had already had a lot of people who liked the 26-inch OM and so we just kept it. And to this day, I still get calls for OM’s. Every day too, I’m not talking about once in a while.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Fantastic bike.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, it’s an amazing bike. I’ve got two myself. Everybody that’s got—a guy that just came in here that called me—that interrupted our call, he was on a cell phone, has got one you would not even believe. And he probably wouldn’t sell it for $10,000. He’s just fanatic about it. I’ve got one that’s pretty trick too. That bike was really a pioneering bike because it was the first 26-inch racing cruiser. But immediately, Skip jumped on it. Mongoose came out with a 26, and within a month there were four or five 26-inch bikes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: GT had it, Powerlite, they all jumped on.
Mike Devitt: Yeah. They all jumped on it really quick. And then, just as quickly everything almost became 24”. I mean that was a pretty fast transition.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: We’re talking about a year?
Mike Devitt: Yeah. Actually about a year. It lasted about a year as 26” and then everybody started doing 24”s. And it was a quick transition. And I really believe we would have probably jumped everybody if we could have got Bill to do that damn fixture quickly. But as it was, by the time we did the prototype, by the time we did production, there was 2 or 3 others already out there—chromoly bikes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Now, when did your association with Bill end?
Mike Devitt: ‘83 they went out of business.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: At that point, did you get a hold of the original jigs and the fixtures?
Mike Devitt: Yeah, we did. And it was hostile. The guy—not Bill but his partner—had them hidden under his house. And we had to produce you know, sales receipts and stuff like that for tooling costs. And thank God he didn’t put it down on the stuff as a non-recurring engineering charge or anything like that. It was tooling. And so we were able to get the fixtures.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: So essentially what happened was that you would pay the tooling costs for these fixtures, you owned them, but he used them to build the product for you.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, that’s how it was done. And it still happens today with a lot of stuff with like, a lot of the tubes that we have drawn from tube mills--Plymouth is an example, in Arizona--or people like that at Anaheim Extrusion up in Anaheim. We own the tooling.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: You own the tooling to make the tubing.
Mike Devitt: To make the tubing, Alcoa going back, oh, 20 years ago—or more now, we paid them for tooling for the two floval tubes that we used on the PK and the Quad.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Okay. Did you have any relationship with Nomura, because they used a similar tube?
Mike Devitt: No, not at all. They had a floval kind of a tube, but it was bigger, it was deeper in Section compared to its width than the tubes that we did, but no, nothing at all.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Did you have much involvement with operations of the team and promotions, or were you strictly involved in manufacturing?
Mike Devitt: Oh, yeah. I had a lot to do with it over the years.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Recalling back, not going at names so much, do you recall some of the salaries that were paid to riders back then?
Mike Devitt: Oh, you know, SE Racing didn’t pay 15 cents to anybody until we hired Toby. That was the first guy that we put on salary, and that was substantial, I remember exactly how much. We were paying Toby $3,000 a month. And that was in 1984.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: That was good money.
Mike Devitt: You’re damn right it was. And on top of that—and that was the only year he ever won a national championship. He was national No. 1 cruiser rider that year.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Must have been the money you were paying him.
Mike Devitt: I guess. I don’t know. You know, at the same time, just for doing pants and posing for pictures for JT, they were paying him $600 a month. Toby, over the years, has made as much money as anybody because he was a marketable commodity. Because he photographed real well, he was always in the mains, he was always up there, and he was real good. A lot of the guys since now are into the money, but Toby was into the money back then. And even freestyle, we never had a really first-class freestyler, but we had a visible guy in Fred Blood.
VintageBMX.com: He got a lot of press.
Mike Devitt: Yeah. We took care of Freddie and he made, never anything big. I think the most Fred got was like around, as I recall, I think we did get him up to about $600 a month.
VintageBMX.com: He was getting most of his money from shows and co-sponsors?
Mike Devitt: Yeah. A lot of that stuff, and co-sponsors and stuff like that. And Fred roller-skated; you know he was a top-notch skater. So he would do that kind of stuff. But in terms of our pros, the riders, nobody after Toby ever got anything even remotely close to that from SE Racing. It was relatively lightweight amount of money. Up to the finish of SE, Travis, the only thing we did for him, I mean aside from all the obvious—entries and parts and travel and stuff, we did pay for his housing and we gave him a couple hundred dollars a month walk-around money. And so the housing was like—he shared an apartment with a guy that was like $600 a month. We paid his rent, we gave him his walk-around money, and he wrecked a couple of cars for us. You know, he was used to driving on the wrong side of the road. He also wrapped up some for Schwinn.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: How was your relationship with Toby Henderson?
Mike Devitt: Today?
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: When he rode for SE.
Mike Devitt: Well he was good. He was typical Toby fatheaded primadonna. I tell him that now. But it was good. We enjoyed having Toby, and he was fun to work with. Toby is still the same today. I see him every couple of months. He’s got his own business. Got THE stuff going and I saw him down at Del Mar and spent a little bit of time with him two weeks ago. He’s still out there. Not racing anymore at all, not even mountain bikes.
VintageBMX.com: What are your recollections of Skip Hess and BMX Products?
Mike Devitt: Geez, I remember him from the earliest days. I remember when Skip showed up at a BMX race in an old beat-up Ford van and had this kid that raced drag racing and had an idea about building a wheel and showed up a little later with sand-cast prototypes and stuff of his wheels. Then I had Dirtmaster at that time, and Skip started doing his motomags and hell, he was, you know, he didn’t have an office, he didn’t have a shop, his office was a bedroom in his house. His wife at the time took care of the books and stuff. Skipper talked a foundry into casting. The wheel business had gone in the tank for cars, so they were hungry. He did that wheel design, got a foundry to cast the wheels, got a machine shop who machined the wheels to give him some office space—a desk and phone and stuff, and he operated out of there. I used to drive up my van and pick up a vanload of motomags every once in a while when he was getting going. That was an amazing success story because that thing took off like a rocket. That was Yamaha Gold Cup time. The first bike at a race with those wheels, prototyped, was the Birmingham qualifier in ’74.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: You remember when he first came out with the Mongoose frame?
Mike Devitt: a company called Racer’s Engineering in the Valley did the very first frames that he did produce, and then ultimately, he bought out Reco. That’s where they did the Mongoose bikes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: The early frames had a Reco decal on it.
Mike Devitt: Yep, that’s it. That was Racer’s Engineering. That was out in the Valley, and it was—I’m trying to think where the hell it was—Chatsworth or somewhere out there—I can’t remember. I was out there a few times.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: We spoke about when you helped back Scot, with his mother and his aunt, helping him get SE started. Later you became involved with SE, how did SE run through the 80’s for you and Scot? What were your job titles? How did it work between you and Scot?
Mike Devitt: I would say at that time he was the president of the company and I was the VP. And I don’t even remember. I don’t remember what we did, actually formal titles, but I think in the corporation, I think that’s how it was. Actually, we had a couple corporations. There was Scot Enterprises International and then we had Scot Industries, which was the manufacturing part—I was president of that. Scot Enterprises International was the marketing company, and it included under that umbrella SE Racing.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: I have seen frames that had a Scot Industries decal on the Seat mast.
Mike Devitt: Yep. A red, white, and blue decal that was it.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Scot later became uninvolved with SE, did he not?
Mike Devitt: Yeah, he did. Actually, technically around ’85 he did. And from ’85 through the present, really, he just didn’t have any involvement with it. He pretty much was out of it, officially let’s say ’86, but practically it was ’85.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And so you’ve been the mainstay.
Mike Devitt: Yes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: I saw a copy of BMX Business News that had a Gary Turner interview explaining your partnership with Gary.
Mike Devitt: With Kris Beecher on the cover?
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Yes.
Mike Devitt: That’s pretty cool.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: When did you bring in foreign investors to SE Racing?
Mike Devitt: SE Racing? We basically almost shut it down in ’87. I ran it out of my garage at home for two years. My son was the one who said, “Dad, why don’t we pick it up again?” And so we got involved with Herb Guerr who at that time owned ODI and wanted to get involved and so they got with me and helped me do it. But then they had a kind of hostile deal on the buyout of ODI with the guy that bought it. And they went and started up ATI to compete with him, and they needed every dollar of capital that they could get their hands on, and so they wanted to pull their investment out of SE, and this happened relatively quickly and I was in dire need of capital and I hooked up with some Chinese people that I knew from Taiwan. That was in about ’90, late ’90 or ’91.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: And that basically kept you running until
Mike Devitt: That was from the get-go a mistake. And it was a terrible 8-year period. I say terrible, we made some nice stuff; I don’t have any regrets of any kind. We did the Assassin then. We redesigned all of the product line. Made it really pretty cool, I mean, stuff like the Quad--the new Quad--the aluminum one was
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: A phenomenal bike.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, a great bike. It really is. I mean, that sounds bad, but I’ve been doing it a long time and it was a right bike, you know, one of those things that happens. And a lot of good stuff, but it was just so difficult to get them to agree to market anything. To spend the money to market, to spend the money to advertise, was just impossible. I just pulled the plug last September.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: That was it. Just couldn’t deal with it.
Mike Devitt: No, I just got so sick and tired of it.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Frustrated.
Mike Devitt: Yeah.
VintageBMX.com: Now how did Gary get involved with you on Alliant?
Mike Devitt: We just—after I had done that, it was one of those deals, I did it and I thought, “whoops, now what do I do?” You know? And I went home and I listed a bunch of companies that I thought I’d talk to and different things, and then I’d got thinking about Gary, and he’d been out of the business a couple of years, and had got out after he had been around for 20-25 years, like I had been, and he had been, but you just can’t walk away from it. And I didn’t call Gary directly. Actually, I called two different people. I talked with Scot about it, and he thought it was a grand idea. And then I called Todd Huffman. And Todd had worked for us—we got him in the bike business. And he’d been a VP there at GT for a long time and stuff. And I called Todd and talked to him and said, what do you think Gary might think about it? And he said, “You know, let me call him and talk about it.” And he did and he called me back and he said, “You know, Gary’s interested.” Long story short, then I got a hold of Gary and we got together and talked about it, and said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” And our original plan was to buy SE. And we made an offer to SE Racing, to the Chinese, and a good a offer, it was a very fair offer, and they acted like we shot them in the head, and it was just one of those things where we said, “whoa.” And at that point in time particularly, Gary had passed them off. And he said, “Well, the hell with them. Let’s just do it ourselves.” And the Dirtmaster trademark, I had assigned that on a non-exclusive annually renewable license to the corporation Cycle Science, Inc. And it was calendar year to calendar year, so I told them I was going to use it; they wanted to raise hell; and all I did was drag out all of my old documentation dating back to ’73 and everything else. And then the licenses were part of the corporate documents and stuff, so I, on December 31, we just started doing Dirtmaster again. And then Alliant, we struggled with the name. We must have listed a thousand names.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: I know Exxpress was out there for a little bit.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, and to tell you the truth, I kind of leaned toward that. But Gary didn’t like it, and we kicked around all kinds of stuff, and then we finally settled on Alliant. And it’s going to be what we make out of it, you know? If we do really good stuff and market it well and everything, it will become a real good name. And if we don’t, then it will be a stupid name. But if you think about it, I mean, would you name your bike “Schwinn?”
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: No.
Mike Devitt: Neither would I.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: That’s a little egotistical. Over the years, you know, SE did become an OEM shop, and a prototype shop from what we’ve heard. What are some of the companies that you built for OEM.
Mike Devitt: We’ve built bikes—you know—thats stuff that a lot of companies get real uptight if we talk about it. It’s just been a lot of them. It’s been a lot of the big companies. There are a lot of little underground companies. They don’t care if we talk about it.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: I know you’ve built the TNT aluminum frames.
Mike Devitt: Oh, we’ve done those; we’ve done Hoffman’s in the early days. We built all of Matt’s first stuff. We’ve done Ron Wilkerson’s Too Hip stuff. We’ve done Kinks. We’ve done Roadkill. We’ve done Eastern. We’ve done, Pro Concept, Haro, Trick, Specialized, Sunn in Europe, Webco in Europe. A lot of different companies. And some of it has been limited production runs, and some of it has been the race team guys’ bikes. To this day, we’re doing a lot of guy’s bikes that the companies don’t want us to talk about it, but I’ll tell you this, we damn near swept the X Games, but we can’t advertise it. It was pretty funny, though. We were talking about it the other day and I was looking at it and I went “damn!” We made a lot of those bikes.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Excellent. That’s a good reputation to have.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, it is. It’s kind of a foundation for us, you know. And we’re actually in the process of slowing that down a little bit because we’re intending to do a whole lot more of our own stuff. Commencing really now, and accelerating towards the end of the spring so that we’re a real company in the springtime and we’ll have complete bikes from the Orient as well as all high-end stuff here. Some of the high-end stuff we’re doing here is pretty trick stuff.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: I did see a photo with Gary standing in front of one of the new aluminum Alliant bikes with the wrap-around head tube style top tube. What model is that going to be or is it?
Mike Devitt: Well, there’s a monocoque top tube, I think that’s the bike, or maybe it’s the Dirtmaster creature bike. I don’t know which one it was.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: It’s an Alliant. It’s a monocoque top tube.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, that’s a very trick bike, the way it’s put together too. You can’t see it in the photo, but major parts of that frame are not welded, they’re actually dip-braised together. And the bottom—the change assembly the top tube, like that monocoque top tube is not Seam welded. All the other monocoques in the world are Seam-welded together--ours aren’t. It’s dip-braised together. It’s very, very trick that way. I hate to say that because it was my idea, but it’s pretty cool.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Now I’ve also heard some rumors about the possibility of a resurrection of Landing Gear-type fork.
Mike Devitt: Oh, yeah. Positively. We’re doing a fork—we’re doing a couple forks. And one of them we’re going to do is going to be called a Radix fork. It’s got a bullet-shaped foreleg, and starting in about 30 days, all of our forks that are going to be on the production bikes out of the Orient will be very Landing Gear like. And then the Radix fork will be an after-market fork and on the very high-end stuff. All the Radix forks will have C&C machine steerers and strictly, I mean there won’t be any other way of assembling them. They’ll be just a real good unicrown-style BMX fork. You know, as good as we know how to make them. So it should be a pretty nice fork.
Bill Curtin / Vintage BMX: Well, listen Mike. Thank you very much for your time.
Mike Devitt: Yeah, take care.