Photo courtesy of John Palfreyman Jr.

Pedaling pioneer remembers BMX days

BUTTE FALLS — John Palfreyman Jr. never expected his childhood hobby to one day grow into a worldwide sport featured in the Olympics.

Growing up the son of a motocross shop owner in Santa Monica in the 1970s, Palfreyman couldn't be more representative of the types of kids who started BMX racing nearly three decades ago.

The Southern California teens who first created BMX, or bicycle motocross, were young boys wanting to emulate the motocross done by adults.

They copied the way older men rode motorcycles — only on their bikes — launching off jumps, speeding around corners and eventually organizing their own races.

"It was one of the best times you could ever have," said Palfreyman, now 53 and a grandfather living outside Butte Falls.

Palfreyman, known as "Snaggletooth" on the track, said he raced for less than 10 years but made his time count by being on the first organized all-star BMX team.

A rider for Rick's Bike Shop, Palfreyman was part of the first group of BMX racers ever sponsored by a business, helping to test new bikes and dominating the growing race circuit.

"There was never a dull moment," said Palfreyman, who lives on 40 acres with his father, two kids and two grandchildren.

Although he gave up BMX before 1980, Palfreyman has not been forgotten as one of the pioneers of the sport.

He was acknowledged for his place in BMX history during a ceremony earlier this month, when he was inducted into the National BMX Hall of Fame alongside current pro rider Mat Hoffman.

The induction in Chula Vista, Calif., stirred up a lot of memories for Palfreyman, who said he grew up with the boys featured in the movie "Dogtown," Southern California kids with long hair and a thirst for extreme sports — an industry that had only begun to emerge.

As the first races were coming together in California, Palfreyman said, similar BMX groups were starting all over the country, unaware of each other.

"We didn't realize how big it was," said Palfreyman, who fondly remembers riding the tracks with his three brothers, taking after a father who rode motocross.

"We were all very competitive," said Palfreyman. "But I've always been kind of the ringleader."

Palfreyman's father, John Palfreyman Sr., was a competitive motocross sidecar racer, at one point the national champion in a sport that had two riders racing — one on the motorcycle and one in an attached sidecar.

Much like the first BMX racers who yearned to be like the older motorcyclists, Palfreyman wanted to be like his dad and drive a bike with a sidecar.

Together, father and son built the first bicycle with a sidecar in the mid-1970s, using spare bike parts to construct a "sidehack" with an extra wheel and a small seat.

The passenger would sit on the seat sideways, facing the bicycle driver, and hop off to run and propel the bike faster or help with balance.

The sidehack grew quickly in popularity, and soon bike shops were producing sidehacks for themselves to sell, and separate races with two-man teams were taking place.

"We built them in my garage, and after that people started building them on their own," said Palfreyman.

The sport died in the 1980s but resurfaced on a smaller scale a few years ago, when the sidehack was featured on an MTV show about extreme sports.

By 1980, Palfreyman said he stopped racing regular bikes or sidehacks and began motocross racing, spending 10 years on "Team USA," traveling through Europe to compete on a world tour.

By the 1990s, Palfreyman had settled down from extreme sports and he eventually moved to Southern Oregon with his family, an area he had frequently visited while he was growing up.

Though he doesn't ride bicycles any more, Palfreyman still keeps his trophies on a shelf in his dining room to remind him of BMX years ago.

"When I was racing, it was down bigger mountains and there were a lot of downhill races," said Palfreyman. "Now there's more concrete, start gates and the X-Games. It's come a long way."

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or

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