John Bethers and I don’t have very much in common. I was never a pro BMX factory rider in the late 90’s, I didn’t invent a new BMX trick and I’m in now way handy with welder. The one thing we do have in common – a 1998 Eastern Bikes Commando BMX.
I’ve had my ’98 Eastern Bikes Commando BMX for a year or so now, and if you’ve read this blog and seen my Instagram feed or you’ll have seen it pop up from time to time.
A few months ago John commented on one of my posts about my bike. He was surprised to see I had EC0002 and he mentioned he had my bikes slightly older twin EC0001. I was pretty stoked to hear it and I contacted John back to find out a bit more.
John grew up riding BMX and rode everything from ramps to parks and flatland.
“I rode everything I could… I grew up in the era of riding it all. I still have a couple of fun flatland combos that I throw into shows. My competing was primarily at the Hoffman Bicycle Stunts Series, and at one point or another I competed in flatland, dirt, park, and vert. I never did tremendously well, but I loved going to them just to hang out with other riders that loved BMX as much as I did.”
Jon started riding pro BMX for Creative Sports at 19. He rode and ‘performed’ in BMX shows and demos.
“Riding in shows gave me the consistency, confidence, and financial support to be able to make BMX an actual career. Creative Sports has been, without a doubt, the biggest ‘sponsor’ I ever had. I still ride for them and tour a few months out of the year.”
Although John doesn’t remember the actual year, around 96/97 Jon Byers – co-owner of Eastern Bikes at that time – came to a show he was doing with Creative Sports somewhere in North Carolina. At the time John was on the roster for 2-Hip bikes.
“Jon Byers asked asked if I would be willing to switch and ride for them, it was an easy answer. A few weeks later they had shipped me this commando frame (the red one), I believe it was from the original batch of bikes made. Only a handful of guys had one before me. I’ve attached a few pics of that bike, and one from a BMX Plus Magazine of a trick I made up, it was shot by Mark Losey (my first full page picture in a magazine).
The trick John invented was called an Assisted Suicide. Awesome… The red Eastern Commando (pictured above) was one of the company’s early prototype frames from 1997. Keith King also one of the co-owners of Eastern in the beginning had written a number of times about those early days and their first attempt at a frame – the Eastern Commando.
“After riding that frame for a while, they changed fabricators to get better quality. I heard that SE Bikes made the batch that this gun metal grey commando frame came from. I was bothered by the frame stands on my original frame, they were slightly off and asked to get a new frame when one became available. I was incredibly stoked when I got the first one off the line.“
John had so much great info on where and when my Eastern Commando frame was built. I wanted to find out if other riders on the Eastern roster also received Commando frames. If his was EC0001 it was highly likely that EC0002 was also a factory riders bike.
“The riders I can remember who would have gotten the pre-production models were Mike Laird, Chris Shellkopf, Duncan Gore, Kenan Harkin – I’m not sure who got frames off of the actual production line.”
Looks like I will have to keep digging, might have to track down these ex riders and ask them.
I asked John about his time riding for Eastern.
“I think I rode for Eastern for about 4 years. We went on a couple of road trips, a few contests and I had a section in their team video East Bound and Down. But I think the biggest thing that I took away from riding for Eastern is the friendship I made with Mike Laird and Keith King. I continue to stay in touch with both of them, great guys!”
These days John still rides in shows for Creative Sports and in his downtime he’s running his own company SuperRamp Technologies building ramps.
“I’ve been designing and fabricating ramps for quite a few years, more as a hobby and way to relax. But word of mouth has really picked up, and it’s getting to the point where I should look at taking it more seriously. I’m incredibly proud of the what I’ve done, I feel like my ramps have had a pretty significant influence on the action sports industry and I have plans for making even more of an impact.”
“I’d like to be a part of bmx for as long as I can. I wish that I would have known as a young rider that it was an option to ride for as long as I wanted to. Dennis McCoy is a few years older, and he’s pretty much the barometer for what would be possible. I remember riders asking when he would be retiring… He was only 26 when I heard that question asked. Made me think that there was a time limit or shelf life and that bmx would have to end. But every year he just kept kicking ass and riding harder than ever. He’s a total inspiration. I only wish he would have been 46 or even 56 when I was younger to know that bmx could be an option as long as you want it to be.
I have a lot of wild ramp ideas that I’d like to get out of my head. So I plan to continue building, designing and fabricating ramps. I love riding and as long as my body will let me, I hope to be pedaling and playing for many years to come. I’m 40 now and jumping the biggest jumps in my life. It’s crazy to still get butterflies and that feeling of exhilaration from something I did when I was a teenager, but it’s still here and I love it!”
I have to say a big thanks to John for taking the time to talk to me and answer my questions about his Eastern Bikes. It’s amazing to have found my Eastern Commando’s twin. I can’t wait to dig around a little more and see if any of John’s former Eastern team mates may have been the previous owner of EC0002.
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