Although Chad Johnston prefers to be vague about his age, it’s obvious he’s got some serious BMX mileage. With over two decades of BMX to his name, if there’s one thing Chad has learned, it’s to ride at the beat of his own drum—he’s been riding flatland without pegs for over six years. In my opinion, Chad’s decision to make something that is already extremely difficult even harder for the sake of progression makes him a pioneer. The foundation of freestyle was built on the achievements of pioneers, and Chad is helping to take it to the next level.
Interview and photos by Jeff Zielinski
Captions and additional photos by Chad Johnston
Exactly how old is “many moons”?
Roughly four decades, I’m not exactly sure, I lost my lunar calendar during our last move.
You have lived in Long Beach longer than anyone else I know (BMX wise). When did you move here? And what brought you here?
I remember when we met, Ed Nussbaum introduced us after he did that Transplants article with you. We definitely weren’t the first though; Day Smith and Andrew Scott were born here, Eric Stefano and Shawn White were also holding down LB before the boom. I remember Fano driving us around pointing out good restaurants, shady neighborhoods, and the riding spots—that was 1998 if I remember correctly. My wife Amy and I moved here together for a number of reasons; we were burnt out on the town we were living in and always talked about moving—so we acted on it. We had friends who had moved to Huntington Beach years prior to us. They were trying to convince us to follow and offered us to stay with them as long as it took for us to find a place—we couldn’t pass up that offer so we packed up the old Toyota and headed south. Our first place was on Appleton—it was a small studio that felt like the interior of an old small sailboat. It was directly across the street from Cherry Park and we used to walk our dog there three times a day. We like the vibe in Long Beach, especially downtown, it’s a melting pot and it’s not too beach-y, but just enough—a good balance.
When I first moved to Long Beach in 2002 it seemed like the city was better known for its flatland scene at the Belmont pier parking lot spot as opposed to the streets. It’s no secret that the street scene has blown up since then, but what was the Long Beach flat scene like in its heyday?
Yeah, for sure. I remember bumping into Markus Wilke occasionally or seeing Josh Heino ripping around, but it was much more common to see flatlanders. Day, Shawn, and Eric would invite us to come ride with them at the pier. Lot’s of bad-asses would come through. Nathan Penonzek and Phil Dolan pretty much lived here when they had bad weather back home. Ed Nussbaum and Erin Donato moved right after us—we helped them migrate here. Stoked to still see Ed, but unfortunately for us Erin returned home (she left her old Standard Shorty here for Amy, though). Effraim Catlow, Mike Steingraber, Takashi Ito, Hiro Morisake, Martti Kuoppa, Jorge Gomez, Simon O’Brien—a lot of high level riders came through. It seemed like everyone at one point or another. There are too many names to list them all. Now I see way more street riders, but it’s great, I love it. I’ll see packs of riders rolling around or guys on solo missions. I’ve met some of my favorite riders on the bike path or at Neighborhood, like Garrett Reeves, Shane Weston, Kevin Porter, and a bunch of others. Long Beach still has a good BMX vibe even though the flat scene isn’t what it used to be. It’s still good, though, I’m not complaining. I love riding with Fano and Ryan, but because most of the spots are delicate now, our scene is spread out, even within LB.
What do you think it is about Long Beach that attracts so many riders?
I’d say the weather. I think that it creates this casual, relaxed, almost-vacation feel. Whenever I return here from a trip I feel like I’m going on a holiday. You can ride pretty much everyday if you choose to. Even the police are more chill towards BMX riders because I think they have much more bigger things to deal with. Plus, I’m learning that some of them used to ride or have kids that ride. Another reason would be that the industry and media are centered here, which attracts a lot of riders—which in turn attracts even more riders, and so on. A while back it was mostly the contest money that attracted flatlanders to the area, now that there aren’t contests with high-purses, there are far less flatlanders rolling through.
In reference to what you mentioned earlier, about the spots being delicate, is there any kind of spot or trick etiquette within flatland like there is with street?
Yeah, I think so, for sure. Maybe not the same, but there’s an unwritten code. It’s something you learn from riding with riders and traveling to other spots, there’s no manual. Really it’s just common sense and respect. It’s a vibe, a feeling that can’t really be said—it’s unwritten and I can’t author it. Flatland’s different from street in the way that when you find a good spot, you go back on the regular so you can progress with riding and you’re not constantly adapting to new variances—you have a constant and familiar surface. As far as trick etiquette, I think flatland is still small enough that everyone can be their own color—like blue or orange, they complement each other. They’re not just a slightly different shade from the next.
I understand you’re onto the second version of your signature Intrikat frame with S&M—congrats, man. What’s up with the next batch?
Thank you. I’m real stoked! Yeah, we’re more than happy with the initial batch. They moved out pretty quick, not as quickly as the Hoder frames, but for a flatland frame I was a little surprised. The second generation has a couple updates; the first is wishbone chainstays (the first run has S-bend stays), then the lowered toptube, plus we added two more top tube sizes; 20” and 20.5” to go with the 19” and 19.5” already offered. Plus 9” bars this year.
Do you have anything else in the works, product wise?
This year is S&M’s 25th anniversary and we’re going to do a limited edition run of 25 chrome Intrikat frames with Mad Dog inspired graphics as a tribute to the boss. Plus we’re working on a minimal offset fork, a Revenge Industries female thread freecoaster, and a Revenge tire.
Wow! Sounds like you guys have been busy. So how has the whole design process, as well as living close to S&M and being able to go there and have constant feedback, changed the way you look at your bike in general?
It’s made me more interested in the complete process. I didn’t realize how much thought and how much input is involved in even somewhat simple products. Like two-piece bars for example, they look simple and basic, and they are, but there’s just a lot more that goes into it then I was aware of. From sourcing the material to warranty issues, there’s a lot of steps in between and to do these jobs the right way takes a team. I’m trying to absorb as much as possible and hope to work in the industry after I’m done with progressing my riding.
In reference to your pegless flat style, you once said, “It’s maybe more of a minimalist influence rather than a pegless approach.” Do you think that minimalist influence has transcended beyond your lack of pegs into other aspects of your riding and/or bike setup?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t enjoy operating around clutter because it distracts me from full concentration. Less is more is an accurate statement in my opinion. After putting so much time into testing and being deep in product development I realize that I feel the same way about bike design as I do with life in general. I like the way things are headed. Right now I can build my bike with a couple tools (if you don’t count the chain-breaker). I was running a master link for a while so I didn’t even need that. I hate carrying around a ton of tools so I’m really psyched on the options available now. A 6 and 8 mm Allen socket with a 7” breaker bar will do pretty much everything and fits in my back pocket.
What is your opinion about riders like Matthias Dandois and Travis Collier riding bigger bikes with two-piece bars and frame geometry that resembles the typical BMX bike more than a flatland specific bike?
It makes sense to ride a bike that fits you, like snowboarding and surfing and most other activities, you pick a tool that suits your size and type of riding. Mathias and Travis have grown taller so it’s natural to get longer frames. Travis has been riding two-piece bars and double triangles since I met him. He’s been consistent all along and he’s been wearing skinny jeans since before anyone I saw, too. For me, it’s full circle. My first bike had two-piece bars and a double-triangle frame [see the photo below]. I experimented with a few multi-piece bars over the years, but never really swayed from classic frame design. Educated engineers and bike smiths know what’s correct and can look at a design and tell you what will work or where it will fail. The guys at S&M have decades of experience. The knowledge they’ve gained and feedback they’ve received is absorbed into their products. The straight tubing, triangle construction was proven the strongest design before BMX bikes. I guess now BMX has been around long enough that all kinds of experiments have been tried and the people who know what’s up stick with what’s proven. A bike is a tool and you expect it do the job. Graphics, colors, subtle details along with specific sizing and parts selection should make each bike unique, not creative tube bending or placement.
Do you think you have influenced other flatland riders to take their pegs off? Do you ever see pegless flat becoming common?
I don’t think I’ve influenced many, but I know of a couple. For example, a little while back Martti emailed me and said he was considering going pegless, but wanted to see what I thought about it before he did so. I was flattered by his respectful mindset and I encouraged him to go for it. I don’t own pegless flatland, it’s available for everyone who wants to try it and I’m just stoked that he thought of me. He hit me back a short while later and said something like, “I don’t know how you do it everyday.” He hit me back again a short while later with some sick clips, he learned a couple of amazing things. He pushed it to another level and learned whiplashes standing on the stem. I had been trying that on and off for a while, but when he showed me he was learning it I stopped. He linked it into a combo and learned doubles. I’m not trying to battle anyone. I think it’s better when everyone contributes something different. Here’s a video that I received from Michele out of Italy. I’d really like to see more riders try it, there’s so many unopened doors this route. It seems pegless is common in park, trails, and street, and I’d like to see it in flat more, also. But I’m not sure if it’ll happen anytime soon.
Do pegless street riders influence you at all?
Yeah, for sure. I like the aesthetics and the near silence. The simplicity of the bike is interesting to me. Trail riders too.
Any progressive flatland riders to look out for in the future?
Yeah, keep your eyes on Peter Olsen and Percy Marshall—two Canadians tearing shit up. As well as Aleksi Ritsilä representing Finland and Paul Chamberlain holding it down in Australia. Diego Tejada is killing it in Texas too. I think Grecian George Manos’ style is cool—he’s on a mission—watch him! I look forward to seeing some unknown up-and-comers—I know there’s more out there somewhere.
Who or what else influences you?
Music, photography, design, color/darkness, but more than anything I’d say my wife, Amy.
What kind of tricks have you been working on lately?
Different links, as well as tailwhips, boomerangs, wheel-pivots, plus a few other things. I’ve been concentrating on things I haven’t done before—more than dialing in some contest combos.
When was the last time you picked up a video camera? Will there ever be another Intrikat video?
I filmed Ryan Russell about a month ago and did this web edit. I’ll definitely do some more video work, but I need to upgrade our equipment—our Canon GL1 isn’t as motivating as it used to be. I’d like to do another edit sometime this year.
So you recently sold your half of Neighborhood BMX, what brought on that decision?
That was a really tough decision, but to Aaron [Bostrom] and I, friendship is more important than anything and business can make shit weird. My riding and home life weren’t getting the attention they deserved and little things became big frustrations. Aaron and I worked it out for me to recover my financial investment and everything was signed over to him. I consider all my time there a learning experience and expect no compensation for that. I met a lot of cool people that I still see and I hope to continue to build on those friendships. One boss is better than two in a small business and Aaron will continue to feed the scene in our neighborhood. I have no hard feelings towards him, the shop, or scene. I hope they understand my mission and continue to build on what we started.
How have you been occupying your time when you’re not riding? I know you’ve been making tables…
Yeah, the tables are a lot of fun to make. I like messing with bike parts. I’ve also collected and restored a handful of old bikes from my past. Recently we inherited some artwork, so I’m trying to arrange that in a somehow interesting way in our new place.
I feel like you’re always working on something, do you have anything in the works?
[Laughs] I gotta stay busy. Sometimes I get overwhelmed though, I’ve got so many projects on the backburner. I just keep my focus on riding and when I need to be busy with something else I’ve got options. After we get settled into our new place I want to get back into Trikology because I have space for it again. I’m also recollecting tools so I can return to wrenching on these old bikes.
What about some shout-outs?
Thank you to all my family, friends, and S&M (they’re the same as the first two, so I guess this part of the answer is redundant). Thanks to everyone who supports S&M and Intrikat. Thanks to Ride BMX, Primo, Lotek, and Sun Ringle.