Legend: Brian Blyther
So here's the setting: It's September of 2009 and I'm leaving the NORA Cup Awards in Las Vegas. I jump in a cab and start heading back to the hotel. We stop at a light, and the passenger in the next cab leans out the window, sarcastically wanting to race my cab. My cab driver looks back at me and asks, "Do you know this guy?" I look over and nod yes. I tell my driver, "Oh yeah, that's Brian Blyther. He's a BMX legend."
Yes, that's a true story, one that I never envisioned happening twenty years prior, when Brian Blyther was the renowned BMX King of Vert, with a laundry list of sponsors, a passport packed full of international stamps and vert abilities like no other.
Blyther came onto the BMX scene in the early '80s. "When I was about 14, I used to race at the Pipeline BMX track, and they used to let us ride the skatepark for free on Sundays if we raced. I started getting into it, so I quit racing and started riding pools and entering contests," says Blyther. It was around this time that he also invented flat ground tailwhips (the same type currently employed in tailwhip nosepicks.) Within a year or two, Blyther got good at riding concrete skateparks, and he was regularly winning or placing near the top in the King of the Skatepark Series. As a result, Blyther picked up a sponsorship from Haro, and his pro career quickly took off.
At the time, vert seemed to be split almost between two disciplines: "skatepark" vert and "quarterpipe" vert. Blyther could do both with ease, but as a product of the Southern California concrete skatepark scene, his riding was better suited to flow more effortlessly through bowls and fullpipes than forcefully pedaling between a quarterpipe and a wedge ramp. He had an impressive list of vert variations, but he also never overdid anything for the sake of a trick. His riding, even early on, was more about height, grace and style, even before style was something that was paid attention to in BMX.
In the mid '80s, Haro teammate Ron Wilkerson introduced a halfpipe series known as the 2-Hip King of Vert series. It was a reaction to the quarterpipe comps of the time, giving vert riders a less structured contest atmosphere that allowed for more vert flow (which also meant higher airs.) Blyther's riding was perfectly suited for halfpipe riding, combining a legendary mixture of height, flow and variations. And it wasn't surprising to anyone when Brian Blyther won almost every King of Vert he entered, from 1986 all the way up to 1989 (when Mat Hoffman turned pro.) As a result, Blyther was reportedly earning upwards of $100,000 a year by 1988.
And then the bubble burst, so to speak. BMX freestyle changed pretty dramatically by the time 1989 arrived. Uniforms were out. Contests were changing. New bike companies were launching. And street riding was taking off. As a result, the respected pros of the day went from being high paid professionals to working day jobs or doing demos. Blyther moved from Haro to GT and continued to ride, doing well in the newly established 2-Hip Meet The Street contest series and getting tons of coverage, but the times were changing fast, and perhaps realizing this, Blyther turned his sights to computer engineering. He also continued to tour and do demos for GT Bicycles throughout the '90s and into the early '00s. Then, in 2003, Blyther entered a California police academy, and today, he is currently employed as a police officer in Montclair, CA.
Thankfully, Blyther's story doesn't end there. He still rides, still rips, and is still involved in BMX (which explains why he was attending the NORA Cup this past year.) He's also proof positive that you can ride the BMX wave successfully and transcend into another career path without putting the bike down. But most importantly, he still makes a simple air on a vert ramp look amazing. Here's to one of the true legends.