The Origin of Animal's Bob Scerbo Bars
In 1989, GT Bicycles developed a new handlebar that was featured on their complete bikes, sold as an aftermarket product and ridden by select GT team members of the day, including Dave Mirra and Joe Johnson (the inventor of the tailwhip). The handlebars, a four-piece design that featured middle of the road measurements, including 5 degrees of up sweep and 8 degrees of back sweep, caused a minor sensation in BMX freestyle. And despite the weakness of the bars (which cracked often), the popularity of the new GT four-piece took off, albeit on a very small level due to the first wave of recession in BMX.
That recession lasted almost until the mid '90s, and during the time, GT Bicycles maintained a presence within BMX, but their product, team and marketing shifted drastically. As a result, the four-piece handlebars of the Joe Johnson GT-era went out of production. Not many riders in BMX that stuck with it cared about the disappearance of GT's four-piece bars. The technology of the time was producing stronger products from companies that had rider's best interests at hand, such as Standard, Hoffman Bikes and S&M.
But one rider from North Arlington, N.J. clung to the GT four-piece years after their popularity. At the time, Bob Scerbo was one of the younger riders coming onto the scene. Animal's Ralph Sinisi recalls their meeting. "He was some kid at our local trails who was 13-14 years old, doing all these no-footed variations and 720s. I don't think I ever even saw someone do 720s in person till then," says Sinisi.
Ralph also noticed the handlebars. "I am pretty sure Bob had those bars on when I first met him in 1993 or '94. They were popular in the late '80s, but not too many people continued to run them through the mid '90s, so they stood out even back then," he continues.
A friendship between the two ensued, and throughout the years, videos were made, trips were taken and the riding progressed. Still, Bob continued to ride the same GT bars he had always ridden. After Ralph started Animal Bikes in 2000, Bob came on board as a team rider and video producer, collecting leftover GT four-piece from anyone that would donate or sell them.
Scerbo also became well known for his ability to hop. "People always said that Bob's four-piece bars was one of the the reasons why he could bunnyhop so high. After he hopped over a fence that was literally five-feet high, that made me a believer," says Sinisi.
In the mid '00s, the decision was made to reproduce the original GT four-piece bars under the Animal name. "It was just the natural thing to do after that. Bob was running out of GTs (he only had like seven or eight pairs left), so we had to do something," says Sinisi. "We sent a pair of GT bars to Peter Barrell at Maas Specialties (a machine shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana) and told him we just wanted them stronger," he adds.
The result was a stronger four-piece handlebar based off of the original GT design. "The basic angles are the same, but the bends are a little different for strength, and the tubing is better," says Sinisi.
At the time, four-piece handlebars were practically non-existent, but that didn't matter to Animal. "We just did them since it was the right bar to make for Bob and not even worried about the sales," says Sinisi. "Besides, four-piece bars feel great and I was down to start riding them again since I was a big fan of four-piece bars earlier in life, like Haro Kneesavers, GTs, Standard Strip bars and Basic bars."
The decision to make the bars could have been a risk, one that left Animal with a surplus of four-piece bars in a two-piece BMX world, but soon after the first run was produced, that changed. "At first they were only ridden by certain people who swore by them as the only bars they would ride. After that, they just seemed to grow and grow in popularity," says Sinisi. And aside from Scerbo having a steady supply of four-piece handlebars to ride, select members of the Animal Bikes team began to ride the bars as well, including Lino Gonzalez, Butcher, Sinisi himself, and Edwin De La Rosa.
To date, Animal continues to manufacture the Bob Scerbo signature handlebar. Now on its third version, the Bob Bars Mk3 version are constructed of custom butted and heat–treated 4130 chromoly. The same measurements remain, but the weight has gone down to 24.5 ounces, with colors of white, black, and like the GTs of the distant past, chrome. The Bob bars may not be as ubiquitous as gigantic two-piece handlebars, but they remain an iconic product of the Animal Bikes lineup. And most likely are responsible for a resurgence of popularity among four-piece handlebars, including recent offerings from Fit, Sputnic, Federal, Stranger and more.
Sinisi attributes the popularity of the Bob bars to the handling they offer. "They are perfect to weave through traffic or fit through a tough situation leading up to a spot," he says, adding that the width allows him to have more control over his grinds. "With wider bars, it takes me more effort to smash the peg down on something, but I feel at one with the pegs in relation to these bars."
Clearly, other riders seem to agree with Ralph's sentiment. "Whenever you see someone nowadays riding Bob bars, they are usually killin it," says Sinisi. And that's all due in part to an old design from GT, and Animal's continued commitment to the riders on their team.