The lost art of flatland style

Growing up and deciding to focus primarily on the flatland aspect of BMX in the Northeast in the mid ’80s wasn’t exactly uncommon. At the time, there seemed to be a good number of BMXers that did the same thing within mere miles of myself. But because the sport had begun on the West Coast, and because the media of the time focused on the West Coast professionals, a kid in Central New Jersey wanting to learn how to ride flatland had no local heroes to look up to.

There were a few N.J. riders that eventually did make an impact on the BMX scene in the late ’80s (riders such as Roger Sullivan, Jay Jones and anyone from the General Bicycles heyday), but around 1986, if you wanted to ride flatland and needed a hint that you weren’t completely off your rocker trying to do so in a town 25 miles outside of Manhattan, you didn’t have too many options.

So I went with Chris Lashua, a pro for Mongoose that hailed from Massachusetts and generally didn’t “fit in” in the scheme of flatland at the time. He was 3000 miles away from the media, he wore a weird ventilated helmet in competitions, and he rode for Mongoose right at the time when they were trying to push more scooters than BMX bikes.

Still, for some reason, Lashua was featured heavily in the magazines of the time. The purist in me likes to believe it was because he could ride a bike with style and looked good in photos, but the salty bastard in me tends to think that Mongoose had ad dollars to spend and putting a Mongoose rider in the magazines was good business for all parties involved.

Once upon a time, I was not that person, and that is why I’m here now. Lashua wasn’t from New Jersey, he was from Massachusetts. And even at age 13, I knew that Mass had way worse winters than we had in N.J. The fact that he had overcome the weather versus BMX in a tougher climate than myself automatically made me a fan.

Not only that, at a young age, I could easily see that he made riding flatland look stylish. He had the right hunch, the bent knees, the ability to work with the bike and not against it — all that I easily took from still photos portrayed within the page of Freestylin’.

But the real reason I remain to this day a devout fan of Chris Lashua goes back to one day in Point Pleasant, N.J. in the summer of 1988. Lashua and the Mongoose team were doing demos for Mongoose at the beach, and before the ramps were set up, before the crowd had assembled, and before anyone was paying attention, Chris Lashua was riding like it was his last day on Earth.

Halfway through the session, someone local brought the go-to ramp of the time (a launch ramp) and Lashua rode at the back of it, hopped over it on his Decade Pro and landed in the small transition of the take off. He then circled around and glided into a fast (even by today’s standard) steamroller glide around the circumference of the parking lot. Afterwards, he did the then unthinkable. He hopped at the back of the launch ramp, landing on his sprocket in the disaster position, then pushed forward into the transition as smooth as Mike Brennan did in the Ride BMX video “Insight.”

I was awestruck already, and then I met him. He was grounded, encouraging and really didn’t think he was anything special in the scheme of BMX. I went home that night, grabbed some Lashua pictures out of the magazines, taped them to my walls and remained a fan until BMX died a half-hearted death and Chris Lashua disappeared.

Years later, I would come to find out that Chris Lashua made the switch to performance art, joining Cirque Du Soleil and pioneering some kinda wonder wheel thing like Richard Pryor rode in “The Toy.” He remains evasive about his influence on BMX in modern interviews, but I don’t wanna sell the dude short here.

Chris Lashua didn’t invent a whole lot of tricks, and he didn’t remain on the scene to become a savior of sorts for the Northeast, but he brought an important aspect to the rolling aspect of flatland that I often find overlooked in modern times –style. To this day, 25 years after he first did them, Chris Lashua’s steamrollers remain one of the best steamrollers in BMX. And that is why I will never say anything bad about him for doing a Mongoose ad where he’s posing in an endo on a scooter next to a stretch limo in Vegas.

I’m glad flatland has progressed to the point it has, but I miss the days when style was just as important as the progression of the sport.