In August of 1978, a small black and white advert appeared in the new product section of BMX Action Magazine, announcing "Haro's Factory Plates." This low-key promotion marked the start of an entrepreneurial journey, and a new enterprise, that would profoundly shape the identity and direction of the new sport of BMX. Priced at $6, including shipping and handling, these early examples of Haro's iconic BMX number plates utilized rectangular, and oval, Preston Petty motocross plates, with Haro adding custom graphics cut from sheet vinyl.
BMX Action Magazine writes; "Each Factory Plate is unique and original. Haro hand cuts the numbers from several colors of glossy adhesive vinyl, sticks 'em on a genuine Preston Petty unbreakable number plate, pre-drills and rivets the mounting holes and even includes four tie-downs."
Haro began producing customized number plates for local BMX racers in 1976, while living at home with his parents in Spring Valley, California. The enterprise tapped an inherent talent for art and design and provided some handy funds for his other passion; racing motorcycles. Bob's lifestyle was typical of kids growing up in southern California during the 1970s. He raced bikes, surfed, and skated. But Bob was the kid that made things happen. He had energy, and a vision. Bob Haro was going places.
Aside from branding and product design, Haro's early contribution to BMX was defined by another totally unique concept. As the BMX Racing scene expanded globally and evolved to accommodate a ranking system, many young riders turned away from the fiercely competitive environment in search of an alternative, more organic, riding challenge. They began experimenting in drainage ditches, empty reservoirs, and in some cases, skateparks. Jumping out of the smooth paved transitions quickly evolved to rolling and balancing. Haro and his neighborhood friend, John Swanguen, became obsessed, pushing one another, and carving fast lines through the smooth cement bowls at the Skate Heaven Skate Park.
John Swanguen with an early Factory Plate
The BMX Action Trick Team - Anaheim, 1980
The BMX Action Trick Team Debut, 1980
In the summer of 1977, a life changing opportunity became the catalyst for Bob Haro to put his artistic talents to work at the epicenter of the emerging BMX scene. His talent as an illustrator caught the attention of BMX Action Magazine publisher, Bob Osborn. Osborn was a part-time fireman and single parent to his son RL, and daughter, Windy, and he initially published the magazine from the family home on Arvada Street, Redondo Beach. Having submitted several of his BMX cartoons through the mail, Haro was invited to join the small team at Wizard Publications as Staff Artist. Osborn took a leap of faith and leased a small office for Wizard in the summer of 1978, and the opportunities that came along with a small desk in the warehouse enabled Haro to further develop his creative talents, and make industry contacts.
As demand for the Factory Plates increased, Haro began producing his own proprietary shapes and designs from sheets of low-density polyethylene. He molded the contours over the burners of a kitchen stove, and applied graphics cut from rub-down contact paper. Then in early 1979, a series of new adverts – hand drawn by Haro to minimize costs – started to appear regularly in BMX Action. The more refined Haro “Pro Plate” featured an embossed "Bob Haro" signature on the rear panel, and soon after, a logo; “Bob Haro’s Factory Plates”, appeared on the front panel. Many of the up-and-coming pro racers of the era chose Haro number plates, and these early examples are the first of a series of different models that helped to establish the Haro brand in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
By the summer of 1980, Bob Haro had left BMX Action. Right away, he leased a building just a few miles away on South Vermont Street, in Torrance, and with newfound independence and a renewed focus, a continuous flow of innovative products and apparel flowed from Haro's drafting table and into the BMX market.
In the summer of 1981, Bob Haro and Bob Morales rolled out of Haro Designs in Torrance as the newly formed Haro Freestyle Team. A third seat in the brightly colored Dodge Ram van was occupied by Haro’s younger brother Ron, who negotiated his way onto the tour by passing his driving test just a week prior. Ron would literally take on the tours heavy lifting - building and breaking down the portable plexiglass ramp and pulling shifts behind the wheel on the three-month, coast-to-coast, journey.
Trick-Riding shows carried out by Haro and RL Osborn as the BMX Action Trick Team in 1980 had created curiosity, and side-bar coverage in BMX Action Magazine nurtured more interest. But the fact remained that the majority of the country had never actually seen freestyle riding up close. On a typical sunny afternoon in June, armed with a triple-A Map, and a full schedule of freestyle shows, TV appearances, and press commitments ahead of them, the trio boarded the customized Dodge Ram and headed east towards the unfamiliar territory of the Midwest.
Preparation for the tour had been focused and regimental at times; such was the desire of Haro and Morales to demonstrate that there was more to BMX than merely racing and dirt jumping. In the months prior, Haro called the friends and industry contacts he made while working at BMX Action Magazine and raised sponsorship dollars from a group of forward-thinking brands, including Vans, Oakley, and Off Shore Surf apparel. By the time the Dodge returned to Haro HQ in September, the debut Haro Freestyle Tour had covered a staggering 18,000 miles and provided plenty of encouraging feedback.
The long hours spent in the van driving from from city-to-city, often through the night, allowed plenty of time for idle chat. But one recurring topic of conversation revolved around Haro’s vision for a dedicated Freestyle bike. This was an entirely new concept in BMX, a vehicle with refinements and characteristics that supported the evolution of the riding. The Haro Freestyler, at least in theory, was born in these discussions and would soon come to life as a game-changing catalyst for a new era.
In the fall of 1981, Bob Haro approached his frame sponsor; Torker, with a proposition that would transform the company from a BMX accessory brand, to become a genuine Bicycle Manufacturer. Torker was receptive, and the idea was met with a positive attitude. The project began in late 1981, with the two parties working closely to translate Haro’s specialist needs into a working prototype. The prototype was produced, with a second for Morales, and the two men tested the frame in local skateparks until it was refined and ready for full production in the spring of 1982. Haro applied his keen eye for design, and presented the new model with stunning decals over the chrome plated finish. The unveiling of the Haro Freestyler later that summer confirmed Haro Designs as a brand on leading edge of the freestyle movement.
In the summer of 1981, Haro Designs reached another important milestone - the arrival of General Manager Jim Ford. Ford was introduced to Bob Haro by Skateboarders Action Now editor D.David Morin. Ford’s experience establishing the Kryptonics skateboard brand made him the ideal foil for Haro’s creative strengths. What a productive prolific partnership that established Haro Designs as the leading brand in BMX Freestyle. A mutual friend within the action sports industry named D David Morin connected Haro to Ford in early 1981. The two shared a similar vision for the business, although the initial deal-breaker was Jim’s reluctance to relocate to Los Angeles from Colorado. Haro had been considering a move south from LA toward San Diego, where he had grown up. A suitable new home for the business was found close to Palomar Airport in the city of Carlsbad. The move was made, a deal was struck, and Ford was on board.
The success of the first national freestyle tour convinced Bob Haro that he needed a physical presence in the market to put Haro on the map as a global brand. With Jim Ford in the wheelhouse, Haro set out on promotional trips trips to Europe and Australia in 1982, and 1983, opening new lines of distribution and promoting the Haro Freestyler. But with the departure of Bob Morales to Kuwahara, Haro Designs was lightweight in the riding department. Spring Valley Local Ron Wilton soon joined the team bringing with him an impressive array of ground and ramp tricks that complimented Bob Haro’s riding style. The two spent the summer of 1983 touring bike shops in the southern United States before returning to California to ride demo’s at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Fourteen-year-old Mike Dominguez was Haro’s next recruit. The vert prodigy lit up the King of the Skate Parks contest series and became the first rider to sign on in the pro ranks in 1984. Rich Sigur was another up-and-coming skate park rider from south LA. Sigur caught Bob Haro’s eye during round 3 of the King of the Skateparks series, held at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in June of ‘83 and joined the Haro ranks shortly after. The arrival of this new generation of riders, many of whom eclipsed the known standards for height and variations at the King of the Skate Parks series, underscored the need for continued innovation and creativity - the core values that Haro Designs was founded on from day-one.
It was the dawn of a new era. The mid-1980s witnessed the rise of freestyle as a global sport - supported by a thriving industry and a national contest circuit. With the launch of FREESTYLIN' Magazine in the summer of 1984, the sport had its own dedicated media source – one that spoke the language of the fans and covered every conceivable angle from within the scene.
The market for new products emerged rapidly in the early 1980s following nationwide tours carried out by the Haro Freestyle Team and The BMX Action Trick Team. Each show created an immediate demand for products and accessories. Infatuated kids flocked to local bike shops, which in turn, scrambled and hustled to satisfy the escalating demand. New brands and enterprises flooded the pages of the magazines, promoting "must-have" components – some genuinely innovative, others that missed the target altogether. The scene had a momentum that suggested a prosperous future, not only in the United States but also in Europe and as far afield as Australia. Despite its exponential growth, the epicenter of the BMX freestyle movement, along with the factors informing its culture, and growth, remained firmly rooted in southern California.
Haro's growth plan in the early 1980s revolved around consolidation, as well as leading-edge product design. Jim Ford identified the historical best sellers in the Haro product line and expanded the catalog to include new colors and designs. And through Bob Haro's vision, the company continued to innovate. While Bob focused on product innovation, design, and overseas promotion, Jim headed up distribution and operations as General Manager. In addition to the launch of the Haro Freestyler, the productive partnership launched several best-in-class product lines in 1982 and 1983, including the Haro Vented Race Pants, The "Big H" jersey, two new number plate models, and a detailed "how-to" trick riding manual, titled; Bob Haro Freestyle Moves.
The year 1984 launched a new era of critical innovation, and evolution, at Haro Designs. The introduction of the Haro Freestyler frame and fork in 1982 demonstrated Haro's ambitions and enabled the company to scale. But demand for the new model escalated rapidly in 1983, putting pressure on frame builder, Torker's, production capabilities. Although Haro's plan centered on Torker's proven ability to produce excellent quality products, Ford and Haro were already looking ahead towards the next milestone - the delivery of an out-of-the-box, complete freestyle bike. Few, if any, bicycle manufacturers in the US had the resources to manufacture and assemble in-house. The Taiwanese, however, had developed a highly efficient, inclusive process in the 1970s to satisfy demand during the 10-speed boom era. With most of the bicycle component makers operating from small factories in Asia, sourcing was equally as fast and economical. In the summer of 1984, Haro took a leap of faith and tooled up for a new era of production with Anlen Industries in Taichung.
Despite the inevitable shift from domestic, to overseas, manufacturing, Haro remained loyal to their US-based frame builder and in January of 1984, a new model came to life on the fixtures at Torker. The Haro Master represented Bob Haro's vision for the ultimate freestyle vehicle – born from the Freestyler concept but featuring a series of improvements and refinements informed by rider feedback.
The next big statement was another entirely new concept; the Haro Sport. The rapidly evolving vert scene demanded dedicated equipment with better handling. The Sport featured an extended wheelbase making it more stable at speed, and in the air. A standing platform around the seat mast provided some extra versatility, and the frame entered the market in around May of '84.
In October, Haro delivered the third of a bike range that set the standards in the Sport for the decade ahead. The Haro FST – Freestyle, Street, or Track, targeted entry-level riders. Built from quality raw materials and available as a complete bike, the FST was affordable but carried the same striking graphic scheme as the Sport and Master. The 1984 Haro Freestyle range set the tone and the standards in the scene and became the companies blueprint for continued success throughout the 1980s.
Aside from product development, the business of promoting the company brought a group of talented new riders together. For the leading bicycle brands, the tried and tested formula for success was simple – assemble a team, hook a portable ramp to the hitch of a Chevy Day Van, and stage freestyle shows at bike shops all summer long. In the summer of 1984, San Diego locals Marc McGlynn, and Tony Murray joined the Haro Freestyle team, having made a name for themselves riding in The King of the Skatepark's series at The Pipeline in Upland, and the Skate Ranch in Del Mar.
The universally-talented ramp and flatland rider Ron Wilkerson signed on as a team rider in the fall of 84, with additional duties as Haro's Freestyle Team Manager. Ron left sponsor GT and relocated from Novato in northern California to Leucadia in San Diego. Brian Blyther was another prodigious vert rider and a member of the legendary community that called the Pipeline Skate Park in Upland there second home in the early 1980s. Blyther's smooth, at times effortless, style put him in contention in the pro ranks, and his smooth transition to riding ramps made him a mainstay of the touring team through the mid-to-late 80s.
East coast vert rider Joe Johnson joined the team in December of 1985, following a recommendation from Ron Wilkerson, and the submission of a video of Johnson riding his famed backyard ramp set-up. Dennis McCoy became Haro's first out-of-state recruit in the November of '84. The all-rounder from Kansas City debuted at an AFA contest in Pleasanton, California, in March of 1985, and immediately and made an immediate impact with fast-linking runs – honed on the streets, and in the underground parking garages of his home city. McCoy's strengths on-ramps were also evident. His domination of the overall category in the "Overall" category during the mid-1980s challenged every rider in the scene to reevaluate their game plan.
In 1986, Haro ventured into the BMX Racing market with a dedicated bicycle range. Having collaborated with the top tier race brands, and riders through the early 1980s, providing dual-branded number plates and team clothing, productive, yet, non-competitive relationships developed that benefitted all parties. But as the freestyle market continued to grow exponentially, many of the established race brands developed freestyle specific products. This shift in loyalties left a clear path for Haro to unveil its new Racing Division, and newly recruited AA Pro racer; Pete Loncarevich at the ABA Grand’s in Oklahoma in November of 1985. The companies first complete race bike – The Haro Group 1 RS1 - made a definite statement, with a high-spec component group and stunning graphics. When the prodigious Mike King also signed on to race for Haro in 1986, the company enjoyed immediate success and was quickly recognized as a leading force in the sport.
The mid-1980s was a pivotal era for Haro Designs, as the company scaled and capitalized on the exponential growth of the freestyle market. The three-bike line up of the Master, The Sport, and The FST was the most advanced range of bicycles available, and Haro's rider roster included the most exciting young talent in the scene.
The early months of 1987 represented the beginning of a new era for Haro Designs. Following several months of negotiation, the company was purchased by the single largest independent bicycle distribution company in the United States. West Coast Cycle recognized the potential in the BMX Market. Company president, Sid Dinofsky, negotiated a scenario that secured Bob Haro and Jim Ford in long-term leadership positions. The arrival of Mountain Bike Action Magazine Editor; Dean Bradley, in December of 1986 brought new strengths and experience to Haro’s compact management team. Bradley was recruited to lead Haro’s efforts in the mountain bike market. His industry connections and knowledge of the technology served to fast-track the company’s product development program and create immediate credibility.
Haro’s success in the early 1980s presented a series of business challenges that the West Coast acquisition would ultimately solve. The new arrangement brought an established retail distribution network and a dedicated external sales team. Where manufacturing volumes had been carefully managed alongside modest forecasts and projected growth in the early 1980s, the financial muscle of West Coast Cycle enabled Bob Haro and Jim Ford to expand the model line and commit to larger volumes of inventory. The bike range centered around the Haro Master and Sport, although higher specification “Team” models offered the same equipment as Haro’s top riders. The entry-level Haro FST now had a partner in the Haro FSX, and the Haro Response tapped into the European sport of Bicycle Trials riding. Along with the new hardware, Bob Haro recognized the cultural shift happening with the influence of proactive streetwear brands like Vision, Airwalk, and Life’s a Beach. As a result, the 1988 Haro apparel range dropped its traditional leathers and jerseys, turning instead to a more casual clothing line that reflected the lifestyle of the riders.
The rapid rise of the mountain bike in the mid 1980s presented opportunities for the established bicycle company’s to diversify and ride the crest of a new phenomenon. Haro’s Dean Bradley set to work designing a range of new models that could compete alongside market leaders Specialized, Gary Fisher, and rival BMX brand; GT. Bradley overhauled the entire range to feature proprietary geometry, wrap-around Head tube gussets, and chain-stay mounted brakes. The companies flagship model, the Haro Extreme, Bob Haro designed a radical triple-triangle frame design that incorporated a sloping top-tube, that allowed for a shorter head tube and fork-steerer. The range also included two mid level models; the Haro Instinct and Haro Impulse. All of the late 1980s models were produced from 4130 chromoly, and this new approach based around industry-leading design and innovation cemented Haro as an innovative and progressive mountain bike brand.
Rider recruitment continued through the mid-1980s, as the AFA contest circuit welcomed regional affiliates and new talent emerged. The introduction of Ron Wilkerson’s 2hip King of Vert contest series in1986 energized a new direction in the competitive scene based solely on half pipes. In this boom era, it seemed like every town and city in the US had a local hero. Rick Moliterno – a strong all-rounder from Iowa- signed for Haro in September of ’86 following a recommendation from Dennis McCoy. With the addition of Joe and Jeremy Alder - two talented brothers from Baltimore, Maryland; New Jersey flatlander Joe Gruttola, and young vert rider; Eben Krackau from San Antonio, Texas, the 1987 Haro Freestyle Team was, without doubt, the most talented and high profile of any of the factory Freestyle brands. But possibly the most significant arrival on the Haro team came in January of 1988. A prodigious vert rider from Oklahoma named Mat Hoffman left the Skyway Freestyle Team to join Haro’s talented ranks. The marketability of the riders and a relentless, global, touring schedule enabled Haro to maintain its position as the number one brand in BMX Freestyle.
Following a decade of growth, prosperity, and innovation, the BMX market experienced an unforeseen downturn in the late 1980s that marked the end of its prolific first era. The traditional groundswell in bike and accessory sales around Christmas seemingly failed to materialize in 1988, and the consequences were felt industry-wide. The established brands took evasive action, reevaluating forecasts and slashing costs in a bid to stabilize and regroup. Subsequently, advertising revenue dried up, and magazine page counts fell, as the BMX media went into survival mode. From an industry perspective, BMX was headed for a recession, and everything was about to change.
Although the core riding community and fans remained defiant, the reality was kids were growing up, leaving their homes and neighborhoods for colleges and full-time employment. Cars replaced bicycles, and new avenues of freedom and independence opened a pathway into adulthood for a generation that grew up on BMX bikes. Senior factory riders across the major brands experienced the shocking reality of an industry meltdown. They watched-on helplessly as their sponsors relented, cutting costs in the fight for survival and recovery. The inevitable outcome saw many of the major factory teams disband, leaving uncertain futures for a community who had earned substantial salaries riding their bikes.
The challenges at Haro Designs were as confounding as anywhere in the industry. From a market-leading position, Haro had assembled a formidable team of young riders and invested heavily in product development, advertising, touring, and promotion. Two individual Haro Factory Teams toured relentlessly through the mid 1980s, but as the decade rolled on, the crowds became smaller and bookings fewer. And in 1988, the company changed hands again. West Coast Cycle’s parent company; Medalist, sold its interests in the bike industry to the Derby Cycle International Corporation. Derby had recently purchased the Raleigh Worldwide trademark, and the company became increasingly preoccupied with the task of establishing its ten-speed brand in the US market. This new scenario pitched Haro Designs into its most challenging era. What was once the leading force in a prosperous new industry was now a house brand within a generic corporation that had bigger priorities. But Haro’s small, industrious, management team rallied hard to change its fortunes.
With almost non-existent marketing budgets, a high proportion of the leading factory teams had begun to shake riders as early as 1989. During these difficult conditions, Mat Hoffman and Rick Moliterno remained as Haro’s premier freestyle riders, with new recruit’s Danny Meng, Chris Potts, Lee Reynolds, and John Peacy representing the brand at contests, State Fairs, School assemblies, and occasional bike shop appearances.
But the pursuit of innovation was in Haro’s DNA. The radically overhauled 1989 “Core” BMX Ranges now featured bash-guard models with elevated chain-stays and graphic schemes that again, stayed ahead of the curve. In 1990, Haro Master “Team” models featured unique Zolatone paint schemes, and in 1991, two new models - the Haro Air Master, and Ground Master, were unveiled. Questionably, the Haro Sport dropped out of the 1990 Haro catalog to make way for the new Haro Invert, although good sense prevailed, and the sport’s number 1 vert bike returned in 1991 with a neon green paint scheme, and featuring the same curved down tube as the Haro Air Master. 1989 also saw the introduction of Haro Fusion - a sub-branded component line that covered every base in both race and freestyle, from complete bike specification, to aftermarket upgrades.
Haro’s BMX Racing team had also seen a number of high profile riders come and go during the late 1980s, but a new alliance with an established component brand gave rise to a talented BMX Racing development program. The Haro/Crupi team filled its ranks with fast young amateurs that went head-to-head with the established GT, Robinson and Powerlite Factory teams. During this difficult period, BMX Racing emerged as an unlikely hero for many of the freestyle brands. The sport had suffered greatly as freestyle emerged in the early 1980s and lured riders away from the track. The rise of mountain bike racing also dealt a heavy blow to the professional BMX Racing ranks as many of the top ranked riders set their sights on racing on the NORBA (National Off Road Bicycle Association) racing circuit. In many cases, But with a new generation entering its ranks, and an established networks of tracks across the United States, BMX racing began to recover and dominate space in the surviving magazines.