PROJECT ELF: 25 Years of Passion
April 28, 2014
PROJECT ELF: 25 Years of Passion
After a long cross-country move from Brooklyn, NY/Lancaster, PA, to Anaheim, CA, when I was a kid, I remembered my Free Spirit FS600 bike strapped to the top of the family's rusted yellow station wagon. I learned a lot, saw a lot, and met a lot of people on that trip back in 1989. By the time I hit sunny Southern Cali, it seemed things were completely different from the projects in Brooklyn and the cornfields of Amish America that I had become so familiar with. But one thing never changed; how sweet life was on my 20-inch! A few of the neighborhood kids had some nice GT's, Redline, and Gooses, but I was never the kid to follow trends. Luckily, we moved down the street from the Schwinn Bicycle Shop (aka Anaheim Schwinn), I remembered riding my bike to that shop on those crazy hot torching Indian summers, just browsing and drooling - all over the chrome. With a buddy of mine, we decided being ten years old and broke was NOT a means to exist, we never got a chance to join Little League, NJB, or Flag Football, and instead we became the neighborhood's youngest blue-collared members. We did a lot of yard work, washed more cars than I could have imagined, and cleaned out some of the sickest shit you can think of (literally). But we learned what a hard day's work was those summers and we also found out the rewards that it brought, BMX!! Although our parents worked 7-days a week, my buddy's dad was a local truck driver and on the weekends he'd always drop us off at the local BMX race track. Yes, you could read all of the BMX Plus magazines you want, but you can't experience BMX until you watch and do the racing yourself. We learned a lot about bikes, some things about racing, but always tips about life.
Like any red-blooded American kid, well Vietnamese American in this case, I wanted to upgrade my bike! Sure, I couldn't fork out the full price tag on a new flagship, but I felt that my hard-earned dollar can sure go to something that will make me faster and stronger, when I'm jumping curbs at least. So one Saturday morning, I decided to head over to Anaheim Schwinn and pay up for a $4.95 GT Single Seat post Clamp. I can't tell you how "bling"Â that piece looked on my rusty black & gold FS600. I was hooked! A few months later, I found out that there was an unlisted "non-Yellowbook"Â bike shop just a few blocks from home that was owned by a really old Chinese man. The shop was literally a tiny closet, but it had a mix of some imported junk and some really nice legit parts. I remembered some of the local teenagers were saving up for cars, lettermen jackets, and prom, so many of them sold their bikes to the old guy for some short change. Although the parts were salvaged and worned, I remembered that I learned a lot about repairing parts and just how it all worked from that guy. I dropped by the shop again a few years ago, and I remembered seeing him for the last time; I heard the shop is no longer there and I know for sure that old Chinese man opened his doors 365 days, rain or shine, and I wish him the best in the next life.
I remembered seeing my first issue of BMX Plus at the local Lucky's Supermarket in 1990, but at $2.95 a pop, I resisted bringing it home but I sure did like hitching a ride to the supermarket with my mom more often! She ended up buying me my first copy a few years later, June 1992 edition to be exact. The colored images of the AA Pros, the full page poster spreads, tons of stuff listed for sale from shops all over the country, and of course, the bike reviews. One bike stood out from the rest, it was said to be EXTRA light, a unique double chainstay design, and it was getting built a few blocks down the street from my house. ELF!!! Extra-Light-Frame!!! I couldn't believe it! I remembered when the 6-piece Blastbars and Zipback post arrived; I just thought they were the raddest compliments to the XX frame. But the reality was that I wasn't going to own one anytime soon. Or was I?
It was 1993, Elf was at the pinnacle of BMX history, it was just named the ABA's Bike of the Year, and suddenly they were EVERYWHERE. I remembered seeing ELF bikes all over the racing tracks, but still I never had a chance to actually sit on one and took it out for a spin. I believe it was my 14th birthday, just a few weeks before the end of middle school, and a long awaited summer before the inevitable life at Katella High School. My dad decided that it'll be the right time to look into getting me a new bike, I mean I've been riding my Free Spirit for literally my whole 'adult' life already, so I requested a quick stop at the local ELF shop in Orange, CA. We were greeted by Ken Pendergraft himself at the shop, wish I would have talked more to the man himself but I do remember him being very passionate about his products while he was showing us around his store front. After the quick introductions, Ken asked me what I wanted my next ride to be, and I said without a doubt, the ELF Double Cross Pro XL. Ken recommended a smaller model, but since my dad was nearly 6'0, I figured the XL model would fit me as I grow into the frame. There was only ONE Pro XL there that day, sitting just a few bikes in from the line-up by the front door. I pulled it out, took it into the parking lot up front, and took it for a ride that I will never forget. It was perfect! So while my dad and Ken Pendergraft were chatting, I was sure this one was in the bag, I am heading back home with this beautiful machine. So after I saw my dad shook the owner's hand, I rode back towards their direction for some good news. YES! YES! YES! We will be going home WITHOUT an ELF today it seems. Even though I was disappointed, I knew that a bicycle in that price range was ridiculous and I for one would be the first to say that because I didn't get my dream bike that day that the dream truly never died. I ended up visiting that store many more times until they closed shop a few years later, but I never again saw a built up Pro XL to demo; just my luck I guess.
I came home to celebrate my birthday with some friends and until this day I still have never heard the end of how I came home empty handed that afternoon. Ah, boys will be boys. Instead of getting me a new bike, my dad did something even cooler, well, it's pretty cool now that I looked back at it but not so much on that occasion; he promised he'd take me to the local auto body shop and have my FS600 dipped in chrome. Yes, it was no ELF XX, but that was a pretty good treat. I believe we went to the local chromer a few days later, and they billed us $25.00 for plating both frame and fork. I still have my FS600 F&F until this day and the chrome is still perfect in every way. By that time, I had already purchased under my arsenal the Blastbars, Zipback post, Triple Trap pedals, DK stems, ATI grips, Pitbull/Dia-Compe, and the Svelte saddle. And boy did it look sweet in my fresh new chromed-out mini racer.
By the millennium, I had ran into a Korean couple in Garden Grove, CA, who had a small bicycle repair shop, I believe I got to the shop before a lot of the collectors did and so I was able to pick up NOS the Answer Pro Forx, GT/Araya wheels, and Redline Flights to complete the components list. Piece by piece, year by year! I was pretty content with my build, until March 30, 2013, the day that the ELF Double Cross Pro XL found me!
Although I've searched every chance I got for this specific model year, obviously due to the sentimental value more than anything, I had always come up empty handed. Often it was without the original decals, in poor condition, incorrect size, and a year or two off. But then I got a buzz from a buddy of mine and there was guy named, Bill, who lived out in Tustin Ranch, CA, that decided to give up his beloved ELF and help me complete my dream build. Cheers, Bill! I rushed home that night after picking it up, swapped the parts that I have saved up all of these years onto my beautiful Double Cross frame, and now I am just in heaven! To me this is more than just collecting something; this is a reflection of my childhood, all of the memories with family and friends. Thanks mom for getting me my first BMX Plus issue (which is sitting right next to me) and thanks dad for getting me my first love, the Free Spirit FS600, the frame now hang high up in my bookshelf as a reminder of where I came from. And thanks Ken Pendergraft for creating your greatest masterpiece, the 1993 ELF Double Cross Pro XL!