The Collector: BMX bandit

Published in Treadlie Issue 6, March 2012

It was maybe fifteen years ago when Luis Guarch’s dad was throwing out some old things and asked his son if he wanted his two old BMX bikes. “He said, ‘Do you really want these bikes? They’re no use to you anymore.’” One, a 1980 Mongoose Supergoose, was Luis’s first childhood bike; the other, a 1982 Golden PK Ripper, had won him several trophies as a kid on the racetrack. Luis took them both home.

They stayed in storage for another half a decade until, about eight years ago, something inspired Luis to restore the Supergoose. “Everyone said, you’re mad, you’re going through a mid-life crisis,” he laughs. Dull, dirty and with faded pads, Luis brought the bike back to life in vivid colour – bright cobalt blue and acid yellow. “The addiction started then,” he says.

Luis has since restored more than twenty BMXs, all back to original condition using mostly new old stock – “tires, brakes, seats, everything”. He sources parts from all over the globe, taking his time until just the right piece shows up. The self-confessed hoarder uses his huge collection of old BMX magazines as a handy reference to aid his memory in choosing builds that are most authentic to the era. “The whole fun of restoring bikes is chasing down the parts, wondering ‘what’s going to work?,” he says. “You can overkill a bike easily by putting too much colour. But then again, if you really want to restore an old mid-80s you just go all out, pinks and greens and black. That’s typical ‘80s, you know?”

Once he’s finished a restoration project, the Sydney-based graphic designer takes it out for a professional photoshoot. “I love photographing my restored bikes in the environment they should be in – outdoors,” he says. Skateparks, graffiti-ed walls and the beach have provided backdrops to his bubblegum bright rides. He took one bike, a 1984 CW Racing Micro Mini Cruiser, out to Astrolabe Park in Daceyville to photograph it on the racetrack he practiced on every day after school. “It’s still there but it’s been abandoned, there’s just grass growing on it,” he says. “It’s amazing how it’s still there after close to thirty years.”

Another amazing find came from one of his old BMX newsletters. “It was May 1982,” he says. “Back then it was all typed out on a typewriter and cut out and photocopied.” Luis called all the phone numbers, adding a nine to the front each time, looking for contacts from his racing days. Out of about twenty calls he found two.

“One of them said, ‘Mate, you’re insane,’ and hung up on me!” he laughs. The other was a man he remembered, a friend’s dad who used to make BMXs as a hobby and ran a sponsored racing team. “He said, ‘Look, I’m moving house after thirty years, and the kids have all grown up. I’m about to throw out all the old frames and collectables which are under the house. Do you want them?’ And I said hey, I’m there!”

Friends and acquaintances also often give him their old bikes or ask him to restore them. Giving them back after working on them can sometimes bring about separation anxiety. “When I restore bikes for friends and they’ve turned out really good it’s hard to part with them. One that turned out amazing was the 1982 Redline MX-II, that was just, like… wow. At the end of the day they’re works of art.”