Mongoose 50th Legends Series: Eric "Big Daddy" Rupe

In each of the past five decades, Mongoose has worked with world-class athletes to inspire the next generation of cyclists. In honor of our 50th anniversary, we’ve launched the Legends Series to pay tribute to a few of the pioneering riders who helped shape and propel the brand for years to come.

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe

As the brand that was Born in Dirt, we figured it was fitting to start at the BMX race track with none other than "Big Daddy" himself, Mongoose legend Eric Rupe. From his origins with the brand in the early 80s, to the famous call “Big Daddy coming out on fire!” back in '88, or to the countless podium finishes – whether ABA, NBL or USA BMX – Rupe is both a BMX legend and a Mongoose icon. Now get on the gate and let Big Daddy take you on a trip down Mongoose memory lane!

What are your first thoughts on Mongoose celebrating 50 years as a brand?

ERIC RUPE:  I’ll start by saying congratulations, and happy 50 years in business. Oddly enough, this is my 50th consecutive year of racing BMX and I'm still doing it on a Mongoose. Proud to be doing so. The bikes [Title Series] are awesome these days, and always have been. Thanks to the fans for checking out this interview, and hope you enjoy.

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe

Let’s start at the beginning. What was it that attracted you to bikes?

RUPE:  Well, I learned how to ride a bike when I was five, and rode and built jumps for years after. It wasn't until I was 11 years-old that we were actually riding dirt bikes at a place called Indian Dunes here in Southern California. My dad had heard that they were holding bicycle motocross races at a place called Soledad Sands. So, in the next week or two, my brother went and checked it out without me. The next weekend they were holding races at the Van Nuys Youth Center and I ended up going to that one. That was my first experience, and I was hooked. I did horribly my first-time racing – got smoked in fact – but I was hooked. I’ve loved everything two wheels ever since, from the competition, to the jumping, and everything in between.

When did you first join Factory Mongoose, and do you remember anything about when you were asked to join the brand?

RUPE:  When I was younger, the Mongoose team was it. I always wanted to be part of it because they just looked so cool. They were a really professional-looking team, and I always wished I was a part of it. But it wasn't until the end of 1981 when I was already winning pro races, that I joined Team Mongoose. I had to make a decision on whether or not to go into the U.S. Air Force as a career. That’s what my dad had done, so I thought I would do the same thing. So I enlisted, got sworn in and all that, paid for my plane ticket, and was ready to go to boot camp in, like, two weeks, and out of the blue, I got a phone call from Mongoose asking if I was interested in riding for them. And I was like, "What, are you kidding me?!"

I'm thinking, this is a dream come true, but what do I do? So, I called the recruiter who had signed me up, and he wasn't having any part of it. The next thing I know, my sister is helping me reach somebody higher up, and ultimately, they brought me into the office to talk face-to-face. I just happened to talk to a guy who, when I explained my situation to him, understood it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and told me to take it. And even though they rarely did this, he signed my papers letting me out of the military and told me I was welcome to come back too. The next thing you know, I'm on a plane going out to California, and then I'm a Factory Mongoose rider. I was on cloud nine. I was beyond thrilled and blessed when I got that phone call, and little did I know that I would spend 18 years with a Mongoose jersey on my back. So that was pretty cool. I've been extremely blessed, and I’m still very blessed today.

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe

What are your favorite memories of founder Skip Hess, and how would you describe him to others who never met him?

RUPE:  Well, just off the top of my head, he was one of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met. He really cared about everybody who ever rode for him in a personal way, so much so that when we moved from Florida out to California, it was Skip who helped my dad find a place for us to live. He was always genuinely concerned for our personal well-being both on and off the BMX track. He also really knew his stuff and was a competitor with a racer mentality. I was truly blessed to be part of his organization. He was a good man. Love you. Skip.

Did you ever tour the old factory, and if so, describe the experience?

RUPE:  I absolutely did when I first got on the team. I flew out to Los Angeles from Tampa, and they took me to the offices in Chatsworth, which isn’t far from where I live right now. The offices and the manufacturing were on one side, where I got to see where they welded the frames. Across from a huge parking lot was the warehouse where they stored everything from complete bikes, frames, and all the parts you could imagine… After they gave me the tour, they literally gave me a grocery store shopping cart and just told me to go up and down the aisles and grab whatever I wanted. And they weren't kidding – whatever I wanted. That shopping cart was pretty full when I was finished. Anyway, it was a very cool experience seeing how the frames were welded and where they were all made. Things are different these days, but that was a great experience. I mean, I was 18 years old. That's awesome. Good times.

Did any year standout as the best team you were a part of during your time with the brand? Who were some of the teammates you enjoyed hanging out with most?

RUPE:  It's a really incredible list. There are 25 famous racers that I've been involved with over the years, and seven of those riders are in the BMX Hall of Fame. I've been involved with great people from the beginning; (Jeff) Kosmala, Tinker Juarez, Bob Woods, Kevin Jackson, Kenny Nachman, Brett Allen, Ken Aman, Billy Griggs, John Tomac, Marvin Church, Missy Fred. I mean, my goodness, the list goes on and on… Matt McCullough, Jason Kick. Darwin Griffin, Travis Chipres, Sam Arellano, Shelbie James, Gary Debacker… look, the list just goes on and on… Robert McPherson, Craig Reynolds, Fuzzy Hall, Brian Smith, John Purse, Joey Bradford. I have loved hanging out with all of them. Seriously, we always had a good time racing. We took the racing seriously, but we always had a blast. I've really been a part of some good teams. Mongoose has been right there.

Mongoose Legends Series - Eric Rupe White Hot California Ad

What was your favorite bike that you rode for the brand and why? Which bike did you have the most wins on?

RUPE:  Without a doubt that would have to be my signature bike. They started making them in ’84, and they came out on the market in ‘85. Ultimately the bike was sold through the end of ’86, and stopped selling in ’87. That was the first bike in my career that I ever had my signature on it, so how cool is that?! One of the biggest brands in history and they make a bike with my signature on it. Eric Rupe, Signature edition. So of course, that's my favorite. I loved it, but what bike did I win on the most? That would be the SGX Newman. They started making these in ’99 when I was racing vet pro at the time. They called it the SGX Newman, which stood for New Manufacturing, and I won a lot of vet pro races on it. More race wins on that frame and that model than other, and they even put my signature on this one. It wasn't a signature edition, but my signature came as a sticker just like that. I still have these frames. I've actually done really well on anything that ever-said Mongoose on it. So, I've been blessed. I say that a lot, don't I? ha-ha

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX icon Eric Rupe - Signature Complete Bike

Who were some of your biggest rivals in the 80s and today?

RUPE:  I had a lot of competitors in my career, but the longest running rival that I ever had was Greg Hill because we were the same age. We used to race locals together when we were 11 and 12 years-old and then we started racing pro together. He was extremely successful, and I was always striving to be as good as him, and maybe one day better than him. It was just a constant rivalry, and now here we are, 60 years-old and still good friends. As for my biggest rival today, I got to tell you at this age, anybody I'm on the gate with that's the competition right there. Doesn't matter who it is, they're all fast and just gets harder all the time. I respect all these guys so much for being on BMX bikes at our age. Takes a lot of balls to do that. Boy, it's been one heck of a career. Year 50! 50 years… That's something to be proud of.

What keeps you interested in riding all these years later?

RUPE:  I love being on the bike. I do love the competition. It’s not about the winning, that's just a bonus. One of my favorite things has always been the preparation and training for a race. Most people hate that part, which is why they quit after a while. I love it. I went and did sprints today. I was nauseous afterwards and felt terrible. It took me a good hour to recover. But it's part of what I love. I also love the travel. I love going to different places to ride my bike and being on the gate to see what I got. Still keeps me going.

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe

What gives you the best feeling on a bicycle?

RUPE:  Two things are a real rush for me. One is being on a gate filled with seven other riders and beating them all out of the gate to the first jump. There's almost no better feeling than that. The other thing is jumping a feature, usually a double or a triple, that I maybe didn't think I could do or was nervous to try. And then you do it. That's a great feeling and anybody who races BMX knows that feeling. At first you’re nervous, then you finally do it and you make it, that’s a great feeling. So, I'd have to say that the hole shot and jumping. Two of the best feelings.

Throughout your career, you’ve lived through widespread changes in the sport and industry. Describe some of the biggest changes to the sport during your time racing.

RUPE:  There has been quite a bit. I've been here a while. For me, the first big change I noticed was the freewheel, because at first, we had coaster brakes, and you couldn't slow the bike down unless you pedaled backwards. There were no handbrakes, no brake levers, nothing like that. So, the freewheel comes along and then the hand brakes. That was huge.

The next thing to come along that was big in the sport was the two-pedal start. Stanley Robinson and Harry Leary did it first, and it caught on quickly because it worked. Nobody did that before, and then we all started doing it quickly. Then after the two pedals start, I would say the electronic starting gate was a huge jump forward. I mean, every gate was just a piece of wood with hinges and an ax handle bolted to it. And some guy standing there holding it up, screaming out some command, dropping the gate, and then we all go. So, the electronic starting gate with the lights and sound was huge. It's so advanced now it's ridiculous.

After that I would have to say the V-brake and the A-headset. Before the V-brake, it took three fingers to pull in your brake to slow your bike down. It just didn't work very well. But the V-brake came along and it’s still used today. The A-headset was probably before the V-brake, but I mean, imagine those old goosenecks with the wedge bolt. Seems archaic, but the A-headset is so simple and it's on every bicycle these days. It's genius.

And then, of course, carbon fiber. So much carbon stuff and so good and strong these days. Everybody's bikes are so light. I mean, our pro bikes back in the day were 25 pounds plus, and some of these guys now at the highest level their bikes are 19 pounds. It's crazy. Anyway, so there have been a lot of changes, most of them good changes. I could make a huge list of many more things, but those are probably the biggest.

Tell us about your favorite Mongoose ad?

RUPE:  It was the first one that I did when I got back on the Mongoose team to start the ‘84 season. (The Performance and Class Ad) And the coolest thing about it was it's actually a two-page ad. When you turned the page, the other half of the ad was all from the back. The jump picture up in the top right is from behind. Same jump, but I'm jumping, going away from the camera. And then I'm standing there posing with the Supergoose, but it's me from behind and the bike from the other side. Russell Okawa and I did this. In the ad I'm wearing white socks, white shoes and white pants. Well, we had forgot to do the reverse shot the day I was in the studio, so he calls me back a couple days later to do that, but I didn't have any white socks. So, I went into the bathroom and took white paper towels, stuffed them in my shoe and up my pants, and went back out. The other shot from behind looks like I'm wearing white socks, but I'm not. It's paper towel stuffed in there. Anyway, it's a pretty cool ad. It said something like "Mongoose, don't get left behind."

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe

What was your favorite factory kit with the brand, and what year?

RUPE:  When I first got on the team in late ‘81, that was the coolest jersey for me at the time. I loved it and putting that thing on made me feel so proud. I got to wear the JT pants and gloves too. I've worn many different mongoose uniforms, but that's my favorite.

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe

What race sticks out to you as the most memorable?

RUPE:  There are two that really stand out most. One a little more than the other, but these two are super important. When I won my first NBL number one pro title in ’83. I was an underdog, and I was just having a breakout season. We went to Nashville where I was newly married, and I brought my wife with me, and the crazy part was, I get second place in the main and it's over with. And only me and my wife knew that I was number one because they had the points wrong, and I knew it. Nobody knew. They celebrated somebody else as being number one and that night we went to the hotel room of the of the head scorekeeper for the NBL. They had every race of the year on paper, in boxes in her room, stacks of boxes. We went over all my points and sure enough, they were wrong. By Wednesday of the next week they had announced that I was number one. So that was a huge memory for me.

But the most important race was years and years later. Like, seriously 17 years later. I was 37 years old and I'm at the NBL Grands Racing single-A pro against a bunch of kids, teenagers and 20 year-olds. I'm 37 and they had a $5,000 prize for being number one, and I was chasing it all year long. I brought my oldest son, Rocky, with me to the Grands in Louisville that year, and not only did I make that Pro Main, I actually won it! He recorded it on video and you can hear him yelling for me while he's filming it. It still gives me chills. It's by far the most memorable race for me because my son was there, and he was totally into racing. He raced himself that weekend, and I'll always have that memory. So good, so good.

Mongoose has a couple Olympic hopefuls with Cam Wood and Payton Ridenour. What wisdom would you pass down as one Mongoose legend to these young up-and-comers?

RUPE:  The best advice I can give them is to enjoy the moment. Like, truly absorb it all. But remember, it's just another race against the same people that you race all the time. So, it's just you doing your thing. Don't overthink it. Just race and enjoy it. It's a big moment, and if you make it all the way to the U.S. Olympic team that means you're good enough to win it. Gotta be in it to win it, right? Good luck to both of you.

Any final thoughts to leave with Mongoose fans?

RUPE:  I just want to say thank you to Mongoose for having me be part of this 50th anniversary. It's a big deal for them. Like I said earlier, this is my 50th year racing consecutively, so it's a big deal for me too and I’m honored and proud to say that I was involved with Mongoose for many of those 50 years. I want to thank Brian Baldis, Leigh Ramsdell, and Dwayne Taylor as well for keeping me on the brand. I love riding these bikes even now! Look, I'm 60 years-old and still on a Mongoose.

So, congratulations and thanks to everybody at Mongoose over the years for allowing me to be part of that program. Hopefully I helped make that a little better than it would have been without me. So, I'm very appreciative. And how about 50 more? Maybe not for me, but for the company, ha-ha. Thanks again.

Mongoose Legends Series with BMX Icon Eric Rupe