25 Years of Hoffman Bikes – the Mat Hoffman Interview

Way back in 1991 a 19-year-old Mat Hoffman – tired of breaking generic BMX bikes and sending himself to hospital all the time – decided enough was enough and launched Hoffman Bikes. Fueled by a drive to make stronger, lighter, and tougher BMX bikes that could keep up with what riders were doing, with his new bike company Mat redefined how BMX bikes looked, worked, and lasted. Along with running the new bike company and endlessly travelling the globe to ride in countless contests and shows, Mat also revolutionized the tricks, the contests, and the ramps we rode – Mat shaped the entire sport and lifestyle of BMX.
The drive and evolution continues – 2016 will be the 25th Anniversary of an iconic BMX brand, of one of the most important movements in all of BMX. 2016 brings us a new range of Hoffman Bikes and parts, so we caught up with Mat to find out more about it.

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Photo: The nerve-centre of Hoffman Bikes in 1994.

What inspired you to first start Hoffman Bikes, 25 years ago?
I was riding for Haro and it was a time when Bob was leaving the company and the bikes were losing their edge and quality, the BMX core was very small and couldn’t support the market, so the companies stopped keeping up with the progression of riding. All the bikes became more generic. My riding was the most innovative and progressive it had ever been, and I needed products that could keep up with how big I wanted to go. I had a couple trips to the ER from bike malfunctions and knew the only way at the time to ride a bike I could trust was to make it myself.

Who were the first riders for Hoffman Bikes from day one?
Myself, Davin ‘Psycho’ Hallford, Dave Mirra, Rick Thorne and Steve Swope.

What products did you come out with first – and how long did you develop the first frames for?
I first met with Linn Kasten and drew my first prototype. He was very helpful. I started early in the year of 1991 and Linn finished my first prototypes by the Autumn. I was just finishing up building my 21-foot Big Ramp dream, so it was perfect timing to test it. The big ramp was actually what I designed the first Condor to take on.

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Photo: 1995 / Rocket no-hander on his home ramp.

Where were the products made in the early days?
Linn Kasten’s price was too out of the market at the time, so I joined forces with Mike Devitt from SE Racing. I worked with Mike for a couple years and learned the trade. He had his own business to attend to with SE, and it was hard to keep up with my demand, so by 1994 I started my own machine shop and started manufacturing my bikes in-house.

When did you start making complete bikes – and why?
To recruit a new generation… I was doing shows at State Fairs and getting all these kids stoked on riding, but I couldn’t supply them with their first bike. So that’s when I came out with the Egg. It was my entry-level bike that a new rider could afford, ride until cracked, then they could hatch and get a Condor…

What were the biggest selling products through the years?
As for frames, in the beginning it was the Condor, but then Taj was ruling our world and everything shifted to his geometry and the Taj was the favourite, but probably the longest model I’ve had on the market has been the Bama, ‘cause Seth Kimbrough has been riding for me for over 15 years. The Superfork was the first freestyle fork that was designed with a machined one-piece steerer tube, so that was a big innovation for saving a lot of snapped fork injuries, and everybody rode these for a while until everyone else started making them too.

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“The year was 1991 – I asked my friends to run out onto the ramp while I was in the air to give the photo perspective. I probably could have done without the added danger, but my ideas are rarely safe.”

Of all the Hoffman products that you have made through the years, what are you most proud of?
I started Hoffman Bikes because bikes needed to be reengineered and rethought with the current riding in mind. I was lucky to work with Chris Gack and we reworked everything. We were the first to make axles oversized, clamp bars 1.2 wall thickness instead of 0.49, reengineered the frame gussets, made the first oversized one-piece machined steerer tubes, even started making handlebars out of 1” bars instead of 7/8”.  When I got into making bikes it was because I needed to trust my life with what I put under my feet, and I think this helped evolve the whole industry to make better products and to keep up with the progression. I know this has resulted in a lot less injuries to have happened, and that makes me feel proud.

What about the most recent 2016 bike line and frames for Hoffman Bikes – tell us about those?
This is the 25th anniversary of Hoffman bikes so we spared nothing. We made the best bikes at the best prices for all levels and styles of riding. The line starts with the Junior Series: the Imprint, the Immersion and then goes to the Mid Series with the Seeker and then the Expert Series with the Crucible and the Team Series with the Bama and the Lady Luck. The team frames are the Bama and Lady Luck as well as the Condor and Strowler.  We may do a limited run of Big Daddy and Taj frames and other limited run special products for the 25th Anniversary Year watch this space.

Are you kinda surprised that you have now hit a landmark 25-year anniversary with the bike company? When you first set out with the company in ‘91, did you think you’d be where you are with it today?
All I was hoping was to push our sport as hard as possible and to have a bike that would keep up with me. One I could trust, with whatever I dreamed. I’m still dreaming and making bikes that can step up and help me make it a reality. 25 years is a long time. It’s gone by fast. That baffles me, that I’m still living my dream and riding hard. I may owe it to deciding to make a better quality bike to keep me safe no matter how gnarly I pushed it.

So what’s in the future for Hoffman Bikes?
Oh man, I’ve got a little secret I will let our world in on in November. But the future of Hoffman Bikes will continue down its original path, to make the best bikes at the best prices and to innovate with the progression of our sport. I have a million ideas and the greatest team to keep pushing us to the next level. 25 years strong. Stoked.

Click here to see the complete bike line of 2016 Hoffman Bikes.

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