Mongoose - The complete history of Mongoose BMX
Mm-hmm, uh huh! The leader of the pack - the story of Mongoose and its impact on BMX
Note: Before reading this article, please note that LUXBMX are now proud stockists and have Mongoose BMX bikes for sale right now. This includes some of the best retro BMX bikes we've seen in the Mongoose California Special 20 Inch Bike and the Mongoose Supergoose 20 Inch Bike both pictured below. LUXBMX also stock a full size range of BMX bikes including the Mongoose Legion L16 16 Inch Bike, Mongoose Legion L100 20 Inch Bike and multiple big wheeled bike options for those who have outgrown the ol' 20inch, including the Mongoose Hooligan ST 29 Inch Bike. For any questions regarding Mongoose BMX bikes for sale please contact us.
Mongoose is a bike company which started in 1975 in the Simi Valley garage of a young Skip Hess. With southern California existing as the birthplace of BMX, the rise of Mongoose at this location at this time is a fortunate pairing, however with an almost 50 year history and no signs of slowing down, the benefit of chance is but a drop of oil to the Mongoose machine. The tale of Mongoose and its consistent momentum has resulted in a long-standing association with the roots of BMX, a brand which started a revolution - one which would change our relationship with bikes forever.
- We're often asked the question, are Mongoose BMX bikes good? You bet they are! Mongoose have always had a focus on building bikes that can withstand the demands of freestyle BMX and BMX racing. Visit the Mongoose BMX brand page on our site to see our range of Mongoose BMX bikes for sale and their respective specificaitons.
This article will highlight some of the key moments in the history of Mongoose BMX, touching on some of the ground-breaking products, the key characters, controversial moments and finally, the status of the brand and its presence in modern day BMX. It would be ill-considered to think that a single article could cover the breadth of the Mongoose story, nonetheless, the aim is to provide a sense of connection to the brand as well as a deeper understanding of why Mongoose is so important to the state of BMX which we all enjoy today.
Fittingly, this article starts with Skip Hess, the founder and brains behind Mongoose until his directorship ended in 1985 (to which it was sold to American Recreation Group). Born in 1937, on the back of his fathers untimely death, Skip and his mother moved to California where a love for all things mechanical and speed were fostered. Skip spent his days hanging out at a local body shop, immersing himself in the track community as well as racing track and road bicycles, not to mention picking up a mechanical engineering degree from San Diego State University.
- A 2019 BMX society gathering honoring Skip Hess (right) and BMX Products/Mongoose
Imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit and a curious mind, Skip put his efforts into producing a lighter and stronger BMX wheel that would be able to handle the abuse of BMX and the new way in which kids were riding bikes (i.e. fast and hard). Enter the ‘MotoMag One’, the very first Mongoose product, a cast magnesium alloy wheel made specifically for BMX. The Mongoose BMX brand takes its first breath!
And the first breath it was. It might be difficult to understand with 50 years of history as well as decades of progression and innovation, but little old BMX is a modern sport that has come a very long way in a short period of time. This phenomenon was occurring right from the start, with the rise in technique and development of BMX specific skills well out-pacing the associated rise in bicycle technology. As a result, BMX riders were breaking bikes, parts and guess what, wheels, at an impractical rate. This makes a lot of sense when you acknowledge that BMX specific engineering was not advanced in the slightest, an obvious point given the sport had barely taken flight.
Shifting back to Skip, with his mechanical engineering knowledge and in working as an automotive rim designer at the time, the design and production of the first BMX specific wheelset (i.e. ‘MotoMag One’), the aforementioned problem had met its solution. Surely enough, purposefully crafted design was met with demand as the ‘MotoMag One’ was soon accepted by the BMX community as a superior product thanks to the trellis shape, ribbed spokes and light-weight alloy. Durability and robustness were now on offer and that meant only one thing, that the burning desire of BMX to advance was now well supported, a platform for progression had arrived.
- The iconic Mongoose MotoMag wheel
To give you a greater insight into the complexity of the product and just why Skip’s knowledge was so key, Vintage Mongoose explains:
“MotoMag I are made out of 356 aluminum alloy. They are of a gravity, centrifugal, permanent mold cast, heat treated to T-6 condition, shot peened for the rough finish, rim edges and tire beads machined, center bore machined for either front or rear wheel specifications, front axle cups installed for front wheels, coaster brakes press fit for rear wheels. These wheels were slow and difficult to cast.”
The beauty of this situation is made further profound in that Skips contacts in the automobile industry meant that he had an understanding of how the production process worked, including local die shops who assisted with the very expensive moulds (i.e. $65,000 each).
- A classic Mongoose ad for the 'Team' Mongoose Bicycle
With momentum afoot, Mongoose took the natural path of producing bikes and eventually, parts. Under the production name ‘BMX Products’, 1975 saw the very first batch of heli-arc welded frames which again, were designed with the BMX biker in mind. It is also worth noting that, while Mongoose and Skip Hess were stalwarts in the production of the first BMX specific products, other significant entities at the time included Mike Devitt of SE Bikes, Yamaha (who through involvement in motocross saw the potential in BMX), Matthews Motocross, Gene Smith and Redline Bicycles. Scott Breithaupt of SE Bikes and literal pioneer of BMX fame, speaks to this topic in an interview with BMX Ultra, here. As part of this interview it is noted that the date of the very first BMX race was November 1970. Write that one down for pub trivia my friends.
It is perhaps overdue at this point to mention that the name Mongoose was the result of Skip, and interestingly, was taken from 5 x national drag racing champion Tom ‘The Mongoose’ McEwen. Pretty awesome to think that the very early roots of BMX have drag racing ties, as well as a more obvious association with motocross and skating (which was also taking off at the time, and also in southern California).
Riding the decade out, the end of the 1970s saw Mongoose progress further in the area of BMX bike technology as well as in being a key supporter of the growth of BMX racing (as well as through the development of the American Bicycle Association - the national sanctioning body for BMX racing). Developing a remarkable race team, moving to produce the ‘MotoMag II’ and upgrading production headquarters, Skip is well and truly behind the wheel of a burgeoning Mongoose brand, made more prescient in that the company was now distributing to Europe and the United Kingdom. The sky was the limit for BMX and no one had a better grasp on that than Mongoose.
- As time progressed, tricks started being introduced into the BMX world
Entering the 1980s, BMX as a sport has now outgrown its infancy stage and is maturing into its own distinct entity with a decade of existence to its name. There are many shoots to this growth, including meteoric popularity of a BMX racing scene, innovation in product technology and interest from BMX specific and commercial brands - all leading to the inevitable emergence of freestyle BMX out of the underground and into the spotlight. This results in the formation of the ‘BMX Action Trick Team’ - being the first and most famous of the freestyle specific teams, including such legendary riders as R.L. Osborn and Bob Haro. This (and many other teams alike) helped grow BMX through an endless series of demonstrations around the country. With new tricks being introduced at a rapid rate and the refining of a ‘professionalism’ to the demonstrations, BMX was unstoppable.
Inevitably, wider society was sooner or later going to come into contact with BMX. A significant milestone in this regard was the release of the 1982 film ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’ - directed by Steven Spielberg and featuring a young Henry Thomas as Elliott Taylor. Featuring the iconic scene in which the boys are being chased by cops on BMX bikes, pedalling at speed, tearing around the neighborhood, jumping and eventually taking flight. For BMX to be shown in this light was a landmark moment - a demonstration to the general public of how rad BMX can be.
- The BMX Bandits cast Angelo D'Angelo, James Lugton & Nicole Kidman
Coming only a year later was the 1983 Australian film ‘BMX Bandits’, arguably resulting in an even more significant impact on BMX than ET. The film is famous for being shot in the northern beaches of Sydney (primarily Manly), featuring Nicole Kidman in one of her first ever acting roles and for its portrayal of BMX in its freestyle form. Originally written with 9 year old characters in mind, the lack of finance meant that the script was re-written by a different team, this time pivoting to teenagers as the central characters. This was a crucial shift, and one which ultimately led to the success of the film and in turn, the cementing of BMX in popular culture.
For the Mongoose brand and its long history, the role of BMX bandits further improved the iconic status with the chrome ‘Supergoose’ model (with blue wheels and accessories) being ridden by one of the central characters ‘Goose’. Young ‘Goose’ is joined by another BMX bike enthusiast ‘P.J.’ who one day have a run in with a young trolley collector by the name of ‘Judy’ and embark on a journey to help her tally funds to buy a BMX bike. From here, the film centers on the trio as they find themselves embroiled (unintentionally) in a series of shady situations as propelled by a couple of halfwit goons attempting to rob a bank. As earlier eluded, ‘Judy’ was played by a teenage Kidman, emerging out of a field of 200 audition hopefuls, Nicole was noted as having a remarkable ability to understand, interpret and adapt to a script.
- Red Bulls BMX Bandits 'Radical BMX Tribute to the 80's', a must watch!
The movie is certainly not a Hollywood blockbuster, its brilliance being that it took the fundamental philosophy of BMX freestyle and used that to build a BMX action filled script. As director Brian Trenchard-Smith notes in a 2011 interview with film critic blog ‘Gordan and the Whale’, the aim of the BMX action shots was centered around “...putting BMX bikes where BMX bikes aren’t meant to be.” This included such locations as the Manly Water Works whereby the director (Brian Trenchard-Smith) was able to visualise a location that would not typically be associated with bikes and execute a rigged shoot to capture the shot in a riveting fashion. In combination with production focussed around the fun and magic of BMX as experienced by young teenagers, the film benefits from the cultural trends of the 1980s, excessive colours, garish sound effects and the untamed joy of lavish ‘Australiana’ permeating its way through the entire script.
Turning back to the Mongoose story, the 1970s had treated the company well and momentum was only further embellished with the successful release of ‘E.T. The Extra Terrestrial’ & ‘BMX Bandits’. At this point, Mongoose is still one of the leading companies in progressing BMX and have been designing and manufacturing products for close to a decade. For the most part, Mongoose was renowned for pushing the boundaries of BMX technology in a popular and authentic direction, however primarily in the BMX race scene. Leading up to and including 1985, it is important to understand that BMX freestyle was absolutely booming and Mongoose fell somewhat short of capitalising on this phenomenon, with brands like Haro and GT being frontrunners in this market. For better or worse, Mongoose released the ‘Mini Scoot’, a ‘pro-level’ scooter which took the brand down a different path, a challenging, divisive and hugely successful one.
- The Mongoose 'Mini Scoot'' was reported to sell hundreds of thousands of units
Resurrecting the early scooter concept and improving through the inclusion of BMX style design and technology, the ‘Mini Scoot’ was an overnight success and alleged to have sold in the hundreds and thousands of units. Hitting the market in 1986, the rumour around the scooter is that a Mongoose employee overproduced ‘Moose Goose’ head tubes and thereby sparked the idea for a scooter which takes advantage of a higher headtube. For core BMX heads, the incorporation of a scooter under the Mongoose umbrella was tough to swallow, it being a much more accessible and cheaper product which wasn’t consistent with the essence of BMX, the spirit of the sport. Interestingly, attitudes towards scooters are similarly harboured to this day, with scooters (albeit in a different form) continuing to polarise people and continuing to be the easy option, the low hanging fruit.
Nonetheless, the popularity of the ‘Mini Scoot’ meant that the company was able to strengthen and consolidate its vision, the Mongoose brand continues. Moving through the decade, the first freestyle video was released (‘Rippin’ by the BMXA Trick Team), Mat Hoffman starts popping up in magazines, Mike Dominguez pulls a 900 and Ron Wilkerson’s 2-Hip brand start the ‘Bike Street Concept’ - an iconic event which Dave Voelker triumphs. Another character falling under the ‘iconic’ umbrella is the infamous Harold ‘Magoo’ McGruther. With a BMX resume like no other (stemming from the early 1970s in which BMX was emerging), ‘Magoo’ arrives at Mongoose headquarters after having diversified and finessed product development knowledge at GT in the years prior.
- R.L Osborne whippin' it out on the Mongoose California Special 20 Inch Bike
The mid 1980s resulted in a significant downfall to the growth of BMX (primarily racing), enabled through the rise of adjacent modes (i.e. freestyle, mountain bikes and scooters) and a lack of mainstream interest. It was a time to either stick to your guns and perish or reimagine and grow. Arguably, that Mongoose hired ‘Magoo’ at this point was a milestone moment for the brand and one which helped to maintain the company’s trajectory and popularity. So who is ‘Magoo’? The man was and is a stalwart of the BMX scene, having remained relevant over multiple decades and having been behind the scenes of many different companies, events and products in BMX.
Characterised as having the ‘gift of the gab’, ‘Magoo’ is a notorious figure, both loved and hated, and almost definitely misunderstood. After developing a BMX track in Florida in 1974, riding as a professional BMX racer for Torker, editing the National Bicycle League magazine ‘Bicycles Today’ (as well as BMX Plus Magazine in later years) and touring with CW Racing (Coast Wheel) when BMX freestyle began to grow in popularity, Magoo built himself a solid grounding of BMX and its machinations. This platform would see Magoo lead a long-standing and fruitful career in the BMX industry. From a 2008 interview with ‘Magoo’, “I feel very fortunate to have been involved with racing in the ‘70’s, freestyle in the ‘80s and the Road Fools era of the ‘90’s. Not very many other people in the bike industry can say they played a part in all three eras—Chris Moeller can, and Rick Moliterno, but who else? Frankly speaking, I think my best days in BMX are yet to come…”
- Mongoose had some of the best advertisements in the game. Note: The good ol' days of sending a single dollar for a brochure and stickers.
From CW racing, the excessively talkative Magoo made the move to GT, starting off in administration and ending up in advertising and team management capabilities. Eventually managing to muscle his way into the product development realm of the business, Magoo had found his calling and wanted to refine and progress these skills. After a couple years at the company and having progressed as far as the role would allow, a resignation was in order and the scene was set for Magoo’s next move, taking up a marketing and product management position at Mongoose.
While Magoo’s tenure at Mongoose only lasted for 3 years (until 1991), this was a fruitful period in which the essence of the brand was strengthened and the future direction of the company crystallised. For example, one of the first moves Magoo made after taking up the role at Mongoose was to hire Dennis McCoy and Tim ‘Fuzzy’ Hall. With the benefit of hindsight, taking these two (now) legends and positioning them as Magoo did was both brilliant and perfectly timed, in that McCoy was recruited to design and promote a new line of freestyle bikes while ‘Fuzzy’ was tasked with improving the image of Mongoose in the dirt jumping scene. Building on this positivity and rewarded for his management, Magoo is given more responsibility and ends up designing a number of products, including the ‘Hooligan’ (with Dennis McCoy) which is described by industry as the hottest bike of the year. His new recruits also blossomed into the most sought after bikers on the BMX circuit at the time, with ‘Fuzzy’ landing the very first cover of Ride BMX and Dennis McCoy dominating the Bicycle Stunt Series for 4 x years straight.
- Mike Buff and R.L Osborne
After a profoundly successful, yet abrupt time at Mongoose, it was Magoo’s sense of humour which spelled his demise. Funnily enough, after making the decision to use a black transvestite on the cover of the 1990 Mongoose BMX catalogue, the executive took a different view and forced Magoo out of the company. In true Magoo form, this was but a small bump in the road taking his skills learnt at Mongoose and applying them in many future ventures including starting Snafu BMX, Mental Jimmy’s mailorder, Revolution Advertising, developing the Vans ‘Triple Crown’ event (with Steve Van Doren) and perhaps his most distinguished achievement, accepting a wildcard spot on the bus for Props Road Fools 4.
Mongoose now has a number of decades to the history of the brand, with BMX now moving towards the 21st century and entering a new era, literally and figuratively. It is perhaps at this point that the story skips forward, with there being way too many moments and characters to emphasise.
- Is Mongoose a good BMX brand? Well, Kevin Peraza, one of the most prolific BMXers in 2023 rides a Mongoose, and rides it well
From the perspective of present day Mongoose, the machine grinds on. After a significant team revamp in 2010, the current roster is seriously stacked and a big reason as to the ongoing success. For example, the freestyle team is spearheaded by some of the craziest and most prolific riders on the circuit, including olympian Pat Casey, Kevin Peraza, Mykel Larrin, Greg Illingworth and Ben Wallace. And in a similar stroke of genius to the hiring of Magoo as team manager, the current TM (Leigh Ramsdell) is also a legend of the game and someone with a deep understanding of what makes BMX so awesome. Beyond that, Mongoose are still supporting bikers in all forms (particularly racing, freestyle and mountain bikes), contributing to jams and events as well as producing some of the raddest products available.
With the continued development of quality products and a vision to grow the sport of BMX, the crew at LUXBMX are super excited to now stock a bunch of Mongoose products. This is the first time that the Mongoose brand has partnered with LUXBMX, a momentous occasion and one driven by our desire to support a brand that has literally been there from the start, a truly original company. It was also near impossible to look past the incredible product offering for 2022 and 2023, including a massive selection of all bike formats, a variety of new products such as the ‘Legion’ as well as reimagined classics such as the ‘Hooligan’ and the ‘Supergoose’. These bikes will act as a well-rounded addition to the LUX selection, providing a range of sizes (16 to 20 inch) in the ‘Legion’ model, a 29 inch option (in varying colours) for the ‘Hooligan’ as well as 20 inch options for the old-school classics. We think that this offers our customers the chance to celebrate and embrace the nostalgia of Mongoose, while moving forward in the modern BMX world with taste, style and strength.
- The Mongoose Supergoose 20 Inch Bike, shot right here in at LUXBMX store - available now.
Having absorbed the extent of Mongoose history, it is evidently clear that the brand is deeply intertwined with BMX, not surprising given that the two have been in partnership since 1975. So in remembering all the things that BMX and Mongoose have been through, when everyone stops to stare at your slick, shiny steed, never forget that you’re on a bike made by the leader of the pack.