The late 90’s ushered in a new breed of street rider. With product designs stronger, it allowed riders to progress street riding to a whole new level. In Bethlehem, PA, there were a small group of these riders and Joe “Butcher” Kowalski was one of them.
Joe, like others in the Bethlehem, PA crew, did not just focus on street, but was also known to put time in at the trails. It did not matter what Joe touched, he destroyed it. Joe pushed street riding to and over the edge at times, being noted as one of the first to do variation grinds, like the barspin grinds and perfecting other street variations like crack flips in and out of grinds, mega drops, grinding on both sides. Joe was also one of the first to bring his street/trails knowledge to the competition arena, helping shape how riders compete in contests. From CFBs to X Games, the way riders looked at runs changed.
In 1996, Joe brought his influence to the Hoffman Bikes team and also helped shape new product designs, which led to his Butcher Signature Frame and Pro Level complete bike. What an honor to have such an influential rider representing Hoffman Bikes and family for life.
We recently caught up with Joe “Butcher” Kowalski for a short Q&A. enjoy.
When did you realize Mat Hoffman would have a huge impact on your riding?
I think it was 88 or 89, I don’t remember exactly but I remember plain as day opening up a real mailbox, pulling out a real life magazine of GO bmx magazine and looking at the cover in shock! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Mat was upside down with his head looking like it was at least 10 feet out doing a flip. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen.
I remember a little after that I seen my first two videos which were Head First and The Dirt Bros video. Seeing all the tricks Mat did, so many so far advanced then anyone at the time, the footage of him learning the flips at the Ninja ramps was priceless. I couldn’t believe the determination he had just flipping so high landing on some old busted up mattresses. Haha. It was unreal. Mat has definitely been a big influence.
What year did you join Hoffman Bikes and can you tell us how it came about?
I think it was 93 or 94, I was riding a cracked condor frame that I got from my friend Bob Goosley. At the time I was riding a broken S&M dirt bike. Bob had a condor frame he already rode and cracked the back peg boss dropout shit. My bike was done, the head tube and down tube were both cracked so the condor wasn’t as bad as mine and I always wanted one of those frames. I didn’t care and I rode that thing for about a year… then it was the first year of the X games and at that time I was pretty much a resident at the Super Dome. A house of a bunch of pros from Btown, PA. Taj, Joe Rich, Luc-e, Mel Cody, and Sandy Carson, Price and more through the years. Anyway, that year Mat and the HB crew came to the house to pick up Taj to go to the contest and while Mat and crew were there, the Dome crew decided to show Matt a video that Bob and I made for the hell of it. Almost a sponsor-me tape, but we never sent it anywhere. Mat watched it and I remember him asking him to rewind a trick I did on dirt, which was a trick he made up on vert, it was the toad stool. One foot on back peg, other foot hanging out and x up seat grab. Mat was and still is one of my hero’s so I tried to do tricks he did on vert and do them on dirt and add my own things too. When he asked to rewind and see that again I couldn’t believe that and thought it was so crazy he liked stuff I was doing. After watching he asked me if I wanted a new frame. Of course Yes! He sent me this easter egg purple with red sparkles frame. It was pretty gross but I was so psyched he sent me a frame. I never painted it and rode it as is. After I got it I called him to thank him. He said whatever I needed I could get hooked up. I couldn’t believe it. My hero was psyched on me. It was a dream come true. So I guess 95-96 was when I was put on the team.
Riding for Mat and Hoffman Bikes was truly an honor. The team was awesome and we had some of the best times. I’m so happy and thankful I got to be a part of one of the best companies ever. I’m pretty sure that Mat is to me what Evil Knievel is to him. Mat is definitely a bike rider, warrior, hero, legend, stunt man and just all around bad ass. All the flips, 540’s, 900’s, and crazy tricks he made up back in a time before foam pits and resi landings. I guarantee we wouldn’t see a lot of people these days doing the things they do if they grew up in that era. Matt and Hoffman Bikes are the real deal. Happy 25th anniversary H*B
** Whether or not they know it, because of Matt and Hoffman bikes, I was once team mates with Evel Knievel, Shaq and Emmitt Smith.
Thanks to Props and Sandy Carson for providing some of the video and photos.