Here is and interview from Texas Flatlanders did with Art Thomason, enjoy!
In 1998 I went to the George R Brown convention center in Houston to see a BMX show. The first person I met was Art Thomason. He was such a cool guy that made me feel like I knew him for years. The following weekend I spent 4 days with him, Bob Kohl, Billy Gawrych and Joe Tecca and was invited to do shows with them. Since then I have been able to say that he is one of my closest friends and a real inspiration both on and off the bike. This interview reaches so much further than life behind bars. After reading this, you too will see Art as the inspiration that us, his fans see him as. Art also just made a new edit. He is allowing it to be announced here first.
TF: How long have you been riding and has it always been flatland only?
AT: I started getting into riding around 1985, so almost 30 years. I have always liked all forms or riding, but ramps came and went in my town. Once I learned a few flatland tricks and saw the endless possibilities, flatland became my main focus. From that point on, I have spent most of my free time riding flatland. There was about 4 or 5 of us that started riding together in 85. I remember one time it has been a few weeks since we rode together, but I had been riding hard every day. When we finally rode together again, I remember finishing a trick and everyone was staring at me with their mouths hanging open because of how much I had progressed. That was the first time that I realized that I could go far in flatland, or anything, if I worked hard at it. I entered my first contest in 1987 and got 2nd place in beginner flatland at the ABA grands.
TF: I have always felt that Mat Hoffman is the most loyal sponsor and doesn’t drop someone for the “next best thing” or “flavor of the month.” With that being said, how long have you ridden for Hoffman Bikes? How did that come to be that you got on their team?
AT: Hoffman Bikes is the best sponsor in BMX, hands down. They understand that each rider brings something different to the team and lets each rider follow their own path. Which to me, shows they get what BMX is all about, being yourself. They also really listen to rider input on products, which makes their bikes so good.
In 1999, I was doing demos for Bob Kohl’s team, Ride-N-Grind. They asked Hoffman to flow us some bikes and I was so stoked to get a green EP. I was big into contest too and competed in my first X-Games that year before. I asked Hoffman if they could help with contest travel before the first comp of 1999, but they were not able to help me out. I paid my way to Louisville, KY X-Trials event. I ended up doing pretty well and got 1 of the 2 X-Games invite spots. Right after the comp was over, Mike from Hoffman pulled me aside and said they wanted to pay me back for my travel and put me on the team. It was such an awesome day – I qualified for the X-Games and got picked up by the best sponsor ever.
TF: What, if any, input did you have in the design of the new Strowler? Is it what you were wanting top to bottom?
AT: Hoffman did a great job collecting inputs from Kevin Jones, Matt Wilhelm, and me. I actually sent them some drawings showing a few different options for the frame design that I liked. I also sent them what I felt were the perfect dimensions for the frame. Luckily Kevin, Matt, and I have very similar taste in what we needed for this year, so I got every dimension change that I asked for. The front end went from 18.9” to 19.0”. We also lowered the top tube, raised the bottom bracket, and increased the head tube angle to 75 degrees. We even added integral chain tensioners and got rid of the chainstay wishbone. Then Mark Owen at Hoffman worked his magic and came up with things that I didn’t even think of, like the machined out bottom bracket. So, yeah, the frame turned out perfect. Matt and I also wanted to have a straight downtube option, so they are taking care of that with the Wilhelm signature frame.
TF: As I get older and less limber, my frames have gotten longer. You have ridden the 18.9 (IE shorter version) of the Strowler since it came out, but recently went to the 19.75” version; what was the reason for this?
AT: Honestly, at 40, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life. I weigh less than I did in high school and have more physical strength and endurance than ever. The 19.0” frame fit me perfectly and I was really afraid to try the 19.75”. However, I wanted to give the 19.75” a shot because this year it has a 12.7” back end on it. In the past the back end was 13.8” and that made the bike handle too slow for my style of riding. I also wanted to try the longer frame because a lot of riders are going to longer frames these days and seem to like them. So, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on something. I like the 19.75” because it give me more stability and more room for tricks where I jump over the frame, but the 19.0 is better for cliff hangers and death trucks. Still haven’t decided which one I like best overall, but they both ride great, so it is a good problem to have.
TF: I met you in 1998. Since then you went to graduate school at A&M. What education do you have and how was it possible to manage school, riding, and starting a family?
AT: I have my Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Hendrix College. During College, school came first, but I rode almost every day and spent the summers doing shows and contests all over the country. I graduated in 1997, but had just won the amateur title in the Bicycle Stunt Series the year before. So, I wanted to live life as a pro BMXer before putting my physics degree to work. I worked full time as a pro from 1997 until 2000. I did every contest and lots of shows all over the country and some out of the country. Thanks to Pro Impact Stunt Team, Ride-N-Grind, and Hoffman Bikes, I got to do shows for Got Milk, Universal Studios, and World of Wheels while making some decent money. I even got to do some shows in other countries. I loved the pro lifestyle, but realized that I was never going to have the financial stability I was looking for. So, I signed up for Mechanical Engineering graduate school at Texas A&M. It was tough at first because they let me go from Physics to Mechanical Engineering with only taking 2 undergraduate classes. Graduate school was great because there were fewer classes than college, which meant I had more time to ride during the day and study at night. It was pretty easy to balance riding and school. During the summers I went back to riding full time. As I was finishing classes, I transitioned into research, where I worked on a method to increase the performance of fuel cells that run on natural gas. I could set my own hours while doing research, so still had time to ride, do shows, and contests. I actually competed in my 5th and final X-Games in 2002.
Once I finished my research, wrote my thesis, published a paper, got married, graduated, and I started applying for jobs. I applied for a job with a NASA contractor because they worked with fuel cells. However, I got call once day for a job that was far cooler than anything I would find in the fuel cell industry. They wanted me to train astronauts how to do space walks! After I got hired for the job, I asked why they picked me. They said that I was chosen because I do my own bike maintenance and they wanted someone that understood how to use tools first hand in addition to all the engineering requirements. NASA was my first 8 – 5 type job, so it took a little adjustment to fit in riding, but there is always a way. I found I riding spot that was on my way home. I took my bike to work every day and stopped at my spot and rode before I went home. If you go home first, the chances of going back out to ride are much less. As I walk out of the doors of work, I would start getting pumped up to ride. I would even try to change clothes while driving to maximize the time on my bike when I got to the spot. I should have said this sooner, but it was also key that my wife put up with me riding so much.
TF: So it is safe to say that BMX was a deciding factor in your employer hiring you?
AT: Yes, BMX was definitely a deciding factor. He also said my keel personality was another deciding factor because it would help with flight control and getting along in the group I work in.
AT: Recently in Lake Charles we discussed who Art Thomason is to us, your friends and fans. You are one of the most humble, real, down to earth people. Not only on a bike, but on the street. How does it feel when people that truly see you for who you are say this or show the excitement of getting something as simple as a frame that you rode?
AT: I am very humbled and excited at the same time when I get complements or see someone enjoying my riding or a bike part I once owned. I love riding and it is great when I can share that with others and see them get excited about it too. Many of my tricks are pretty technical, so it is always fun when someone notices that I did a switch without kicking the tire or did something on my opposite side.
TF: You just had one such friend make a signature T-shirt for you. How did that come up and would you be willing to expand on this sort of thing to possibly help the cause further such as BMX shows to bring awareness?
AT: My good buddy Blaine Smith totally surprised me with that shirt. He contacted Kelly Baldwin to get the hi-res version of the photo and then got the shirt made. It turned out awesome! Blaine and I went to College in the same town. We became really good friends, rode together all the time, and hit all the contests we could. After College, his diabetes got worse and it prevented him from riding. He ended up getting a pancreas/kidney transplant a few years ago which has given him a new life. It is great to see him back on his bike again, doing the things he wants to do. Diabetes research gave him a new life, so I am excited that profits from this shirt will go to diabetes research. I am always down to support a good cause like this.
TF: You currently work at NASA, compete at a pro level, and maintain a home with your awesome wife, Kerrie and 3 great kids. Did putting The Landing Pad in your back yard free up more time for everything in your life and has it helped your riding?
AT: Before I had kids and a full time job, I was never interested in having a riding spot at my house. I liked going to the lot, giving it 100% while I was there and then came home to relax and take care of the other things in my life. As my life got busier, I had to adjust. Once we had kids, I decided that I needed a spot at my house to be able to maximize my riding time spend more time with my family. Also, I got so sick of driving to a spot and finding out I couldn’t ride there that day because of basketball players or some other issue. So, when we decided we needed a bigger home, one of my criteria was that it had a 40’ x 40’ area that I could put a riding pad on. Kerrie found the perfect house for us. About a year after we moved it, with the help of my parents, I finally had my home riding spot. The landing pad has been a HUGE help to my riding. Even if I only have 45 min to ride, I can go ride. In the past I would have to drive 15 min there and back giving me no time to ride.
TF: I recently got burned out on riding and got more into filming. At your level of skill, do you get burned out and if so how do you handle it?
AT: I really don’t get burned out. I think some of it is just my personality. There are some times I am more excited to ride than others, but I always look forward to riding. When I do start feeling a little excited about riding, I try to change something up or learn a new trick. Sometimes I feel like I could progress more if I got burned out because it would force me to learn all new stuff. I really like pulling the tricks I have now, so I spend a lot of my session pulling my latest links rather than always trying to learn new stuff. The feel of flowing through a link perfectly and holding momentum with every switch is the best feeling in the world.
TF: With your experience of education, riding, and family; all of which you have excelled at, what advice would you have for a younger rider just starting out or even for a younger person looking for their path in life? I ask this because we have spoke in the past about school shows and what subject would be the underlying message we push.
AT: My advice is to follow your passion and give it everything you got. However, you also need to do what you can to keep your options open. Try to avoid closing any doors on yourself. There is plenty of time in the day to take care of your business and ride if you really want it. When I was in High School, I did my homework from other subjects while listening to lectures, so that I didn’t have to waste riding time with homework. Through riding, I started to realize that I could accomplish anything I worked at. I mean once you learn how to do cross-footed hitch hiker, it makes calculus look easy. When I started College, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, so I took lots of math because it kept all of my options open and allowed me to select Physics as a major after taking a Calculus based physics class and really liking it. Don’t ever decide not to do something because it is too hard or takes too long. When you look back at your life, the accomplishments that you will cherish the most are the ones that you had to work the hardest for and time will pass the same whether you are working towards your goal or sitting on the couch making excuses.
TF: Art thank you for your time, you truly are a professional in all things. Any last words for Texas Flatlanders?
AT: Andy, thanks for the great questions and for all that you do for Texas Flatland. Now, everybody go ride!