To Helltrack and back

FILM I had a lot of hope for Rad. Every month in BMX Action there’d be a new scrap of news about some top pro who was going to ride in the movie, including my personal favorite racer, “Hollywood” Mike Miranda. When photos of the Helltrack — site of the film’s climactic race — came out, you could lean your ear to the ground and hear the hearts of BMX groms beat just a little faster.

I watched the movie at Cinedome 7 East in Fremont with my buddy Dave. The opening footage of pro freestylers Eddie Fiola, Ron Wilkerson, and Brian Blyther killing it at Pipeline Skatepark seemed poised to fulfill the print hype, until we became aware of the backing tune, “Break the Ice,” by John Farnham: “Getting ready to break the ice / Feels like time is standing still / Aiming right for your heart / Getting ready to take another spill.” The Rad soundtrack was cheesy even in 1986, especially to a 15-year-old punk rock kid.

And the movie? Pure Hollywood schmaltz: local hero Cru Jones (Bill Allen) beats a corporate greed-meister at his own game. But more than two decades later, Rad wears a little better. For a movie directed by a stunt performer, it did hit the crucial themes of being a BMX kid: riding your bike all day, getting chased by the cops, jumping anything that crossed your path, and having big dreams about being one of the handful who could make a living at it. It’s no wonder old-timers on the chat boards at vintagebmx.com and os-bmx.com are constantly making Rad references. Rad is the BMXers’ Rocky Horror Picture Show. It got no love in the theaters, and it hasn’t officially been released on DVD, but it’s achieved timelessness as a cult classic. (Duncan Scott Davidson)

Over the phone from SoCal, Rad star Bill Allen talks BMX, berms, and bicycle boogies.

SFBG You had stunt riders doubling for you in the film, but had you been into BMX at all before you made Rad?

BILL ALLEN I came at it from an actor’s standpoint and not a BMX background at all. The ugly truth of it is my mother wouldn’t let me have a bicycle growing up, but of course I always rode my friends’ bikes and got into trouble anyway.

SFBG How was it working with the professional riders on Rad?

BA There were a lot of actual BMX guys from the freestyle and the racing worlds and a lot of stunt guys, and they pretty much all had the same crazy blood pumping through their veins. And I tend to hang out with stunt guys anyway, so it was a great time.

SFBG Did any crazy, unscripted stuff happen while you were filming?

BA I remember fooling around on the bike and nearly cracking my skull open just before I had to go do a take. Use those helmets. They really can save you. Also, I don’t know if many people know this, but in [Rad director] Hal Needham’s style of filmmaking, he’d start off a situation like Helltrack with half a dozen cameras or more and just let the guys go at it. So a lot of the stunts that you see are not stunts — these guys really are going down hard.

SFBG What was Helltrack like in person?

BA It was unbelievable. That first drop-off would give you heart attacks just standing there looking at it. And these were teenagers having to do these things, like going into that Kix cereal bowl and off the spoon. There were a bunch of little berms where I know at least one guy broke his ankle — really incredibly dangerous stuff that had never been tried before.

SFBG I’m sure a lot of people ask you about the bicycle boogie scene.

BA Oh god. [Pause] It’s [like] being beaten over the head with an ’80s stick. It’s just very indicative of that time period, and that’s not always a great thing, if it’s the ’80s we’re talking about.

SFBG What about the ass-sliding? Another classic Rad moment …

BA It was really cold, and they gave us these wetsuits which did zero good if you’re just gonna be in and out of the water. It was one of the less glamorous parts about the job.

SFBG When was the last time you watched Rad?

BA Probably 10 years. It’s hard for me to watch anything as an actor. You just wish you could change everything. But the racing sequences are stellar, and I guess that’s why people watch the movie time and time again.

SFBG Is it true that they’re thinking of doing a Rad sequel?

BA I think that’s one of those rumors that refuses to die. They haven’t even put the movie out on DVD yet, but people ask about [a sequel] all the time.

SFBG The time is ripe for a Rad revival — did you know that, for the first time, BMX is going to be a sport in the 2008 Beijing Olympics?

BA I did not know that. That’s incredible. That’s so cool! (Cheryl Eddy)

For more on Bill Allen, visit www.billallenrad.com; to sign the online petition for a Rad DVD release, visit www.petitiononline.com/RAD/petition.html.