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S&M Bikes of Santa Ana, California

 

In today's chopper scene, the connection between hand-built motorcycles and BMX isn't as obtuse as you might think. If you're under 40, chances are you got your first taste of two-wheeled freedom aboard a "BMX Chrome." From the early 1970's through GT's collapse in the mid '90s, bikes like Torker, Mongoose, JMC and others were manufactured by ex-desert racers, machinists and fab shop operators in the Golden State. Some of the tools and machines that built those relics now reside in Chris "Mad Dog" Moeller's Santa Ana production facility. This is the story of how one 40-year-old soul rider built an American BMX dynasty one TIG welded frame, fork and handlebar at a time.

I met Chris Moeller in 1986. The then-16-year-old dirt-jumping pioneer had already made a name for himself as a multi-time coverboy at BMX Action magazine. Mad Dog's exploits are legendary to anyone who grew up on the BMX scene in those days. Unfortunately, his fearlessness far exceeded the yield strength of the wafer-thin dropouts and 1-inch down tubes that constituted "technology" in this days. To give riders like him a fighting chance, Moeller and a fellow racer named Swingrover started S&M Bikes. Because they were just kids with a dream, the first S&M frames were built at soon-to-be-defunct bike factories and muffler shops. Chris visited these vendors often, learning everything he could from the crusty con men who operated the foundering fab shops near his Southern California home.

Even as the popularity of Chris's American-made frames, forks and handlebars grew, the financial health of his vendors continued to wane. Most of Moeller's competitors—some of whom operated US-based fab shops of their own—eventually moved production overseas. Deterred neither by his vendors' incompetence nor his competition's lack of patriotism, Moeller scrimped and saved to buy a 10,000-square-foot building in Santa Ana, the epicenter of SoCal's industrial universe.    

 

BMX trends move fast, and Moeller takes pride in setting the pace. Like most self-made men in his industry, Chris picked up his master's degree in metallurgy and manufacturing at the University of Hard Knocks. When BMX bikes were heavy, S&M's were the heaviest. When the near mutually-exclusive attributes of lightness, strength and affordability became the hallmarks of high quality, Chris and his fab-shop manager Jason Ball bent rules and tubing to make every S&M frame, fork and handlebar on US shores. It's never the easiest and rarely the most profitable way to do things, but that's they way Chris likes it. It works, and today S&M thrives on top of the BMX heap. After 25 years of hard work, Moeller celebrates life in the fab lane the same way he did when he was a kid—on two wheels.

In the winter of 2007, Billdozer and I drove Chris to Colorado to pick up his first chopper, a shovelhead with red, white and yellow pinstriping on black tins, the official colors of S&M. That spring Mad Dog rode his Black Widow on EDR 2. Many blown motors and aborted chopper hoedowns later, Chris replaced the cursed mill with an S&S crate motor and fortified his quiver with a more reliable FXR. Chris rides both motorcycles the same way he rides BMX—full throttle, with little concern for life or limb. Everyone who has partied with the man knows what I'm talking about, and those who haven't can enjoy the Mad Dog experience on EDR 4.

Why choppers, and why now? After 25 years of peddling BMX metal and mayhem, hand-built death traps are actually a gear down for this hero to a generation of dirt-jumping derilects. On a recent lunch with my old friend, Chris told me Street Chopper magazine editor Jeff Holt—another BMXer-turned-chopper dude—is helping him find a bagger. "How funny would it be to blow past Gilby Clarke on our way to San Felipe blaring 'Welcome to The Jungle' on the CD player?" Chris has a knack for mining comic gold in even the darkest corners of life and commerce. Given the most recent dead-end game to land in his lap, such optimism is a healthy attribute.

To shore up production flow during seasonal low spots, several years ago S&M started making handlebars for several SoCal chopper shops. West Coast Choppers was the biggest of these customers, and Chris has a rack full of unsold WCC apes to prove it. When Sandy Bullock's philandering ex-husband closed his doors, Chris was stuck holding the bag. To recoup his losses, Chris and Jason periodically drag unsold merch to the Long Beach Swap Meet. And therein lies the sweetest irony of all. Fifteen years ago Chris met with Jesse James to discuss fab services on his legendary BMX Pitchforks. That deal never materialized, and neither did his latest one with the moody chopper icon. A lesser man might lose his cool, but not the Mad Dog. Instead, Chris simply makes a joke and moves on. As Moeller has learned, when your life and livelihood are built on making better bicycles for children, taking anything too seriously is usually bad for business. Chris Moeller is a serious man who doesn't take ANYTHING seriously, and that's what makes him and S&M so unique.

 

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Commented on 3-2-2011 At 02:53 pm
 

Much respect to the Mad Dog. Staying true to his roots. Chris, thanks for giving me my first experience of what brand loyalty was all about when I was a kid.

Stoked I got to witness the Moeller Triathalon on the 500, dude is a machine! EDR Bitches!

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 03:40 pm
 

Have you seen my 3 legged dog?

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 03:42 pm
 

Pure Juice!

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 04:22 pm
 

my first bmx was a s&m dirtbike and my last and latest is an s&m laf. always loved moellers riding and antics

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 05:27 pm
 

Slam Bars are the tits of any bmx bike. I always want to get my hands on them!

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 06:04 pm
 

Man, I wish my shop was that clean!

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 06:11 pm
 

Is that Forrest Gump in the last picture?

" I WILL FIGHT YOU.... I... WILL.... FIGHT YOU...... "

"HEY YOU.... GET OUT OF MY BACK YARD!"

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 07:33 pm
 

I still remember calling and ordering my "Mad Dog" and a "Dirt Bike" frame when the Dirt bike was the long bike S&M made! Don't think they even had forks at the time, so I ran landing gear......Damn, I'm feeling old right now......

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 08:26 pm
 

im alaways on ebay an cl looking for a raw dirtbike frame my buddy had one in high school and i always thought it was so bitchin

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 10:28 pm
 

so good. One of the industry guys that I always had a lot of respect for.

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 10:59 pm
 

*******USA********

Commented on 3-2-2011 At 11:47 pm
 

I'm all about the shield! Socal reppin

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 12:22 am
 

Goddamn hell yes fuckin' eh! I bought my first Holmes frame back in the early-ish 90's when all the other shit couldn't take my abuse. Those were the best years of my life! Mad respect to you Mr. Mad Dog.

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 02:49 am
 

`pitchforks and slam bars were what redman flo'd me after i put a kid over the first turn burm at his request cuz he didnt like the kids dad. since then, i've been a fan. POW's, sheep hills, and cheap/tuff platform pedals are what i remember from the days of old. when they had their 20 yr anniversary party, the old bikes/pics moistened my eye some, son...good stuff never gets old, it jus' stays gold/

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 04:48 am
 

Surfs Up!

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 06:15 am
 

The absolute smartest man in BMX ever. I had a Dirt Bike in the mid 90's. Still have my 13 yr old Pitchforks on my 13 yr old TerribleOne. My freind still has his chrome Dirt Bike from 14 yrs ago and every time we go to a skatepark someone asks to buy it. The BEST logo in bmx also.

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 07:30 am
 

Chris is the real-deal and is one stand-up motherfucker. Always has been, always will be...

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 04:37 pm
 

I will meet the Chris fellow at ERD and tell him in great detail about the BMX bikes I had growing up in Philadelphia, each of which I rode poorly because I was fat.

I will then join him in taunting Gilby...

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 08:25 pm
 

My buddy still rides his War Pig to this day. S&M will go down in history as one of the best!

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 08:36 pm
 

Love to see you guys at Troy Lee's BBQ and Bike out today at the LAB in Costa Mesa from 6pm-10pm Tacos and Booze for all.

Commented on 3-3-2011 At 11:39 pm
 

I always wanted a Sabbath frame back in the day!

Commented on 3-4-2011 At 12:27 am
 

gotta respect somebody that is willing to make it work to keep everything produced here.

Commented on 3-4-2011 At 12:48 am
 

FUCK YA! My first dirt jumper was a "Dirt Bike" with Gay bars, then I got a HAF. No clue the owner was into choppers. Another great story! Thanks gents.

Commented on 3-4-2011 At 03:03 am
 

Nice story. Had a BMX myself, brings back crazy childhood memories. Also, it's been a while since I've seen pictures of the old shovel that Irish Rich built and sold to him. That was the first Chopper I had ever ridden. Nice to see it in good hands.

Commented on 3-6-2011 At 04:52 pm
 

hell yeah moeller you're a legend. thanks for keeping it real all these years! shaka brah!

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