Published: 24/06/2011


If you asked any rider in or even around Exeter to summarise the local scene, then unless they’re being sarcastic or oblivious to anything outside of the internet, ‘the Boarding House’ is guaranteed to be mentioned. This is because it is more than just a BMX, skateboarding, blading and (unfortunately) scooter shop, it is central to the riding community in Exeter.

Since the Boarding House opened its doors in 1984 the shop has had a strong focus on building a vibrant riding environment, which it has achieved by establishing and maintaining successful relationships with Local Authorities. Through campaigning, fundraising and collaborative work the Boarding house has been instrumental in founding JLC trails and a large number of skateparks in and out of the city, including Arena, Flowerpot and Tiverton skatepark. The shop also introduced a free ‘Spot Guide’ publication in 2000 to showcase the regions official riding spots, started to run competitions at various skateparks, including the annual Exe Games event at Flowerpot, releases video’s, lends tools, organises trips, sponsors riders: a pretty impressive track record for a small business situated next to a sex shop!

Tim Ruck and Gavin Farley have been involved in BMX pretty much since the beginning, during which they have seen the sport evolve, lived through revolutionary moments during its history, seen trends come and go, and experienced the sport first hand day-in-day-out since taking over and running the shop. Getabmx tapped into this wealth of knowledge and experience to paint an evolutionary picture of the Boarding House and the BMX world.

What are your views on the multinational companies such as Nike and Red Bull becoming involved in BMX?

Tim: Wow. OK, to give you the picture, when skating blew up in the 70’s, Coca Cola used to sponsor shit, but swiftly left when it died. In the 80’s, Mountain Dew were all over BMX, but swiftly left when it died. ‘Extreme’ (the umbrella these people list everything under, from BMX/ skating to pogo-sticking/ left handed wanking) is pretty big these days, so maybe they’ll stay. I don’t think Nike make much from BMX specific stuff, but they can buy some extra cred for what to them is chump change.

On the other hand some Pro’s get the sort of salary they could never achieve anywhere else, and we get to go to the Pool Jam, or Empire Of Dirt, so, what can you say? I know guys that get support from those two specifically, and they live the dream, so good on ‘em.

Gav: I can see both sides to be fair. They do put a lot of money into it and put on some awesome events and sponsor some amazing riders but they use it as a marketing tool and when there’s no more money in it they’ll be off, just like they’ve done before and will no doubt do again! But to the guys getting paid, fair play to them take it whilst it’s on offer.

When and how did you get involved in BMX?

Tim: I got my first bike in 1980, after seeing BMX in ‘whizzer and chips’ comic (!), before that I wanted to get Cow Horns’ (big wide cruiser style bars) to fit on my drop handlebar, that was the thing before BMX, but luckily BMX came along before I had the chance to knacker my drop and probably myself as it would have disintegrated on the first jump probably!

Gav: I got my first BMX around 82/’83 when I was around 9/10yrs old. My friends all had them so naturally I wanted one too. My first bike was a shitty red and yellow Raleigh Burner that my mum got from her club book for £89.99 which was a lot back then! (equivalent to around £300 today) It was crap but I loved it.

How did the boarding house come into existence in 1984, and who set it up?

Gav: No Idea, I was 11! I did however shop there and bought my first skateboard there around 84/85, a blue Turbo 2 with Hawaiian graphics! It was Bad Ass! Well actually it was pretty rubbish but again it was my first so I loved it.

Tim: It was set up by 2 brothers from Plymouth who already had a shop there (they didn’t ride), and was run by their nephew (who did ride/skate) who lived in Exeter.

How and when did you get involved with the shop, and why did the original owner(s) leave?

Tim: I did some demo’s for the OG guys around ’85, and then another guy (Phil) took it over in ’87 -who I used to skate with a bit- and I started working there part-time around ’95. By ’97 he’d had enough of running the shop (he didn’t ride or skate anymore), so sold it to me.

He used to love a hustle, you could go in and negotiate with him, but just before I took over, we had a customer in, who was after something, and said ‘yeah it’s £**** in such and such shop’, so normally Phil would have been, “well, maybe we can do it for £***”, but then he just went, “is it, well go and fucking buy it there then, go on, fuck off”… I was open mouthed, this was about to be my business and he’d just burnt this customer! He’d had enough, definitely!

Gav: I started there in 2005 after Tim offered me a job. However I did actually do a couple of shifts there for the previous owner Phil when I was around 16/17 as well as working with Tim in another skate shop called Gosh.

Has it been a challenge running such a niche shop, and were there any particularly difficult times?        

Tim: A challenge at times for sure, you need to keep up with what’s happening, obviously running any business takes a lot of different skills, and there are hassles. The stuff we sell has always had peaks and troughs in popularity, so when something suddenly becomes unpopular it’s tough. When I took over in ’97, blading was huge. Difficult to believe I know, and died on it’s ass in a matter of months, almost weeks. Then Tony Hawk made a video game and skateboarding was the main thing. From a personal point of view it’s great that BMX is popular now, cause that’s always been my main thing, back when hardly anyone rode, it was me and a few others sessioning with mainly skaters.

The shop’s been here so long because we cater for what people are using in skateparks, and everyone knows some shit can be looked down on, but it’s meant we’ve always been here for skate, BMX, without the other stuff we probably wouldn’t, and you’d be getting your skate stuff from Two Seasons (pur-leeeeese, jeez) and bike stuff from Partridge Cycles (oh god).

is it, well go and fucking buy it there then, go on, fuck off”… I was open mouthed, this was about to be my business and he’d just burnt this customer!”

What are the biggest rewards of running the shop?      

Tim: Dealing with like minded people. Obviously most of our customers ride/skate etc, and a lot of the suppliers do, it’s good to deal with people you have something in common with. Plus I have been to many, many, private ramp set-ups and private sessions at skateparks over the years. Got to go to a leaving party at Hawke for the lady who started it a while back, and cause we’d driven down from Exeter they let us stay at the park overnight. Mount Hawke, to yourself and best friends, all night, no one else there- that’s the stuff of dreams for most people right? Took whole shop BMX/media team to Nike Pool recently. That was pretty sick. Oh, and you get to speak to Mad Jon Taylor on the phone on a weekly basis.

Gav: From my point of view apart from the staff discount! It would have to be just being involved in the local scene, helping the locals out and seeing them progress.

If you weren’t involved in BMX, what would you be doing now? (job/ career)           

Tim: Pssssh, who knows? I used to take photos and write articles for Ride, but that doesn’t really fit in with family life. Hopefully something I liked, and self employed. Maybe skatepark building full-time?

Gav: No Idea…

Has the scene changed since you first got into it?   

Gav: Yeah it’s changed quite a bit. Back when I started riding everyone was much more friendly. If you saw someone with a BMX you would start talking to them and lifelong friendships would be formed right there. Nowadays it doesn’t seem to be the same. Some people just don’t seem to get the fact we all share something in common that we all ride ‘kids’ bikes an as a result can be right salty bastards for no reason whatsoever. There are loads more things like the quality, price and availability of parts etc but I’d be here all day if I were to list them all!

Tim: Ha ha, yeah!! Before the late 90’s if you skated you were a dirt bag, freak show, and before the 2000’s if you rode BMX, the same, plus a ‘big kid’. Scale wise, you drove freaking miles to go to other parks/ramps -the shop spot guide would have more or less covered THE WHOLE COUNTRY back then, you pretty much knew, or knew of, every other skater/ BMX’r in the U.K., and if you saw someone wearing vans, they were brethren (unless they were a surfer, but you’d know that by the rip curl tee or whatever!).

Back when I started riding everyone was much more friendly. If you saw someone with a BMX you would start talking to them and lifelong friendships would be formed right there. Nowadays it doesn’t seem to be the same.”

Has the advent of online mail order companies affected the business?

Gav: You’d have to ask Tim about that, but I am aware of some of our customers buying stuff online which is a little annoying especially when it’s just to save a fiver and then they come to the shop to use our tools or expect us to fit it! Also I am aware of people asking for my advice on parts etc and then the next day they’ll turn up with that part that they ordered online… As I say it’s annoying but what can you do!?

Tim: Yep, can’t deny it, but anyone switched on knows the best is go in your local shop, see guys that know their stuff, the same guys that probably campaigned for you to have a local skatepark, and who care that you get the parts you need. As opposed to some faceless character on a phone in a warehouse somewhere, who’s only knowledge of BMX is that it’s ‘like a mountain bike but for kids’. Plus, you ever tried sending something back to these dudes when it’s the wrong part/broken/came 6 weeks after you needed it? It can be a bit cheaper sometimes, but usually for one reason- service, or rather, lack of it. There are some exceptions obviously, but mail order can never compare to the service and advantages of a local shop. Winstanley’s don’t lend you the tools to fix a flat five minutes walk from Flowerpot do they?

What have been the biggest product advancements?

Tim: Hidden headsets, heat treated metal. The internet so you can check out parts and what stuff works/ where to ride/ who hates who, via forums.

Gav: Internal Headsets and Heat-treating.

Worst part ever made?

Tim: Those wind-up Evel Knieval toys. The starter/ wind up bit always broke, so you had to get him up to speed zooming along the floor with your hand like a toy car.

Gav: Quill Stems, and anything using loose ball bearings.

How do you think bikes will change in the future?

Tim: Well, in ‘back to the future’, they have hover boards in 2015, and still no sign of a prototype, so what’s going to happen with bikes? I saw a funny cartoon that Taj at T1 did a few years back, of bikes getting lower and lower with bigger bars, that morphed into scooters, That’s already nearly happened, right?! Seriously, most major advancements have happened, the bike has never been so light and strong, but chains that don’t break and tubes that don’t pop would be awesome.

Gav: No Idea...I think most things have been tried and bikes are pretty basic to be fair these days. All the gimmicks have been dismissed as failures! The only thing I can think of would be something we were joking about yesterday when one of the boys chain snapped for the second time that day, which would be some sort of belt/shaft drive set up, but as I said we were joking! You never know someone might develop it and it could catch on. But I doubt it! haha.

Over the years you must have seen a huge range of parts, frames and designs. Have either of you considered setting up a component company?

Gav: Nope.

Tim: Ha, yeah. But just in my head. It would have to be something cutting new ground, not the same shit from the same factory with a different fresh logo on. Most stuff you buy, it’s an emotion you’re buying, such and such is cool so if I buy that, I’m cool, or at least I feel cool. Any high end part is good nowadays, no one falls for shit dressed up as gold, so do we need any more parts companies?

Biggest moment in BMX history?

Tim: For me, Xmas 1980. Never forget that moment. Cheers Dad (R.I.P.). That changed my life, for ever! Rad.

Gav: Hell there’s so much to choose from, but for me probably Mat Hoffman pulling the first ever Flair, or the first 900 or anything he did in the early 90’s! He was way ahead of his time.

Would the sport be where it is today if it wasn't for Matt Hoffman?

Gav: Probably not

Tim: No, or at least delayed in progress, he set nearly all the standards in vert, first handrails on street, and could kill it on mini and dirt, what more can you say, his influence is legendary. Followed on from Ron Wilkerson in making sure comps had a riders hand steering the way.

Running a busniess and leading family lives must leave you with little free time. How often do you get to ride these days?

Tim: Easy this one, not enough.

Gav: I usually manage to get a ride at least 1 or 2 times a week although it’s not uncommon to go up to 2 weeks without riding. It all depends on the weather usually!

When and how did the shop start supporting the local scene and its riders?

Tim: Since the start, sponsored riders and demo’s under the first guys, Phil the second guy sponsored comps and the metal surface at the local vert and mini ramps, and then me, sponsor/ run comps, riders, campaign for skateparks etc.

What do you think of the brakeless fashion?

Gav: I used to think brakeless riders were plain mad, but now I ride brakeless I get it. There is an element of fashion I guess especially amongst the young riders but its like most things it’s personal choice with maybe a hint of being fashionable?

Tim: Definitely not a fashion, it changes the way bikes look, and how they're ridden. It’s here to stay. Someone good with no brakes, a joy to watch, someone who has no brakes just because others don’t... the opposite! If you're good, it defines your riding, if you're not that good, it inhibits it. Lots of 3 mph tricks are going down cause the rider hasn't got brakes. Watch the shop guys with no brakes, pedal full whack at stuff, anti-pumping when they need to lose speed, side-swiping back wheel to check speed, this is how no brakes should be done.

If you're good, it (brakeless) defines your riding, if you're not that good, it inhibits it. Lots of 3 mph tricks are going down cause the rider hasn't got brakes.”

Do you feel a little bit guilty when you sell a scooter?

Gav: No comment

Tim: Well, we already have scooter kids trading up to bikes, so, that’s good, right? (I copped out on that answer huh?!)

Do you think scooters are a phase, or do you believe that it will survive in the same way riding and skating has done?

Gav: Hard to say, its huge at the moment so I guess time will tell…

Tim: It’s real similar to blading, it was popular because it was easy, but most want more of a challenge by the time they’re 13-14, so either get sick on blades/scooters, or more likely, move on to BMX/skating.

How important is it to have a strong media presence, such as the Boarding House’s recent feature in Dig? Does it have an impact on the success of your business?

Gav: Any media presence is always a good thing, if people don’t know you exist they aren’t going to use you!

Tim: Not much as we don’t cater to the national scene, it gets a bit of kudos I guess, but we’re firmly local scene focused. It’s nice to be recognised by the national scene though; Exeter is definitely on the map now.

What were/ are your views on mountainbiking branching off into street/ park and trails?

Gav: I don’t have a problem with it

Tim: In the 90’s, I thought mountain biking was the lamest ever, now, I’m much mellower, if those guys want to constantly bend wheels cause they’re too big, get on. Makes you good at wheel trueing I guess, but must hurt your bollocks when you case on that big tall bike eh?  ;)

Best skatepark or spot you’ve ever ridden?

Tim: Hard one, been riding 30 years +. Private set us are always my favourite, I guess a huge dope mini ramp/ bowl with all the features would be it, but I haven’t ridden one that ticks all the boxes. That’s why everyone’s always looking for the next spot or park eh.

Gav: that’s a good one, probably Timaru in New Zealand it was an amazing concrete park and right by the beach!

Mat Hoffman pulling the first ever Flair, or the first 900 or anything he did in the early 90’s! He was way ahead of his time.”

Are there any riders or industry people that you admire?

Tim: Riders, whoever the last guy I saw that made me think YO! Industry, probably Ian Morris. Ian lives the dream, and supports a lot of other guys to live the dream, and has worked fucking hard to make it happen. Props.

Gav: Mat Hoffman without a doubt! He kept the sport alive when hardly anyone was riding and also kept pushing the limits of what was possible on a BMX! There are many others like Chris Moeller (S&M) an Rick Moliterno (Standard) who started the whole ball rolling with the ‘Rider Owned’ companies who took it upon themselves to start making bikes and parts that wouldn’t break just by looking at them. Mustn’t forget Bob Haro the original BMX freestyle creator, Craig Campbell… man I could go on for ever!

The Steven Hamilton story, whats your take on it?

Tim: Real sad. Sponsors are there when you're the man, throw a load of cash at you (when sometimes the rider just can't handle it), then when you're not the man… sayonara. You see it all the time in sport and music. Give someone a load of cash and they'll pursue their dreams, even if those dreams turn out to be a nightmare.

Gav: He just totally lost the plot. Blaming the industry for paying you to ride your bike does not make them responsible for you making bad lifestyle choices. I guess having money and time gives you freedom to explore shall we say but you have to take responsibility for your own actions. It’s a shame he’s ended up like he has as he was such a talented rider. You make your bed, you’re going to lie in it…

Gav: Tell me a little about 4130 chromoly. I’ve heard you have quite an obsession with this material?

Hahaha… very funny!

Editors note: Unfortunately, rather than provide an elaborative account and detailed history of the metal, Gav found it difficult to open up about his passion for 4130 chromoly, but his tattoo says it all. If you want to know more, click here

What is your most memorable customer experience?

Gav: Can’t think of one, although we do get our fair share of strange customers!

Tim: I had a woman offer to fight me in a shop I worked at before here, because we wouldn’t fix her sons severely abused bike under warranty. Her fella escorted her from the shop and came back later to apologise. Nice.

Editors note: While I was at the shop a huge guy came in asking whether they had any bigger BMX's. After he had walked out Gav responded “you were saying about customer experiences...”

Riding wise, do you ever get competitive amongst each other?

Tim: Nope. But shop-wise, yeah all the time!

Gav: Nah. Mind you we did get pretty competitive when we went BMX Racing when the new Exeter track opened… we were all ‘Elbows Out’ on the start gate! ha ha ha… the red mist was out that day!

I had a woman offer to fight me in a shop I worked at before here, because we wouldn’t fix her sons severely abused bike under warranty.”

Quadruple flip, ever going to happen?

Tim: When I started riding people doubted a 540 on a quarter-pipe would ever be done, does that answer that one?

Gav: Just a matter of time I’m sure.

Are there any local skatepark plans in the pipeline, and how about a Boarding house indoor park?

Gav: No idea, you’d have to ask Tim about that. Indoor Park would be pretty cool though.

Tim: Got a couple of potential skatepark jobs in the pipeline, just finished the 24 foot wide mini-ramp in Kingsteignton. Indoor park- going to need someone with deep pockets who is down for practically living at the park for it to happen. Not us, sorry!

Fast-forward 10 years, what’s happening in the BMX world?

Gav: No Idea, the speed with which riders are progressing who knows.

Tim: The more things change, the more they stay the same, companies get old, the riders reckon they can do it better and go on to start their own thing... that’s the way it goes. The best companies are run by the owner riders, not the ones who just ‘lend’ their name to the company. People stop worrying about breaking out from skatings shadow and admit it’s been around longer and is an influence. Chains don’t break and tubes don’t pop!

Thanks a lot for your time, and keep up the hard work! Anything else you would like to add? Shout outs?

Tim: Thanks for the interest and questions, good ‘uns! Thanks to every customer ever for the support, and all the team riders and employees, past and present! Thanks to everyone who’s shot-produced video/ photos for the shop. Thanks to all our suppliers that have helped out our riders and comps with sponsorship. And anyone else that knows me haha!

Tim shredding the pallet jump in leather back in 81

Gavin wallriding in 91, this shot was featured in the Express and Echo!

Tim regularly hosted riders and bands from across the country

Supporting the scene through another skatepark construction

Boarding house rider Jamie Skinner

Not just a park rat! Tim styling over some trails in 08

Gav in Paignton circa 91, no light-weight parts here!


Tim Ruck, 2010

Handing out prizes during an Exe Games event

Out on a Boarding House trip