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BMX champ John Buultjens returning home to Dundee to recreate childhood stunts

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He is now the face of the most famous BMX brand on the planet and his incredible life story was made into a Hollywood movie.

But John Buultjens has never forgotten where it all began – his teenage years, spent riding his BMX bike over make-shift ramps around Dundee.

One particular stunt stands out from 1991, when John crafted a ramp on Monifieth High Street, jumped off it, and rode across a wall.

The memory is so significant that John has decided to return to Monifieth and recreate it as part of the celebrations for his 50th birthday.

But that wasn’t enough – he’s even rebuilt the original BMX bike he used to add to the nostalgia factor!

We caught up with John from his home in California to discuss his rags-to-riches story and find out why his time on Tayside retains so many special memories.

Back to the start

John grew up in Drumchapel and would sleep rough in drainage pipes just to avoid going home and being beaten up.

But even though he was told he would amount to nothing, John knew that spending freezing cold winters hiding in the pipes wouldn’t be the sum of his life.

The watershed moment happened in 1979, when he attacked his abusive father with a kitchen knife to protect his mother.

The next morning, John was picked up by the local authorities and taken into care.

John with his foster father, Eldridge Buultjens.

John’s foster parents were Marianna and Eldridge Buultjens, who lived in the Kelvinside area of Glasgow, and took him to see the movie ET at the cinema in 1982.

John said: “That was when I saw a BMX for the first time.

“I saw it flying through the sky and I said, I’m going to do that. I want to do that.

“So after the film, my foster father searched around Glasgow for local BMX tracks.

“They were just up and coming in 1982, it was such a new thing.

“But eventually, we found a track.

“My dad took me down, and the organisers would let me have a go on one of their spare bikes.”

It was seeing the BMX bikes in E.T. that inspired John to take it up. Photo by Bruce McBroom/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock.

Then six days before his 11th birthday, John’s foster parents took him to their local bike shop.

He said: “That was when they bought me my first ever, chrome, BMX.

“And that was it.”

The memory of that first ride has been a defining moment for John, who classes it as the beginning of everything.

“My parents let me ride it home from the shop.

“It was the first time that I ever really felt free.”

Changing Gears

John and his family moved from Glasgow to Dundee in 1986, when he was 14 years old.

His love of BMX followed him to the city.

Spending 18 hours a day perfecting his stunts, John was out riding from the moment the sun was up.

He said: “I’d ride from West Park Road all the way down to Monifieth because my friend had a ramp down there.

“I’m coming home in August to re-create one of those Monifieth stunts.

“It was in 1991 – there used to be this wall near Tesco’s on Monifieth High Street.

“It was in an abandoned carpark but the back of the wall was nice and smooth, and as most people think, I thought, ‘I could ride up that!’ As you do!

So he did.

John Buultjens will come home to recreate his Monifieth, Dundee, stunt from 1991 in August.

Now, 31 years later, he’s returning to do it again.

He said: “I can still do some tricks and I still ride every week, I’m still a big kid really.

“I don’t feel 50 until I hit the ground!”

It’s an extra special moment for John as he’ll be recreating the stunt on the original bike he used.

John Buultjens will complete this stunt on the original bike that he used in Monifieth, Dundee in 1991.

Back in 1991, John was completing all of his favourite stunts on a Haro bike.

Now the global brand manager for Haro Bikes, John has developed a product line called “Lineage”.

The Lineage bikes are a throw-back to the 80s and 90s, and John says their price point of nearly two grand is an easy sell when they remind people so vividly of their childhood.

Talking of his own, he said: “I remade my Haro and took it back to Dundee last year.

“It’s sitting in my mum and dad’s garage – it looks exactly the same as the one I had then.

“I’ve even got my original vision streetwear jacket that I’m wearing in the photo – I’ll be wearing that too!”

John Buultjens doing the stunt in Monifieth, Dundee, in 1991. Supplied by John Buultjens.

This is the latest in a series of recreated stunts that John has been completing around Dundee.

Describing this one as “the hardest to get”, he had help making it happen from an unlikely source.

He said: “I tried to do it last year when I was home then, but I just couldn’t get a hold of the right people to talk to.

“The area is private flats now.

“But my friend Tom Simpson now lives in Monifieth.

“He’s helped me make this happen, get in touch with people who’ve made it happen, who will make sure the cars are moved on the day, things like that.

“That sort of community spirit is why I’m drawn back to Dundee.”

And it’s the community spirit, and the people of Dundee, that John cherishes most.

His home from the ages of 14 to 22, it was a formative period of his life in more ways than one.

He said: “There used to be an old abandoned garage or warehouse at the DCA.

“We cleaned the place up – it was full of asbestos – and sealed the windows.

“But we needed wood to build our ramps.”

John Buultjens outside the Dundee Contemporary Arts building in 2018.

If nearby building sites ended up a bit short on materials, John was naturally none the wiser.

He added: “The builders did eventually start to realise where it was going.

“So they made an agreement with us.

“If we let them finish the build in peace, they’d donate whatever was left over to us.

“And they did – they used to drag it all down to the back car park of the DCA for us to build stuff with.

“Once that was established, we stopped stealing it!”

The Dundee Contemporary Arts building now incorporates some of the original factory works where John Buultjens used to practice his tricks.

John and his crew stayed in the DCA warehouse until 1994, when it was destroyed in a fire.

John said: “The owners knew we were there, but they’d allowed it ’cause we had nowhere else to go.”

“But then the fire happened – we think some local kids broke in and started the blaze.

“We were devastated.

“By that point, it was four, five years worth of work. Just gone.”

BMX has been on the Olympic programme since 2008.

John pinpoints his time in the DCA factory as the origins of his company, Pilgrim.

Pilgrim BMX made their first video in 1992, titled Pilgrim BMX, REBELS IN A WORLD FULL OF LAWS.

When the video was made, John’s bike was aptly impounded for three months for grinding a ledge.

In 2010, this old video became a complete bicycle company.

 Bethany Shriever of Great Britain on her way to winning Gold in the Elite Women’s Final. UCI BMX World Championships 2021. Photo by Alex Broadway/</p> <p>[/caption</p> <p>]</p> <p>He said: “Logan Martin, one of my riders for Pilgrim, he won gold in the Olympics last year!</p> <p>“I was his first bike sponsor.</p> <p>“I don’t take credit for it but just to know that I had a little piece of influence; I believed in him, and look at where he ended up.”</p> <p>[caption id=”attachment_4197394″ align=”alignnone” widt</p> <p>

He said: “Logan Martin, one of my riders for Pilgrim, he won gold in the Olympics last year!

“I was his first bike sponsor.

“I don’t take credit for it but just to know that I had a little piece of influence; I believed in him, and look at where he ended up.”

Logan Martin also rode for Nitro Circus, the BMX stunt company.

After all this time, and with all these memories, how does John feel about returning to the city?

He said: “It’s been 28 years.

“But I know I’ll get back to Dundee and run into people I used to know, and they’ll just chat to me like they always have.

“The true spirit of a Dundonian, which I love, is that they never treat you any different.

“They’ll always bring you back to earth.

“It’s a beautiful city and I love where it’s going.”

After his time in Dundee, John ventured to Melbourne, Australia – much to the confusion of everyone he knew.

John said: “People were like ‘why are you going to Melbourne?!'”

“I said – ‘cause I want to get on Neighbours!”

Three months later, John had made it happen.

He said: “I was on Neighbours, and I’m still very good friends with Alan Fletcher!

“I’m meeting him in London in a couple of weeks for dinner.

“I love great people – and he’s an amazing human being.”

John Buultjens, who grew up in Dundee, performing a stunt.

After dazzling the actors of Neighbours, John continued acting for a while, but only so he could pay his bills and keep riding his bike!

He gave it all up when Haro Bikes offered him a job in the early 2000s.

John said: “Haro offered me a job when I was still in Melbourne.

“I started working there as a sales representative, but then they started asking me for ideas, “what do you think of this, what about that”.

“But then they started using my ideas!

“I wasn’t getting any credit back then – so I left in 2002.”

But his time with Haro Bikes did give John the opportunity to meet Bob Haro, who he’d already known of since that first cinema trip in 1982.

John said: “I still remember that shot of him in ET, when he pulls that balaclava over his face.

“The fact he then started Haro Bikes, and I got to work there after that film had inspired me to get involved with BMX, it was such a full circle moment.

“Bob and I actually do a lot of tours together; in a couple of weeks, we’ve got an event coming up in London.

“I mean, people call him the Godfather of BMX.

“I’ve become best friends with my heroes.

“It’s amazing.”

In the meantime, John’s foster parents were moving to Carnoustie, which meant all of his old BMX memorabilia had to be boxed up.

John said: “Under the house, of our family home, were all my old bikes and the plaster-casts from all the broken legs and discarded crutches and Star Wars figures…

“Most parents would’ve just tossed it, but mine boxed it up.

15 tea chests were shipped over to Australia, and John ended up with his old bike – which he remade for his stunt this year – as well as enough photos to fill a book with.

Which is exactly what he did.

History in the making

John added: “We used to document all our tricks in the 80s.

“I never knew why, but we did, and on these massive video cameras!

“I started scanning all the old photos in 2002, 2003, and it was then I knew I was gonna write a book.

“I failed English, but I knew I was gonna do it.

“Then years later when I did, I had the photos to use.”

John’s book went on to become a Hollywood film.

John’s book about his life was turned into Hollywood blockbuster The Ride in 2018.

The film stars American rapper and actor Ludacris as John’s foster father.

John himself also features, playing the role of his abusive birth father.

He said: “They offered me a role in the film and asked me who I wanted to play.

“When I told them about wanting to play my birth father, they said no at first.

“They were concerned it would be too difficult for me.

“It was tough – but it was the right call.”

John returned to Dundee for the movie premiere, which he held in the DCA.

He said: “It was my most memorable night.

“We walked back into that old factory that’s now the DCA and it was a beautiful night.

“I celebrated with 200 of my closest friends and family.

“And it was even more special because it was also on my parents 44th wedding anniversary.”

John’s success has continued from there.

Despite being thrown out of Harris Academy when he was 15, John now has three passports!

He said: “What made the difference for me was someone believing in me.

“That’s really what I want to do with the film.

“I only made one dollar from it – it’s not about the money, it’s about inspiring humanity.

“If we can get the film into juvenile halls, detention centres, prisons, then one person might see a change for themselves – and it was all worth it.”

Making the world a better place

And it seems to be working so far, with John’s inbox full of people telling him their own stories and how he’s inspired them to make a change.

He said: “I had a woman from Washington DC – a congresswoman – email me about her story.

“She said I’d inspired her – I thought it would be kids, showing them they can get out of their situation, but it’s the adults who are still struggling because of what they went through as a child.”

An artist for ‘Desperate Dan’ once complained about John Buultjens’ tricks in Dundee. Photo by Jeff Blackler/Shutterstock.

John’s links to Dundee don’t end there.

There’s even a peculiar tale regarding some DC Thomson alumni.

John remembered: “I built this ramp on my friend’s dad’s allotment on Melville Terrace in the late 80s.

“One of the artists for Desperate Dan made a complaint!

“It popped up in the papers – he took this black and white photograph of us and absolutely slandered us!

“Him and his wife used to throw bricks at us!”

The council soon paid John a visit and the ramp had to be taken down.

John Buultjens continues to practice his tricks in California.

But despite the flung bricks, numerous fires, and challenging neighbours, California-based John said Dundee would always be his home.

Planning to retire here when the time comes, the 18-inch long tattoo of Scotland on his shoulders shows that he still carries his country on his back.

He said: “Home is where the heart is, and my heart is in Dundee.”

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