"What's up with Stranger?" It's something that I've been hearing a lot lately. This time last year Stranger was center stage with the release of their video No Hype. Upon watching that video, it appeared to me, and to many others, that Stranger was really onto something with their predominantly LA based pack of street shredders—dubbed "the second chance team." The camaraderie of the crew, the look and feel of the video, and of course, the riding—No Hype was all the hype. Stranger was rekindled and moving forward fast with a sick squad, lots of signature parts, and more… Then, two months ago, Stranger announced that via an Instagram post that they had added YouTube sensation Adam LZ straight to the pro team. Cracks began to appear in Stranger's foundation when Augie Simoncini abruptly quit with a no-pulled-punches Instagram post that directly pointed back at LZ. Flow rider Alec Siemon quit the team with far less glamour and quickly moved onto Sunday. The correlation between LZ getting on the team and Augie and Alec quitting was immediate and obvious. Words were said on both ends. Lots of instagram comments got posted. And everything died down somewhat and it was looked generally as one rider’s opinion (Alec never said anything cross) against Stranger and LZ.
In late October, Stranger announced their Sneakatour trip with Gabe Brooks, Denim Cox, and Johnny Raekes all listed on the original flier, yet inexplicably absent from the tour. A week after the trip ended, they all announced their departure from Stranger within a close relation to one another. While the addition Adam LZ is the common perceived scapegoat, the departed riders neither fully confer nor deny the fact. Regardless of why they quit, they are no longer part of Stranger now. And we decided to focus on what exactly is happening with Stranger. We reached out to Stranger's owner/founder, Rich Hirsch, to get his side of things. And for whatever reason, his answers left a lot to be desired. So, we pressed on and talked with Adam LZ and two of the three remaining No Hype era team riders, Eric Lichtenberger and Miles Rogoish (edit: Miles has since left) for their opinions on the recent team shakeups. One thing is for sure, the No Hype era as we know it has come to an end and Stranger is starting a new chapter…
As of now, what is the current team?
We did a trip around SoCal with Adam LZ, Caleb Quanbeck, Miles Rogoish, Lewis Morgan, Michael Harkous, John Stafford, Abdullah Allkhalili, and Nate Richter. Dylan Stark and Eric Lichtenberger weren’t able to attend, but we will be doing projects with them both and with Nate Richter in 2016.
What do you see the brand as representing, as contrasted to a year ago when No Hype dropped?
The exact same thing—having a good time riding your bike.
With the dropping of No Hype this time last year, the Stranger team developed a mold that all the team riders seemed to fit into. Where/how did you see LZ fitting into this mold when you were thinking of adding him to the team?
BMX is not a team sport. It’s an individual creative outlet. The Stranger team has always been a group of very diverse individuals and always will be.
LZ is unique in the sense that he’s a YouTube phenom, but he’s far from the first person to get sponsored because he’s relatable/marketable. Why do you think there’s such heavy dissent for him from a lot of “older” riders?
I don’t know. But I do think that it is limiting and I know that if there’s no struggle, there’s no progress.
Did you tell the rest of the team that you were thinking of adding him?
Our sponsorships are based on an individual's style and approach to BMX. Caleb Quanbeck, our team manager, discussed the decision with some riders I believe, but we do not base our team sponsorships on any sort of group dynamic. It's basically a two-step process, first I find the rider then I discuss the rider with Caleb. If we are both into it then we move forward.
Augie and Alec announced their departure from the team two months ago, followed by Denim, Ricany, and Gabe last week. The general assumption is that this team exodus has been a result of Stranger adding Adam LZ to the team…
That sums it up.
Augie didn’t have direct issues with Adam LZ, but it was referenced as the straw that broke the camel’s back. What were the other straws?
The timing of LZ getting on and Augie’s departure (and the way that he departed) makes it obvious to me that LZ was the only straw.
What is the motivation behind the Stranger "Test Team" and what are your plans for its future.
I think it’s best described on our site… "Riders: When searching for team riders to help test and develop our products we look for one key factor: the love of BMX. We look for riders worldwide who share our vision… Our goal is to make the best products possible and while sponsoring riders for their level of tricks is great, we also need a good amount of people capable of putting products to the test and providing solid feedback in order to progress."
How drastic is the "new direction" that ex-team members seem to be citing in their sign-off letters? Is the aesthetic of the brand going to be changing at all?
There is no change of direction. We just sponsored a few new riders.
Who do you see as being your core "audience" as a brand? And is that something that has shifted over the past year?
People that like to ride BMX—same as day one.
What is the next move for Stranger?
Probably post something on Instagram… @strangerco
Why do you think everyone started quitting the Stranger team?
People bumping heads with Rich or new people getting put on—it probably bummed people out. But I don’t know… it feels like I’ve been in the game long enough to not think like that. You only have so much time to ride and shred. I couldn’t even fathom quitting because someone else got on, but to each his own. Everyone is in their own head.
Did any of the dudes hit you up before they quit?
As far as the No Hype era of Stranger, you, Caleb, and Miles are the only “OG” guys on the team still. What are your thoughts on that? Have you met any of the new dudes?
No, I haven’t met anyone yet. I didn’t even know who was going to get put on the team. But when everything started to unfold I was bummed. Why would the OGs leave because someone else came on? There’s no reason for that. Some people weren’t into it I guess.
Did you know ahead of time that they were going to put Adam LZ on the team?
I think I heard about it, but I didn’t really think anything of it. I don’t really know that many people in BMX—I know it’s weird to say that since I’ve been riding for so long, but I don’t pay attention to that kind of stuff. I just ride my bike. If a new person is around and they’re awesome, then cool, another cool person to add to the team. Like I said, I never the met the guy, he seems cool. I’m just more bummed on the homies leaving. We kinda got the ball rolling with those guys.
Well, yeah, you guys were the second chance team…
Yeah, the misfits team.
How do you think Adam fits in on the team?
He obviously has a huge following—and that’s good for BMX. That’s all that really matters. I mean if he was an asshole then it would be different, but I don’t think he’s like that. He seems like a nice kid. It seems like when you have a team, they shouldn’t just quit from out of nowhere. You build your team for a while. Like everybody else would. And it didn’t last that long. It took one person to get on for half the people to quit.
How do you feel about most of the No Hype team quiting?
It sucks, man. There was a real family there. We all used to have a say in things and the best outlook. I hate to put it down, but now that the No Hype team is mostly gone… I said this to [Andrew] Castaneda the other day, but now it feels like a normal team—where I’m not personally involved with some of the dudes on the team. And, to me, that’s not the best feeling. But, it is what it is and I’m not jumping ship, but I’m not taking a bullet for some of my teammates [laughs]. I don’t even have all the team rider’s phone numbers…where it used to be like… I know your middle name, where you live, what car you drive…
Did anyone tell you they were going to quit beforehand?
Most of it was off guard. I figured a few more people would’ve talked to me. Augie was super off guard. But he had mentioned things in the past about the way he was feeling about some issue with signature parts…
Why do you think so many dudes quit the team?
I don’t even want to say that it was Adam… because back when we were talking about whether or not [Brandon] Begin should be put on—before he rode for Fit—everyone had their own opinion. Whether their opinion was good, bad, or neutral, it was a discussion. And now, when this thing happened it was like, wait a second… six/seven dudes who busted their ass and totally helped revamp this whole thing didn’t get any recognition to voice their opinion. And I think that hurt people’s feelings. Like, what have I been doing all this time, if all of that is just out the window? I understand that we need to move forward, but if you’re not going to remember how the door was opened then it’s going to upset people. And I think they just decided to say “fuck it.” And like I said, Begin is a big name, and people still had opinions—some were down, some people weren’t—and then somebody outside of the No Hype crew got wind of the thoughts and boom, he got swooped up by Fit. It’s just crazy that no one was even told—doesn’t matter that it was Adam LZ—it could’ve been Nathan Williams or Dakota Roche, or anybody. It’s just the fact that nobody was brought up to speed. I thought we were like the backbone of this situation and now it’s like we're kinda expendable and I think that’s why people quit, because they felt expendable.
What’s your opinion about Stranger adding Adam LZ to the team? Especially now that adding him has in one way or another caused half of the team to leave…
I will say that having most of the team gone is not the greatest look. I don’t think Adam LZ being on is going to make or break Stranger. I just think it could’ve been taken care of a little differently. You gotta care about what’s there. It’s about the growth and development of the brand since the beginning.
Did you know ahead of time that they were going to put LZ on?
I had no idea. I found out from an Instagram post. I’m pretty sure every single person—unless you’re in the office—found out from an Instagram post.
How much interaction have you had with the new team?
We went on that tour and I didn’t have as much interaction as you’d think. Even on that trip I felt like I was ringing out a towel trying to get clips from some of those dudes. I don’t know if they just don’t affiliate with me easily or what it was, but I feel like when I’m working—especially on a tour like that—we’re all in a rig together so it should be pretty easy to produce or work with somebody
Do you remember what your initial reaction was?
Like I said, it didn’t matter who it was. I was just bummed that I wasn’t brought up to speed. I don’t hate or love the dude—it’s neutral. As far as a teammate, I don’t know this person. With the No Hype crew, everyone was down for each other and everyone had each other’s back. We could snicker and knit-pick and give each other shit, but at the end of the day we were down for each other.
At this point, most of the team is new, how do you see everyone fitting together?
It’s just not No Hype.
What are your thoughts on all the dudes quitting the Stranger team since you got on—whether or not it was actually because of you?
I was a little bummed at first. Most people would take it really personally, but I’ve been used to dealing with hate—or whatever you want to call it—or people with negative feelings towards me for the past six years, literally since I started making videos. So I think I can handle it better than the average person, but I’m still very bummed about it. It was cool to become part of something and then everybody just kinda dipped out. It’s just weird and I still don’t really understand it.
Did you have any interaction with some of the dudes before they quit?
Yeah, and that’s a weird thing, too, with the people who I did interact with, like Sean, I met with him at Interbike and we texted each other after I got on the team. And he never showed… no one was ever mean to me. Nobody was ever negative to me personally. I’ve been told that people left the team because of me. I’ve been told that it was for other reasons. Ultimately, I don’t know what the exact cause is, but seems like it is more because of me then anything that Rich [Hirsch] is doing. I feel like they’re using it as an escape because it looks very badly [on them] if they leave because of a rider versus because of the company. Because I can put my views out there, but Rich really hasn’t gotten to express his views, so it’s very easy for them to make him the target.
So as now, the only dudes who from the No Hype era of the Pro team who are still on are Eric L, Caleb, and Miles. How much interaction have you had with them?
I haven’t met Eric. I met Miles and he’s super cool, fun to ride with, and he’s a good filmer. And I love Quan…
Do you have any projects and or products in the works?
We’ve been discussing some trips, possibly something out of the country. And there are some new innovative products on the table. There’s a lot of cool stuff. We’re working on two or three signature products right now that will probably be out middle of next year. I can’t say exactly what we’re working on, but I can say that I’m sick of seeing everything in BMX the same. So I’m actually trying to do something different and make stuff that’s not the same exact product as everything else just with a different sticker on it.