BMX NOMAD: The Mike Savage Story
About two years ago, we first thought of doing an article on Connecticut's International Man of Mystery. As often happens on any given weekend, our staff got a call from one of our many track operators asking a familiar question. They’d called to ask what to do with a strange rider who’d shown up to race their State race. They didn’t have enough riders to make his class, and he’d come a long way to race. Where should they put him?
Immediately, we could safely guess at who was at Far North BMX in Alaska - racing in the most remote center of USA’s largest state. It was...
MIKE SAVAGE: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY
As he’d done many times before and since, Savage had flown to the middle of nowhere to check one more state off of his BMX bucket list. It took four flight changes and nearly 12 hours of flying to get there. With scarcely a dozen motos full of locals, all were in awe of this silent stranger who could ride, jump and manual obstacles on the track like they’d never seen before. “They’d seen videos, of course,” Savage tells us in his awkwardly-yet-excited manner, “but they’d never seen somebody in person do what I was doing. Until to you go there, you don’t realize how far removed Alaska is.”
Since the 80’s, Mike Savage has carried the torch for Connecticut’s BMX scene - having earned more CT-01 District No.1 titles in the ABA than anyone else. He was no slouch on the national circuit, either - winning the UCi World Championships in Saskatoon, Canada. having proved his point there, he decided to quit racing nationals and travel around the country hitting single, double or triple point races. Last year, having checked Mississippi off his list, Mike had officially raced in all available States - “Fourty-nine out of fifty,” he proudly declares. “Maine used to have a track when I was younger, but I never raced it. I wish I would’ve now.” We joked with Crit plate owner Mike Rodriguez - Savage’s longtime sponsor, that we should just hold a 1-time race in Maine and call it Bucketlist BMX; just so Savage could race it and say he’s raced in all 50.
Yet, what Mike Savage is best known for - at least up until this point, has been his cover photo on the August 1998 BMX Action magazine. Back then, if you got on the cover of BMXA; it was a BIG deal. To any old schooler, it still is. “I forget where I was, and this racer from Slovania came up to me and asked if I was the same Mike Savage on the cover of BMX Action. I couldn’t believe that they even got the magazine in Slovania - let alone, meet somebody who knew of me or had that picture taped to their bedroom wall.” Adorning that BMXA cover has been so much a part of Mike’s legacy that it was no surprise to find out it’s also his e-mail address.
“I stopped racing nationals in 1999,” Mike told Pull magazine, in a darkly lit room that would hide his true identity, as if he were in the witness protection agency. “I tried it again once they came out with 36 & over Expert, but then stopped. I’ve been to 260 nationals, so I’m just no longer motivated to race them.”
His quest for racing in every U.S. state began awhile back, when he was looking at a map and checking off where he’d been. “I think I was twelve States short when I first checked in to it,” said Savage. “It was pretty much every state that never had a national. Last year I did North Dakota, Montana and Mississippi.” And that officially put him at 49. But it wasn’t easy - battling the occasional rain-out and having to return the following year, or even once - a heat-out. “I went to a race in Iowa and they had 114 degree heat index, and almost cancelled the race. Luckily, they got enough kids to sign up. We raced and I checked one more off my list.”
Most of the time, when the 47 year old Savage shows up to some obscure race in some out of the way place, he’ll have to race younger kids. MUCH younger. “On a rare occasion, I get to race the local 16 or 17 year old hot shoe, and he’s all fired up to beat me.” Whether he wins, scores a podium, or loses, it really doesn’t matter to the man who we can safely say has traveled to more places to race BMX than anybody else in the sport. Savage has kept records of everywhere he’s traveled to, adding what finishes he got, and we doubt that anybody can match his numbers.
Yet it’s not just every remote BMX track in the U.S. that Savage has raced. The longtime bike shop employee decided about a decade ago to go global. Searching for cheap airfares, he’d travel to Europe to race a series - and after having won a race and leading series points, he felt obligated to return for Round 2, and would cash in his accumulated airline miles to a free ticket. That’s exactly how Savage wound up going to the entire 9-race Swiss/German BMX series in 2008. Once he’d won it, then he again felt obligated to return the following year to defend his DSM Championship title. “That was back when you could find cheap airfares - for like $400, fly to Switzerland. If I did it now, a ticket would cost about $2,000. I’d fly in Friday night, arrive on Saturday for practice, race on Sunday, and then fly home Monday. I’d leave work on Friday at 2:00 and be back at work Monday by 4pm. People would come in to the shop and say ‘I thought you were going to Europe?!’”
For each of his wins in the Swiss series, Savage won a bottle of wine. ...which might be a nice prize, if you drank. “I’ve still got 23 bottles of wine in my trophy case. They’ve probably all gone bad, since I have them sitting upright.” He was flying back and forth so often that airline workers in baggage claim at the Zurich airport began to recognize him and knew him as “that bike guy from America.”
With so much travel, you can assume that Mike’s got a lot of great stories. Perhaps his gnarliest experience took place in the eastern-bloc country of Slovakia. “We were in Austria, and we wanted to go race a track in Slovakia. Their border crossing is like a small little shack on the road, with a tiny gate. They checked our passport and let us through. What they didn’t tell us is that you’re supposed to buy a toll-pass to drive their roads. So we get to the track, ride the track, and drive back to the border. This time, exiting the country, they ask us for the toll-pass - which we didn’t have and didn’t know about. So they put us in a room, take our keys and passports, and tell us we owe them $500. They’re yelling at us in broken english - “We want $500!” We barely had any money on us. Finally, they ask - how much money do you have? So we empty our pockets and scrape togther $50. They take that, gave us back our passports and told us to get out of their country.”
The awards in foreign countries definitely have more variety than your average BMX trophy here in America. “The oddest thing I won was at a race in Italy. They gave me a bottle of wine and a vacuum-packed piece of meat.” Located somewhere in Savage’s rafters are boxes full of Award jackets - from the first year of Letterman Open jackets, to satin Gold Cups and every type of District jacket imaginable.
“I sit around, eat pizza
and go to races.”
Like us, you might be thinking - “How does a bike shop employee afford to fly all over the World to race BMX?” The answer to that is, and always has been, Mike’s extreme frugalness. Back in the 80’s, when he first met up with S&M owner (and longtime frame sponsor) Chris Moeller on Summer Tour, it was discovered that Savage could survive on a loaf of white bread and a liter of Pepsi. Now nearing the big 5-oh, Savage has given up on the sweet, sugary nectar and pretty much lives on a diet of Cheese pizza and water. “I’m 47 years old and weigh 152 pounds,” Mike admits. “If I was an out of shape slob, then you could laugh at me and say it doesn’t work. No matter where you are in the World, you can usually find a pizza.”
One look at Mike Savage’s S&M bikes, and you’ll also find signs of both his frugalness and old-schoolness. The chromoly frames are the most up-to-date pieces, surrounded by a crack-repaired Kashimax frsstyle seat that he’s ran since October of 1992. it probably won’t come as much of shock to learn that Savage isn’t clipped-in and run square Crupi platform pedals. And just for this special photo shoot, Savage dug deep in his garage and put on some original Tioga Comp-III tires - made in the Philippines. “I just pulled off the little nubs on them this morning,” he says proudly. “I tried clipless pedals once but didn’t like it. They tell you they’ll make you go faster. But the thing is - I have no interest in going faster. I like the speed I’m at. I don’t get beat by riders because they’re clipped in. I get beat by better riders. I have no shame in saying there are better riders out there. I’d have no illusion that I could beat Eric Rupe if I clipped in - so why do it?”
Last year, the red-headed pale-skinned Savage went to his forefather’s homeland in Ireland, to race their National Championships. ...and won it. “I was a hero in Ireland,” he tells us modestly. “With this pasty-white skin, you can’t tell I’m Irish?!” Like most of his International wins, though, Savage is able to win the title on paper, but unless you are a citizen in that country, you aren’t allowed to run the No.1 plate.
Vet Pro Collin Stiles (of Stile Industries) summed up Mike Savage perfectly. “He’s like bigfoot. You hear of all these rare sightings of him at BMX track all over the World, but there’s rarely anything more than a blurry photograph of him as proof.” But when it comes to his favorite races these days, you can pretty much count on having a Savage-sighting at Paul DePauw’s wooden indoor Quad Cities BMX in Rock Island, Illinois. “That is thee most fun race you’ll ever attend,” Savage explains. “I went there four times last year. If I could only race once a year, that is where I’m going. Even if I don’t make a main, it’d be worth the trip.”
What’s next for Savage, we all wonder? Rumor has it that he had tickets to fly off to some island in the Atlantic to hit a Redline Cup race. Now that he’s raced in every single U.S. State (except Maine), somebody asked if he’d WON a race in every State? Hmmmm ...you could tell by the expression on his face that this could become his next big challenge. There’s also a slim chance that there are a few countries he has yet to race or win in, as well. About the only thing for sure is that some time, some where, when you least expect it - Mike Savage might just show up to race.
One of the most amazing stats about Savage’s travels is that he’s kept track of them all. ...all the way down to how many motos he’s won.
33: # of years Mike Savage has been racing BMX.
1,705: Total # of races Savage has competed at. Of those, he’s raced 2,742 classes (20” and 24”), which comes out to 6,689 motos.
3,851: # of moto wins out of those 6,689 motos. Not a bad ratio - winning more than half of the races he’s entered.
275: # of different tracks Savage has raced on.
24: # of countries he’s raced in. Consider that there were 28 countries represented last year at the UCi Worlds.
132: # of times he’s raced in the State of California. Of those 132 races, he’s competed at 34 different tracks... 11 which are still running today.
319: # of times he’s raced at his local track - Trumbull BMX in Connecticut. Of those events, he’s raced 1,527 motos, and won 1,127 of them. That’s an impressive 73% win-ratio!
260: Total # of nationals Savage has raced - which includes sanctioning bodies EBA, NBL, USBA, ICA, ABA and USA BMX. Oddly, the state that he’s won the most in is Texas - with seven national victories.
52: # of CT-01 District No.1 plates Mike has earned during his 33 years.
5: # of Redline Cup East No.1 Plates Savage has won.
1: # of times Savage has ran a red background of Race of Champions No.1.
1: # of UCi World Championships Savage has won.
25: # of NBL No.1 State Championships he has taken home.
1: # of USBA District No.1 plates.
2: # of DSM (Swiss/German) Championships he won - back in 2008 and 2009.
1: # of Ireland National Championships he brought back to the States.
120: # of International races Mike has hit - from Japan to Australia to South America, and all places inbetween. Of those 120, he made the main all but 8 times. Of those 112 mains, he has podiumed 84 times - 40 of those being on top. Broken down, that means he’s won 1 out of every three International races he’s entered.
105: # of European races Savage has attended. Of those, he made the main 97 times. Of that, he podiumed 70 times. 33 of those 70 podiums he stood on the top rung.
49: # of U.S. States raced in - every single one except for Maine. *50, actually - if you want to include Puerto Rico.