It’s very possible that many of you reading this have never heard of Tread Magazine, let alone seen one. But during the mid 90’s, this magazine had a very cult-like following and was very sought after (at least to me and people I knew on the East Coast). It was kind of underground, kind of not, tied to the influential Props era and all around just awesome and interesting. I think it would be fair to liken Tread to the Albion for comparison. Tread only lasted 4 issues, but those issues were enough for it to have a lasting effect on riders from that era.
Inspired by a recent Instagram post, I decided to track down Chris Hallman and ask him some questions about the mag. Click below to read it all.
Shoutout to Chris Hallman and a big thanks to Chris Rye for supplying the images.
Chris, tell us a little about yourself and your BMX background.
I’m just an overgrown kid who loves bikes. I fell in love with bmx when I was young, maybe 8 or 9. There were some older teenagers in the neighborhood who rode. I was scared but yet fascinated by them. They were “bad kids”, smoked pot and stuff. I remember thinking of them as “druggies.” There was one guy in particular named Eric Crop. He had a PUCH bmx bike. There were some rollers in a field near my house and one day I saw Eric jump them and do a table top and I was amazed. That pretty much sealed the deal right there.
He had a track in another field across the creek from my house. I have a strong visual memory of one berm in particular—the shape of it, how it was dug down into the ground. Total fascination. They also had a fort in the woods, and one day a friend and I snuck in and found a stash of bmx magazines. We took them. That was the first time I saw a bmx magazine. I believe they were BMX Action magazines. Peter, another of the scarey teenager druggy bmx’ers who lived up the street from me told me that I could take the brake shoes out of my coaster brake hub and have a freewheel, so I went home, pulled my hub apart, and made a freecoaster.
That was the beginning. I was hooked. I got my first freestyle bike, a used GT Performer, when I was 13. My friend built a quarter pipe when we were 14 and we rode that all the time. It was basically just my friend and I until we were 15 or 16. We had no idea anyone else rode. I lived in the suburbs/borderline country outside of the Allentown/Bethlehem area of Pennsylvania. Allentown was 8 or 10 miles away. When I was 15 or 16 I rode into Allentown one day and met Mel Cody at a 7/11. That opened up a larger world of bmx and freestyle to us. Suddenly we weren’t alone.
I was a total freestyle kid. I rode flatland, ramp, street, anything. I didn’t care as long as I was riding. My specialty was ramp though. We went to contests with the Allentown crew as a team, the “Activ Transpo kids.” My friend Kevin and I were the ramp guys. I rode a lot with Mel Cody, John “Luc-E” Englebert, and when I got a bit older we met Joe Rich and rode with him a lot too. Mel met Joe’s brother Chris at a club and he told him that his brother rode and could get 7 feet out on a quarter pipe. We were like, “Yeah right!” Turned out to be true.
I could go on with this for days. After high school I went to college but none of my other friends did. I would fall behind during the school year and then try to catch up during the summer. around that time Joe and John started to get noticed and eventually got sponsored by Standard. Eventually I dropped out of school to ride more. All I thought about was riding.
I started taking photos when I turned 18 and got a camera for my birthday. I was pursuing photojournalism in college, but I had no ambition or desire to be there. I wanted to be riding and taking photos of riding. The summer after I dropped out Mel Cody and I did shows at an amusement park in Pittsburgh, Pa. We met all the Pittsburgh locals and I took photos of them all. That fall I broke my collar bone. While I was laying around healing I wrote up a scene report on Pittsburgh and sent it into Ride BMX Magazine, which was brand new at the time. I had no clue or expectation. I didn’t call, I just sent photos and a story. I didn’t even subscribe to the magazine. A month or two later a new issue came out with my story in it and I was amazed. A bit later I got a photo of me riding in Ride, my first photo in a magazine, but they got the name wrong, it said John Holman or something like that.
After that I broke my collar bone a second time and my Dad kicked me out of the house. I called up the guys at Standard and asked if I could move in with them. They said, “sure,” so I packed up and drove to Davenport, IA.
Tread Magazine. How would you describe it to someone who has never seen one or lived through that period?
I’m not sure how to describe it. It was real personal. I made almost the whole thing—photos, words, design. Definitely BMX from a BMXer’s point of view. I was obsessed with BMX and I wanted to tell everyone about it.
Starting a magazine is no light task, what spawned the idea to start Tread?
At the time I was living in the Fat House in Fort Wayne, IN. It was a bmx house started by the FBM crew. At the time there were 12 other BMXers living there including: Steve Crandall, Jeremy “Magilla” Reiss, Mike Tag (RIP), Colin Winklemann (RIP), Stew Johnson was my roommate, Kip Williamson, and a host of other lunatics. It was dirt cheap living with a mini ramp out back and trails across town. Steve, Marco and Chris from Props, and I were talking about the other magazines and how we thought we could do better. Marco and Chris said that they wanted to do it and asked Steve and I to move to Chicago. Steve wouldn’t move to Chicago but I was down.
I was a completely naive BMX lunatic. I had contributed photos and stories to Ride and Dig, and I had friends in college who were graphic design majors, so I figured I could totally make a magazine. I moved in with Marco and Chris in the suburbs of Chicago, worked in Marco’s Dad’s warehouse during the day, and then taught myself desktop publishing and made Tread in the evenings. My car died when I got there, so I had no car. I was just stranded in Elk Grove Village, IL.
Marco and Chris are either saints or complete lunatics for giving me that opportunity.
Who were the main characters involved?
Marco Massei and Chris Rye. Steve Crandall was meant to be a part of it, but he wouldn’t leave the Fat House.
What was the overall mission or point you wanted to get across with the magazine?
BMX was like a religion to me. I was completely obsessed with it. I wanted to make a magazine that talked about BMX the way I thought about BMX. I wanted to showcase the riders that I liked, their character, the spiritual side of riding I guess. Not that I thought of it that way at the time. I had no real plan, just blind maniacal drive.
In your opinion, how did Tread differ from other mags at the time?
It wasn’t a business. Again, bless Marco and Chris for putting up with me. I had no sense of making money, nor did I have any plan. I just wanted to wax philosophical about BMX. I thought that all I had to do was make a magazine that people wanted to read, and then advertisers would want to advertise.
I was a 23 year old guy making a magazine for other guys like me. Problem was the BMX market was mostly 13 year old kids.
Thinking back now… Tread almost felt like a well produced/nice quality zine. Is that a fair assessment?
Things like the slang/lingo section really made the mag fun. We definitely used words that we learned from that section. Were you in charge of producing the articles, art, laying out the mag and all that? How did the process go?
I think the lingo section came from Chris Rye. The process was chaotic at best. Marco was the businessman, Chris had some input but was too busy with Props to have a big role, and then I was left up to my own devices to put the whole thing together. I learned design/layout as I went along. I got real into the design aspect. I still fantasize about designing another magazine.
I wanted to put in more humor and irrelevance. Basically I thought everything outside of the actual experience of riding a bike, or the lifestyle of being a serious rider, was nonsense. I always wanted to do a bike test where we got a bike, took it apart and actually used the bike to build a dirt jump or something. Like used the frame as a shovel. Then put it back together and jumped the jump. Then drag the bike around town behind a car for a while. Then talk about how it held up. I had big plans (in my head).
How were covers decided on? I definitely sweated that Ground Chuck one.
I have no idea. See above. I think mainly I just chose the photo that I was most excited about. My favorite cover is number 4, which was shot by Sandy Carson.
I remember a definite anti-X Games vibe with the mag. Did you feel the need to fly this flag? What was the general feeling at the time and does it still hold true for you?
The magazine was a reflection of who I was. I wasn’t into the X Games so that came across. Riding was never about contests and tricks for me. It was personal, and like I said before, it bordered on some sort of quasi religious experience for me. I was into the people I met and the experience of riding a BMX bike. The X Games did not seem to reflect that.
What was the demand like for Tread back then? Was it far reaching or did it mainly get around in the States?
The demand was strong as I recall. I know the newsstand distributor wanted more. Actually I can’t say. I was so in my own world. I would hear things from Marco or that other people said, but I was too busy being obsessed with whatever I was obsessed by at the moment.
Ultimately, Tread only released 4 issues. Why was it so short lived?
Money ultimately. Marco and Chris got sick of losing money. I was sick of having no money. After issue 2 a publisher approached us and wanted to buy the magazine. They were going to buy the title and then hire us to make it. They flew us out to Interbike and went around to all of the companies to try and drum up ad sales. We thought it was a done deal. The newsstand distributor had been asking for more copies, thinking the new publisher was going to pay for it we ordered a lot more copies of issue 3. Then the publisher pulled out at the last minute and left Marco and Chris with a big print bill that they couldn’t afford.
At this point I had spent about a year living on Chris and Marco’s living room floor. I had no car, no money, and was stranded in the suburbs. I still wanted to ride all the time, but I didn’t get to ride much. I moved out to Davenport and put the last issue together from the offices at Standard.
Looking back I blame myself for it’s demise. It was my baby, and if I had more business insight and a stronger will, it could have survived. I was sick of being poor and not riding. That’s how I thought of it at the time.
I always thought of myself as a rider first. The magazine was a struggle in a sense because I really wanted to be riding. It was hard to put my bike down and pick up the camera.
Looking back now, what are your thoughts on Tread and your favorite thing about it?
I wish I could have stuck with it and made it work. I think it would have eventually taken hold financially. My favorite thing… Hard to say. Probably the design. I really got into the design aspect of it. I wanted to be a designer after that, and during that time. It was a new passion for me.
I think it was a good thing, a positive note in the history of BMX. I wish I could have held it together longer.
Do you check out any BMX mags these days?
Almost never. The Albion was nice.