15 Dec Canadian BMX Company History – Andrew MacLeod & System BMX (2003 to 2019)
Andrew at Thorsby skatepark in 2006. Photo Credit: Ryley Bosch.
Back in 2018 I was on a No Bikes trip visiting Matt Thomas’s compound in Alberta. As we were warming up on the garage mini ramp, one guy really caught my eye – mohawk haircut, splatter painted bike with a bunch of unique parts and most importantly a front brake. Oh, and he could ride the crap out of the mini. He clearly had his own style and I struck up a conversation. His name was Andrew MacLeod and it turned out he was also a machinist. Andrew had been making BMX parts in Edmonton for years. The paint job was done by a friend, but all the unique-looking parts on his bike were of his own design and make. Andrew has been dreaming up unconventional designs since middle school; just look at his notebook sketches. As part of our series on the history of Canadian BMX companies, Justin Schwanke and I sent Andrew some questions to learn about his brand, System. Without further ado, I present to you the guy that learned flairs in his mid-thirties, Andrew MacLeod! -Kostya Chimkovitch
Justin: How did you get into machining and how did that lead to starting System BMX?
After about a year into riding, I began designing parts or redrawing parts I saw in Ride BMX or BMX Plus! That slowly grew into the blue book. And later it would set me on the path to being a poor tradesman, but living the dream of making parts out of alloys and plastics.
I started machining (mostly cleaning) during high school at my uncle’s machine shop. I was looking for ways I could build and manufacture the parts I had been drawing up. For a long ass time that felt like the wrong move as machinists aren’t paid a great wage until they have tons of experience, but it’s paid off nicely for me over the last 4 years. My uncle’s shop was started with manual machines, but he slowly bought a few CNCs. I got trained up so I could be a good machinist on them. Now I have been able to design my own parts using CAD/CAM programs and machine them myself. It’s fun at my shop since we do a ton of easy, but very different parts. It’s mostly repair work.
Kostya: What was the first thing you put out?
The first thing was a black shirt that said “Fuck The System” on the front and “Bikes” on the back in gold lettering. After the shirts, I made the first prototype stem.
Andrew’s first stem design.
Kostya: What was the product you were most proud of?
The product I was most proud of is probably the hub I designed, but only perfected on one prototype; 3 others I made had issues I couldn’t rectify. It was a flangeless design that somehow I never had to tighten the spokes on. I truly believe the flangeless design is better than traditional flanged hubs until you have to change spokes (if you somehow break one). Flangeless was also easier for me to make. I never had an issue with mine for years and they would have been dialed if I had the tolerances correct.
Andrew’s last prototype front hub with straight-pull spokes.
Kostya: Do you feel any of your ideas or designs resonated within the BMX industry moving forward?
The one product I made that everyone talks about is the plastic sleeve peg. Those god damn pegs took 5 design iterations to make. I ended up using an idea I had seen done on old Haro or Premium pegs with the hex spacer so you could spin it 6 times. I thought why the hell not. A lot of companies’ peg designs are either too basic or too elaborate. Either way, most end up failing. I also think a lot of people were interested in the front hub working out, but I never got around to finishing the set-ups to manufacture it for retail.
Kostya: What were some of the challenges to manufacturing in Canada?
I don’t think it was too different from most other BMX companies, other than me sticking to Canada with its way smaller population density than the USA or Europe. It was also a very tough time for the BMX industry in the last 6 years of System. I had shops tell me they would clear a wall of scooter parts, but couldn’t sell last year’s BMX completes, let alone aftermarket parts.
2015. Callingwood skatepark in Edmonton.
Kostya: Were there any other people that helped keep the company going?
Most of System’s success definitely came from Devin Szmata having a lot of connections and ideas. He’d light a fire under my ass to phone shops and move products. I had a few good shops that liked carrying my stuff. The shops that stocked system were United Cycle in Edmonton, Transition BMX in Edmonton, Ernie’s in Grande Prairie, Spoke ‘N Sport in Saskatoon, and Outtabounds in Saskatoon. I might have had a shop in BC, but I forget. I wasn’t the salesman.
Justin: Did System ever have a team or was it more of an informal thing with close friends?
We always had a team of sorts. I’ve had Darcy Peters, Matthew Ridgeway, Devin Szmata, Duke Thomson-Kurz, Levi Wiersma-Deardoff, Steven Kowalsky, and Mitch Anderson all ride for me at some point. I had more people, but it’s been awhile. I was all about putting guys on the team that had something special about them. Did I always want to ask Jaumell Campbell to ride for me? Yes. However, I was such a small company that it didn’t seem right; he was on another level when he was on MacNeil. I was always stoked on seeing random people I didn’t know riding System parts. I think that is the best feeling when making parts or anything you create yourself. I watched the Von Dutch documentary on Prime and couldn’t believe that so early on they had Tommy Lee from Mötley Crüe wearing and promoting their brand.
Justin: You’ve known Jaumell since grade school, right?
Yeah, I have known Jaumell since grade 4 or 5 when he came to my school. We have been friends quite a long time. We started riding together in 1997. We did many trips out of town in crazy snowstorms to ride bikes in Thorsby.
Justin: Can you describe the “golden years” of the Edmonton scene for you? I assume the Thorsby skatepark had a bit to do with it.
Ahhhh, Edmonton’s prime for me was probably around 2006 and 2007. We had a huge group of guys that just rode together and partied together. We had a good set of indoor parks to ride at and develop: Thorsby and the Warehouse in Sherwood Park. We had a lot of guys from out of town. They’d moved here for school or travel here to ride. It was fun to see so many styles in the same park. We also had guys like Calvin Wallace and Luke Santucci that would film and create content too; that helped promote what we had going on. It was an exciting time.
2006 United Cycle competition at Thorsby skatepark.
2003 to 2005 Edmonton BMX
Kostya: What’s the Edmonton scene like today?
I think the scene is good again. I’d like to thank Shaun Harrison for bringing everyone together for his jams here. It definitely helped. I’d also like to thank Bevan and Aiden from House of Wheels. They genuinely care about BMX, but are stuck with scooter children giving them the most money. I miss a lot of things from when I was growing up, but if I was smart I would step up and give that opportunity to the new generation… and if I get off my ass I just might…
Andrew at House of Wheels in Edmonton, Alberta. 2018. Photo Credit: Joe Weidman.
Kostya: When would you say System was at its peak? What signified that peak to you?
I believe the peak of System was either when I was making the Angus stem and Higginum Sprockinum in lots of colors and was selling it across 3 provinces, or when I made the DDS stem and sprocket because they were sexy. I made less of those though. It felt like a lot of work to contact BMX shops to stock my stuff. I never phoned at the right time and was usually busy making the stuff or finishing it.
Kostya: At what point did the motivation to keep the dream alive start to dwindle? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? Is there a chance for a System BMX return in the future?
I hate to say it, but I tried to quit making batches of System parts for close to 6 years. Devin kept me at it and I had partnered with a friend. We almost went to Taiwan when we made a batch of parts that were a complete failure, and I think that’s what started me on the path of ending it. As for when it really ended, my uncle—who owns the shop I work at—and I had a massive misunderstanding about one particular weekend. It was basically said if I use the shop for personal stuff I’d be turfed. That was the last straw. I would like to get back into making System parts if I can get Mastercam again.
Kostya: Any standout regrets you wished had gone differently while the company was operational?
I wish I wasn’t afraid of success. I thought I had a bunch of great products and designs that could have done well on a larger scale, but I needed distribution in (at least) Canada. I also probably should have tested the Six Shooter stem design longer. There was too much material taken out of the sides. It was prone to cracking.
Failed Six Shooter stem, Kowalski sprockets (the black production version and silver prototype version), and prototype DDS sprocket
Kostya: Any advice or warning to anyone hoping to succeed in starting a Canadian BMX hardware company?
You need guys around to push you into making better designs and products. Don’t just keep it tight between friends. Don’t be afraid to call and email shops to build connections. Get chatty and be professional.
Justin: Pretend System is back in action and has an unlimited budget. Who are you putting on the team and why?
If I had a large budget to have a team, the first guy I’m putting on is Tom Justice; he is on fire and is one of the best riders to watch. I’d add Gary Young for sure because you can’t beat his style. I’d have The Lord, Percy Marshall for a flatland rider because he is Edmonton royalty. And then I’d probably add Tate Roskelley because he has such a wild and unique style. I can’t get enough of that stuff.
Justin: Percy Marshall—the man who once floated down the North Saskatchewan River on an iceberg—is a great pick! When did you first meet Percy? Can you share a Percy story?
Hahaha. I have known Percy forever. We met probably around 2001. He was just the craziest guy you could ever meet. He tells some crazy stories, but I truly believe them because we’ve done some wild stuff together. He is also talented as fuck at flatland.
We were riding in a parking lot once and he was doing spinning cliffhangers. Percy suddenly tossed his bike and was holding his crotch, saying he had really hurt his dick or something. We were all like, “Whatever buddy.” Sure as shit, Percy had a big blood blister on his dick somehow. He pinched it in the seat rail or something weird.
Airdrie, Alberta. 2018. Photo Credit: Justin Schwanke.
Justin: Remind me when you pulled your first flair. Can you talk a bit about how that trick came to be for you?
I pulled my first flair at the Wolfmac ramps 2 years ago. That came after learning it onto the resi at B-Line. I wasn’t doing 540s anymore and they were kind of a staple from me for almost 2 decades. I was missing having a trick that nobody sees and has that wow factor. I just kept stalking the young guys who were doing flairs all the time and got into it. I have been trying to keep it ever since.
Justin: You’ve got legitimate adult responsibilities, yet still continue to ride and progress. In my opinion, you have yet to peak as a BMX rider. What keeps you motivated?
Pffffft. I’ve peaked, but I’d like to think not. I do keep pushing to get better, but I can’t 540 as well as I used to so I’m washed up. Guys like Mark [Stanway] or Brian [Sveinson] keep me motivated to ride, try new things, and be stoked on BMX. I wish my kids were into it so I could be out doing it more, but they are into traditional sports and that’s fine. I just want more time riding new places with friends. I’m pretty sure riding new parks is what keeps me going. Justin, you’ll remember our trip to Brooks. It’s a super janky park, but makes for a great time. I like interpreting my style in new places and showing new people my style of riding. I think it is fun and something interesting to see.
2013 System skatepark mix
Andrew’s footage from Weird & Revered’s 2019 full-length, Vagabond Squad: 0:00 to 1:47
Andrew’s submission to the Northern Embassy’s 2021 Summer Heat video contest