Toby Henderson: I Saw the BMX in the E.T. Movie Make a Big Impact on the Sport

By Adam Marsal

This man is a legend. Starting with BMX racing in 1978, Toby Henderson became the hero of his time. Photos of him doing gnarly tricks decorated cover pages of the most influential BMX magazines and kids hung his posters on the walls. After MTB grew into a serious sport, Toby switched from BMX to mountain biking. In 1994, he was inducted to the BMX Hall of Fame by the American Bicycle Association. 

Even after he retired as an athlete, Toby Henderson did not put his interest in cycling aside and founded the Box Components company that now competes with Shimano and SRAM. Toby agreed to answer a few questions for We Love Cycling – so, here we go!

You were in racing for over 20 years. Has that experience also helped you in business somehow? I mean, you have to be a tough guy with a lot of discipline to become a professional athlete as well as an entrepreneur…

My racing background and experience have helped me pursue my passion for product development, starting with BMX on how I want to experience the products. My idea is to take a product that I didn’t have as a racer and bring it to life. Racing and being an entrepreneur have been equally challenging.

You remember 1984 as a pro BMX rider. It was the year when Spielberg released his ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ blockbuster, and thus launched a great BMX mania all over the world. What was your perception of that event?

I found it silly at first as I was in the trenches of racing but later on, I realized how much impact it had when the sport skyrocketed. Now, 40 years later, we’re seeing a surge of enthusiasts who bring their children to the track and/or are buying retro-type BMX bikes to relive the experience from back in the day.

Can you name 5 things that influenced the BMX evolution the most since you were a child? Is there something you’re really missing from the old times?

1. The birth and growth of freestyle BMX. It changed the way athletes were compensated and how products were marketed.
2. The fall of racing vs. rise in freestyle. It changed the whole landscape for around 10 years.
3. The rise and fall of major bike brands such as Trek and Specialized making a go at BMX racing sales.
4. The American Bicycle Association’s (ABA) merger and the National Bicycle League (NBL).
5. The introduction of BMX Racing to the Olympics in 2008. Although it didn’t change BMX’s growth, it did change its global visibility.

There are lots of BMX heroes who don’t exist today. Even though we try to elevate these legends, we’re not getting the same recognition compared to back in the day.

What made you move over to MTB?

BMX racing’s downfall and there was no money to be made as a professional athlete, so I chased the next biggest thing: MTB racing. In 1988, I started my MTB career. It was brutal for me as I had to change my physique to go from being a strength to a distance athlete until 1991 when Downhilling became a sport. I took my distance-training and bike-handling skills, combined them to become a downhill force.

Can you compare the MTB racing of now and then?

The only comparison I can make is on equipment and speed. I started my career with no suspension and ended with 8 inches (200 mm) of travel. Current bikes are far beyond what I rode and have brought speed and agility to the athletes that I’ve never seen before.

I’ve noticed that you won a DH race in Mammoth Mountain in 1994. Was it the famous Kamikaze eliminator?

Yes, and no. I won the Kamikaze but did not win the Eliminator. I was one of only two athletes to make the Eliminator’s final round every year. Nothing like a helicopter ride to the top of the mountain.

Before founding your own company, you received several awards for developing bicycle products. Which of them are you most proud of?

I was most proud of my “THE Vegas Helmet” after the award appeared in Men’s Journal Product of the Year but I had massive success with my first product, “THE Fenders.” I thought I knew the bike business very well until that product became undesirable overnight. Since then, I’ve learned to develop products and have them sustain longer than before. Another notable success was my BMX brand “Intense,” being five times the Bike of the Year, which has never been done before and still has not today.

In 2012, you founded Box Components. Have you intended to compete with both Shimano and SRAM right from the beginning?

I started Box in 2012 intending to develop BMX components and then become a leader in the BMX community before moving onto other disciplines. With that said, I learned a lot about making too many stock-keeping units and not focusing. I decided to focus on a niche when developing a product for MTB and focusing on creating a durable and reliable drivetrain. It was the most challenging project to date for my career.

Can you introduce us to Box Components in a few words? What makes it different compared to other companies and their products?


What are your greatest achievements?

Raising children.

Which Box Components product is your favourite?

Wow, they’re all my favourite. But if I have to pick one, it would be the introduction to the Prime 9 drivetrain system based on 9 gears. Fewer gears mean larger teeth to index. Larger indexing teeth equal less wear and tear and less shifting extends the shifter’s life. This was a Box team effort on how to separate ourselves from the two big guys.

Did Covid-19 mean an increase in demand for your components too? It seems like the global inventory of components is almost sold out…

Yes, like everybody else, we have a huge demand. We’re still not sure if that’s good or bad for us because the supply could hurt us in the long-run and the fact that many OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) customers are not changing product spec and we’re still waiting for our chance to be a part of many bike brands.

Do you still ride? How much time is left for sports when managing the company?

Last year, I fell in love with e-bikes. I get to ride those quite often. One main focus with my e-bike is to climb up the hill with support then blast down the hill. I also find time to ride a tandem with my wife. I’m also Box’s number one test dummy. So yes, I get to ride on a regular basis.

Many thanks for the interview, Toby Henderson!