Hiro Tsuchida, well-known mentor to BMX ‘flatland’ riders, collapses, dies at 49
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At his wedding reception, Hiro Tsuchida and his tuxedo-clad friends got up on the dance floor to perform what’s been called breakdancing on a bike.
Mr. Tsuchida, a well-known figure among BMX “flatland” riders, collapsed Monday at a basketball practice. The Portage Park real estate agent and resident, who’d complained recently of tightness in his chest, died at 49, said his wife Aileen.
For decades, he created and perfected his own tricks and mentored other BMX flatland riders throughout the Midwest. They use flat surfaces for their freestyle moves, relying on creativity and yoga-like muscle control instead of the added propulsion from ramps and handrails.
“Hiro’s pretty much one of the ‘OGs’ — one of the first-generation BMX flatlanders from Chicago,” said Ron Monis, 42, a rider from Lombard.
“Hiro’s passing away has a global impact, such a man that did so much for many people,” said Effraim Catlow of Southsea, England, editor of the website flatmattersonline.com.
Mr. Tsuchida invented gravity-defying moves with names like “Chopsticks” and “Roll around the Moon.” He competed as far away as Japan, Monis said.
He’d find places with smooth surfaces — like tennis courts and newly paved parking lots — and invite other flatlanders to do stunts on their bicycle motocross, or BMX, wheels.
“Meet me at the Picasso,” he’d say, and they’d gather there at night to practice. “Put on your helmet. Let’s see what you got.”
In the late 1980s, Mr. Tsuchida organized a Hawaiian Punch-sponsored trick team to perform at carnivals, parades and on “The Bozo Show.” It created jobs for BMX kids. “They never had to work at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut or a paper route,” said Paul Hahn, 50, a rider from Highland, Indiana.
“We were doing monster truck shows at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit,” said Monis.
“Before the X Games, the bikers and skaters were the ones who got picked on,” said X Games medalist Matt Wilhelm, 40, of Oak Lawn. “Other teenagers would ride past you in cars, and they would yell stuff at you or throw things at you.”
But at stunt shows, “they were clapping and cheering,” Wilhelm said.
“I have an awesome career. So much of it is due to Hiro,” said Wilhelm, who became a professional BMX flatland cyclist and motivational speaker.
“We were definitely a tribe, a brotherhood,” said Wilhelm, who was cited by Guinness World Records in 2016 for performing 44 “fire-hydrant whips” in 30 seconds. “He really was the glue.”
“As big as a place Chicago is, if Hiro found you rode BMX, he would find you and introduce you to other riders,” Monis said.
He was a patient, encouraging teacher, according to Wilhelm, who found a mentor in Mr. Tsuchida, about nine years his senior. “Here I am, a nobody kid, and here I have the best rider in Chicago giving me private lessons.”
The BMX flatland community contracted as flatland riders got older and raised families. In 2004, ESPN dropped flatland BMX from the X Games. But Mr. Tsuchida — who became a successful real estate agent — was a constant, friends said. He recently leased an indoor practice space for flatlanders at Fort Knox studios, 4255 N. Knox Ave.
He still owned four or five bikes, according to his sister Mika Hamada.
“He always made time for his family, riding, basketball and real estate,” said his wife Aileen. “Real estate by day, basketball and riding by night.”
Mr. Tsuchida was “an icon in the low-riding world,” said his friend Armando Ancira. For years, he owned an orange Chevy Caprice that he outfitted with low-rider hydraulics. “He was known for cruising Fullerton Avenue from Western to Narragansett. Everybody knew him. They called him ‘Mr. Fullerton.’ ”
Young Hiro grew up riding his bike year-round in Rogers Park, a son of Miyako and Thomas Tsuchida. His father owned cab companies he named for his children: Hiro, Mika and another daughter, Masa, who also survives Mr. Tsuchida. He went to Stone grade school, Gordon Tech, Oakton Community College and Northeastern Illinois University.
One of Mr. Tsuchida’s favorite pastimes was teaching his son Jason his signature BMX tricks. “He loved and dedicated his life around me and Jason,” his wife said.
He brought Jason along to perform in parades and was an assistant coach for his basketball team. And he and Jason volunteered every Saturday at church, teaching basketball to kids as young as 4.
Visitation will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. March 9 at Smith-Corcoran Funeral Home, 6150 N. Cicero Ave., followed by a service there at 3 p.m.
His friend Erik Matsunaga said riders who knew him are “going to set up a Hiro tribute, a flatland jam.”