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The Lost Story of E.T.'s BMX Stunt Riders

By Wesley Fenlon

E.T.'s success propelled a brand of BMX bikes into national popularity, while a young group of skilled bikers were never credited for their work in the film's climactic chase.

BMX biking became a phenomenon in the 1970s as kids started imitating off-road motocross races with their own bicycles. By the middle of the decade, BMX racing was an organized sport, and bicycle companies were designing bikes specifically for BMX competitions. But the success of one of those brands can be traced back to one specific moment: the day Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extraterrestrial premiered in theaters. That brand was Kuwahara.

Kuwahara, along with a group of local bikers from Torrance, California, gave E.T. its most iconic scene. After E.T.'s release in 1982, everyone wanted a Kuwahara bike. A man named Howie Cohen, who owned a bicycle shop in Torrance, supplied the Kuwahara bikes for the production after being told he'd be able to sell the exclusive licensed bikes of the movie. The choice paid off--E.T. became one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and Cohen helped distribute Elliot's Kuwahara bike to a thousand distributors across the US.

The Kuwahara bikes were only half of the recipe for success, though--E.T.'s inspiring three-and-a-half minute chase scene wouldn't have worked without the eight stunt bikers who filled in for Elliot, his older brother Michael, and their friends. But as Narratively's story "The BMX Boys of E.T." reveals, the kids were never credited for their stunt work. Of the eight, only one has a credit on IMDB; none of them have their names in E.T.'s credits.

The story of how they made it into the movie is a lost bit of trivia about one of Hollywood's great movies. It starts with Spielberg telling his nephew and his nephew's friends what BMX brand he planned to use in the movie. They shot it down and said he should use Kuwahara, instead--the brand had a heavy presence in BMX magazines and was popular among BMX bikers at the time, but wasn't well-known outside those circles.

Photo credit: Howie Cohen

The next key moment came when Robert Cardoza, a BMX rider who worked at Cohen's shop, delivered the Kuwahara bicycles to the set. Spielberg told him what kind of stunts he had in mind for the film's chase scene, and Cardoza told him there was no way the actors could pull off the tricks. He showed Spielberg some of his own BMX tricks. That landed him the first stunt rider position in the film. And then he directed producer Kathleen Kennedy to a local BMX track, where she would find several more skilled riders to serve as doubles.

Narratively tells the rest of the story of the riders filming E.T.'s chase scene, how they saw the film early, and how they discovered they weren't credited in the film. Audio clips from interviews with Cardoza and Cohen also pepper the story. Each one is a must-listen if you're interested in the story behind the iconic chase scene.