3×5=FuckYou

Let me first preempt this by saying one thing: I’ve been a good bike rider lately. Not good as in learning new tricks and being really consistent. No, we know that would never happen. I mean good from a safe bicyclist standpoint. I’ve been stopping at lights, riding where I should on the road and with the flow of traffic, crossing streets at cross walks instead of at will, etc. I even use lights now! Let me also say that with each passing day, I see how very, very dangerous it is to be riding a bike in the city.

So I’ve been doing my best to be a courteous bike rider; one that shares the road with automobiles and doesn’t shock any drivers with sudden irrational or reckless movements.

Today though, it makes me want to take all that away and go back to being the irrational, reckless idiot that got me here in the first place. It started out innocently enough, riding across town to meet a friend at a U-Haul Rental Station (more on that later this week). The ride across town was maybe three miles, from the North to the South, through the center of the city.

Philadelphia is laid out in a grid pattern, with every other street being one way. It’s flat, full of bike lanes and easy to navigate. In the grand scheme of bike friendliness, it’s actually amazing. So I left the house around 5 pm and started pedaling up North 2nd St. to the center of town. This part was uneventful. But as soon as I crossed underneath the Ben Franklin Bridge, I came upon Race St. The light was red, so I stopped and waited for the light to turn green. When it did, I started across the street, but was stopped suddenly by a yuppie in an SUV on the phone, driving down Race St. and failing to notice the red light he was about to run. He stopped short, beeped at me and made a hand gesture as to say, “What the hell are you doing?” I pointed at his red light, some ten feet above me, and aimed my middle finger directly at him for a good 10 seconds. Moving right along….

I began working my way over the grid to get to 12th St, where the U-Haul Station was located. While taking a Westbound road over to 12th St., one that had two lanes for cars, on street parking and a bike lane, I made my way to the right side of the street. I WAS IN THE BIKE LANE, when an SUV starts beeping behind me. It seems that this gangsta’s Cadillac Escalade was too wide to fit in the lanes without poking through into the bike lane. I looked back at the driver, received a “Get the fuck outta the way” hand gesture from him, then slowed down and kept my position. At the next light, he yelled, “I should bust you upside the head muthafucka.” I gave him the finger as well, yelled, “Your mom should’ve made you gay,” and then darted the wrong way down a one-way street. (The one great thing about being a wise ass with cars is the one-way street; it’s the simplest and most winning way out of a lose-lose situation. Yell something offensive, make a mad dash the wrong way down a street, and the car is fucked. It’s simple economics…)

Shortly thereafter, I arrived at the U-Haul Station unscathed. No shortage of stories to tell from rush hour outside of the North side of Philadelphia. But let’s move onward to tonight.

After arriving back home, eating dinner, working some more, this and that, I decided to go back outside on my bike. Cruising up North 2nd St. again, towards the Ben Franklin Bridge. Before the bridge is a cross street called Callowhill, which features not one, but five lanes of traffic all making a right turn to intersect North 2nd. St. I’ve made the mistake before of going when I shouldn’t have before, and have almost been hit a few times at this light. As I stated earlier, I now wait for the green. So there I sat, waiting for the green. When it turned, I made my way out into the street when a car came speeding along to make the right turn at around 45 mph. Tires squealing, full of five jocks and beeping its horn nonstop. I stopped in the middle of the street to avoid them, as did the car. I said, “What’s the problem?” And the driver answered, “Fuck you.” I returned back with another “Fuck you,” and then the doors of the car started opening, on a car in the middle of a busy street. The jocks had decided to give chase on foot.

Knowing when and where to fight my battles against five idiots, I pedaled away, did a wallride underneath the I-95 overpass and kept on going into Center City. At the same time, my fight or flight instinct told me it was probably best to not stay in the vicinity, just in case these five jocks had nothing better to do than to harass bike riders tonight. So I started pedaling home, up North 3rd St., still adhering to the go-with-the-flow attitude I’ve been trying to stick to.

Before crossing back over Callowhill, I noticed the car full of jocks parking their car at a lame sports bar called Tiki Bob’s. Never been in the place, but it looks as if these idiots would fit right in. So I waited until they were in the bar before making my way up to the place. I spotted them through the glass, knocked on it, pulled my pants down and pressed my ass against the window, then pedaled off. As I pedaled up the mellow incline of North 3rd St., I started to hear taunts from outside of Tiki Bob’s. “Get back here faggot!” “I’ll kick your fucking ass!” Etc, etc.

When I turned around, I spotted the driver of the car in the middle of the street. His arms were raised over his head, he was yelling, “I’ll kill you fucking faggot,” and he was visibly pissed off that he and his friends had to stare at my ass through a bar room window after chasing me on foot a few minutes earlier.

Justice had been served.

Steven Hamilton Interview: Dig Issue 42

(Just like the title of the post states….)

dig42.jpg

Very rarely does someone come along that can challenge the status quo within riding, and win. But in the span of a handful of video sections (including A Day Late and a Dollar Short, The Day is Over, appearances in Road Fools 11 and 12, and Can I Eat?), Steven Hamilton did just that. There he was, riding his bike and minding his own business, not really bothering to keep up with the scene, just making video parts that he thought were fun, when he suddenly became a household name in BMX.
Steven’s name became commonplace throughout the world just after the release of An!mal’s Can I Eat? video. He mixed fearless gaps with big 180’s, 360’s and original technical lines, and just about everyone that had seen the video was blown away by it. Unknowingly, Steven had introduced a new dimension to riding. All it took was that 3-minute section, a Violent Femmes song and a different view of the world around himself. Add to that, the fact that he did it on, of all things, a bike with a 19 inch top tube, and you’ve got the makings of a true original. (Though I don’t think Steven cares to portray himself in such a light. He seems more concerned with friends, having fun and generally just living a carefree life than he does with being an international BMX phenomenon on a short frame.)
Still, there can be no argument that Steven Hamilton has made quite an impression on the face of BMX, even if he is someone that just enjoys playing soccer and doesn’t know how to stay out of the way of moving traffic.
We did this interview in two parts. The first part, Steven fielded email questions from Sandy and Ed. And the second part, Steven answered questions via a phone interview, as he walked home from watching Ohio State University’s first football game of the 2004-05 season. OSU won, Steven was glad they won, and we were all glad that both the taxi cab and the car didn’t mow him down on his way home from the game. That wouldn’t have been too sweet….

Have you ever forgotten your bike when you went out to ride or film?
Yes, I made Sandy drive me an hour and a half through Austin traffic to check out a spot, only to get there and realize I left my bike unlocked in front of a restaurant on the other side of town.

Have you ever beaten Ali Whitton during a Woodward camper contest?
I think it was before Ali knew judges like to see you utilize as many obstacles on the course as possible. He stuck to the resi and I took the win. Then, someone stole my winnings out of my cabin.

What’s your favourite Peter Adam story?
Girl at the hostel: “How come you only talk to me when your wasted?”
Peter Adam: “How come you only look good when I’m wasted?”
I guess it’s not much of a story, but it’s still pretty funny.

What’s the PSI is in your head?
I have a polyp in my nose, so when I get around cats or mold, the pressure often doubles and sometimes triples. With a Breathe Right nasal strip, I can keep it down around 25, which isn’t too bad.

Have you ever done a sequence for a how to on speed jumping?
Only because the dude promised me a picture of a no-footed x-up if I did the sequences for him. He didn’t come through with the pic and said I was an 80s style jumper in the article. Too bad the jump was a hip and I was just getting some style. He’s lucky he never came back to the trails after that. I would have thrown dirt at him or something.

You just got back from Vancouver with the Orchid trip. How was it?
Oh, it was awesome.

Is that your first time being around the Orchid team?
Umm, no. Some of them yes. But I’ve been around Sean Arata a lot. I guess I had pretty much met them all, but this was the first time we actually all got to hang out.

How did you actually get hooked up with Orchid?
I rode for Inopia, and that didn’t really work out. I think either LS or Navaz [of Standpoint video magazine] said something to Derek [Adams] and then I saw Derek at FDR one day, and he said he would give me some shoes. Then I think they called me one day and said that they wanted me to ride for them.

So is there going to be a Hamilton signature shoe then?
I don’t know. I would hope so.

You know that Adio already has a shoe out called the Hamilton, so you’d need to find another name for it.
There’s an Adio shoe called that? Is it a pro skater’s?

No, I think it’s just a generic name for one of their non-signature shoes.
I already got a name picked out and I already have some ideas for a shoe, but I still need to wait and see if they even want me to do one….

What are your shoe designs like?
Something like Andre Agassi’s pro model shoe.

A tennis shoe?
Yeah, cause I got a pair of them, and they’re sweet to ride in.

I guess we could start talking about getting on An!mal as well.
Woah! I almost just got hit by a taxi.

You alright?
Yeah.

How do you feel about going through a big change where you weren’t really hooked up with anyone and then, suddenly, you just started getting hooked up by a few. How does that feel?
It’s awesome, cause like, it’s not like I went though some personal change. I still do what I’ve always done. I just make video parts. And everyone is cool with that. No one expects me to go to a ton of contests or get a lot of magazine coverage. I get some stuff in the magazines, but I’d just want to focus on videos. The good thing about getting hooked up is, I haven’t had to change at all really.

You know, you came out with the part in Can I Eat?, and everyone was, I guess, in a non-homosexual kind of way, sweating you pretty bad. You know, everyone was talking about you. How did that feel? Was it kinda spooky and/or was it weird to start getting recognized, like, if you went to a skatepark or something?
Uhh, the only time I go to skateparks is when I’m on trips and stuff, so if a whole team of us on a trip shows up at a park, then they’d get recognized too. That An!mal part was my third video part already. I had two before that. They were small ones.

If An!mal offered you a signature grip but Ralph stipulates that it’s only on the grounds that it’s chequered, would you do it?
Definitely, cheguered grips would be sweet, tie die grips would be better.

How do you feel about Steven Hamilton clones?
Cologne?

No, clones!
Like if you clone a goat or something like that?

Well, we have a few kids at the local park here that kinda emulate you pretty bad after the An!mal video.
They sweat my shit after the An!mal video?

Yeah, I mean, not that you’d be pissed or anything, but is that strange for you at all?
Yeah, it’s definitely weird. It’s not something I was used to, but I think it’s pretty obvious you know, like they’re sweating me and trying to copy. But you know, when I was young, I sweated people real bad too and I would like, I would see something and I would try to do it too. That’s how you learn shit. It kinda gets annoying when you have like, kids that should be past that and are still doing it. Go do you own thing.

So how many striped t-shirts do you own then? And do you think you are responsible for the striped t-shirt fashion?
Yes, I invented putting stripes on shirts.

Who did you look up to then, when you were younger and coming into riding?
Yeah, depending on what stage I was at or how old I was, I looked up to different people. I guess some of the people that have influenced me along that way are Brian Castillo, Paul Osicka, Brian Foster, Taj and Joe Rich. All those guys were pretty big when I was coming into it.

Did you ever race?
I didn’t really start out racing. I went to tracks a lot but I only actually raced twice. I didn’t really have too much fun actually racing. Just cause I was always kinda nervous. The last time I raced, I got wrecked around the last berm. But I definitely rode race tracks a lot.

How did you actually get into riding then?
When I was younger, I lived in Oregon and North Carolina, and me and my brother would just ride around. My brother would always pop wheelies, and we started to do that. And when I lived in North Carolina, this kid across the street had a four-foot kicker that we would just launch to flat off of. Me and my brother would ride off the corner of that ramp. I think we rode just to kinda get away. Like if I wanted to go explore a new creek, I would just ride my bike there, and a lot of the creeks there would have dirt jumps and stuff, so it kinda came to me.

Why did your family move all over the place?
My dad is a Marine.

What rank is he?
Lieutenant Colonel.

So was your upbringing pretty strict then?
No, not really. I moved around a lot. I was born in ’82 but we moved to Columbus, Ohio not too far after that. But before, I got to go to all these cool places like Sweetwater Falls in Oregon and Yellowstone National Park. But it wasn’t strict or anything really.

What does your brother do now?
He plays rugby. He plays for Ohio State and he just graduated. Now he lived in Colorado, plays rugby out there and works in natural resources.

So is he a bigger dude than you?
He was always way bigger than me and has always been able to kick my ass, but recently, I’ve been getting up there. He’s still way bigger than I am, but we’ll see what happens.

Does your family know about your riding then?
Yeah, they know and they think it’s cool. My parents will show all their friends all my video parts and stuff.

So you never had any interference from them earlier on then?
Oh, earlier on I had a lot. I played soccer in high school, and I’d always go ride. And I got in a lot of trouble at soccer practice, like, if there’d be a mound of dirt on the baseball field near the soccer field, I’d be sitting there riding it in the middle of practice while my coaches would be yelling at me. My mom would get mad at me for riding all the time and not hanging out with my friends. And the place where we grew up, the trails were kinda sketchy, and I think parents probably thought it was real bad for their kids to be hanging out down there; just lots of drugs and stuff down there.

Would you describe your riding style as a product of the scene you grew up in, or is it more personal than that?
Definitely a reflection of the scene I grew up in, from the landscape to the people. Midwest, say shhh!

Are you taking a break from college now then?
I stopped taking classes in the last winter quarter. The last fall quarter, I was taking 15 hours of classes and I had a ping pong class and a bunch of other classes. But by the end of the quarter, all I had was the ping pong class and one other art class. And then the next quarter, I signed up for classes again, but I wasn’t into it. In the fall quarter, that’s when I was filming for the An!mal video, so I was trying to film shit. And it would always come down to get another clip or go to class. I would always say “Fu*k it, I might as well film, or sleep, or watch another dating show.” So I just didn’t go to class then. I signed up again in the winter, but I dropped them after two weeks.

Did you pass the ping pong class?
Yeah, I actually got an A-. I was real good at ping pong, but there was an actual exam. And this little Japanese lady that was my teacher, well, I did kinda bad on the exam, but I went up and talked to her and I was kinda cool with her, so she told me some answers, and I changed them and she let me get by.

I would’ve been bummed if you failed a ping pong class.
I probably would’ve killed myself.

So did you drop out or are you taking a break then?
It’s hard to say. I might go back; I might not. I dropped out to travel, and I’ve been traveling a ton. I mean, til I get bored with what I’m doing now, I won’t be in school.

Do you see that happening anytime soon?
Not really. I might not travel as much, but I’ll always want to go to new places.

What were some highlights from your trip to Prague earlier this year?
Peter Adam entertaining Joerichhead and her two friends, Absinthe everynight, cheap chineese food, nasty gypsies trying to give us head for $5 and pickpocketing us at the same time.

What were your impressions of the bone church in Kutna Hora?
They used human bones to make neat things like birds pecking out the eyes of their cousins and bone chandeliers with dusty plastic cupid figurines on them. It was a very sacred place.

Was it a hard decision to make then; putting college on hold to try the riding thing?
Yeah, it was definitely a hard decision. I didn’t really know what to do. I thought it would take away from riding if it was my main focus. The main reason I made the decision, was because I was so stressed out at the time, but now, I get to relax a little more.

You seem to take a more casual approach to riding. You know, there’s the guys that come to comps and they’re like warriors about it, just wanting to show off? But you can go either way it seems. I’ve seen you go nuts at the Ghetto Street Comps and also not want to even be noticed at other contests. It just seems like it’s not the most important thing in your life I guess. Does that make any sense?
Yeah, but I think contests are alright.

Well then, what makes you take the approach you take towards your riding then?
I try not to do anything unless I’m feeling it. If I’m into it, then I’m into it. But if I’m having a hard time putting in the effort, it’s not worth it. If it feels natural though, it’ll be good.

What made you want to take the video approach more importantly?
I think video parts withstand time better. It could last forever. People can always watch it, whereas, if you enter a contest, people there will see you ride and it’ll be in the magazine maybe. But with a video part, you have a lot more control of what you’re putting out there and how you’re being portrayed. It’s something that’s gonna last and something that you always look back on. I don’t know, I think video parts are really cool. And they’re real fun to make too.

What makes you go nuts at every Ghetto Street comp then? (Smart me: At time of writing, there’s only been two.)
I just like the vibe there.

Are those the only comps you’ve ever entered then?
Yeah, just those two. I was hurt at the first one. It was the first time I had ridden in 3 or 4 weeks, cause my chest was fuc*ked up, but I always have a great time there. I don’t think I’m going to be able to go this year though. I’m going to Japan next week.

Did you always tend to have smaller bike setups?
I rode normal sized bikes, and I had an MCS Gravedigger frame for a while. I had that frame, and I liked it a lot, and then I had an Elf. And it was a pro-sized frame but I liked it. Back then, I was more into jumping. And then my Elf broke and I got a DK XL frame. And I had that bike for a long time, but when I got it, I couldn’t do 180’s. All my friends could, but when I got that frame, I could barely bunnyhop on it cause I was so tiny on it. I still rode it, and I basically just jumped anyway. Then when it came time to get a new frame, I was looking at all the frames, and saw the Standard Tao. I just thought I’d try it out, and as soon as I got it, I loved it. I actually had the control that my bigger friends had on their bike. I could actually do 180’s and I had way more control. I’ve ridden the same dimensions on frames since then.

And now your own frame is coming out in a few weeks. How does that feel?
It’s awesome. I’m real psyched on my frame.

Do you have a name for it yet?
It’s going to be called the Dream Machine, from the Neil Young song about his motorcycle. I didn’t know if the people at Federal would be into it, but that’s what I want to call it.

Well, you can bully Ian around if you want. He’s pretty easy that way.

Is the rest of your bike setup pretty specialized?
I keep my back end pretty much slammed, put mad spacers on my fork so my bars are high for the extra leverage, seat low for clearance, tires at about 90psi, headset a tiny bit loose and the thinnest grips I can find. Just past couple of year, it’s been getting a little more race-oriented. I’m not riding the same thing I was back then, so my bike is changing too.

Did you ever run pegs? What were your reasons for taking them off?
I ran pegs off and on for about 4 years, I noticed people around me puting pegs on during the same time, the pegs seemed to slow down the progression of their riding more that help it, like when they put the pegs on they had to learn all these grinds before they could get back to the shit they’d normally be doing and progressing at.

What cheesy parts have you ran in the past that you now regret?
I regretted spending 180 dollars for blue anodized Supercross cranks (the ones with the bend in them.) They were aluminum and never stopped creaking the whole time I had them.

What’s your favorite thing to ride lately?
I’ve been having a lot of fun on cement parks. On the Orchid trip, we rode a lot of cool ass parks in the Northwest, and it was also the first time I’ve ever ridden real trails. I rode those Salem trails. Oh wait, I rode Baker’s Acres too. We don’t have good trails around here anymore. A few years ago, we had about five sets all around, but they’re pretty much all gone now.

Well, ever since Todd Lyons left town…
Yeah, he killed the Columbus scene. Everyone hates him for that.

A lot of your riding is pretty innovative. How do you figure out new tricks and new lines that you’re doing? What’s the process to get to it?
It’s just kinda like, I’ll think of something, and it’s just like, I’ll try it out. Depending on what it is or how badly I want to do it, I’ll slowly do it while I’m riding, kinda mess around with it, and with time, it just kinda becomes easy. Instead of just trying to learn something in the span of one week or something, I just try to take my time. There’s also sometimes to, you know, like with flatland, where you try something and by accident, something kinda works out. And then you get different ideas to do more things. I just almost got hit by a car again.

So that’s two cars in this conversation?
One taxi and one car.

What type of tricks are you concentrating on right now?
Trying to be faster, quicker, working with some tire skid/slide stuff, still doing nose wheelies, still doing a lot of the same stuff just hopefully bigger and faster.

Nose wheelies play a big part in your riding. Was flatland something you concentrated on, or was it just something you messed about with along the way? What type of riding were you most drawn to at first?
I only started doing nose wheelies a couple years ago. I never rode flatland, (at least not flatland with 4 pegs or whatever), there’s flatland in everything, except a roller section I guess. In the beginning, riding was just a mode of exploration, riding to different creeks or whatever. Doing tricks came naturally with the landscape, catching air and what not.

What does sponsorship mean to you?
I definitely appreciate it a lot. If I can help my sponsors out and they can help me out, then it works out really good. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got going for myself right now.

Are there any Steven Hamilton signature parts coming out with An!mal then?
I got a pedal coming out. That dude White Boy is working on it right now. It’s a cross between a Schwinn XS pedal and a Wellgo pedal, but with sealed bearings.

I guess I should ask you about other sports you’re into then too.
I play soccer. Me and my friends have an indoor team, and we play about 3 sessions a week during the winter time, and then in the summer, I was on an outdoor team, and we would play at least once a week.

What position are you?
Forward.

Do you ever play defense?
No, I’m terrible at defense. I score goals. I just sit up top and rest, and when I get an opportunity, I just sprint and lose all my energy real quick. I just try to get break-aways.

Sandy mentioned frisbee golf too.
Yeah, I play frisbee golf in the summer time. It’s something to do outside and it’s also free. I snowboard too. I play basketball as well.

I guess, did you want to talk about Federal as well then?
That was weird. I was riding Dodge with my friend one day and Sandy was on his way through, and he told me could give me a frame. Someone else had already told me that they could get me a frame then. It was you actually. Ian was at the Ghetto Street comp last year, and I talked to him afterwards, and stuff worked out really good.

How did you get to be friends with Stew [Johnson] then?
I was at Woodward, and he was there. I started talking to him when he was filming. I showed him my video (Inception). It was some video I made in high school.

And the Stew ended up bringing you on all these crazy Road Fools trips?
Yeah, Stew invited me.

What were those experiences like for you?
The first one was pretty weird because it was in the middle of winter time, and I totally wasn’t expecting it. I hadn’t ridden, and I got out there, and I got really sore on the first day. And then the second one was really good, especially cause it was in the Midwest so I was more comfortable than I was on the first one.

Is it strange for you to be around a group of 15 pros all going nuts at the same time? Was it like a contest for you?
I was kinda worried about that on the first RF trip I went on, thinking I really needed to get a lot of footage. But then I just got more comfortable and it was nothing bad at all.

Are there any riding situations or things you’ve done that have scared you?
A lot of the times when I’m filming something, I’ll just be sitting at home and depressed or something, and I’ll just be like, “Fu*k it, I’m gonna go do something stupid.” Sometimes, it works out and I’m happy and sometimes I’m pissed off at myself for like two weeks cause my knee is tweaked out or something like that. But if you’re intimidated by something, you’ll have to feel a lot better when you finally pull it. It’s also a lot better to pull something if you’re not sure you can do it.

Do you ever have to struggle with anything then?
Normally, I’ll pretty much understand what it is I’m trying before I try to do it, so I don’t get mad or anything. If it’s not working out, I just kinda expect it. But a lot of the stuff I film can take a while, but I expect it to. And I”m still having fun when I’m trying shit, so it doesn’t really bother me.

What’s the deal with Maynard Street?
Maynard, my house?

Yeah.
It’s our house in Columbus, and it’s me, two guys just moved out and two more guys that ride just moved in. It’s always six guys, and we just ride on campus, so it’s always crazy during the school year. It’s pretty chill in the summer time and we just do whatever.

What’s the rent per person?
$268.00 a month. It’s definitely got its ups and downs though. Like as far as bills getting paid and the house getting cleaned, it’s kinda a pain. Communication is tough.

What’s your chores around the house?
I mow the lawn and try to take the trash out. Those are the two main things that need done. Just taking the trash out is the main thing that doesn’t get done, and it needs to be done a lot more than it is. There’s always a lot of trash laying around. I also try to take care of some of the bills. I’m actually pretty lazy about it all too, but my friend Matt that’s moving in, said he’s pretty much going to try to be the mom of the house. Hopefully, things will be a little better with that.

Do you have to share a room then?
No. We all have our own rooms.

Can you tell us about sleeping in an alleyway on the East side of Austin because you got lost walking to Joel Moody’s house?
I was sitting on the curb eating some pizza after the bars let out on Sixth Street; just people watching, minding my business, when this chubby girl comes up and starts dancing on me and rubbing my leg. So I got a little creeped out and decided to go back to Joel’s house where I was staying. It was late and I was tired, so I was pretty frustrated after walking in circles for an hour and not finding the place. So I found some bushes on the side of a house and took a nap for a bit. I woke up feeling good and found the place no problem.

What’s the best thing about being Steven Hamilton.
Both of my pinky toes are double jointed.

And Cabbage!

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This is a photo from St. Patrick’s Day ’06. It’s at a bar down the street from my old house. I think it was called Rocky’s. I don’t know much about the place except that there was a hidden strip club in the back which attracted more attention than the bevy of bar room cover bands that frequented the front part. On this particular night, I don’t remember the cover band or what they were playing, but I was tipsy enough to want to shoot a photo of them. And the only part of the photo that I really liked in the end was the digital phrase I managed to capture above the band: “And cabbage!”
The place has since burned down now. But we’ll have always have “And cabbage!” to remind us of its latent greatness.

The Vic Ayala Interview

(At the end of last summer, myself and Ryan Corrigan were walking out of the 9th St. PATH station when we ran into Vic Ayala. We all shared a laugh, walked for a few blocks and went our separate ways. This interview appeared in issue 38 of Dig, and was conducted in the summer of 2004. Vic went his separate way from BMX not long after, but his incredible riding and modest demeanor remains one of my favorites within the realm of progressive street riding.)

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When I first met Vic Ayala, he was your not so typical BMXer that could do whatever he pleased, and more often than not, he had a wise ass remark for whatever was thrown his way. That was only, maybe five to six years ago. In the short time since then, Vic has grown both on and off his bike at a surmountable rate. Of course, we all know the riding aspect, and how Vic has pushed his brand of riding and street in general; but what I find truly remarkable is how quickly Vic grasped the concepts of perception and maturity in the time off his bike. This may sound cheap and condescending at first, but in the process of doing and reading this interview, it’s easy to realize that Vic’s wisdom and hardened experiences speak volumes. Vic’s been there and done that, from eating at homeless soup kitchens to traveling the world to getting a full time job working construction and all the while, still maintaining his riding. He knows the ins and outs of life, isn’t afraid to tell people how he feels, and though it sounds cliche, can definitely see the forest for the trees. While most people riding would kill to live the life, get sponsored and just ride, Vic can and will espouse over the values of avoiding that route, and the worth in that aversion. I guess I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn a lot from doing this interview with Vic Ayala. He’s gained one of the most valuable qualities a person can attain; that of perspective, the ability to take a step back from anything and find the true meaning behind it. This is Vic Ayala, the same guy who once asked Ryan Corrigan if there was a vegan animal that vegans could find, kill and eat so they’re not left out of the equation……

All right, how do you want to start this?

I guess just probably by talking about how you got into riding? Growing up on Long Island, that kind of thing. What town you’re actually from?
Bellmore, Long Island.

Who was the first person you saw riding?
This dude, my friend ‘Combs.’ I knew this kid since I was in kindergarten. And he’s crazy. His dad had all these hot rods and shit, and he was actually on the cover of Fisherman Magazine once. His dad was a real psycho, real crazy, and uh, his mom had like a billion cats, and Combs was just a weird fu*king kid. But anyway, I used to skateboard and he used to ride. He had a GT Performer, and everyone in the neighborhood knew about this bike, cause he was this bastard bad kid and he had like a $400.00 bike, and we all rode skateboards. Anyway, I was friends with him and one day I asked him if I could ride his bike, so I rode around the school and I was just psyched, and me and him were friends anyway, so I would meet up with him and ride. I didn’t have a bike though, so he took off all of his old stuff and some shit that I scrapped and we just built a bike. That’s how I started riding.

When was that?
I don’t know, like eight or nine years ago. Might’ve been longer than that though.

Where’d you go from there then?
Riding his bike, cause my bike was cool, but it sucked. The axles were bent, I didn’t have pegs, and it got to the point where I would tell him what parts he should get for his bike, so I could ride his bike. So I rode his bike and Combs pedaled around with mine, til mine started to actually get good. And then actually, I got an S&M Dirt Bike frame, and then after that, I put one dent in it, and I just started beating the shit out of it til it was done. Before I put the dent in, it was all nice chrome and I didn’t want to street ride, but once there was one dent in it, that was the end of it.

Did you start riding street then?
Well, actually, street is where I met Combs. It was at a school across the street from my house and there were all curbs and bike racks and shit like that, and uh, I guess that was street riding. And they had this bench there, so we rode that all the time. We didn’t know what we were doing, but you know, I guess it’s “street riding” now, but back then, it was just riding off stuff. And then there’s trails to this day on Long Island, that are still called ‘Vic’s Trails,’ cause me and Combs went there and built them. And then all the kids knew them as our trails. They weren’t actually trails, just bumps.

Did you know of Robbie Morales or Keith Terra or any other Long Island riders?
No, never knew any of them. We didn’t know about anything. Nothing at all, there was no bike riding around us. We thought we invented feeble grinds and double peg grinds, shit like that, but we didn’t know anything about nothing.

What was one of the first things you learned on your bike?
I don’t know, uh, I’d probably say bunnyhops up curbs. At first, we were catching it, all back wheel on the way up….

Sometime down the line, you obviously realized there were other people out there though. Did you ever see magazines or anything?
Well, this kid Chris used to live around the corner from my house. He was this dirty fu*king kid and he used to ride too cause he knew Combs also, and uh, he bought the Hoffman ‘Mad Matt’ video, and I was at my house, and I was like, “Don’t watch the video til I get over there!” So he started watching it anyway, and by the time I got to his house, Taj’s part was on. And I thought he was a girl with the long hair, so I was like “Shit, that girl’s awesome!” Cause we couldn’t do the kind of shit he was doing, and that was when I first realized that, when I saw Taj ride, that uh, there were other people riding. And that video had been out for a while already….

Did you go to any local contests or anything?
Nope, we didn’t know about anything. And there were no skateparks on Long Island until about two years ago. And then the only ones that were there, we couldn’t afford to go to anyway. And if we could’ve, we didn’t have a car and didn’t know how to use the train.

I guess one of the first times I had seen you ride was at Hackettstown Skatepark, probably right after Crandall gave you a bike. How did you figure out how to ride skateparks then?
I didn’t do ramp tricks. When I went to skateparks, I just rode the grind box, and the pyramids.

But I’ve seen you ride a spine really good as well.
To me, that was just like riding a wedge to deck, and if I rode a sub box, it was the same as riding a bank to ledge. When I rode skateparks, I thought I knew how to ride ramps, but to me, it was just street riding. If you didn’t do airs and you didn’t do box jump tricks, then it wasn’t “ramp” to me.

When did you start coming into the city then to ride?
When we first started riding, it was just an obvious thing. Our neighborhood sucked, and the city was a train ride away, so the older guys that we used to ride with, they had cars and they would invite us to come ride in the city with them. And then eventually, we just started hanging with them more often and going a lot more.

Where you into doing rails by then?
At that time for some reason, it felt like, if you didn’t do a rail, you weren’t any good at street riding, so we would go to the city, and these fu*king kids were just throwing themselves down 20-stair rails that were super steep. I was still stuck on the ledges and small rails though, but I guess I was jumping on rails at the time. I had started doing them on Long Island. I think my first one was on Long Island actually.

I guess some of the first footage I had seen of you was from the Intense Energy demo a long, long time ago. How’d you come to realize that there was a scene outside of your immediate group? And what made you want to travel around and explore more?
I was bored. And I met other people like Bob (Scerbo) and George (Dossantos) and Jeff (Zielinski), and then they showed me more of who and what was around. Eventually, you get bored of riding the same shit in the city, so if I heard about something that I could get to, then I’d go to it. I used to go to Bethlehem all the time too, cause I always used to hear that it was “the spot” and Lehigh was the good college, so just seeing shit that you wanted to go to, and then going there, was what we did.

Were you disappointed?
No, I loved it. When I first went there, I loved it. Back then, we would ride the same almost level rail at Lehigh, and back then, that was cool cause we couldn’t do these big rails. So we’d go play on that thing. That was actually good at the time. Nowadays, I probably wouldn’t go back.

Did you have brakes back then?
I never had brakes on my bike. Combs would always fix my bikes, and my bikes were all scrap, so I’d be waiting for weeks for a back wheel or a pair of bars. And when my bike was rideable enough to actually do a trick, I didn’t care if it had brakes. Brakes were just three extra parts I had to get if they broke. I didn’t give a shit so we never put them on. But then when we started going to skateparks, a lot of the dudes would tell us that we need brakes, but I never put them on.

Did you always have the 4-peg setup then as well?
No, when I first started riding, there was no pegs at all. And then Combs put pegs on, and we just figured out that you could jump and land on those, and then got one peg at first, and then two, then three and now four.

Are you forever sold on that setup then?
No. Sometimes I get bored and I want to do a fufanu without sticking my foot in the back wheel or a nosepick without sticking my foot in the front wheel. Even with pegs, sometimes I just want to pull my pegs off and just bunnyhop over stuff. I don’t want four pegs all the time, but my bike just feels more complete with all four. And just by chance, if I ever want to do something switch, I have them there.

Do you ever feel stuck in that whole ‘New York, no brakes, four pegs’ scene then, where people just automatically think “Oh, Vic, Edwin no brakes, four pegs, etc.”
No one knows about a trend til it hits the magazines, and we were never getting coverage back then when all this shit was happening. I think back when people like Troy McMurray and Gonz started riding without brakes, then everyone thought it was cool to ride without brakes. Even to this day, because I never was a part of that and never knew about it, it was just what I did. For me, it wasn’t to get attention or take stand against anything; it was just easier since my wheels were always fu*king bent.
I know what you mean though. It’s guilt by association. Most people just think that if you live here, then you have a specific setup. But there are dudes here that have all kinds of setups. Look at Big James; he has nothing on his bike and can bunnyhop five feet high. You wouldn’t think he was from New York if we all thought that way.

What was your first picture in a magazine?
A backwards, kinked rail. It was called the World Trade Kinked rail and it’s not there anymore. I was psyched cause it was two pages, on a piece of shit bike. I was blown away.

How did sponsorship come about for you then?
I have no idea. I don’t even know how I met Crandall or how any of that shit happened. I used to go to Binghamton to ride ECT a lot, and street ride around there, and somehow got to know Crandall. We used to drive up there for the weekend and we’d stay at the Red Roof Inn with like ten people in one room. I guess one day, Crandall asked me if I needed a bike, and I had never got anything for free from anyone other than Combs, so I didn’t know what he was talking about, so I said no. I figured he was going to charge me, so I just said I didn’t know what he meant by that. He brought me to FBM, and a bunch of deer ran in front of my car on the way. I was blown away cause I had never seen deer before, and then Crandall started giving me all this stuff from FBM, pretty much everything they were making at the time. I guess that was like the beginning of it. It was never official, like “OK, you’re on the team!” It was just like, “Here’s some shit. We want to give you stuff.” Eventually I was on the website and got an ad and that was pretty much it. It was unexpected but it was the coolest thing that had happened at the time, cause I never had money in my life. I was working but it was to pay for my car just so I could travel and ride. So when I started getting shit for free, it was fu*king rad.

And then came the California roadtrip….
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we went to California, and that was like the first roadtrip I had ever went on far away. It was a trip too, cause I had never been to California, and uh, I guess that was when I first realized that I was fully on the team; shooting photos, filming for the video. I didn’t even know all this shit was coming. That was pretty cool. I had never done any of that shit before, so it was cool.

Did you get sick on that trip then as well?
Everyone did. We were living in the back of a Penske rental truck, and everyone was getting sick one by one. We figured that if we traveled in the winter, that the Southwest would be warm. But it turned out that it snows in New Mexico. I never knew that though. So we’d be in one place and it would be cold, and another, it would be hot. The inside of the back of the truck would get condensation, and it would rain on us during the day. So our shit would get wet, and then at night, it would be cold again and we got sick. So anyway, I was in the back of the truck and I was telling a joke or something, and I had to fart, so I farted and boom, I shit myself. Everyone had diarrhea and was fu*king throwing up and everything. We don’t know what it was but everyone got sick by the end of it. It was worth it though, even if I had to sit with shit in my pants for a couple of hours before we pulled over….

Did you move to Binghamton then?
Not right after that trip. I guess I was still living on Long Island, not really living but I was staying at my mom’s house. I was kinda homeless for a while, not really living anywhere, so what I did was, I was at my mom’s house and she was throwing me out, and then Crandall was moving to Binghamton with Big Dave after FBM burned down in Ithaca. I was always going there anyway, so I was like fu*k it, these guys travel, I ride for them, and it’s near a skatepark, so I moved there. I only ended up living there for about three months, but it was cool while it lasted.

Do you want to talk about quitting FBM?
I don’t know. It wasn’t anything crazy, it’s not like we got in a fight. It was just that I wanted certain shit, and people were telling me about other stuff, and it was just getting to be too much. I’d quit anything before shit gets too personal though, cause when I first got sponsored by FBM, I was working 40 hours a week in a warehouse. I didn’t know anything about any of that shit. I’m not going to let money or sponsors ruin anything like that.

After that, you moved back to Long Island then?
After that, I was literally homeless. I could stay at my mom’s house every couple of weeks, and then other than that, I would sleep at friend’s houses, just kinda wherever I could get. And I wasn’t sponsored, wasn’t making any money, had a random bike and just did nothing for about eight months. I mean, I rode and traveled but nothing else.

How did the S&M thing come about then?
I think what happened was, I wanted to get a sponsor again, cause I was tired of asking random people for parts, so I got a Fit from Robbie (Morales) while I wasn’t sponsored, and we just kinda talked here and there about getting sponsored, this and that. Somehow, the S&M thing just came about. And I was already riding for Zoo (York) at the time then too, so it all came together. That was all.

It seemed for a while like you were over the whole ride for a sponsor, get coverage kinda thing, right?
I don’t care about being sponsored. I’ve always thought from the beginning, that no one deserves anything for free just for bike riding, because you don’t really. There’s no standard for who should and should not be sponsored and who should get free stuff or not. It’s fu*king stupid. People call bike riding a sport, but you’re not training, you’re doing what you want to do.

Is it a personal battle then for you, since you’re paid and you get free stuff?
No, cause for me, it was just getting shit for free. I’m not going to ride for a company if I don’t use their stuff. You know, Zoo York makes t-shirts, and I get them for free. People make fun of me riding for Snafu, saying shit like “Snafu’s gay,” and that it’s “Made in Taiwan” and this shit and that, but so are a lot of other companies out there. If people are going to give me shit for free and pay me, I may as well take it. I would still buy bike parts and still ride if I wasn’t getting anything. I don’t need my sponsors to ride. A lot of people think they need sponsors, and think they need raises, and they want this and they want that, but when I first started riding, I was working 40 hours a week and doing what I gotta do. Even now, after having a brief period of just riding, I still work. Sponsors are overrated I think. People look at it in a jock sort of way, and that doesn’t mean shit to me. There’s a lot of fu*king kids man. Dudes that I know personally that say “I’m going to go to California for a month, and get sponsored by this guy and that.” You know what I mean? Get a bunch of photos, or make a dope video part. That’s pathetic I think, that’s pathetic. It’s horrible.

Can you still see the value in that type of exposure though?
No, never saw the value.

Is that why you have a job then?
Like I was saying before, I was homeless for while, and I don’t have a mom whose gonna take me in and give me money, so instead of me making a couple of bucks riding my bike that I would have to give to my mom so I could stay there a few nights a week, I’m going to live. What if bike riding ended after a certain age? I’d have nothing; no job and no money, so I got to take care of myself now. Bike riding is something I do for fun. I can always do it after work or when I’m not working. I work cause I gotta live. I got to put a roof over my head and eat.

What’s your job?
I work construction for rich people in the city.

You sorta came up with Edwin. I guess, with the help of Jeff Z, he helped to build your recognition through photo and video coverage. Not that you take that as the bulk of what makes you sponsor worthy, but he seemed to push you guys in a more, I hate to say it, but like a skateboarding pro direction.
I know what you mean. For me, it’s not like that. When Jeff said “Let’s take a photo,” I’m not worried about using that photo in the magazine to grow. Fu*k that. For me, I want to see the photo. Every photo I have a photo, and every interview, you know, I keep it, and down the road one day, that’s for me. I can show it to people. I can look at it and say, “Ok, when I was younger, I did that,” instead of having like a little league postcard with a bat in my hand. I don’t look at it at all that way. Maybe people do look at it that way, when Jeff took photos and we were in this video and that, and maybe people thought we were important, but that’s not me. Every photo I get, no matter what magazine it’s in or how big it is, we joke about it of course, but that’s not what it is. To me, it’s to look at, to have and to see. That’s the value, not what a sponsor will do for me in return.

You and Edwin got invited on that Road Fools about two years ago. And we don’t have to talk about this, but was that part of not taking the coverage thing too seriously?
That’s totally what that is, cause people blow it out of proportion. You hear it in the ends of those videos, when people say that it’s an honor to be put on this trip. For me, what that was, was fu*k it. These dudes are taking me on a free road trip and they’ve giving me money. I’m going to use the money to drink and have a good time and I have something to do for a week. Of course, it’s cool cause it’s a Road Fools trip, but that’s not important to me. I’m not gonna go and film my ass off and do something crazy because it’s Road Fools or try and take every photo I can to help these guys out. I mean, that’s cool and they’re doing their thing, but that’s not how I look at it. Some dudes look at Road Fools as an opportunity to get sponsors or to get a higher paycheck or to become popular or to become the dude, the guy, you know? For me, it ain’t that shit. To me, it was a trip. Me and my friend went on a trip and had a good time. No one else got our jokes, no one else got along with us, but they’re not our friends. You know what I mean? Just because you go on a Road Fools don’t mean you’re all fu*king brothers. You’re from Arkansas (Editor’s note: I’m actually from New York as well. This is just being used as an example. Did I really need to point that out?) and I’m from New York, we’re different people, different guys. We do different things. To me it was a trip and we had a good time. It was still good to go on, but because we didn’t praise it or whatever, we’re the bad guys.

Where can I go from here? Do you want to talk about coming up with Edwin, cause you rarely seem to hear the ‘Vic’ without the ‘Edwin’..?
I didn’t really actually come up with Edwin. The thing was, when people meet, they either totally click or don’t at all, and that’s how you establish who your friends are. When me and Edwin met, we had, not just the same sense of humor, we just thought the same and even felt the same. I remember once, we were on an Animal roadtrip. It was the first roadtrip we were on together, and we both had no money and we were both the young guys, both just confused. We were in a parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida and they had a line to give away food to the homeless people, so we jumped in line with the homeless people and took the food. We needed food, and things like that, little connections like that, is why I think me and him got together and stuck together, cause we thought the same, and when it came time to get by, we both acted upon it the same. We weren’t just good friends that had a good laugh together. When it came time to get something done, we knew how to get it done. And then I mean, because me and him are both from New York, and we’re both getting coverage and being on the same roadtrips at the same time, you know, who else were we going to get along with? You’re not going to see Edwin and some random guy from the X-Games doing stupid shit together. And then it kinda became the ‘Ed and Vic’ thing. We didn’t do that on purpose, it just kinda happened because we got along.

Where are you now, as far as riding goes?
I guess I’m where I’m at before, but with more side responsibilities. Like when I was homeless, I had no responsibilities except riding, cause I had nothing else. That was all I did, but now I’m a little older. I’m not going to be 22 living at my mom’s house, bumming off of her and doing stupid shit. I’m the same. I ride when I want to, do the tricks that I want to, take a photo if I feel like it. It’s just that, I don’t do it as much cause I have to work and I have things to do. But I don’t think the job gets in the way of it, cause even when I wasn’t working, I didn’t ride every single day. I only really put in a good session like once a week, which is what I do now, if not more.

Do you appreciate your free time more now?
Definitely, definitely. I look forward to Saturdays and Sundays very deeply. Back then, it was just like, ok, Fridays and Saturdays, now everyone else will come out and ride. Nowadays, it’s my time to go out and ride, and even after work. As soon as I’m out of work, I can do whatever I want. Back in the day, when I wasn’t working and it was 4PM, it was 4PM so who gives a shit? Now when it’s 4PM, I can go ride. It’s almost like more motivation to get shit done when I don’t have the time to mess around all day.

Do you consider yourself a pro?
Pro, no. I’ve never considered myself a pro. Never.

What would you define a pro as then?
A pro is, I have no idea. I guess a pro is a dick, I don’t know….

Sorry that was a dumb question…. You’re in a real unique position where you’re riding your bike and sponsors pay you, but that’s not the main source of your income. I guess there’s just not a lot of well known paid riders that work full time.
For me, I don’t ask for all that shit. I don’t look forward to that. I don’t think of it as “I have 3 sponsors, I want to get another one so I can be a professional sponsored bike rider.” To me, I look at it as cool, these guys are gonna give me free frames. That’s gonna save me a lot of money and if they’re gonna give me money to do this, I’ll take it and put it in my savings account. It’s gonna help me out down the road. If there’s anything I can do to better my situation for something as simple as that, I’ll do it cause I’m going to ride either way, whether I’m getting money or not.

What is Skavenger?
Skavenger is me, Edwin and Vinnie originally, and it’s really absolutely nothing. That’s a word that we used to use to describe shitty fu*ked up things. Eventually, people started calling us that, cause we were doing the kind of shit that we were making fun of other people for, and it just turned into this thing, so we saw it as an opportunity to make a little money, so we made shirts and it worked. It’s not a clothing company and it’s not a bike company and it’s not a crew or a clique. It’s just us, well not even us; something people started calling us that we took advantage of. That’s all.

We can talk about Vinnie too, just how fu*ked up he is.
Yeah, Vinnie is the best. As good as he is, he knocked his tooth out icepicking a 2-step handrail back in the day on a 2-Hip Pork I think.

I remember the Animal video premiere. You were about to go on vacation with your girlfriend and just go enjoy yourself. How do you manage to turn off the BMX thing and not make it the central focus of your life?
Bike riding isn’t my gig. I’m not a bike rider. I’m not a pro. I do it on the side. People go and play golf every couple of months, that’s like what riding is to me. If my girlfriend and me want to go on vacation, or if I want to go on vacation, or if I want to work straight for a month and do side jobs on the weekend and just not ride my bike, that’s normal to me. I don’t look at it as “I have to ride cause I have to maintain.” That’s not what it is to me. There’s nothing wrong with taking a vacation. Bike riding is what I do for fun. I don’t have to do it everyday. I’m not looking to learn any tricks or to get anywhere or become anything.

How do you learn tricks then?
I don’t learn tricks, I just kinda do stuff. Even a simple trick like a 180 down 2 stairs, I’ll put my foot down every now and again, or I won’t roll out sometimes, or I’ll land shitty. I don’t train to think I need to have everything dialed. I know I can ride. I know I can bunnyhop, and that’s obviously 99% of every street trick, so basically if I see an obstacle and think it would be cool to do something on, I try it. That’s it. 99% of the time I get fu*ked up, but sometimes I pull it and that’s cool.

So the lady friend doesn’t really get mad about you riding?
I’m not one of those dudes that lets bike riding run their lives, posters all over the wall and stocked up on the BMX DVD thing, this and that. Same thing with my girlfriend. She’ll go hang out with friends on the weekend, I’ll go riding.

What do you think about people that are like that?
That’s cool if that’s their thing, but it’s too much for me. I do other things besides bike riding. If you’re into it, that’s cool but it’s kinda nuts for me. It’s the same for people that like the Super Bowl, with helmets and jerseys decorating their house. Relax you know, it’s a fu*king game.

And your views on the drama in bike riding…..
Bike riding; most people start out when they’re kids, teenagers, maybe even younger. And a lot of dudes let that shit carry with them into their 20’s and 30’s. It’s just ridiculous that it’s a soap opera and that people get so fu*ked up over it. With me, with drama and shit talk, I think it’s so pathetic that a dude is worried enough to give a fu*k. Let’s say I’m going to go to someone’s spot, and let’s just say that the ledge isn’t waxed the way I like it, and I say “This ledge sucks” or “This place is horrible.” That’s just my personal feeling cause I’m mad at the moment. It doesn’t actually mean that much. Who gives a fu*k? I mean, who actually cares that much to the point where you’re going to let one comment get you that bummed. And a lot of dudes that ride do that, and will worry about every little thing that’s said. That’s disgusting I think. If a dude’s on TV too much or rides for a dumb sponsor or whatever, and everyone else has to criticize, I mean, come on! It’s like high school. If someone does something stupid, make fun of it, have some fun with it and don’t take it seriously. It’s only bike riding. That’s the only thing that gets me mad about this shit.

All right, more drama. When the new rail got put in at the old World Trade Center park across the street, it seemed like everyone ran to it in some sort of contest to see who could top the next person. What’s your take on that kind of thing?
That’s pathetic. Every time a new obstacle gets put in or a new trick becomes popular, everybody wants to be known as the dude, the first guy to do this or the first guy to do that. It’s disgusting, horrible. It’s a bike; you do a trick cause you want to, not to make a mark. That’s very fu*king stupid.

What happens then if you do make a mark by just riding your bike and being yourself?
Some people might think the way I do, like ok, it’s just a bike. And some people might think they need to make that mark, earn the respect and be like that. You can filter it out by talking to anyone for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, you know what side of the fence they’re coming from. A lot of dudes are like chameleons, they think they need to fit in with whatever they’re doing. If you’re hanging out with dudes that run two brakes and pegs, then you’re on their side, and if you’re trails, you’re on another side, and if you’re 4 pegs, no brakes, you’re on another side. I’m not going to make a difference in that shit, it’ll always be that way. That’s the way BMX is, it’s all trends.

You’re living in Brooklyn now; do you want to talk about that?
It’s better for me, cause when I used to live on Long Island, I always rode the city, but now I can walk to the Brooklyn Banks if I want to. I have spots all over my neighborhood, so it’s real cool like that. Rent’s horrible. Rent in Brooklyn is good if you live in a shitty neighborhood. I live in a nice neighborhood so my rent’s expensive.

How do you feel now that Edwin is living on his own, off of riding while you’re working 9-5?
That’s his thing. If someone can do that, and live off of that, and that’s all they care about, then hey, fu*king do it.

Does he ever bother you to quit the day job?
No, my friends know where I’m coming from and know my situation. I mean, even a dude like Edwin, if he was starving, he could go home and his mom would have a full plate of food waiting for him. If he got thrown out of his apartment, his mom would take him in. But me, if I got thrown out of my apartment, my mom would let me stay with her a couple days. And then that’s it, get the fu*k out or give me half of what you make. My friends are totally cool with that. They don’t ever say, “Why do you work all the time or come on this road trip!” They understand.

So was your home life rough growing up then?
It wasn’t rough in the sense that things are rough, it was just harsh. Riding wise, if I needed parts, no one bought them for me, if I needed money, I didn’t get it. If I had a flat and needed a patch kit, I didn’t get it. It was hard, with regular life shit, but I don’t let that shit bother me. You grow out of, but because this is about BMX and I’m keeping it BMX related, I mean BMX wise it was just hard. It wasn’t supportive at all even when I started getting money, traveling and getting coverage. I was getting nagged all day to get a job. It wasn’t the storybook bike rider life. It never is. Some people think it is, and for some people it is, but for most of us, it’s not.

How’s your perspective on riding changed, from the beginning to now?
Back then; it was just about learning shit that I wanted to do. Nowadays, it’s still at that point, where it’s like learning what I want to do, but at the same time, I can do some of these tricks, but I want to do them down longer obstacles, bigger obstacles. I didn’t get better I don’t think. I think I just learned a few tricks, and now I want to see where I can take them. I don’t think that other than learning a few tricks, that it changed at all. I still think exactly like I did back then. Back then, it was a bench and now it’s a rail, but it’s the same thought. It’s not like I want to become the best street rider and do this landmark trick. It’s the same I think, and I don’t think it will change, cause I’m not looking to get anywhere.

Is there a best in BMX?
No, this isn’t football where you can have a higher performance average. If a dude’s happy bunnyhopping off curbs and that’s what they want to do, then he’s good in his own mind. His coach doesn’t have to tell him that, he tells himself that. If another guy wants to do flip tailwhips over a spine, and he’s good, then he’s good too. There’s no good or bad in riding; no standard. I go out and do manuals across curbs sometimes, and I’m satisfied. Other times, I could icepick a 50-stair rail and also feel satisfied. There’s no difference though in your mind…..

Do you still see yourself riding in 10 years?
I hope I am, and I hope I still have the mentality to want to still feel that feeling I get when I ride. But, if I’m riding in 10 years, that’s cool. If I’m not, then I’m not. I don’t know if I’ll be psyched in 10 years on riding but you never know.

What happens that day when you’re not into it anymore?
Just stop riding. I don’t have to ride; I just like to do it. That’s all……

STILL A U2 FAN: The Taj Mihelich Interview

(This first appeared in issue 50 of Dig BMX Magazine, about a year and a half ago. I still like it.)

Around the time that Taj Mihelich was featured in issue 1 of Dig BMX Magazine, he was only starting to receive recognition for his powerful and aggressive riding style. We should all know the story from there: boy leaves Michigan for Austin, starts Terrible One with Joe Rich, gets multiple signature shoes from Etnies, takes up bass playing and befriends a dog named Roscoe, all the while still developing his skills on a bike. Naturally, there’s a lot more to the Taj Mihelich story than meets the eye, but Taj’s quiet and self-effacing manner tries not to draw too much attention to himself. Still though, people want to know about Taj Mihelich….
By chance, Taj was interviewed in the first issue of Dig. He just so happened to be riding at a place called Twin Palms in Southern California when Will [Smyth], Ian [Morris], and Nick [Coombes] turned up. They automatically recognized Taj’s riding from an early Baco video, and arranged to do an interview with Taj on that very day. (At the time, the interview was slated to appear in ‘BMX Now,’ which Will worked for.) As luck would have it, BMX Now went under not long after and Will began planning out the first issue of Dig, around an interview he had done with a quiet kid from Michigan named Taj. In the interview, Taj was referred to as having a “weird second name like an Indian restaurant,” and had to fend off questions about smoking cigarettes and breaking his Standard frame.
It’s been a long time since that first interview with Taj, and though he’s become an almost integral part of the magazine, he’s somehow managed to avoid a follow-up interview, until now. I caught up with Taj late in November of 2005 over iChat and forced him to answer questions about his life, his perspective and of course, his affinity for U2.
Taj Mihelich is a big part of the reason why Dig is the way it is, and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for simply picking up a bike and doing things his own way. Thanks Taj….

So do you still like U2?
Taj: I knew that was coming. I like the same albums I liked back then, yes… ‘War’ and ‘Boy’ are still good to dig out once in a while.

So what were your feelings about being interviewed in the first issue of Dig?
Taj: At the time, it was sort of overwhelming. It happened during my first ever visit to California and I had gone out there for an interview in Ride US. I would have never guessed that anyone would have wanted to interview me riding my bike back in Michigan (or that someone from Northern Ireland would have any idea who I was). When the interview came out it looked like I was such a rock star. There was literlally big stars in the headline.

Does coverage freak you out then?
Taj: No, not really. I’m sort of used to it now. I’ve kind of come to terms with how it is to be “in the media” if that makes sense. People can’t see the “real” you from little snippets of interviews or whatever, so you just have to take it all with a grain of salt. Back then though, it was a lot. It was all unexpected. I just had my head down riding, no idea what was going on in the industry of BMX. All of a sudden things started dropping into my lap (sponsors, coverage, travel). It was a fun rush.

So you didn’t read magazines or watch videos then?
Taj: Oh yeah, I read and watched everything I could, I just never saw any relationship to the pros and riders in those things to myself. I never imagined that I would be there someday. To me, the stuff in mags and videos were unreal and beyond my ability.

And what level did you think you were at?
Taj: That’s what I guess I didn’t think about much. You know, I just rode and rode and rode. I didn’t really think of comparing myself to everyone else. I just
wanted to learn things. Stuff I saw other people do, or stuff I made up. Whatever I could do on my bike was interesting to me.

Going back a little, you said that people can’t see the ‘real you’ from coverage, but do you also think that the real you can come through in your riding?
Taj: I do if they are open to it. I have always thought that is what makes a great rider great. They find a way to put themselves into their riding… express themselves in a way. Not super literally of course, like you can’t really tell what Mikey Atiken’s politcal beliefs are by how he rides. I think the good riders can put some unique spin on everything they do that comes from who they are and how they think. I could go on all night philosophizing on this one…

Feel free to philosophize some more if you want to then…. How do you think your perspective towards BMX has changed from your first Dig interview to now?
Taj: Of course, some people can’t see this and only see tricks or whatever. But if you’ve ridden a while and you are aware of what’s going on, you can identify the guys with something special going on compared to the ones who are just ticking off mechanical tricks.

Like myself, just kidding.
Taj: No, you’re special! My perspective on BMX…. give me a minute on that one. I’ve gotten older and that has changed my perspective. Not just in years because I don’t think that means anything, but my mind has grown in a lot of ways (and I hope good ways). When I got my first interview, I was utterly consumed with BMX. That was all there was in my life. Nothing else had any hold on me. You know, I would meet a girl and the first thing I would tell her was that BMX was my first priority and not to expect anything from me.
Now, the things that are important to me have changed. BMX is still up there and still a huge part of all my thoughts. However, I have over the last 10 years grown to value other things in my life. Relationships with friends and family are no longer pushed to the background. I’ve allowed my focus to expand to include things like a bike company, playing bass, having a dog and generally having a life outside of BMX. It’s weird to me sometimes to think about how single-minded I was for so long. Opening up my life to other things has been great for me personally and made me happier for sure.

Does that also motivate you to still ride now you think? I don’t think I would still be riding if I didn’t have other outlets in my life over the past 10 years…
Taj: I think it’s made riding funner for me. Or maybe, it’s kept it fun is a better way to say it. I’ve found ways to get my mind and creativity going and it’s a challange to apply it to riding. Spending some time in the studio playing music gets me psyched to ride for sure (and vice versa). How long has it been since that first interview?

12 years
Taj: I’m 32!

I’m 31
Good question there though, what we do isn’t normal for the average person in our age range. How do you explain yourself and your lifestyle if asked by someone that’s not into BMX?
Taj: If it’s the casual “What do you do,” I always say I ride bikes around and do tricks. If the conversation goes deeper then that, I end up with a long-winded explanation about following what I enjoyed, being lucky, and having it work out.

Do you ever feel strange being your age and still doing what you do?
Taj: Not really, but then again, I live in Austin and being 32 on a little bike isn’t at all out of place. I’m sure how comfortable this place is for BMXers is a big part of why I love it here.

Do you ever see yourself living anywhere else?
Yes. Probably not while riding is still on top. Someday, I’ll move somewhere else just for a change, but I don’t know when. I think sometimes that after riding (whenever that is) I’d like to live in the woods with snow and stuff and go to school. Get out of the city.

Sandy says that the city freaks you out sometimes.
Taj: Big cities like New York can be way too much for me sometimes. I get a little anxiety being in crowds sometimes. I’ve been working a lot on that though (it’s a confidence thing for sure) and I’m doing better. Still though, every time I go out camping or say out to Woodward and just have a quiet night looking at the stars, it makes me think that I need to get back to enjoying simpler things. Sometimes emails and gadgets and DVDs and random crap absorbs me to the point where I forget how nice it is to just sit on a porch and watch animals creep around in the woods.

Did you recently take a step back from working fulltime at T-1 to focus more on riding?
Taj: This one is a can of worms. It’ll take me a while to explain it all, but here is comes…. This summer I decided to take a leave from T-1. I find that I’m not very good at stopping work when the work day is over. It would get to the point where I was working all day at T-1 and then taking my laptop home and working all night, ignoring everything else in my life. With the support of Joe and the guys here, I have stepped back for a while to enjoy riding and just being a lazy BMXer bum for a while. Its quite nice!

Speaking of T-1 though, did you ever think it would become the entity it now is?
Taj: I think I always did see it being this way. I see so much more for it too, but we’ll have to see what happens. It’s just so personal for us, you know, it’s just an extension of us.

From Tom at Empire: Taj, if you had to quantify the significance of Stella Artois to the BMX hiearchy, given the current state of GWB’s monetary policy (i.e. what me worry?), would you estimate the qualifications of pedophile wheelbuilders at approximately 4.20% of GDP per capita of 69 units of douchebaggery?
Taj: As for Tom’s question tell him to stay in the Tight Setup section. Tina is messaging me on another window telling me to join Myspace to meet ladies. (Editor’s note: Taj took up Tina’s advice and set up a Myspace account, but got completely embarassed and self-conscious about it before deleting it 24 hours later.)

Sorry, I just told Tom what I was doing and he demanded your screenname. Don’t worry, he’s not on often, only when he’s drunk usually. Anyway, are you afraid of flying?
Taj: Not so much anymore. I’ve kind of dealt with it. I had this girlfriend for a while who was deathly afraid of flying. After flying a few times with her and having her freaking out at every bump it kind of rubbed off. My thing though is that I don’t like being so completely at the will of fate with a bunch of assholes in an uncomfortable seat. I’ve been flying a lot lately and getting bumped up to first class. When I’m in first class in a big comfortable seat, I’m ready to die and I don’t even sweat it!

So as long as you’re comfortable, it doesn’t matter….
Taj: When there’s some fat dude bleeding into my seat on the left, and some screaming baby looking over the seat at me, it just doesn’t seem worth it.

Are you a people-phobe then?
Taj: No, I just get a little shy around new people sometimes. I always prefer to deal with people one on one.

What’s an average day for you now like compared with you at the time of your first Dig interview?
Taj: I can’t even remember what I was doing back then. Working at Albes I think… Back then it was work enough to live and then ride any chance I got outside of that. For a while I lived in Michigan then and there really wasn’t hardly anything to ride there. Lots of driving and looking forward to any trip to go to some place to ride. Nowadays, it’s ride around Austin, hit up 9th street and T-1. Especially lately being on break from T-1, I’ve been just cruising around a lot. Riding stuff, riding around, stopping here and there. Really, really, relaxed lately.

What was it like growing up where you did? I know you moved out pretty early from home, right?
Taj: Yeah, I moved out pretty early. Looking back it was pretty rough on me I think. I find I’m still occasionally dealing with things from back then. Kind of had a rough time with a step-father who wasn’t always too kind to me. We moved around a lot and even though it was all in the same general area of Michigan, it might as well have been different countries to a little kid. Riding is what kept me alive really. It was the only thing that could get me away from home and the shit I had to deal with there. I stayed to myself a lot and I’m sure that’s where I learned to be shy. It shaped me and pushed me into my wholehearted focus on riding and that has lead me down some great paths, so I won’t knock it much. Michigan sure has a lot more to ride then it did when I lived there though!

What’s your favorite part of riding now compared with 12 years ago?
Taj: Hmmm…. I like… I don’t know. I like just riding I guess. I’m seriosuly happy just riding around town or wherever. I love riding T-1 and the ramp never gets old to me. Riding the jumps is always a good time too.

Do you appreciate your time riding now more than before?
Taj: Put me rolling down the street on my beach cruiser or my BMX and I’m happy.

Or your moped?
Taj: Yeah! That thing is a smile machine… I appreciate riding in different ways for sure. I just signed another Etnies contract that will end when I’m 34. I feel like that may be the last sort of “pro” contract I ever sign. I’m trying hard to enjoy what I do and make the most of it too.

Did you ever think that your dog would end up getting as much coverage as he does?
Taj: Man, he’s got a lot of personality. He brings more of it on himself then people realize. I for sure appreciate him funding me with his shoe sales.

How obsessive are you over your bike setup?
Taj: Not too bad. I have a real good idea of what I like and it’s easy for me to keep it that way. (like where the bars are, how the brakes should feel, how bent I’ll let me wheels get, etc). I like trying new stuff though, so I’m always changing things and testing them out. I think my bikes are always pretty consistent though and I guess I like to paint them a lot.

Are you still rocking the orange bike then?
Taj: No, that was 3 or 4 colors ago. It’s flat camo green now with turquoise bars. but it won’t be for long. I think my rear hub has 13 coats of paint on it or something…

And do you take your bike apart everytime you paint it? Aren’t you ever worried about the excess paint’s weight?
Taj: No, tape stuff off sometimes… brakes work terrible on painted rims. no worries about weight!

Were you ever? I was until I put ti bolts into my stem and realized that I wasn’t any better of a bike rider…
Taj: I’ve always been weight conscious. Even back 12 years ago, I would run race wheels when I could. However, back then, there just wasn’t the technology for your bike to be too light. You couldn’t even buy a double-walled 36 holed rim. The race wheels I would use would last a week or two. Strength and keeping your bike from breaking took priority over weight. Nowadays, it’s really the same for me. I keep my bike as strong and safe as I can, but I also try to not have any unneeded excess weight. I weigh 210 so I can’t have it be too sketchy and flimsy.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the BMX industry, and additionally the new technology available today?
Taj: In general I think it’s great. I believe that it’s allowed for a whole new generation of younger riders to get really good. When bikes all weighed 40 pounds plus, a younger rider couldn’t do crap on them until he got older and strong enough to move the bike around. Knocking 10 pounds of a bike is a huge deal and now you see a lot more young dudes shredding. I think the tech side of it is dangerous too because it can get really expensive. The price of a BMX bike is a really important factor in who can start riding. I like the idea and I’m a strong supporter of bikes being loosely standardized. A skateboard is a plank of wood with some trucks and wheels. Almost any brand is fine for any level skater. BMX could either stay in that realm (a simple chromoly frame with 3 pc cranks and decent wheels) or it could get crazy tech and be increasingly more and more expensive (using exotic metals and costly technologies). To me, it’s a balance of what you need for the sake of riding and cost. Not just to you personally, but to the average rider. You know, I experimented with that Ti bike, but I was happy when it didn’t work out. It would be awful if it was really beneficial to have a $3000 BMX frame and then only some people could afford it (and the ones who couldn’t would be missing out on some new level of riding). Luckily, it flexed like crazy and sucked and good old steel is still king.

Can I ask you about the decision you made concerning drinking alcohol, or would you rather not talk about that?
Taj: Growing up there were lots of people close to me getting really screwed up on drugs and alchohol. I could see nothing good in them. I avoided them almost altogether. I’ve never smoked weed or anything like that, never touched a cigarette. I tasted alcohol, but never got drunk or had more then part of a beer. Probably last year was the first time I ever really drank more then 2 beers. I got really dizzy and fell asleep. Lately I’ve been more relaxed about it and I’ve realized that by having one beer or glass of wine here and there I probably won’t instantly turn into a raging alcoholic. Truthfully I believe that a little alcohol is probably good for you health wise, but it can be awfully abused by a lot of people.
Additionally, my mom was always really open with drugs and alcohol. She had tried a lot of it and would talk about it as a fact of life. I think that helped me too, it didn’t seem cool to me because it wasn’t taboo, it was out in the open.

Are you happy with how your life around BMX has transpired? Or are there any things you would’ve done different?
Taj: Yes. I am happy. No regrets at all. I appreciate how lucky I am all the time. Ending up with a less than ordinary perspective on life is incredible.

How do you think your perspective differs from that of the average person?
Taj: Well, it’s too difficult to nail down what the average person is, but for sure, most people haven’t had the chance to take what they loved doing as a child into their adult life (and be paid for it, and travel all over the world, and meet people from everywhere, and test and push themselves all the time).

What have been some motivating factors that helped get you to where you are today?
Taj: Support from the people around me for sure. Friends, family, and riders. I’ve had incredible sponsors who have always helped me so much, but always allowed me to follow my idea of what riding was. I can’t say thanks enough to all of them for that. It takes a lot of faith for a sponsor to send a rider product and money and then be cool with the rider basically just doing whatever he wants. Sticking to my ideals about keeping riding from becoming a “job” that I have to do has always helped too. It’s kept it fun and something that I want to do. Other riders input and support has always been great for me too.

You’ve never felt pressure like you have to ride then if you’re not feeling it?
Taj: Very rarely. I got it just a bit after doing months of shows for Hoffman. I just stopped doing shows though. Otherwise, its been cool. None of my sponsors have every demanded that I do anything (as in competing or whatever).

By the way, I just got a new pair of Roscoes and I keep getting shocks from touching everything metal in my room.
Taj: Put them over your hands.

I won’t be able to masturbate then.
Taj: Good enough for BMX, but not that huh?

I’ve never tried actually. OK, I need to wrap this up, can I ask you a magazine question?
Taj: Yeah, final thoughts always suck to come up with.

What does Dig represent to you?
Taj: I’ve said it before in that one intro I wrote for Dig, but Dig is why I ride. It’s always been the closest to my riding heart so to speak. For me riding has always been so much more then the mechanical action of cycling. It is a lifestyle and it gets in your blood. It changes everything you do, why you do it, and how you see the world. Dig has always tried to tap into that idea and show riding as more then simple mechanics. Lots of times in Dig you see riders who can’t do the craziest tricks in the world and its because there’s so much more to it then that. From the quality of the photo, to the style of the trick, to the character of the person riding it all matters…. Anyway, I think Dig is more than a magazine just like riding is more than pedaling.

Thanks so much for talking.
Taj: Thanks a ton. It’s been good. Have a good night and good night….