Over the past decade or so, social media has allowed for niche, isolated subcultures to go global, and Bikelife is no stranger to this phenomenon. A scene that began with young men riding vertically through the unforgiving hoods of early nineties East Coast Baltimore, has pulled a metaphorical wheelie around the globe.
Inventing its own catalogue of celebrities, content, social movement, transatlantic bonds and controversy, before returning horizontal in the Midlands. The scene, its pioneers and followers are immersed in an oil-stained, adrenaline-fuelled, often misunderstood culture, focused primarily on riding anything with wheels; portrayed by the media as a nuisance, but with untapped potential for good.
In memory of Tom Brett
There’s no denying that as a subculture, Bikelife is controversial. Nobody could be blamed for buying into the Birmingham Mail’s portrayal of the riders as “nuisance biker gangs”; young men riding bikes and quads, performing gravity-defying wheelies and acrobatic stunts, sometimes, but not always, in large groups. And some, but not all, on the public highway, to the annoyance of some drivers.
Just as social media poured the petrol, the wider media undeniably lit the match that fired Bikelife global. A 2013 documentary following the infamous ’12 O’clock Boys’ as they wheelie away the hardships of living in Baltimore’s bleakest hoods, paved the way for a number of parallel features by Vice and the BBC focusing on riders in the UK, few of whom were painted in a positive light. However you perceive it, there’s something captivating about the formation of machines, front wheels bobbing between flat and upright amidst a dramatic rumble and hazy smell of 2 stroke mixture. It’s undeniably exciting and remarkably raw in equal measure.
As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story, and there is no exception to the rule where Bikelife is concerned. As with any subculture the UK adopts from across the pond, influences are borrowed, adapted and distilled with a British twist. However, unlike Mods in the sixties or hip-hop in the eighties, Bikelife hasn’t inherited any of the violence or negative aspects that accompanied either. Discard the one-dimensional stereotype created by the Birmingham Mail and the reality is entirely paradoxical. Terminology is powerful, and whilst the newspapers use of the word “gang” plants connotations of rivalries and violence in the readers mind, Bikelife is very much focused on unity and progression. A recent charity ride-out in Birmingham saw hundreds of teenagers from different areas, most of who were strangers come together to raise money and show support for a friend who is suffering from cancer. History informs us that gangs from rival areas do not get along, and although the ride out made it on to public roads, it doesn’t take a genius or a journalism degree to conclude that waves of teens uniting for a cause is rare, and a positive in today’s climate.
As mentioned, the scene is woven together inextricably through social media, with Instagram existing as the most important link in the chain. Riders and crews with incredible followings, such as the Go Hard Boys (GHB) utilise hash tags like #bikesbringbonds and #bikesupknivesdown, linking together Bikelife ambassadors from every corner of the globe and promoting peace and solidarity on a local and international level. Formed in Harlem in the late nineties, GHB is more like a family tree than a gang, whose branches have reached exotic locations all over the world, Birmingham included. In this sense, Bikelife as a culture is an anomaly; a crew, who you might find giving out turkeys in their New York ghetto at Christmas now boasts members in Chelmsley Wood, alongside international superstars such as Fetty Wap, who recently released a tune titled ‘Go Hard Boyz’ which includes the lyric ‘bikes up guns down.’
In terms of Brum based Bikelifers with international connections, you need look no further than Picky. As a respected member of GHB, the Chelmsley Wood lad is a strong advocate of all things Bikelife and a shining example of a rider with impressive skill and good intentions. Having ridden alongside some of the scenes most respected names across the Atlantic, Picky has seen the potential for good that Bikelife has outside of the UK, and aims to continue that direction in his native city.
So how did you get involved in riding and then what led you to join GHB?
I used to ride when I was younger; I think my first bike was a little KX85. I had that for two weeks, sold it and went halves with my mate to a YZF450.
So you’ve always been hungry for it?
Yes, always rode and then with GHB, my mate just came round and said to me one day, oh I’ve been speaking to these lads from Harlem. They’re all sound and that. Start an Instagram and just add them all up. So I did, and from that, I got really close to Shae who is like the CEO. Basically, that’s how I ended up pushing it so hard, because I’ve seen his view and his vision and I just loved it. I thought, yes, I love that.
So were recently over in the US. What did you get up to? What’s Bikelife like over there compared with the UK?
It’s a lot different. Wherever I went I met up with E-Money, he’s from Yonkers in New York. He took me and my boy Daz to a strip in Connecticut where they had a BBQ cookout with a DJ and they gave us a quad and a bike to ride. The police allow them to ride on that strip, from twelve o’clock to half six. So that was good. And then I went to meet Dirtbike James from GHB, I went to his lockup to seen all his bikes. He’s like a proper OG over there. Everybody loves him over there, it’s mad. And then Shea, he mainly looked after us, he gave me GHB clothes an that. He made sure we had like taxis everywhere and took us out for breakfast every day. We had our own little taxi driver.
So they looked after you just from having met on Instagram?
Yeah, just off talking on Instagram. I went to Queens, Harlem, places like that you can’t just go. You have to be invited or be with people that are certified if you know what I mean? I went to Harlem, Queens, Connecticut. I went Delaware and met Wheely Wayne. He’s from Baltimore. He’s a proper top rider. He’s been out there for years, from the start. At the MX Awards, I met Wink 100. He has done ‘99 Problems’ video with Jay Z. He’s the original Rough Rider. He started the Rough Riderz, another big crew. I have done quite a bit over there. I met Fetty Wap over there. Got taken to his house, he showed me all his quads and his bikes. I was watching White Men Can’t Jump with Mont from Remy Boyz. That was funny. I met Fetty Waps wife. His wife’s lovely. Like I say if it weren’t for Shea… it’s mad. Over there, the bike scene is massive. When you get over there you don’t understand, you’re like a celebrity. I’m in a club in the Bronx in the after party and I got massive geezers coming up to me, going ‘oh look, Picky man, you’re from the UK, right?’ and I’m like ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’. They’re like ‘come on, let me get you a drink’ and they’re buying me and Daz drinks and I had to say to them in the end ‘right, that’s enough now, you’re going to get me drunk’.
So I’ve seen #bikesbringbonds and #bikesupknivesdown everywhere on social media. How do bikes bring bonds and how important is it for bike life culture? Is there any beef or is it all love?
Nine times out of ten its love. You do still get people who have disagreements with people, but like I say, nine times out of ten they’ll put it aside just to ride. Like we did a ride out for a lad who is 16. His name is Tom Brett and he’s got leukaemia and we had people from everywhere. We had people come down from London, Wolverhampton, Walsall. We had people from everywhere really. Say if you’ve got lads from Handsworth and lads from Nechells or Lozells and stuff like that, they might have trouble with each other but on the ride, it’s different. It’s for a cause to raise money so they all came together as one and showed that bikes do bring bonds. I go anywhere. I can ride anywhere I want, I could ride in Moss side. I could go down Brixton, anywhere. As long as you’ve got your bike, you’re all right, people love it.
There’s a lot of negative press in the Birmingham Mail about riders in Brum, do you agree with any of this or what sort of positives do they miss out?
The Birmingham Mail, all they want to do is just push bad stuff. They don’t push the good stuff. Like I say, they just put negative stuff out. They wanted to get in contact with us about Tom’s ride and all they were asking is ‘oh, what gang do you represent?’ They didn’t ask anything about Tom or how he was or what his condition was. All they wanted to know was what bike I ride and which gang do I represent. But like I say, there’s not a gang. It’s a family because I can go to America and they look after me. I can go to Dirt Bike James’ Grandma’s house and have food, stay on the settee. Gangs can’t do that; do you know what I mean?
Obviously, there’s a lot of potentials for positives to come from Bikelife, especially where kids are concerned. Is the goal to get somewhere legit for people to ride in Birmingham and if so, how do you think this would work with regards to riding and the Council?
Well, hopefully at the start of next year, me and a couple of the lads have got a few things planned. We’re going to do some events and try and raise some money to put towards a strip or if we can find an investor to put money down, because I know I could get 300 people down to ride on a strip. If they all paid £30 each, it’s a lot of money. So it’s a good opportunity for someone who has got a lot of money that can invest. If a potential investor wanted to make some money, all they’d have to do is set a strip up. It would stop a lot of people riding on the roads because people ride on roads just to feel free. But you can’t ride on strips. You ride on a strip and the police come and they’ll move you on. They push you on to the streets to chase you so they can arrest you and they can do stuff like that when really, they should just make somewhere for the lads to ride, stop some of the chases. There was a video on Instagram not long ago and the police tried to ram one of the young lads off his bike. He never had a helmet on. He was riding a little 85 and they tried to ram him. He went up the curb quickly and the police went up the curb as well but they missed him.
So potentially getting a strip would make some money for someone and could also get a lot of kids out of riding on the streets?
Yes, definitely. You can make loads of money, it’s unreal.
It seems like riding gives a lot of kids a purpose. So getting them on to a strip could also get them doing other stuff as well?
I get loads of kids messaging me. I walk up the road and I get people shouting ‘Bikelife, Bikelife’ and I turn around and they’re loving it. I’ve seen this one lad when I was walking, he’s seen me he’s like, ‘are you Picky? I said, yeah, yeah. He was like ‘I follow you on Instagram’, I’m like ‘no way’. He was like ‘Bike Life’ and then as he walked off, he messaged me on my phone. So I followed him and liked a few of his photos and I think it made his day because he was like, ‘I can’t believe I’ve just met Picky’. He’s following me, and I’m just a normal lad, but to some of the kids, they look up to me. It’s mad.
I suppose in that way, it’s kind of keeping them out of shit that they could be doing?
Yeah, it is, definitely. That’s it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed as well but since all the Bikelife and everything like that, all I see is little kids wheelieing their pedal bikes up the road, up the paths. I see them everywhere. I mean, it’s like the new trend that everyone wants to be a part of and that’s why bikes bring bonds so much because it’s part of the bike culture.
What’s next for Bikelife in Brum?
We’re going to do a couple of events to raise money to make a strip and push forward. Hopefully, we can get GHB proper, get our own clothing line going, things like that, just to help make the strip. Because if we get a strip or something like that, it just changes everything because instead of riding to somewhere or riding around places, you’ve got somewhere to ride where people are going to want to show off their tricks. I can do this better than you, well let’s see it then. Let’s do it. That’s what hopefully we want to try and do.
Sweet. Thanks for taking the time to chat to us!
Just appreciate you giving me the chance to talk about stuff like this. I’m very thankful. Not many people understand or can see what it means to people just to ride a bike. You can have the worst problems at home. Once you get on that bike and twist the throttle, you’re gone. That’s it, man. Everything just leaves you. You’re at one with your bike.
If you come across the Birmingham branch of GHB on Instagram, you’ll know about it; their logo is adorned proudly on their garms in the same fashion as their American cousins. If you come across them in the flesh, they’ll be the ones flying past with the front wheel hitting 12 o’clock. But remember, they’re more approachable than some would have you believe, so don’t be afraid to say ‘what’s up’.