There’s no denying that New York City has always been a major hub for bike culture, especially in the last few years. Between messengers, die-hard fixed-gear heads, daily commuters, and tourists jumping on the recent Citi Bike craze, there’s certainly no shortage of riders around the five boroughs. But once you cross the border into Harlem, the distinctions between their own scene and the rest of the city’s are immediately apparent.
Expensive Italian fixie frames and basket-clad Schwinns are most often replaced with assortments of 350 Twin Banshees and Supermoto dirt bikes, illegally ridden through Harlem’s busiest streets and intersections, blowing through red lights, popping wheelies in front of the po-po—sometimes even with females clutching onto the back and front bumpers like living, breathing good-luck charms. These are just a few defining characteristics of “Real Bike Life,” a riding phenomenon mainly rooted Uptown and throughout Harlem, where riders are constantly caught in an adrenaline-fueled game of cat and mouse with cops.
Documenting the true extremity of Bike Life isn’t easy though—especially for outsiders. Unless you know someone connected, getting the shots is pretty much an impossibility. Luckily for FRANK, we found the ideal guide: A$AP TyY, a rapper, artist, and most notably one of the movement’s best-known players.
We initially met up with TyY at his bike’s storage facility up in the Bronx, only hours after the Banshee was released from police custody in Brooklyn—apparently vehicle confiscation is all just an unfortunate part of the game. Happily reunited with his baby, A$AP TyY took a few minutes to chat with us about the essence of “Real Bike Life,” from stunts, evading police, and riding-related injuries. Look ma, no hands.
What role do you play in A$AP Mob?
Well, I’m an artist—I got a couple main different talents. I rap, I ride bikes, and I also do art.
What kind of art?
I do paintings, I draw.
How and when did you first get into bikes?
The first time I actually got into bikes was around about seven or eight. I used to watch it on TV, I was just so enthused by it. I used to put pictures and posters on the wall, watch the guys race around the tracks—I was so familiar with it. I bought my first bike when I was about 14, when I finally had enough money. But I’ve always been into it since early on.
Is there anyone in your family that rides and influenced you, or was it just your own discovery?
I heard my father rode bikes—I don’t know as good as me—but I heard he used to ride. But he never pushed it on me or tried to get me into it, it’s something I just picked up on my own.
What makes the Harlem bike scene different from any other bike scene?
Harlem bike culture is crazy ‘cause we have a lot of tourists—it’s a big city, a busy city. So it’s so interesting to see how these kids grasp this kind of crazy talent in such a busy, congested city. It’s like somehow we got our own audience, we really [do it] for the public. Besides it being illegal and dangerous, there’s some people that actually like it, and it’s a hobby that we prefer. And we gon’ continue ridin’ regardless, whatever it is.
Is there a certain aspect of your guys’ style in Harlem that makes it different from scenes in other cities?
We definitely met a lot of crews from Philly, Baltimore, VA, DC, Florida—the list goes on.
And how does Harlem stand out from those?
Harlem stands out for the simple fact you’re more or less really in with the public surrounding. All these other places we talkin’ bout is actually fields and roads. So it’s not like you can come pass 42nd Street and see it so busy and see guys coming down the block with no helmets on doing all these crazy stunts. It looks so crazy—almost like a crazy art to some people who’ve never seen something like that. ‘Cause when you think of New York City, you think of wild cops, yellow taxis, subways—you don’t think of crazy guys on bikes just riding and having fun.
So tell us about your crew specifically. I know there’s a whole bike scene, but you have your own specific crew too, right?
Yeah. Well I got a couple strong guys in my crew, but I wouldn’t really consider it a “crew” cause I represent the whole bike culture. So as long as you are a bike rider, I consider you my crew. My specific crew might have as far as a good ten guys—but I can get a hunnit guys, I can get two hunnit guys, I can get five hunnit guys. So I won’t say I have a legitimate “crew” ‘cause I’m speaking for the people, I’m speaking for everybody.
To read more from this Book, cop FRANK151 x A$AP Mob: Harlem Edition.
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