When summertime rolls around every year we keep a watchful eye on weather forecasts to find that beautiful sweet spot of a full solar weekend. You know - BBQ smoke in the air, bass shaking from the sound system and ride outs all across the UK, vibes pon vibes. This summer won’t pass without hearing French Montana’s FWMGAB - which samples Wyclef’s and Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. It’s one you can 2-step two with a drink in one hand and a full plate in the other, alternatively, you can blare out the windows whilst speeding down the M40. The music video features scenes reminiscent of Ruff Ryderz in New York, the first time many of us saw superbikes, motor cross bikes and quad bikes as part of the scenery in hip-hop. I had to ask on the Oracle on bike life (TR from Slipstream) whether this is what spawned the culture we now see in the UK of crew’s riding out, up and down the UK. The interview features questions from Rav Kumar and Esh Jugal (CS).
CS: How influential was DMX and the Ruff Ryders for you, and your peers in the UK?
TR: They mixed an extension of hip hop culture into an automotive space. And that hybrid of that experience birthed a whole new look and feel that was rough riders, get it. It was organic, it gave us permission to reinterpret that in our own context. And so a little after we started seeing, first of all, group rides of that extent weren't something that I had seen. Definitely, you might see three or four riders out on a weekend or something in four levers looking like they're coming from a racetrack, but in terms of the lifestyle element of how these riders were presenting, they’re kind of mobbing cities.
And that kind of mobbish, thuggish expressionism was really attractive to young, black and brown people in the UK, I think. And not just black and brown people, working-class white people as well. In fact, the first people I ever saw on bikes were working-class white people. The first stolen bikes that I got access to, to have a go on up and down the road in my environment, were working-class white people.
I remember vividly searching for images or any kind of content that I could absorb on the Internet, because of the few little clips that I had seen, I was like, it was like a UK Ruff Ryders. It was like men were wearing Averix jackets. Do you know what I mean? And even down to seeing Lethal B talking about, in the Pow video, he's talking about rocking an Avirex jacket and being on an R6. Those little trinkets were all we had. But then it was just like the starting point of this cultural movement that was happening.
So you go to Chelsea Bridge, and my dad used to take me when I was a little bit younger. And you'd see lines of these superbikes. And then when the helmets get removed, you're just seeing these faces that you just didn't expect to see. You're like, "There's a guy over there with locks." I just saw a bag of black women over there. It was just surreal from the perspective that I was looking at things, and I think that's a shared experience for a lot of the riders that you'll see around today, the kind of again, it's about once you see it, it giving you permission to reinterpret that experience, and kind of do your own thing in that space.
"in terms of what's been curated in that space, we are not a consideration... it's been about people outside of the culture sampling what we do, and then using it as part of their product or their project"
CS: What hurdles have you and your peers overcome to get into the bike life and the culture?
TR: It's less about the hardware aspect of riding, and "bike life", it's more about how the subculture is reflected in the automotive industry as a whole, and whether or not it is accepted, whether or not it's welcomed. And the reality is that when you are going to the shows, so there's huge motorbike focus shows that happen in like ExCel or Birmingham NEC. And it's run by MCE, which is one of the biggest publications within the motorcycle industry.
And if you go there, you won't see any of our food, you won't hear our music. You will see a few of our faces dotted around, but in terms of what's been curated in that space, we are not a consideration.
So in terms of challenges, the challenge I feel is that it’s for us to organize, and as I said, contextualize the value that we hold because up until this point it's been about people outside of the culture sampling what we do, and then using it as part of their product or their project. Whether it's a music video, a fashion show, a film. If you remember, look at the Fast and the Furious franchise, look how diverse the cast is. When they go to race meets and that, you're seeing Koreans, you're seeing black guys, you're seeing Brazilian, you're just seeing everybody. It's like the flipping... Do you know what I mean? It's like the United Nations of petrolheads.
This is what a lot of our spaces look like, and this is like a multi-million-dollar franchise around the world. And if you look at any of the cars that are featured, and you go and look at the marketing around them, you won't see these people. So it's just like that disconnect I feel, it almost delegitimizes something that we live and breathe. And it also is a missed opportunity for an industry that we were bought into. So if these companies go bankrupt, because they go the way of Blockbusters instead of the way of Netflix, we ain't got no more bikes. We're pissed. So we're invested in this.
We want there to be that leap in self-awareness from these brands and these institutions that say, "We need to start connecting these dots, because once these middle-aged white guys can't ride anymore, arthritis kicks in or whatever, who the fuck is going to buy our bikes?" And that needs to be the conversation now so they can start future-proofing and speak to the younger audience. How the hell do you market your entry-level bike to young people if they can't see themselves in your marketing? Why aren't you speaking to people from ethnic minorities, when all you have to do is go on the Internet and things like Ruff Ryders, and you will see thousands of people celebrating the culture around your products. This doesn't make much sense. I think that's the challenge that as a culture we have at the moment, more so than me as an individual getting into riding.
CS: What's the next step that allows young people, of all genders and races to hold real estate in the spaces?
TR: If they started initiatives that got younger riders to stop wheeling dirt bikes up and down the road, the public roads with no helmets, they started to apply for funding to get spaces for that to happen. Doing for ourselves first and foremost is kind of how we turn our subcultural space into an industry. Once we're in a place where we have our own brand, we have our own businesses, we've got our own industry, and there's an ecosystem that feeds off of each other, then we are able to speak eye to eye with these brands.
But as we saw with Grime, and as we see with every subcultural movement that kind of progress into a bigger thing, it takes those individuals to recognize that there is the potential to industrialize the space. And then once people start building it out and create infrastructure, it creates opportunity. And there's like this ecosystem that takes over. And at that stage, you can really start to expand it and it becomes a huge thing like Grime did. So like I said, I see the pattern, it feels like we're at the early stages.
CS: Is it less about having a seat at the table and educating brands and marketing teams about the organic growth of the culture?
TR: Yeah. I think that, in terms of there being a seat at the table, I think it's an interesting way of framing it because it almost seems as though we leave our space into someone else's space, in order to be recognized. And I think it's more about us being in a place where we can enter into dialogue. So when they ask a question of our space, we have an organization or a level of organization within ourselves, where we can align on the things that are important. What are the foundational principles? What are the things that we're aspiring towards? What are our strategies? So that there is a unifying voice or at least a set of voices that are recognized and respectable, that can give a perspective on that conversation.
So when they say, "Well, how much is this subculture worth?", we've actually done the business in this space, and can say, "Well, this is what we netted last year." So it's just about being able to have a conversation, but we can't have a conversation externally if we haven't even had the conversations internally.
"I've pulled up at a pub in the countryside with like 25 bikers, and we just been out on the road, had a great time. And four, five police cars blocked us into the car park whilst we eating our lunch. There's a helicopter above us, and they spend the next two and a half hours checking every single detail on all of our bikes, looking for an excuse to seize one of our bikes."
CS: What are the challenges that Gen Z are encountering trying to enter bike life and the culture?
TR: In general, because this is definitely still a subculture and it's largely unrecognized, there are often quite negative interactions with law enforcement. Depending on who you are within this cultural space, that is not something that you're unfamiliar with as I'm sure you can imagine. But yeah, there is a hyper-criminalization of younger bikers specifically, if they don't fit the original remit of what bikers are, which again is middle-aged white guys.
So if you're not the Fonz basically, then they're looking at you like it's a stolen bike, or you're about to go and do something criminal. "We don't like how loud your bike is." I've pulled up at a pub in the countryside with like 25 bikers, and we just been out on the road, had a great time. And four, five police cars blocked us into the car park whilst we eating our lunch. There's a helicopter above us, and they spend the next two and a half hours checking every single detail on all of our bikes, looking for an excuse to seize one of our bikes. So these are still things that are happening.
So what I spoke about earlier on about us organizing, once we have something that is recognizable/respectable, and not to say that we shouldn't be respected by default, but I'm just talking about how we're viewed currently and how we could be viewed and how that might change those interactions. So if we do that internal work, I think that that could help change things.
CS: What are the similar components that hip hop culture and bike life share?
TR: It's definitely an attitude thing. The root of bike culture as a whole... Well, maybe not as a whole, but... No, fuck it. I'm going to say as a whole. Wherever you are in bike culture, there's a degree of confidence and ballsiness that you need to have in order to get onto two wheels and put your life at risk essentially.
So as an extension of hip hop, you've got the aggression, you've got the style, you've got expressionism. The way that people ride their bikes, the way that they will customize and modify their bikes is distinctive to that particular subcultural movement. So for example, if I go to a bike meet and someone pulls up, I can tell that they're a civilian. I can tell by the gear that they're wearing, how they're wearing it, the size of their number plate, how worn their tires are.
There are certain things I can look at them and say, "Yeah, they're not a part of this thing." But then I'll see someone else and I'll be like, "Who's that? Do I know them?" Because I know he's part of something. He's a mutual somewhere down the line. So I think that that as a thing is probably the best way to describe how it's an extension of that hip hop cultural movement. It's just one strand that comes off of it.
CS: Could you paint a picture of what a day in the life of a rider looks like and how you coordinate together?
TR: Well, depending on who I'm with, the thing is because riding is quite tribal, I've got different batches of mates that I ride with. Some of them are particularly naughty as in like, I can't remember the last time I saw them with a license plate on their back, because of how naughty they are. And there are others that are just like, they're not as involved. Basically, they sync better or more seamlessly into the traditional and mainstream riding approach. Which is fine, different horses for different courses. How we coordinate is usually group chats. It's linking up at spots, whether it's like, what's it called, Krispy Kreme in Enfield is like a hotspot.
Ace Café is like one of the original biker cafés in London. So we're talking about, like the early 1960s when you had other borderline criminal subcultural movements with like the Mods and the Rockers. Do you know anything about that? The Mods just for anyone who doesn't know, fuck it, the Mods are who popularized like the Vesper and the Lambretta scooters, and they kind of wore the long Rodney jackets with a little fur up. And then you had the Rockers who were riding what is referred to as café racer motorcycles. So you're talking about old Triumphs and other English brands I can't think of right now.
They used to meet at Brighton Pier and have proper straightening. It was that full gang war between these guys. The café racers were called café racers because what they would do is they'd start a record at one café, and then they would race to another café, and the aim was to get there before the record finished.
The bottom line is that it’s like a point of heritage and a place that is heralded as somewhere worth speaking about. As in, manufacturers that produce bikes worldwide have got limited edition Ace café versions of their bikes. It's like a full Mecca.
CS: Aside from getting their license how else can young people get involved in bike culture?
TR: I think though that with youthful exuberance, it can sometimes be overlooked that riding motorcycles in any capacity is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. And I can't stress this enough. I've lost mates, I've had mates that will never be the same as a result of this lifestyle that we've chosen. We are all older than we used to be, so the way that we assess risks now based on experience is different. I was fortunate enough that I entered into this lifestyle later than most, which means that I approached it with that set of parameters.
What I always say is that there's no space for half stepping. So don't come into this thing and think, "I don't need a license. I can ride. I already sort of learned this weekend or something. And I can afford an R6 so I'll get an R6 for the summer." Do you know what I mean? I see them all the time. They cop a helmet, they're out there in shorts and T-shirts and a back protector, which makes no sense as I'm sure you can imagine, and it's whizzing around and they feel like they've made it. But it's incredibly dangerous and it's unnerving. Even riding alongside people like this is like, "Yeah, I don't want you anywhere near me, bro. You are hazardous."
So it's about gearing the fuck up, invest in the stuff that's going to save your life. Buy the best bike that you can afford. Bikes in comparison to cars you can get a really souped up powerful bike for a fraction of what the equivalent of a car would cost you. But that doesn't mean because you can get something for a grand, that you shouldn't spend three grand - because you can. Get something that has been well-maintained. If you don't know what you're talking about, find someone who does. In terms of people to ride with, there are some groups that are more kind of learner or beginner-friendly than others.
People that stand out in my mind are a group called RIDE3. And one thing that I like about them is that they've got a group chat and they organize weekly rides. So they'll link up and go ride out, and they have like... Basically, their ride-outs are like track day is structured. So it's three groups, novice, intermediate and the fast group. They call it no leather, Kevlar and faux leather. Faux leather is “don't even leave your house if you can't keep up." This is the big boys, the most experienced, the fast boys. The middle group obviously is like if you're faster, but you want a chill day or if you want to push up a little bit. And then if you're a complete learner or you're really not particularly confident, you come out on the slower days.
CS: As founder and content creator of Slipstream, what is it you’re trying to achieve in this space?
TR: For myself, and so via Slipstream, the initial goal was about creating content around the rider experience within this subcultural space. So that's the exploration of events and meets that I go to. They're the kind of spaces that you find yourself in. It's like the if you know, you know. You can't go into flipping TripAdvisor and find out where the next meet is. It's if you're plugged into the right network socially, then you'll get the invite. So documenting those experiences and giving some insight as an entry point for people, which I thought was important.
That's kind of how it started. And then it was around creating content around practical riding information. I found that I linked up with some of my bredrins and their riding journey was different to mine. Very early on, I had a network of people around me that were teaching me things, that knew things that I didn't know. "Don't lock your bike like that, someone's going to nick it. What you want to do, you want to put it through the swing arm and then through the wheel." Just little hacks that I didn't know. So I recognize how privileged I was, and then started to create content around that sort of information so that less experienced riders could access it.
More recently, it's been about kind of creating content around the narratives that I find interesting. So our faces flexing in petrol fueling places. So for example, recently I've linked up with a guy called Kevin Haggarthy, who's a moto journalist. He's written for every top car publication in the UK. He's been a broadcaster and writer journalist for the last 27 years. He's actually the first black motoring correspondent on UK screens. He's like the precursor to Rory Reid of Top Gear. And speaking to him about his journey and his viewpoint on an industry that again, doesn't recognize us in this space.
So I think that's part of the work I'm doing with Slipstream is to position what we're doing as a project, through content, through collaboration, through events to first and foremost, make that safe space where we can flex in these petrol fuel places because we do it differently. It’s capitalizing off of that and create the content, and hopefully lead by example, so that within the next year or so, we are working with the Hondas of the world and Yamahas of the world to say, "What does your future look like if you don't speak to these people?"
If you’ve just recently bought yourself a set of wheels and are keen to head out, check out some of the communities TR recommended such as Slowboys, RIDE3 and the Frontrunnerz. If you want to find out more about bike life and the culture you can follow TR’s Instagram @slipstream.tv and check out his content on the YouTube Channel.