Q&A: 7 Minutes with Professional BMX Rider Nigel Sylvester

On New York, being cold and lessons learned from a failed business

What did you learn?

Details. You have to learn to pay attention to details. It’s key to any process that you involve yourself in. Those little things that you sometimes overlook can make or break any situation that you’re in, whether it’s a business, relationship or any kind of goal that you’re pursuing — it’s those key things that I’ve learned are valuable. And I’ve applied those lessons to being an athlete and dealing with business opportunities I have on the table now. And relationships, too.

That’s it?

Don’t mix friends and business, to be honest. That’s what it comes down to. It’s the little things, like, wanting to go out and ride, but I also have to be in the store today, so, what do I do? It made me think about what my priorities were. I had to deal with that as a kid, not even able to drink yet! [Laughs.] It was just dealing with things like that. I’m still thankful, and looking toward 2013. There’s definitely some things coming that I can’t speak about right now. But when I can I will definitely be speaking to you guys, because Black Enterprise, this stuff is right up you guys’ alley.

I need to ask this question, because readers are just going to want to know…

[Laughs.] That’s the one thing I get almost every day, “Dude, you’re a black kid from Queens who rides a BMX bike, like, how did that happen?” My explanation is that it just happened. Everywhere I go, people see New York in me. Wherever I go.

What’s special about being a BMX rider from New York, with the culture here being what it is?

Put it like this: Say you’re on a bicycle and you ride from Spanish Harlem to SOHO — imagine all that you encounter on a daily basis. The culture, art, music, lifestyle — I incorporate all of that into my riding and into my style and the message I express. It’s a different responsibility than most riders. I just bring the true BMX style, which is really all about individuality first.

Nothing against being one-dimensional, but it’s not about just the bike riding for me. I care about how I look on my bike. I care about presentation, what I’m listening to. Also being creative off my bicycle, as far as videos, design and things of that nature. There’s so many influences in New York. So much comes at you and you have to be able to decipher all of that, take what you need and then project that back on the world. BMX as a culture hasn’t seen that. Now of course there’s been other BMX riders from New York before me, but not taken to the level where I have, where I have partners that really understand what I want to give the world.

What’s your responsibility to young riders? If you think about BMX culture as a sort of subculture inside the larger culture of these large urban centers, it must be hard just to get along and I imagine they look up to you.

I have to tell their story, the story of a city kid. Things aren’t easy for riders in New York City. For example, we have good weather on average from April to October. From November to March it’s cold. So our lifestyle changes. As a BMX rider I have to tell that story. And I have to help them out and give back. Whether it’s events or giving them a chance at access to indoor facilities … riding decreases maybe about 80 percent during those months. I remember where I came from.

What do you tell them?

Sometimes it can just be as easy as giving them advice or encouragement. Like, “Yo, stay on it,” or, “Yo, be dedicated,” just things like that. It could be helping someone find a new sponsor, or whatever. I learned early on that I have to help develop opportunities for them to express themselves and stay excited about bike riding. I enjoy it because I remember when I was 16 or 17 bundled up in the dead of winter with a Northface coat and a skully with a scarf covering my face. And I’m out riding. I don’t forget those days.

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