We’re counting down the crucial pre-Christmas shopping days with a series called Gifted Givers, in which friends old and new share their thoughts on stylishly spirited giving and receiving.
We’ve made all kinds of cool Calgarian friends since opening Canada’s first Nordstrom in the summer of 2014. One such citizen is Brad Ralph. He cofounded iStockphoto.com, and continues to help photographers and videographers produce and sell fresh content with that company as well as with Getty Images. In his off time, Ralph rides bicycles, takes photos (check his IG for serious adventuring) and wrangles three Chihuahuas with his significant other, Allison. We’re guessing you can either relate to his aesthetically savvy, business-in-the-front/backroads-in-the-back kinda lifestyle—or that there’s someone in your life who can.
Style Profiles. In honor of our twice-a-year Men’s Shop Catalog dropping this month, we decided to profile 6 real men of style and substance. Here, Big-Apple BMX rider Nigel Sylvester.
Growing up in Jamaica, Queens—where dirt tracks are a rare sight, to say the least—a young Nigel Sylvester says few people supported his obsession with BMX bike riding. He doesn’t mind though, insisting it just gave him a thicker skin for criticism.
After getting his start pulling daredevil burnouts on Big Wheels, Sylvester soon graduated to two wheels—helped pioneer and popularize a unique East-Coast, in-city, free-form riding style that grinds on NYC concrete rather than launching off So-Cal clay—and despite (or perhaps because of) his alternative approach, has risen to the forefront of his sport.
We caught up with Sylvester to find out what every man can learn from a BMX master—like how to fail with dignity, sweat the small stuff, and follow your gut at all costs.
STICK WITH IT. “With BMX riding, you want to be the first one in your neighborhood, or even in the world, to land a trick. You’re going to fall down. It’s all about getting back up. I feel like those setbacks just help build character. If you’re determined enough, you’re going to get back up and do it again.”
LEARN NEW TRICKS. “I’m competitive by nature, mostly with myself. I always want to outdo myself and be better than yesterday. So I’m always looking at, how do I progress? How do I learn new tricks—on and off my bike? Be a better brother, better son, better person in general.”
KEEP IT PROFESSIONAL. “Being a pro BMX rider means that you ride on a professional level. You’re doing tricks on a professional level. And you conduct yourself in a professional manner off your bicycle, as well.”
VISUALIZE SUCCESS. “Bike riding, for me, is very mental. I like to think about what I’m doing, envision what I do before I do it. I want to make sure it looks good. Presentation is so important. The details are what separate the good from the great.”
MY TRAINING REGIMEN. “Riding is my training. I don’t go to the gym and life weights or whatever. I do some cardio, a bunch of stretching, push-ups, sit-ups, but mostly bike riding is the actual exercise and training. When I go out on a ride, let’s say I’m bunny-hopping. I’m lifting up my body weight, plus the weight of the bike—so that right there is 200-plus pounds every time—and I may do 100 bunny hops in a day.”
MIND & BODY. “Riding is a full-body exercise. You need your full body to go out and ride. As well as your mind—so it’s like [exercising] everything.”
FULL CIRCLE. “It was crazy for me, because the first time I saw the X Games on TV, Dave Mirra won. And I guess it kind of came full-circle for me when it was him who turned me professional. He signed me to his company at the age of 18. This is my childhood idol, and then he comes and starts off my professional bicycle career. I’ll never forget that.”
SEE WHAT HAPPENS. “The advice I give people is to follow your heart and do what you love. Don’t let anyone deter you from your dreams and your goals—because you already know what’s going to happen if you don’t do it. So you might as well find out what’s going to happen if you put your mind to it.”
GOING GLOBAL. “As professionals, we strive to be the best at what we do and to do things that stand the test of time. So if I do a trick here in New York that people in Japan or Beijing or Africa are going to go on YouTube, watch it, and then talk about it around the world, that’s an incredible feeling. There’s nothing better than going to a new country, and people are like, ‘I saw your video, and you did this trick, and it was awesome.’ You’re touching people all around the world.”
BLAZING A TRAIL. “Growing up in New York, we didn’t have many [BMX] competitions. New York City riders, our style is a little bit different. We’re more just about going out free-riding, filming video parts, and kind of just doing whatever feels right. That’s one of the best things about action sports—that you can be a contest rider or a video-part rider, and still be successful.”
IN THE ZONE. “I listen to music all the time. Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Lauryn Hill, Young Jeezy, Kanye West’s new album. Most of the time when I’m riding, I have my headphones in. Music helps me just zone in and block out all the other distractions around me—planes, ambulances driving by, people talking sh–. Music helps me just zone out and focus on the task at hand.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME. “I wanted to do a video series that gave my fans a different perspective of my life. We did a series called Get Sylvester—we shot in Chicago, Barcelona, Dominican Republic…[But] there’s no feeling like coming back home. Go see my mom, see my friends, go hang out. It makes you appreciate the things that you have in life that you can’t buy.”
LIGHTS OUT. “One essential item, whether I’m riding, going out, or going to a meeting, is black jeans. I wear black jeans almost every day. They’re a definite staple in my closet.”
PROPER FOOTWEAR. “Sneakers—I got a lot of those. I probably have, in my house right now, maybe 300 pairs of sneakers. In New York, you pull up, one of the first things that a lady looks at is your sneakers. Yeah. Sneakers are important. Got to have a good sneaker game.”
MY MOST PRIZED POSSESSION. “My bicycle, first and foremost…I’m going to ride my bike until I can’t ride it any longer. BMX riding is such a big part of my life that I will never, ever take it for granted. I put my heart into it as much as I possibly can. I wake up thinking about it. I go to sleep thinking about it. It just makes me feel like nothing else on this earth can.”