It's Bigger Than Bikes
photographed by Janette Beckman
From the outside, the GOHARDBOYZ might look like a street gang. Founded in 1999, they ride through the streets on dirt bikes, four wheelers, and other assorted extreme sports vehicles. Members are adorned in denim and many sport tattoos.
However, looks can be deceiving, because the GOHARDBOYZ are not a gang. Nor are they a motorcycle club. Therefore the question becomes, if they are not a motorcycle club, what are they? Well, according to Shea Evans, founder and CEO of the GOHARDBOYZ, they are a family. One with a particular love of extreme sports, community, and Harlem.
We met Shea through documentary photographer Janette Beckman, who has been chronicling the group's activities for the past few years. After seeing Shea in his community, and talking with him about his philosophy about bikes, family, and life, we have to agree with his assertion: “It's bigger than bikes.”
Shea stopped by the Culture Crush studio to discuss the past, present, and future of the dirt bike culture he has loved since childhood.
Debra Scherer: I know that a lot of the stuff that is important to you is differentiating the concept behind the club. I know a lot of people look at you like you’re just a gang from Harlem. And that there is a lot of voyeurism into the life of gangsters. I saw the neighborhood where it all started, and you really do get a sense of community. Can you tell us more about that?
Shea Evans: Just growing up in that neighborhood uptown, it was like the Mecca. For dirt bike culture it is the Mecca, but for me it is home. I was born in Harlem. My mother bought a house in the suburbs about 10 minutes from the city.
That part of Harlem is like a village because everybody is like family. I could be walking and be like “oh that is my cousin, that’s my aunt.” And that’s real and that’s not fabricated. Everyone knows my story: “oh he just loves bikes, bikes, bikes, bikes.” Whatever else my past life was, it didn’t really matter.
Harlem was just like the Mecca of the dirt bike culture. It just so happens that that particular part of the neighborhood was just one part of where you come past and get stamped. And that was 8th Avenue. Rucker Park was two blocks away. From like 150th street to 155th street, it was like ‘showtime’ for the bikes.
DS: I’m so interested in where the origins were. When was the first time that you remember seeing bikes when you were a kid growing up in New York City?
SE: I kind of think I got bitten in the neck over Evel Knievel when I was a kid. I think it really really started back in the day, in the ‘70’s. They used to have the African American parade and at the end of the parade they had the bikes.
And my mother’s friend had a bike. I don’t remember how old I was, but I remember them putting me on the back of the bike and taking me for a ride up and down. From that day on, I was hooked. The parade was every year, and that was the focal point for me, to watch the bikes. The marching band was cool, but not as cool as the bikes.
I got hooked on that craze back in the ‘70’s, then Evel Knievel just kind of ironed it out for me. You have to understand, being an African American kid; I’m looking up to this white dude wearing this Elvis Presley red, white, and blue thing. I didn’t know about racism, I didn’t care. He was a hero.
He was doing wheelies on the Harley bike and had the cape. I wanted it all. Next thing you know they had That’s Incredible. And they had the guy doing wheelies on that show and that guy’s name was Doug Domokos.
Matter of fact, that guy was the world record holder for doing wheelies at the time. Do you know the movie Cannonball Run? He did the stunts for that. He was like the wheelie king. The history of bikes, I studied and I know it blindfolded.
I just know everything about the culture. In that late ‘70’s era, during the making of the hip hop thing, the cool dudes had minibikes. Dude’s who would pull up with the minibikes were the shit. They had the Lee’s suit on, with the graffiti in the back, and the Kangol. They were the shit.
The guys who had the dirt bikes were the ones who stood out. My mother got me my first bike at 8 or 9. I did the Fresh Air Fund (summer camp) for 5 years and the kids had dirt bikes, so I was polished in Dover, Pennsylvania over the summer.
These people had 110 acres so every day it was do your chores and then you could go ride bikes. So then one year, my mother bought me a bike.
In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Harlem was the Mecca of dirt bike culture. There were two guys I knew in Harlem, and they were big time drug dealers, and they had dirt bikes. Then there were some other guys with a little crew and it was called “The Shack Crew.”
All these guys were the top hustlers and I was like “I’m going to get me a dirt bike.” Then we moved to New Jersey and I remember, because I was writing this in my memoir, it was an amazing neighborhood, cool neighbors, everyone was into BMX Freestyle.
I remember, I was sitting there riding my GT up and down the street and I saw a kid pushing a Suzuki RM80, so the year had to be like ‘82. I just started following him, and I was like, “man! where are you going with that?” I was just asking him questions, and he was cool.
His name was Chris Rand. And so I ran back to my house and told mom “I need a dirt bike” and she was like “boy leave me alone.” That’s when I got into the professional aspect of the culture.
I was a self-taught professional motocross racer. I did not go to the schools to learn it. What I did was mimic what I saw in the magazines and what I saw on channel 7 (ABC). Dirt bikes used to come on Wild World of Sports and they had a thing called Supermoto. Danny Magoo Chandler, he was my hero. I knew all the professionals, so when motocross would come on I would watch it and mimic it.
And I got really good at motocross racing. So my mom used to take me to tracks and I was next level. I was better than the kids that raced. I was the shit. I had the opportunity to take it to the next level, but my dad had just passed when we moved to the house. So it was just me and my mother. I didn’t have the sports mom. My mother was just a boujee diva.
Brandon Sutton: That’s my mother too.
SE: I grew up with Puffy. My mother and Puffy’s mother were really close. My mother would just be sitting in the parking lot with her friends while I was riding and would just be like, “hurry up. I don’t have time to be messing up my shoes with this crazy ass white people shit.”
Some of my neighbors would come out and support me and root for me. I had my own group of friends and we did what we did. But the crazy thing is that I had a brand new dirt bike every year from 1983 all the way to 1987. So now what would happen is that when my cousins would come over to spend the weekend, they would ride the older bikes.
When the bikes would come out in November, around Thanksgiving, I would take the brochure, and my stepfather, he was a Muslim, so I would slip the brochure into my Mom’s Qur’an, so when she would pray there it was. I could have gone professional.
They used to send these forms home for me to go to Ponca City but my mother just wasn’t really into it. That is why one day I was able to meet James (Bubba) Stewart. He is the first African American champion. It is sad that a lot of people don’t know that.
BS: It’s funny as you talk about that I think that I don’t really associate extreme sports with black culture, maybe skateboarding now as it has gotten into hip hop culture, but when I was growing up in the ‘90’s it was football and basketball. I have that kind of mom too, who said “That is a white person thing.”
SE: Extreme sports didn’t kick in til like ‘98-’99, because even if you take the skateboarding era, it was the kids who would go to the mall and jump on stuff. They were the rebels.
DS: It was suburban.
SE: What the kids do now in the bike culture, it is the highest level of extreme, but there was always something in the culture because it was an outlet. Nobody had a trail to go to, so they would just buy the bikes.
DS: So this is something I want to make clear, because I didn’t really put 2 and 2 together, that riding these bikes anywhere in the city is illegal.
SE: Yeah, it is out of the gate illegal. They are not supposed to be ridden in the streets, they are made for the trails and the tracks. So they will chase you and do whatever it takes to get them off the streets. That is just how it has always been.
The bike culture has gotten so big that it’s worse, because the cops are killing the kids. They are chasing them until they die. In the film that I am putting out right now, I have footage of the cops killing the kids. So people get to see the real the story behind what happened. I have behind the scenes footage of them chasing the boy into the pole.
I’m from this. This is how crazy things were for me. Getting chased was the shit. Getting chased and getting away was how you earned your stripes and I was earning those at 13 and 14.
When I moved to Jersey, I was known for getting chased and getting away. My mother didn’t even have wind of that until we had an incident at the house, so we had to go down to the police station and they recognized me.
But that is just how it was, and it was fun, because I knew there was a 90% chance that I wasn’t going to get caught. So it was fun. But these kids now, they don’t have the heart. It is dangerous. To the pros and the seasoned vets it feels like a joke, “you’re not catching me! I’m going to drag this out, I’m going to ride past my neighborhood, I’m going to do a wheelie while you’re chasing me. Then I’m going to get away!”
BS: I thought cops were not supposed to chase people in the city anymore?
SE: Yeah, they’re not supposed to do that.
BS: Because it leads to bystanders getting killed because cops are terrible at driving.
DS: So let’s talk about the formation of the GOHARDBOYZ.
SE: We started the GOHARDBOYZ in 1999. I have all this passion in me, my friends have all this passion, so we bought these things called Banshees. They are 4-wheel ATVs and we bought like 10 of them.
So we head up to Orange County, New York and we are riding the trails and having a blast. Some of my friends had never gotten to experience riding the trails. We got back to the driveway and they were like “we had mad fun. We were going hard!”
So another friend of mine, Don Villanueva, was like, “man, we should call ourselves the GOHARDBOYZ” and I was like “yep.” And then the next thing you know, we went and made some jackets.
And the crazy thing about it is that A$AP Ferg’s father, his name was D-Ferg, made the original jackets. So we had the jackets and the four wheelers. The original GOHARDBOYZ was just us. Everybody in the crew had a couple dollars. So we bought trucks, vans, trailers, then we would head to the trails. Then, when we would get back from the trails, we would clean them up and ride them through the neighborhood.
We were like the first guys in Harlem to ride through with the trucks and the trailers. We kind of had that whole thing, we stamped it down like that. Then it just turned into a phenomenon later on.
As time progressed, from ’99 to ’05, I was already on the mission to make this culture what it is. By the time we got to 2011, I was cooking to go. I just thought “I’m going to get the best riders together, we are going to be brothers and we are going to be the shit.”
And I did it. We got the jean jackets and everything, because that is what I saw growing up. They were called “The Black Unicorns” it was a bike club in Harlem in the 1970’s. My uncle was the last living member of that group.
So I mimicked the vests that they wore and I made the GOHARDBOYZ jacket with the patch on the back. But it wasn’t organized as a club. When you put “MC” on the side, that is when it is a club.
I didn’t organize The GOHARDBOYZ to be a gang or a club. I wanted us to be all family. That is all it was about. It was never gang related. I don’t promote anything gang related. I don’t want to be affiliated with any gang. I don’t want any of that shit. Next thing you know, here comes Fetty Wap and that lands in my lap.
He didn’t even want to be a “Go Hard Boy” until he was good on the bike, so he took us on tour with him. And right before the iHeart Music Awards, me and my boy Wayne, who is part of a Baltimore group called Raise It Up, got together and he was like, “what’s up with Fetty? Is he really in?” and I was I like, “he is really in, I’ll put my name on it.”
So right before the awards we gave him his GOHARDBOYZ jacket with the Raise It Up stamp on it. Fetty was like “You don’t know what this means to me.” He couldn’t believe it. For us it was like, “you deserve it.”
It is really starting to get steam now, because you have one of the biggest rap artists in the world. However, what people don’t get is that this was not a gimmick for him. He was already big in the music industry.
This is just his other talent. The music industry had nothing to do with it. I got chewed out by Lyor Cohen and Fetty didn’t give two shits. He was like “Dude, I am riding the bike before soundcheck and after soundcheck.”
He bought a trailer to hook up to a pick-up truck he bought and it followed us around.That kid put a lot of time into becoming polished. He busted his ass. That kid is phenomenal on the bike. He is my brother.
DS: So how are you affiliated with the group down in Baltimore?
SE: Yeah, in Baltimore. So you want to talk about gangs? I’ll give you this. New York City and Baltimore hated each other. I’m talking about Bloods and Crips hate. A New York City guy could not go to Baltimore without risking his life, because of the drug epidemic.
That was just pure hate. It was to the highest level. When I met Wayne, we just talked. We just became brothers and we grew. We both had these big crews and we were leaders, so instead of just being riders and arguing about who has the best crew, we did some shit that no one saw coming: we combined them.
DS: Share the love.
SE: Because his mission was the same as ours.
DS: So many people would have wanted to make the baddest crew, or just make what your uncle was doing all over again, but you really took it into the light for the kids.
SE: Blame it on my mother.
DS: Blame it on your mother?
SE: Yeah, because that is just how I was raised. I am the only kid, so I played all my life and I had a bunch of cousins. So when you came over, it was just “be cool.” I had everything I ever wanted, but it was cool when you came over to my house you could just take your shoes off and play.
Even if you didn’t have good socks. We’ll get you some socks. Because that meant you were coming over to chill with me. So I’ve always had this thing about giving, as long as you were cool. Even with the dirt bikes.
It is the same mantra, that same thing with GOHARDBOYZ. I just wanted the baddest riders to be cool. I took the same team management approach and tried to make them brothers. We were like, “we are not doing this. We don’t want to be depicted as that.”
The thing is that these kids are much younger than me. I was already knee deep in the streets myself, so I didn’t want to employ that negative thing. I paid the price for being out there.
But the bikes were something that always brought friends. I’ve always gained friends off of bikes. That’s why sometimes on social media, not to get off topic, but I’ll post something and the white boys will get on there and say “You niggers, all you do is steal.”
And instead of just insulting them in the comments, I’ll just add in their favorite professional racer who I know personally. I’ll just be like “Man, Twitch, look at this shit. This dude is crazy.” And he will comment back “Well he’ll never get my autograph. His wife is a whore anyway.” And they’ll just go spew.
See, I reversed everything back. I didn’t want to be no gang thing. I just wanted to bring people together and look cool. Whether it is females, aunts, uncles. I just wanted to put together a family. I created a family oriented thing through bikes. My aunts have bikes.
BS: So what do you think it is about bikes? There are a lot of outlets for people in the inner city to express themselves. There is rap, basketball, there are gangs, so what is it that is unique about bikes?
SE: Well the thing about bikes is, that if you take 10 kids, and they see a motorcycle, they are going to gravitate towards that thing. There is just something intriguing about that motorcycle. Now they may get involved with skateboarding or BMX, but that bike thing has a type of energy that is attracting. So I just took all those people who were attracted to that energy and got them deeper into it.
Then I realized that when I was getting into bikes that I didn’t give two shits about anything else. I didn’t want to do my homework, nothing. I am going to ride every damn day. My mindset was bike related.
Even when I was living my other life, I bought cars and jewelry and stuff, but I was still buying bikes. I was going to the X Games and stuff on my dates. They would want to go to clubs and pop bottles and I was like “Do you want to go up to Aspen and see the X Games?”
That was my world. That is where my real money went. The energy of the bike created the bonds. So I created two slogans: “It’s bigger than bikes” and “bikes create bonds not beefs.” I own those slogans.
DS: I like “It’s bigger than bikes.”
SE: I worked in juvenile corrections and I worked for ACS for 10 years. I genuinely love kids so I worked in the field. So I used the same tactics I learned at work to connect with the youth. Kids that were not even going to school, I was like “look, if you finish and graduate, I’ll get you a bike.” We were using these incentives. That is why we are pushing.
I am not saying that we can stop all the violence, but I am saying that the guys who are riding the bikes aren’t shooters. We are keeping them safe. So why don’t you guys build us a park so we can balance out some of these nuts.
We were stopping all the drama with the bikes. There was a period in Baltimore where the murder rate slowed down for 2 weeks because they were allowed to ride bikes and once they took that away it went right back up. Something that takes gas, and has a motor, has that much power. So that’s our tool that we use.
Now, it is being watered down and everyone is like, “hey, it’s bike life.” They use the terminology now. My little brother from Baltimore, his name is Chylie, and he created the term bike life. He created that word because he said we should start a reality show and call it bike life. Now everyone is riding the wave. I call it being watered down because they don’t have enough history for me to sit down with them and conversate. You saw when you came up to visit me that I will distance myself.
DS: I saw that.
SE: Yeah, I need to know what is your goal. Are you trying to save these youths? Because if it is about you doing stunts then yeah, you’re a bad motherfucker. Now let me see you stop these two dudes from killing each other. Let me see that. Let me see you go in these neighborhoods you can’t go in without a pass.
Just like my dude Quarter T from California. Shout out to Quarter T. He does Bikes Over Bang’N. He goes into all of these neighborhoods that you can’t even go into and he is getting these kids into bikes. These are the people we stand with. Some people think I am an asshole or whatever, but it is not that we don’t want to socialize, it is that we don’t know your objective.
SE: You want to ask me some questions ask me some questions but don’t come around and try to get an Instagram photo. That isn’t going to cut it. I have too much history and I have a lot of knowledge in the professional world.
DS: You made a comment when we were together last time. That it was the biggest underground subculture.
SE: Yeah, this dirt bike phenomenon is probably one of the biggest underground subcultures. Well, it is not even underground anymore really. Now it is out. It is as big as life. It is spreading from Miami and Atlanta. You can look it up. The MLK Ride, you have hundreds of bikes. It is everywhere, Paris and London, California and Miami. It is everywhere and people are trying to express themselves.
Now, you have the corporate types trying to ride the wave. They think, “maybe we can give them some shirts and sneakers.” And of course we love it. We don’t mind wearing your shit, but why don’t you help us make this legit. We are wearing your Supreme shit and all this, and I love that they see it, but now we need to see you guys help legitimize the sport.
DS: So how does it work today? Do kids just start showing up? Do they start hanging around?
SE: Nah, we sit around and we look at certain individuals and why are they around. Do they make sense to have around? Like, that guy is the shit! We need to get him under the wing. I get so many DMs saying “how can I be a part of it?” and I stream them to my boy Kelly and he goes through their whole page and tries to see what they are about.
I am more for people who are humble. I like people who are chill and who I can chill with. I don’t even really want the notoriety. I want the kids to get the shine. I want the top riders to get the notoriety.
DS: So let’s talk technically about the sport. First of all, they go by so fast it looks like they are just popping wheelies. But then, after the millionth time, I really saw that what they are doing while they are doing the wheelie is the art form.
I saw it as a combination of figure skating mixed with gymnastics, like the pommel horse. What were you doing when you started out?
SE: When I started out it was the one hand wheelie. You have to understand, that thing evolved in the 2000’s. I remember talking to one of the people who started the no hand thing and thinking, “damn, I should have done that when I was a kid.” It just wasn’t part of the culture back then.
BS: Don’t look at me. I’m clumsy.
SE: And you’ve probably only saw 40% of the thing.
DS: It’s like ballet and horse riding. It’s poetic.
SE: There are two things about that sport you have to remember. First, there is nowhere to practice that. They just bought those bikes, they cost 6,000 dollars, and the cops might come and take them away. Second, when you fall you have to get back up and that is the subculture.
DS: Like Evel Knievel. Nothing stopped him from going again.
SE: And a lot of people are like, “That’s just stupid!” Until you try it and you can’t do it. I’ve seen the haters trash it and then see them on social media trying to do it. Show it love! Don’t be a culture vulture.
BS: I think everyone has that thing though. There are so many ways to reference subcultures, and they’ve commodified everything.
The thing that I like doing is lifting weights, I like bodybuilding and everyone wants to wear Under Armor and tight shirts etc. And I am sure you see it with the denim jackets. And I’m like what are you doing with a weight belt on? You’re squatting 200 pounds?
SE: You just want the look. They put their own little spin and take on it and make it more than it really is.
BS: My problem is that once you make community something you can buy and purchase, it sort of takes away from the people who it means something to. I mean, I don’t care what people wear, and I am sure you don’t. I mean, as long as you don’t try to steal my valor or insinuate yourself into my community.
SE: He said it right on. And that is why I am standoffish. I mean, like dude, I’ve been doing this forever and you can do some amazing tricks and I don’t think I am cocky or anything.
I give credit to these kids because in this era, these kids are learning these tricks in less than 6 months. This is why it is a sport. This is why there are awards. This shit is crazy.
I mean, I am a little pissed at the corporate dudes who should just go and push the buttons. Because the other entities when they do do it, you’re going to have to come back and you’re going to have to pay.
The top professional racers are sending me their videos of them doing wheelies and asking me not post it because Yamaha would be pissed at them.
Just speaking financially, GOHARDBOYZ and Raise It Up have bought a lot of bikes from Yamaha. Last year we purchased 30 Yamahas. We buy five at a time over a month’s period. We have the top crews, so when people see that we are riding them they go out and get them.
We are raising the stock. They probably have to wait for their racers to win a race to get anyone to buy them. But people in the inner city are like “GOHARDBOYZ just bought 30 Yamahas and put them on social media.”
BS: Do you think that is a racial thing? That dynamic reminds me of the Tommy Hilfiger thing or all those clothing brands.
Or even a Cristal, where the only people who are really buying this stuff is the hip hop and black community, but they still try to distance themselves from that because they are afraid of their brand getting associated with black people and criminality.
SE: You’re dead on. That is exactly what they are doing. These big corporations are distancing themselves and they say they do it because what we do is illegal.
But we purchased over 180,000 dollars worth of bikes from you guys. If it is illegal, then don’t sell them to us. The same thing happened with Gucci and Dapper Dan.
BS: I think you’re so right. Wether it’s in six months or six years, one day they’ll come with the money and try to pretend that it never happened.
They’ll ignore that you did the work to legitimize it because let’s be honest, they don’t care about if it is illegal.
SE: It is easy to wave the carrot in front of these kids. We have lawyers and shit so you are not just coming up here with your cameras and shit. Even though I am a fan of documentaries.
DS: So let’s talk about Janette Beckman. She is the one who introduced us. Did she just start hanging around?
SE: It’s been love since the first day we met. She doesn’t even tote the fact that she has done a lot of historic pictures. She is so down with GOHARDBOYZ.
I could ask for a thousand pictures and she’ll take them for me. I don’t give a shit what your brand is, I don’t do interviews. She has had me in plenty of magazines and she has gone to bat for me, especially in cases where the write ups weren’t cool.
DS: They already had an idea of what the story should be.
SE: I don’t want people to think that we are a gang. My heart is big. Our hearts are big.
DS: What would you say it is?
SE: Family that loves extreme sports. GOHARDBOYZ are strangers who became friends who love extreme sports. I don’t want to say it is a brotherhood because there are aunts, uncles, etc. It is just a cool family thing. That is what the premise is.
I got kids in London, Paris; color doesn’t mean anything. The thing about me, if you show your hand, I’ll show mine. As soon as you start with that racist shit, we are done.
BS: I think part of the reason you are considered a gang is probably because people don’t want to believe that there could be that level of cohesion in the black community without some illegality involved. This whole community of experts that you have built around these bikes that people don’t want to recognize as real.
SE: You get all these black people together and people are going to go, that’s a gang. Now we have the white kids coming down from Connecticut, so things are changing. When you bring the bikes into the equation, race goes out the window.
As long as they are cool, they are down. I don’t see color. That is what I’m here for. But sometimes you do have to check them, when they show their hands, and go “You’re acting white.”
I feel like if you are sure of yourself, you can address yourself. If you are sure of yourself, come up and talk. I might like you. A lot of the people who don’t like us, have never talked to us.
DS: Everyone I met was cool.
SE: Yeah it is a family oriented thing. We have made a lot of friends. Mended a lot of dangerous situations. And that’s family. That’s all I can say. That’s what we did it for.
If there were more places to practice, that would be great. I mean we do positive things for the community. We give out hundreds of turkeys on Thanksgiving.
That is never on the news, not that I do it for that. I do it so the old ladies in the neighborhood will say that we are doing the right thing and looking out for the community.
BS: So it is bigger than the bikes. Obviously the bikes are your passion, but also it’s something that you can organize around that requires practice, which requires dedication to that craft to be proficient at it. And that builds loyalty to each other.