“Once you’re a rider, you’re always a rider,” says photographer David “Dee” Delgado. “People don’t understand just how deeply ingrained bike culture is in urban culture.” For the past several years, photographer Delgado has been capturing images of “bike life” in his home borough of the Bronx. Euphoric and powerful, images of four-wheeler ATV culture, 2-wheeler bravado, dirt bikes and even members of A$AP Mob riders (hey A$AP TyY, hey) capture the essence of a scene that has been around for years.
“After WWII and Vietnam, people of color created bike groups just like their caucasian counterparts but were never really put in the spotlight,” says the Bronx-born Delgado, who’s no stranger to the movement known as “bike life.” The self-taught photographer has followed the loose cliques of riders careening through the streets of New York City, shooting the series using a Sony A7 with a 28mm f2 lens to document group rides, known as ride outs, and the spirit of brotherhood that go along with the scene. “In the 1970s and ’80s, the children of those vets began the urban moped culture followed by the next generation–my generation–of sportbike riders and it was all about speed and wheelies. The dirt bike riders, or ‘bike life,’ as it’s now called, is just the evolution and I knew I had to document it.”
According to Delgado, “no man left behind, unity, brotherhood and showing off,” is what bike life is all about, and he aimed to capture all of those elements in his photos. He also nods to the connection between bike life and hip-hop culture–the two have a long and celebrated history, from DMX and Ruff Ryders in the ’90s to more recent 4-wheel action shown by Meek Mill, Rick Ross, A$AP TyY and Chief Keef. The NYPD has taken notice, too, confiscating bikes and making arrests as New York state law prevents off-road bikes and ATVs from registration for street use.
“I believe it’s that whole urban superstar thing. You have to be flashy and unique in both worlds,” says Delgado. While most of the riders are young men, full of bravado, women riders are a big part of the movement, though seen less often. Yayi aka Da Queen of Hearts (first lady of Ruff Ryders; says Delgado, “she’s been in the game longer than most and has tricked out dirt bikes”) and Kyale Kiyomi ( #princessofbikes ) have a huge following on social media.
Delgado continues to shoot and plans on expanding the Bike Life project.
Text By: David ‘Dee’ Delgado
I arrived one month after Hurricane Maria shred through the center of Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017. I looked through the window of the more than half empty plane as we prepared to land. I could see a sea of blue but it wasn't the ocean I saw, it was a sea of blue tarps on top of damaged homes. The blue tarps are supplied by F.E.M.A. to residents that have damaged or missing roofs. At that moment I knew I was going to see mi Isla (my island) in a different way.
It was impossible for me to prepare myself for what I was about to see, hear and experience. The lack of resources and support from the mainland, threats of incarceration for teaching, the insecurity for the future. Despite the hardships, I also witnessed perseverance, pride, ingenuity, and community. I turned my lens on these moments to document and record what life is like on Puerto Rico after Maria.
It’s 10 pm on a cold Friday night in an industrial area of the Bronx. The barren streets of this neighborhood have a bit of life to them. A line of people gather on the sidewalk in front of an auto body shop that seems closed, except the bass of the Hip-Hop music coming from inside informs you otherwise.
A towering bouncer standing at the entrance asks for tickets and lets in groups of three at a time to be screened and searched for weapons before gaining full access. Only once you’ve made it past the checkpoint and inside to the body shop does the night begin. At the center of the shop is an octagon shaped ring made of crowd control barricades and gym mats. A crowd of roughly two hundred people has purchased tickets and everyone tries to claim a spot with an unobstructed view in the standing room only arena before the show begins. What they are about to experience is the fourth fight night of the Bronx’s newest underground fight club Rumble in The Bronx.
Every fight is held at different location and attendees are informed only hours before the first fight of the venue’s address. The size of the crowd varies from venue to venue. The third fight night was held inside the trailer of an eighteen wheeler and was limited to only sixty spectators.
On average the typical fight night has ten bouts, but extra fights are sometimes added to the card since a majority of the fighters are on hand and call outs are mandatory within the weight divisions. The rules are simple; no kicking, biting or shots below the belt, sixteen-ounce gloves are provided but fighters are allowed to bring their own. The fights last three, three-minute rounds and the crowd via cheers dictates the winner in the match, in the event of a draw a fourth round is fought. A cut man / off duty E.M.T. is kept on hand to monitor the safety of the fighters and tend to any wounds. Under state law, anyone involved with an unlicensed boxing match is guilty of a misdemeanor. Everyone from the promoter to the card girls and is at risk of being punished with up to one year of jail time.
Rumble in the Bronx founder Killa-Mike is charismatic as he walks through the crowd greeting and chatting with attendees. He was once a fighter himself and a member of a club called BX Fight Club. After BX Fight Club ceased to hold fights and he had received the blessings and encouragement from its founders to start his own club was Rumble in the Bronx was born. His established reputation as an all-out warrior has gained him eleven thousand followers on social media in only four months, and Rumble in the Bronx is recognition as the next big fight club in the city.
When asked what is his purpose and drive behind Rumble in the Bronx he responds “it’s a place to kill beef and release aggressions”. He attempts to arrange fights where both parties have a mutual dispute and settle the differences before they escalate to violent levels and guns become part of the equation, all while still being entertaining. Killa-Mike is proud of one of his first match ups that involved an ex-husband and the new boyfriend. The two men’s problems had escalated to the point of death threats toward each other on social media. He arranged the fight and the two men walked out of the ring with a mutual respect, and since then the threats and bickering has ceased.
Along with providing what he believes to be a social service he also wants to provide entertainment. The dreams of taking his underground fighting to the masses (doesn't this break at least two rules of fight club?) possibly in the form of a show similar to the Ultimate Fighter is something he strives for. In the reality show contestants fight in an MMA style fight all with hopes of being the last man standing and winning a contract with the UFC. Mike surrounds himself with a close-knit group of friends he has made while fighting and his transition to the owner of a fight club but one that sticks out among the rest is Big Country the current undefeated heavyweight champ of Rumble in The Bronx.
The six foot two inch, two hundred and forty plus pound, twenty-one-year-old newbie to the underground fight scene known as Big Country holds a record of 4-0. None of his fights have reached the third round and have all been won by TKO or KO. He recounts how in his first fight he had a bunch of butterflies and how the only person by his side was his girlfriend. He never knew he would become one of the superstars of Rumble in The Bronx. After that first win, Killa-Mike brought him into his inner circle and even helped him find a job alongside him at a construction site. When asked how long he believe he will continue to fight he responds “If Mike wants me to leave I’ll leave, if he wants me to stay I’ll stay. He has been very loyal and I feel I owe him the same”. Big Country’s fourth fight was one he felt was one of the most important to him. He was fighting to end the beef between his neighborhood and that of his opponents Big Pun. Prior to the match things seemed to be escalating with groups of both neighborhoods in attendance and trash talk being tossed back and forth between the two. Country’s and Pun’s fight was the final card of the night as it was the main event. The match lasted under four minutes early in the second round as Big Pun could not continue he was winded and tapped out. By the end of the night, people from both neighborhoods were posing for pictures with Big Country. When asked if he would ever consider going pro or attempting to do so his response is quick “I never train I’m too lazy. When I get home from work I just want to lay down. I’ve always loved combat sports but this is only a hobby for me”
A man this is far from a hobby for is Chris Cunningham better known in the underground fight world as Pacquiao. A veteran of the Bx Fight Club also it’s season two tournament champion has chosen a different path. The underground fight scene champion has decided to pursue a more traditional path in boxing. In the basement of what seems to have been a factory at one point is woodside boxing academy and the training gym for Chris. He spends on average twenty to twenty-five hours a week here preparing for the next round of the Golden Gloves tournament. The 1-1 (11-2 in fight clubs), one hundred and sixty-five pound, the twenty-five-year-old fighter has been relentlessly training for the next round of matches. Although he is tempted occasionally return to the underground fight scene his goals are set to rise through the ranks and go pro. When arriving for the first time at the Golden Gloves Chris unlike many of the other contenders already had a “name” and would be asked by participants, pros, and staff if he was that Pacquiao kid from the Bronx. In a sport that in which a name carries a lot of weight Chris is already ahead of the pack. Who knew the introduction to the underground fight world via a friend showing him a video on Instagram would lead to participating in the club and winning the championship along with the prize of a one pound, 14 karats Cuban Link chain and sparking the fire to go professional. This sounds like a movie plot for a Clint Eastwood movie. When asked how does he feel about fight clubs now and in particular of Killa-Mike and the Rumble in the Bronx he responds “It’s a great place to test your grit and see if you are made for this”, “Mike is doing a lot of great things by giving the fighters a voice and killing beef before it escalates, I see a lot of good things coming from that club”