Bike Life - A Look Into NYC's Urban Biker Culture

Text By: Vikki Tobak

“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.