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Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Nigel Sylvester: A New Type of BMX Pro


Nigel Sylvester, seen here with photographer Mark Losey, might look like he's having fun while shooting a BMX photo, but getting new photos for his sponsors is part of the pro job description, and sometimes it's not always as fun as it looks.

Last week, we examined the various routes BMX riders can take to achieve the seemingly vague title of 'pro.' This week, we're going to examine one type of route to go, the "video pro" route. And to do so, it's going to get a bit murky. I might even go so far as to pull BMX no-no and reference skateboarding. But I'll try to keep this short, simple and definitive of one type of pro in the evolving world of BMX.

And to do so, I'm going to use Queens, N.Y. area street rider Nigel Sylvester. Nigel is 23-years-old, and sponsored by Nike 6.0, Mirraco, Animal Bikes and Gatorade. Nigel grew up riding street in the NYC area, and rarely competes, choosing instead to film video parts, shoot photos and work at progressing his riding into new territories. To achieve this, he takes frequent trips throughout the world for his sponsors, and when at home, he rides frequently and does more than his share to promote the sport of BMX, including Games of Bike and video shoots.

There was never one specific day when the BMX world decided that Nigel Sylvester was pro. But he put in work on earlier video parts, including Animal's "All Day," and in return, prospective sponsors took notice of Nigel's skills. Nigel started out getting product flow from Animal and Wethepeople, and continued to ride and progress. He also proved at an extremely early age that he was willing and eager to put in the necessary work it takes to go the pro route in BMX, rarely complaining, pursuing every opportunity that was handed to him, and handling himself in a professional manner years before he was actually getting paid to ride a BMX bike.

Nigel also puts in work on the pro demo circuit, traveling to shops and performing his brand of BMX for his sponsors and the shops that promote his sponsors. That also means intercting with fans, which Nigel excels at.

Eventually, bigger sponsors took notice of Nigel's achievements outside the traditional BMX realm, and Nigel signed on to ride for Nike 6.0, Mirraco Bikes and Gatorade, endorsing signature shoes from Nike 6.0, and a signature frame from Mirraco. Right around the same time, the BMX media started paying a lot more attention to Nigel, and he "blew up," appearing in more progressive videos, in Nike ads on Houston Street and in somewhat unlikely places for BMXers (such as the host of the Afro Punk Festival in Brooklyn.)

Nigel didn't necessarily have the support of everyone. "Growing up, a lot of people always saw me and asked what I was riding a bike for, why I was doing that, saying that it wouldn't get me anywhere. Telling me that I might be good at something, but it wasn't going to get me anywhere," he says. "I didn't listen to them. I just kept doing what I was doing and now it's the real achievement."

Nigel continues to progress his riding, promote his sponsors (and the sport of BMX) and expose BMX to new audiences, all the while being a positive role model to his friends and fans. And to me and many others in BMX, Nigel Sylvester is a prime example of what it means to be a pro in BMX.

Getting on a plane with only a few days notice to ride a new street plaza demo at Woodward Beijing is another part of the pro job description that Nigel excels at, seen here 180 barspinning out of a grind last spring.

For all intents and purposes, I'm going to say that Nigel's approach to becoming pro closely mimics that of skateboarding. Nigel wasn't "turned" pro as they do in skateboarding (which means getting a signature deck), but he progressed through the ranks, from flow guy, to new team guy, to worldwide BMX superstar with paid endorsements, and he's done all of this completely separate from the BMX contest circuit.

Instead, Nigel used the tools available to him, including street riding, video and magazine exposure, and the desire to make things work on his own terms, and developed into a true BMX pro.

But there's another aspect as well that never gets mentioned in this discussion.

"If I didn't follow my heart, I wouldn't be here now," says Nigel, proving that the act of becoming a pro is much more than being able to do tricks on a BMX bike.

THE PRO QUESTION ON ESPN BMX