There are few athletes today who are operating with the skills of Nigel Sylvester. In this FRONTPAGE interview, the boundary-breaking BMX star opens up on his indefatigable spirit.
Freedom, in all of its lush availability, has always interested Nigel Sylvester. As early as three years old, he can be seen gripping the handlebars of a bicycle more than half his height, grinning mischievously through the camera lens. Offering me a glance of a childhood photo, it’s the kind of image that has made him an icon. One of the most visible faces in the world of cycling, Sylvester has become a singular sports star.
“I ride with God,” he tells me over Zoom, in a smooth, measured voice. “Whenever I’m on my bike, pedaling as fast as I can, and the wind’s blowing through my face and I’m dipping through traffic, jumping off curb cuts… that’s when I feel the most free. There’s nothing like it in this world.”
Since the age of 15, Sylvester has committed himself to mastering BMX. At 18, he went pro. Widely known as the most rigorous style of the sport, street riding requires a different kind of verve. The rider must be prescient and elegant, with a successive sophistication of the wrists and a mind capable of devouring fear – the psychic complexity required to thrive must be transrational. Which is why Sylvester has helped broaden the limited perceptions of the BMX world, reimagining its' sterile Southern Californian stereotypes and elevating once stunted standards.
“When I turned pro, the fact that I was in my late teens and I was this young black kid from Jamaica Queens, yo… a lot of people didn’t understand the vision. That was such a transformative moment for me, especially in the way of confidence, especially since I signed with Dave Mira, one of the biggest athletes of all time.”
Carving out a New Age path, one less reliant on corporate, old-world competitions and exclusively on organic endorsements, Sylvester lunged to a finish line of his own making. Long before this “inclusive” cultural tilt, he helped distinguish himself as a future-focused entpreneur. Garnering deals from brands like Kith, New Era, Louis Vuitton, and G-Shock, in 2015 he launched an immersive film project called GO. Raising the vibrations of much of contemporary cinema, each episode offers a glimpse into Sylvester’s private world. Filmed across five international cities, the series has become a global phenomenon. Racking up more than 90 million views, GO’s signature documentary-POV effect arrived before our current metaverse trends.
With whiplash editing and cameos from entertainers and actors, each visual trip gives major-label music videos an outdated quality. In a Dubai-themed installment, Sylvester can be seen flying into traffic at breakneck speed and feeding a giraffe. In another, filmed between London and Paris, he sips tea in a sumptuous Bentley and plays basketball in a neon painted alley. Years before TikTok and Triller, Sylvster’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-them effects still feel modern. The project is also gaining new life later this year: “I’m releasing a coffee table book with Rizzoli in October. It’s my first book of photography by Harrison Boyce and tells the story of the GO series, which has taken me on an incredible adventure around the world on my bicycle.”
“We went with that style because it was the best way to capture the energy,” he says. “The concept, it sounds so big, but the execution was intriguing to me, because I love big ideas. The series has been a dream come true and now we’re expanding into live events, clothing, and a collaboration with Levi’s.”
Releasing a limited capsule which features a trucker-hat and a matching logo-licked denim set, it’s yet another collaboration with a heritage brand. A life-long fashion enthusiast, Sylvester’s family is full of trend-setters. “I grew up watching how my brother and my mother interacted with fashion, how they curated their personal styles. And then growing up in Jamaica Queens and seeing the way they rock certain things, learning how they laced their sneakers, how their jeans fell on top of their sneakers. I’ve always been into it.”
It’s why, for each project, he’s hands on, focusing on lasting expressions of “pure creativity.” Last year, he became the first-ever BMX rider to sign with Jordan. A milestone manifestation, the products and the person have long held space in his heart.
However surreal it may seem, Sylvester insists that nothing was handed to him. Almost a decade in, each performance is treated with meticulous detail. From training to scouting locations to landing a trick, there is no-time scale for practice. When trying to perfect a trick called the Crooked Grind Tailwhip, the process involved multiple flights between New York and Los Angeles. Just as a painter sketches the canvas or a director unspools scenes from his mind’s eye, there’s been times he’ll rehearse for up to six to eight weeks.
“It might only be four or five seconds in a video, but the practice I’ve made takes it from level eight to level ten. In those moments I learn determination, patience, being hyper present, and doing anything necessary to execute. I’ve applied that throughout my life, whether it’s bike riding, whether it’s a business deal, whether it’s a content piece, whether I’m working on a shoe or a T-shirt, having that resilience, having that ‘I will not lose’ attitude has definitely elevated my game and brought me to a place where I believe I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Currently his mind is fixed on an upcoming secret project and charity. Last July, he founded an eponymous foundation and next month is launching a bike-giveaway with a local Boys and Girls Club. With the bicycle, one of the most democratic instruments of travel, his intention is to provide as many kids as possible “access to a new world.”
This new world is more or less a mindset. Riding has helped Sylvester become more “self-determined” and “multifaceted.” Initially, entering the insular world of BMX was daunting. Sponsorships from social media were still early, with the bulk of marketing dollars tethered to traditional advertising. It was also a world that was quite familial, prioritizing relationships over merit and talent. Sylvester learned to embrace the energy of “being unapologetically authentic.” At first there was a bit of resistance and he admits there was a fair amount of criticism. Still, he stuck to his vision, willing it into existence, through discipline and fuck-off focus. It’s no secret that change is often scary to those who crave constancy. Sylvester paid them no mind.
“I had to take a moment to process, to really sit and attune, and once I processed, I remembered I whole heartedly don’t give a fuck because I had a vision for myself and there was too much sacrifice involved for me to ever lose.”