Bike life, the culture adopted by crews of dirt bikers and ATV riders in cities across the globe, has become embedded into music, fashion and social media. But, before it hit the mainstream, appearing in music videos and on runways and becoming the topic of documentaries and photo books, the sport was confined to tight-knit, niche communities who caught attention for their heart-stopping tricks and death-defying stunts performed on metropolitan streets. To mark the release of Charm City Kings, a new film on HBO Max that tells a young boy’s coming-of-age story in Baltimore’s dirt bike scene, the latest episode of Behind the HYPE traces the origins of bike life from under-the-radar communities to the big screen.
Though the advent of the bike life movement is unknown, both Baltimore and Harlem stake claim in taking moto sports from the track to the streets in the 1990s. Baltimore’s scene goes back to the early part of the decade while its ascension in Harlem seemed to take form with the founding of the Go Hard Boyz, led by Janette Backman in 1999. As popularity for the sport rose, crews began popping up along the East Coast, including in Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that it infiltrated the mainstream with the release of the documentary 12 O’Clock Boys, spotlighting a collective named for it’s signature 90-degree — or 12 o’clock position — wheelies. It also appeared in the 2015 movie Creed, starring Michael B. Jordan and featuring a track from the musician Meek Mill.
For his part, Meek Mill — who also stars in Charm City Kings as the leader of the Midnight Clique — has been one of the many avid supporters of the sport in the world of music, taking his passion as far as having a song titled “Bike Life.” Rappers Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Baby have been known to pop off their own tricks on Instagram, while Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky have paid homage to the sport in music video visuals. Feddy Wap has even integrated ATVs into live performances, riding on stage on one of the vehicles during the iHeartMusic awards in 2016 while sporting a Go Hard Boyz jacket.
The cultural mashup extends even further, with bike life integrating into the world of fashion through collaboration and creativity. Moto sports are often seen as a point of inspiration in clothing collections, but brands like Supreme, Fenty and Cactus Plant Flea Market have made the connection to the sport and style even more intimate. Rihanna took her 2018 PUMA x Fenty fashion show to new heights with free style riders performing tricks as models took to the runway. Not to be outdone, Supreme’s 2019 capsule collection with Fox Racing and Honda was inclusive of a Supreme-branded Honda CRF450R off-road dirt bike that cost $10,400 USD in addition to a racer top and helmet. Cactus Plant Flea Market has also been part of the crossover, with a collaborative collection of gear that was released last year.
Over the course of 30 years, bike life has gone from subculture to worldwide phenomenon, without sacrificing its community and authenticity. With the release of Charm City Kings, inspired by the story of the 12 O’Clock boys and real life events in Baltimore, it’s clear that it has no signs of fading anytime soon. Charm City Kings is streaming now on HBO Max.