May 30, 2014
Bike New Yorker #8: Al Cayne
We met up with the founder of Sugar Cayne, the popular “hip-hop/comics/BMX/life” website, at Mullaly Skate Park (next door to Yankee Stadium) in The Bronx, where the renaissance man discussed the origins of BMX, his mission to broaden his audience’s interests, and what to expect at his upcoming event, the Sugar Cayne Bike Fest.
Interview and photographs by Sam Polcer. You can see more of his bike portraits at Preferred Mode.
You’re certainly a man about town on the BMX scene, and I met you at a bike event, but meanwhile, one of my co-workers knows about you because of your comic books coverage. What inspired you to create a site with such a wide focus?
That’s pretty much how I grew up. When I was a kid, we had BMX, comic books, and underground hip-hop, which was our soundtrack. I was passionate about all of these things, so when I started doing my site— which at first was going to be about comedy, ‘cuz I was into comedy and parodies—I wanted to make it a well-rounded view of how I see things, so I added all these elements. And the cool thing is trying to find how they all connect. As a person who grew up in a time when things weren’t so compartmentalized, you did multiple things; you weren’t into just one thing. Nowadays, you can be into one thing and be good with that.
Why do you think that is?
I always say it has to do with the internet. Instead of looking at Channel 4 or 5, or a certain network, and seeing everything mashed together, you can say, “I want to look at strictly BMX,” and you can do that 24/7 and be good. But there are a lot of cool things going on that people don’t get to see because we’re so focused on one or two categories of interests. For me, it’s just a matter of exposing those things to everybody.
When you interviewed me for Sugar Cayne, you asked what I thought about the bike lanes in New York, and how the city has changed in terms of biking infrastructure. What’s your take on that?
I like it. I like the bike lanes, and I really like how they expanded the Greenway on the West Side. In 2003, I moved to California for a little while, and really delved into the cycling part of riding. I bought myself a BMX cruiser and rode on the bike paths, and did that for a year. When I came back to New York, I wanted to duplicate that experience, so I started riding the bike paths, the Hudson River Greenway, Central Park, and all those things. Some lanes are good; some are not so good, because some people don’t respect them. But for the most part, I’m used to riding around with tight traffic anyway, so it’s all a plus for me.
Do you see more people riding bikes these days, especially in Harlem, where you live, and here in The Bronx?
I see more people riding. With the fixed gear bikes coming up, with all the different styles, it’s just a crazy bike movement. I don’t know if it’s because of the bike lanes or what, or health consciousness, there are a lot of people riding bikes. With BMX in particular, you have a lot of people who used to ride who are getting back into it. Guys my age, their kids are into it and bringing them back into it.
Do you think Sugar Cayne plays a role in any of that? Do you have a mission?
The mission behind Sugar Cayne when it comes to BMX is to let people know the full picture of BMX. Most people when you say BMX, they think X-Games, backflips, Olympics, 30,000 foot jumps… stuff like that. But they don’t know about the BMX racing lifestyle, or the origins of BMX, which is bicycle motocross. So it’s a whole lifestyle thing, and it’s a thing that people don’t get to see. Most people get to see the pro version, but there are tracks all over the country that you can ride right now. You can be 55 years old and start racing, and get nationally ranked if you want to. Race a state race. Become a gold cup rider. There’s a whole bunch of things that BMX has to offer, and Mom, Dad, the grandparents, sons, daughters, everyone can race the same track and be involved.
The new pump track in Williamsburg is a relatively new development.
A year and change, yeah.
Do you go there often?
I go there as much as I can; I went there when they first started it, and was taking pictures and getting the word out. The good thing about the pump track is that it leads people into the whole BMX racing aspect. Whenever I go there, I tell people about it. They know about pump tracks, but they don’t know there’s a track on long island, where you can go and sign up, race, get ranked, get a trophies, prizes… there’s a whole world behind it. The pump track definitely helps bring awareness to that. It also helps get kids off the street, and gives them something to do besides grinds. Some kids don’t want to grind, some kids don’t want to race, some kids don’t want to ride fixed gears… There are so many different preferences when it comes to bike riding. I’d like to cover ‘em all, but first I’d like to make sure people know about BMX racing.
While that track is brand new, the one we’re at now is…
… the oldest skate park in the City.
From what I understand, it’s maintained by the people who ride on it.
Pretty much. For the most part, it’s kind of living on its own. There’s been some talk about getting stuff done here, because people are more accepting of the whole BMX thing now, so there have been some eyes on this place. Hopefully things can be done here so we can have a nice, decent bike park.
What’s next for you?
Sugar Cayne Bike Fest is coming up. I did my first one last year at Trumbull BMX in Connecticut in September. It’s a celebration for all off-road cyclists at a BMX track. It’s for mountain bikes, BMX, fat bikes, cyclocross, even trial bikes, if anyone has one. We have racing, high jumps, long jumps, style competitions… we added some new stuff like a bike relay race, a pump track-style race, and a bunch of different competitions. The next one is on June 21st at Shoreham BMX in Shoreham, Long Island, from 9AM till whenever we finish. It’s really about bringing awareness; a lot of mountain bikers think they have to travel far to a mountain bike race, but they can go right to a BMX track. They’re open every weekend. Three are in close by in New Jersey, two are in upstate in New York, one is in Connecticut and one is in Long Island… all are pretty much an hour or an hour and a half outside the city. You can bring your mountain bike and you can race at a BMX track and hone your skills. A lot of the top mountain bike and cyclocross riders have BMX roots. The best way to get better at it is to go to a BMX track and ride that, and when you do your other sport, you’re good to go.
Switching gears for a second, I have to ask, because it was such a formative movie for me, not to mention cause for a degree of mockery now at home: have you seen the ‘80s BMX movie Rad?
Of course! That’s like the bible right there. [Laughs] “Send Me An Angel,” and all that. How about BMX Bandits, ever see that one?
I don’t know that one.
Ahhhh! You gotta go home and watch BMX Bandits! That’s the other movie. It wasn’t actually that good, but there were no other BMX movies at the time. It was Nicole Kidman’s first movie. Some trivia right there.
Someone should do a double feature movie night out here.
That would be dope. That’s a really good idea. Do a RAD/BMX Bandits thing.And there’s Quicksilver. There’s a bunch of BMXers in that, doing that tricks scene. Those three movies were big. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, too, ‘cuz it had the Murray Team. Never had a Murray, never wanted a Murray, but they had cool colors.
Were you ever onscreen?
I did a lot of acting back in the day. My first acting gig was on a BMX bike in a Mountain Dew commercial. The first audition was right here. It was a commercial where they had BMX and boxing and something else. I was doing some high airs on my Hutch.
You’ve done it all! How old are you?
Still getting big air at 41.
Yeah, trying to clear those cobwebs out. Still a lot of things to learn.
Do you have any kids?
I have a little girl. She’ll be four in July.
Get her on a bike yet?
Oh yeah. She’s a on a Strider right now. She hopped on a bike and in a couple days was balancing, everything. She wants to do tricks and race. Every time I take her out. “I want to race!” So I gotta take her to a race. It’s going to be fun.