You don't have to look any further than the countless new web videos dropping every day to see that there is no shortage of talent in BMX. But with so many cookie cutter edits featuring riders doing the same latest hot new moves, it can only hold my attention for so long—and that’s what makes me appreciate a rider like Ben Lewis even more. Not only did Ben probably do all of the latest hot moves before there were even names for them yet, but his combination of tricks, style, and use of spots makes it undeniable that he's been putting in work on the streets for years—and I respect that.
Interview and photos by Jeff Zielinski (unless where noted)
Can you describe Liverpool and what the scene is like there?
Liverpool is a small city with a population of about 500,000, but the city used to be really rich back in the day so there is a lot of crazy architecture. The city hit a big recession and all the areas went to sh-t, so you pretty much get no hassle for riding anywhere—lots of estates, docks, and university areas. I have a lot of friends who grew up riding street here and a lot of people from surrounding areas have moved here. Between the Dub crew, the OG locals, and a few other transplants the scene is massive! Rampworx is always helping to keep us dry in the winter too!
Although you've been making waves in the UK for years, it seems like after the 2010 Rail Jam at Interbike and then once your Bakery edit dropped you really got established in the States. How have things changed for you since then?
My passport has seen a lot more action! I quit my job, as I didn't want to pass up on all the trip options and Fit really got me involved in their US adventures. I've done a lot more filming and contests, too—pretty much dream come true sh-t!
You spent some time with Fit in southern California. I feel like everyone seems to have their own preconceived notions of SoCal. What did you think of it?
It's pretty much what I was expecting—amazing weather, nice food, nice people, and great spots. Long Beach seemed to have such a high concentration of riders and you could just pedal from spot to spot, I really liked that. LA is a favorite place of mine, I guess it's so built up in my head as this dream city—I just love being in it.
You made it to the east coast, too, where you rode New York and Jersey City with Bob Scerbo and Ralph Sinisi. It must've been a treat to ride spots from the Animal videos with those dudes…
Yeah, I mean that was a dream come true, like, that's the style of riding I grew up watching and trying to emulate. Just riding down the street in New York was hard for me, between the people, the buildings, the street, the food… and the speed with which everyone was bombing traffic [laughs]—I nearly died so many times after havin' a few brews and trying to keep up with Bob.
Speaking about videos, can you list three videos that changed street riding for you?
Ells Bells, Base Brooklyn, Animal—they are pretty much responsible for how I got to where I am now.
Personally, I can get the same satisfaction from exploring a new neighborhood for spots as I do from learning a new trick, which is good for me because I have way more luck finding spots than learning tricks. You're a fan of exploring as well, aren't you?
Yeah, I love like trying to sniff out spots. Just riding somewhere new and just knowing there's potentially something around each corner. It gives me the same buzz as riding away from a trick. I spend a lot of time driving, riding, and walking round places just lookin' at old and new areas in my hometown and anywhere else I stumble across. I used to be a delivery driver so I've got a pretty extensive spot map in my brain. I get architecture magazines and Google street view and even watch documentaries on different places just lookin' round in the background of shots [laughs].
Which riders influenced you while you were growing up?
Troy McMurray, Butcher, Ratboy, Edwin, Will Taubin, and Eddie Cleveland.
What about today, who inspires you?
Alex Kennedy, Ty Morrow, Nathan Williams, Chase Dehart, Garrett Reynolds.
I'm sure you've grown tired of being asked this about this, but would you please explain your habit when you kiss your two fingers and then touch the rail in between attempts…
Just an ever-evolving OCD good luck charm. I used to touch wood before trying a trick, but often there wouldn't be wood, so I got into the habit of like touching the rail, or top step, etc., and kinda like, talking to it. Now I just kiss my fingers and touch the spot in hope that my show of respect lets sh-t work out [laughs].
You also have an amazing amount of patience, which I witnessed first hand when you were working on that icepick grind on the long curvy ledge in Los Angeles. It took a lot of tries and you got so close a couple of times, but you always kept your cool, no matter how close you got. How do you refrain from freaking out?
I don't know? It just never seems like an option. I don't get pissed off because I love what I'm doing. On the odd occasion if I'm working with a new photographer or videographer who doesn't know how long it often takes me to pull tricks then I will feel the pressure and maybe get a bit more frustrated, but usually once we have a laugh it's all good.
Lets talk about your signature frame—with a 75.5 degree headtube and a really short rear end, it's pretty a tight ride. What was your goal with that geometry?
I've always had custom or flatland frames in the past because I was a really small kid and they didn't make 16-18" BMX bikes back then, I guess I got used to the setups of steep headtubes and short backends and always tried to take it even further. I'd always file in the dropouts to the max to try and get the most responsive backend. When I got the option to have a sig frame, I just played about some more to get a really responsive, but controllable ride.
When it comes to grinds, your progress with four pegs and crankarms has been well noted, but I remember seeing a photo of you grinding a tall rail on your opposite side without pegs—which is still way ahead of it's time. That one kinda went under the radar a little, didn't it?
[Laughs] Cheers, that was a dream of mine to have two bikes in one. I would ride with pegs on the left and then switch feet and have a pegless bike on the right. That trick was a nightmare when it went wrong anyways! Some sh-t like that is just too much for people to take in maybe? Like pegless rails at the time were kicking off, but then a switch oppo one was maybe a bit too far to go and try down your local rail. I always wanted to ride a pegless bike as if it had four pegs, but if sh-t goes wrong on a pegless hanger down a ten stair you ain't getting' up in a rush. Plus, nothing beats just sittin' in a nice locked icepick on a ledge.
While on the topic of pegs, you're rockin' the plastic Butcher pegs. What is your opinion of metal versus plastic pegs, and why?
What made me try them in the first place was Butcher. The streetest person on the planet has created these things that allow you to grind pretty much anything. So I was like, "Well, I'll give 'em a go. " And after a few days I was converted. In my eyes they slide faster, quieter, and do less damage to spots. Sure they wear out every once in a while, but I ride every day and several of those hours are spent grinding and I only change my back covers once every month or maybe a bit less if it's been a heavy ice session. They don't cost much for the new ones, so why not?
Did you really pedal 70 miles once, by yourself? What was so important?
[Laughs] Yeah, as a birthday present to myself. I had arranged with two mates to ride the 70 miles from my house to the Hate house just because I dunno? I just wanted to. On the morning it came to do it, I sat waitin' patiently only for the two lads to not show up. So I thought, "F-ck them, I'm having it anyways." And I left mine at 7a.m. and ten hours later I got to Sheffield. I was literally on top of some small mountains at one point on some little dirt roads and sh-t. When I got there we went and hungout at Dev green, did some stunts, had some brews, then went to a BBQ, and a club after that, before I passed out from exhaustion. The plan was to ride back maybe, too, but the chafe on me arse and the pain in me legs persuaded me to get the train!
So what's on the horizon for 2012?
Hopefully, lots of grinds. I got a last minute eviction from my house so I think I'm gonna be spending my rent checks on plane/train tickets for a while.
Finally, would you give some thanks and shout-outs to the homies?
Thanks to [Chris] Moeller, Ben [Ward], Mark [Lepper], Melissa [Buckley], Dylan [Ambrose], and Lloyd [Sherrod] at Fit, Ian [Morris], Dean [Hearne], James Cox, and Josh [Heritage] at 4Down, John Povah at Etnies, everyone at Animal, everyone at The Source, DUB, Quintin, me Mum and Dad, Naomi, and all me mates. Anyone who grinds.