Enemy of alarm clocks… friend of the animals… rider of walls… a mystic street-sage, honed during the dark ages of riding. After a self-imposed exile in his Hastings hermitage, the man known as Dan Price has returned to spread the word of back-tyre bonkery and sharp-edged samurai style.
Here’s an interview with him about riding, the early days and the endless quest for truth.
Thanks to Dan Jukes for the modern day photographs, and thanks to Tim Goldie and whoever else took the old photos.
Fairly stock first question here, but it’s always worth asking… when did you start riding? What was it that set you off?
I suppose I’ve always rode a bike. My parents have pictures of me doing little jumps in the garden when I was around three or four years old. Then you just grow up riding around. Our street had some great curb jumps and kids had built jumps down the local woods so that’s what we would ride… bombing about and doing jumps.
The late 80s and early 90s are sometimes seen as the dark ages for riding. What were your memories of it?
My memory is really bad for all the details of the past, but I have good memories of that time. Aggroman, DBI, Ride On… even in that video they said BMX was dead. You could say I was ‘riding’ before seeing those vids, but that’s when I really started riding.
I had pictures on my wall of Andy Brown and Dave Dean — they were the first ‘street’ riders that I saw in the magazines — but the very first picture was in some BMX book. A guy they called Junkyard Jim was doing a kick turn on a sheet of corrugated metal propped up on something and I thought, “this is it!”
That picture has stayed with me and is my earliest memory of street riding.
What were the bikes like back then? Were you constantly buckling wheels?
Yeah, constantly ruining wheels, axles, frames and stems. Bikes weren’t up to much I suppose. I remember one time making a back wheel up out of busted ones all morning, only to go out on it and it literally blow up straight away.
This was when we started grinding with the old style pegs that were just basically long nuts so the hubs just got beat from bending axles all the time. Annoying.
Where did you ride back then?
We would ride Sidcup, Bexleyheath, Eltham, Blackfen, Orpington, Southbank and the City. I loved riding the City but our main spot was the Civic Centre car park in Bexleyheath.
There were a lot of good skaters round our way but no riders apart from the ones in our main group which was mostly skaters as well. There was a good amount to ride there, the better we got the more there was. It was a good training ground.
What was it like riding around London at that time?
It was just a big adventure. It was what it was and it was London — I suppose we just took it in our stride. I loved it and still do, I get such a great feeling when I ride up there. So many spots have gone, in a way it’s a different place, but it’s exactly the same too.
I remember one time being at Soutbank and there were quite a few riders there and everyone had decided to go to Stockwell. I remember Jerry Galley being up the front and everyone following him as we bombed it to Stockwell. In my memories there was about 20 of us, but I could be wrong. A good memory that one.
It seemed like riding around that time was linked with a lot of other things… sort of like ‘the core elements of hip hop’. If you rode, you were probably into skating or music or graffiti or something as well. Do you think this is still the case now? What else were you into back then?
I’ve always done other things. I may have ridden intensely for a while, but I still skated. I’d always skate more in the winter; the carpark was two stories so it was an all year round place to ride and skate. Good curbs… two different manual spots… there was even banks as it went up the levels.
We liked our music too — hip-hop and metal. I know people still skate and ride and like their music now so, yeah that’s still the case but it’s just a bit different. I think like hip-hop the core elements of riding and skating won’t change no matter what it looks like on the outside.
What were your influences in the 90s? Your riding was maybe a bit smoother and faster than most people back then.
Skating — skating and the Dirt Brothers were my biggest influences back then. I loved the lines. Skaters would always film lines, three or four tricks in a row. Never just a trick, cut, another trick.
The flow was starting to become a focus for me. Vic always had some sweet lines too. Public Domain was a big influence, the way they filmed all the skating down the road stuff, that felt real to me – just hitting what comes up.
Although historians may correct me on this, you were fairly early on the ‘back tyre bonk’ scene. Where did this come from?
Skating. I had never seen any rider do that before I had started doing wallies. I like to call them wallops now though ‘cause it’s a wall hop, not an ollie. There may have been people doing it but I never saw it.
Skaters would pop out the corner of a wall and I just thought that I wanted to do it too. In one of the Seventies vids I hop over a chain and manual and do one off a wall. I was psyched on that.
I used to do it to pegs on driveways in skateparks too. It seemed to me that people were like, “What’s he doing?”
What was an average day like riding for you in the late 90s?
Well, the late 90s would be work, smoke, eat, smoke, ride, smoke, bed, repeat. Probably a bit more smoking and riding when I wasn’t working. Ah, memories… fading.
Do you remember the first rail you did?
Yeah, I remember the first one. It was around the corner from St Pauls. It was around five or six steps, aluminium, it would slightly stick and it had three rails, one in the middle and one either side so it gave the impression of being wide.
I was psyched.
This maybe sounds like a daft question, but do you think being tall helps with riding? A lot of tall people can hop quite high.
No. A lot of tall people can hop high but there are a lot of small people that can too. It’s all about technique.
I love that the most basic building block can be such an amazing thing. You don’t need to put a barspin in every time to make it feel or look good.
You mentioned in an e-mail that the old brick feeble photo you sent over was taken around the time the beads and stuff came into play. What tuned you in to the yoga/dreadlock/vegan stuff you became known for later on?
Well, I was introduced to hash and I suppose that opened my mind some. Also a girl I was seeing when I was around 20 was vegetarian and she made me think back to junior school, when for some reason I decided to be veggie — I have no recollection why, and it didn’t last long, but the seed was obviously there.
This girl made me think about it and so that was that — I’ve never eaten meat since. Then I found out about the dairy and egg industry a couple of years later and that was goodbye to milk and the rest of it. We humans can be truly awful to our fellow creatures but it’s not surprising considering how we treat each other.
I started reading about Buddhism, Zen and Taoism and that was that, always on some kind of quest for the truth, and the flow of the universe.
When did you meet Amos?
The first time I remember meeting Amos was my first Seventies tour, I think, might have been before briefly. It’s hard to remember those details — I know it’s been a good while since we met.
Now we take our kids up the Boyley park and have started riding together again on the streets. It’s a treat to be doing that again.
How come you moved to Hastings? And how come Hastings was always seen as the place for riding? It doesn’t exactly look amazing for riding.
There are lots and lots of places better to ride than Hastings! We have everything you need though, just not enough street, or so it seems… it’s very easy to say it lacks spots but that means you’re LOOKING for things to ride, with something already in mind as opposed to SEEING things to ride.
I’m amazed that since I’ve been back riding the last couple of years how much I’ve found to ride now that I have the mind to see again. I moved here because I had no one to ride with round my way and I knew people to ride with here.
I think the Backyard Jams and Seventies being here were the main reasons back then that it was seen as some place to go and ride.
How come you stopped riding for ages? I remember reading that you were more into your martial arts stuff at the time, but were you bored of riding a bit too?
I was bored and fed up I suppose, but looking back I think I didn’t like being sponsored either in the end. I put too much pressure on myself — my own fault I know — so I kind of cut myself off like some sort of BMX hermit.
I was fed up of getting injured as well, getting in the way of doing aikido, which I thought was my ticket to a mindful active future in the Way. But that’s another story.
Maybe an obvious follow on question from that… but how come you got back into riding?
Thankfully I got married and had kids and of course what do I want my kids to do? Ride a bike… skate… something. I still had my bike and as they got older we’d go out riding and it was just fun riding with them, then I start hopping a bit, getting 180s back and so on and here I am again, with the right view and spirit like I did at the beginning. What Buddhists may call ‘beginners mind’.
I realised that the very thing that I was after I’d already had — riding. Had my eyes been open I never would have stopped but they were very much shut, sealed with nonsense… shut off from the Way.
What are your thoughts on riding today?
It’s changed, it’s definitely changed, but everything changes. It’s gotten bigger, but bigger is not always better. More money comes in and things start getting a little twisted but in the end the people who ride for the right reasons will always ride, and the people that are doing what they do from their heart will always be around.
The standard of riding is pretty nuts and I feel overall that there are now different aspects of riding street that are accepted. Some of these obviously out shadow others in terms of media coverage, but that’s why I like Instagram — because you can hunt out the good stuff.
It may take a bit of time and effort but I don’t have to watch all the nonsense that is churned out, I can watch what I think is in line with the Way of riding. It may sound silly but I’m too old to care. And thankfully it’s out there.
Do you pay much attention to the mainstream media stuff?
Like I said — no. It has nothing to do with the Way.
‘Street riding’ is something that’s maybe been repackaged and misconstrued by various companies and things over the years, but what do you see it as? What is ‘street riding’ to you?
That’s a big question, what’s street riding to me? Well, at it’s core it’s just riding on the streets… but it’s also using your environment to ride and play on, to have fun, ride with friends, laugh and take the piss out of each other. It’s riding at night, when it’s dark and the lights in buildings, the street lights and the lights from cars make the world a different place. There’s less people about and things can be ridden that in the day could not. It’s getting food and hanging about, hot drinks in the winter. It’s a feeling that no other type of riding ever gave me, they’re enjoyable but they don’t make my heart sing.
I also see street as a ‘do’ form, as in aikido and judo, ‘do’ in Japanese means ‘the Way’ (funny, it can also mean street). BMX is my Way and my discipline is street, and the streets are my battlefield, my dojo, the training hall of the Way.
It’s using your imagination and being creative, it’s not really about tricks, it’s about the way you ride your environment, use your environment and adapt to it. It’s about flow, we enter the flow of the Way and that’s what makes it so special to us. It’s all of these things and many more, but also none of these things — it just is.
Do you think people are too hung up on tricks and specifics? It seems like in skating it’s been accepted that the sickest skaters aren’t necessarily the ones who can do the hardest stuff, but with riding, a lot of people will turn a blind eye to some pretty kooky stuff if they’re wowed by an extra 180 or something.
BMX still doesn’t realise the good stuff doesn’t mean you have to be Daewon Song or Rudney Mullen, you can be Chris Russell or David Gravette.
Most of the time it drives me nuts if I try and find new riders to watch, there’s too much going on! It ruins the flow. But it doesn’t really matter because there will always be true riders out there.
Which riders are you into these days?
I’m into a certain style of riding so I watch and try and find interviews with those riders. UK riders, Japanese riders, American riders and all the others that I can find.
I try to spend as little time as possible online so it takes a while to find new stuff because what I like is certainly not the mainstream. I tend to go to certain sources and go from there.
But if we’re talking specifics, for me there are two riders that are brightly shining examples of the timeless Way of street riding… Tom Sanders and Mark Gralla.
They bare all the elements of masters — skill, simplicity, style, control and a natural power in their riding. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve watched them do the same things on the same DVDs or sections online, I’m always smiling watching them display their techniques! True street riding in my opinion.
It’s like watching Yamaguchi Seigo Sensei doing aikido — style, simpicity, control, skill and power — amazing.
You mentioned this ‘Way’ thing a few times in this interview. How does this extend into other parts of your life?
That’s hard to answer, I’m not a master, I’m just trying to keep the flow of it all going nicely. You know sometimes if you learn a new trick you kind of get near it the first few times and the more you try, the worse it gets.
When you started trying you had nothing to work with apart from previous experience to tell you what you need to do. Then your mind comes in to play and you start thinking about it and you’re done for, so you leave it — then when you come back to it you have experience and you don’t think so much until you don’t think at all and you just do it. It’s like that, d’you see?
Yeah I think I get you. Moving onto a slightly different subject… I know you’ve started making t-shirts. What’s the story behind these?
I’ve always wanted to do something that expressed my view of street riding but nothing ever happened. I’ve found so much underground stuff since being back, having this Instagram tool it inspired me to get on it! It’s not a company and it doesn’t have a logo or a name, it’s just two ideas on a t-shirt.
The street Buddha represents a profoundness that can be found in riding and in being fully immersed in your environment, and it has a bit of calligraphy I brushed that means ‘The Way’ on the back. I think it sums up my deepest ideas on riding and I hope people can also see that in their riding too.
I think I’ve asked you a fair few questions now, but before we wrap this up… when was the last time you used a samurai sword to turn off your alarm clock?
Haha, just that one time.
Understandable – it’s an expensive method. Thanks a lot for answering these questions. Any wise words of wondrous wisdom you’d like to add?