Often a sport of spectacle, urban dirt biking is a modern phenomenon that is witnessing a surge of young enthusiasts across the country. Captivating as it is dangerous, rare snapshots of the sport show bikers performing heart-stopping stunts with their modified machines on the city’s abandoned roads and industrial estates. Away from the often hostile public reaction, this is where riders can practice their tricks before meeting up in larger groups for ‘ride-outs’. Mounting their Sports Bikes, Quad Bikes, Dirt Bikes and ATV’s, these urban riders perform for the thrill and passion of the sport.
This controversial movement, with its rebel association, is what first drew London- based photographer Spencer Murphy to documenting the urban biking scene in Britain. Inspired by the American documentary “12 O’Clock Boys”, Murphy set about on a mission to uncover and capture the underground world of the UK’s biking scene.
In an exclusive conversation with the photographer, we find out what it was like capturing images of the often elusive bikers. As a rare double-bill, we also speak with members of the bike team Supadupamoto’s, Izzy and Naomi, to discover what drives these young bikers passion for the sport.
An Interview with the Photographer
I will always remember the feeling as I drove up the strip. I was greeted by nearly 50 riders, all on different bikes, masked and track-suited. That sensory overload; the noise, the smell and the fear of the unknown, will forever be cemented in my memory.
‘In Da Air Berry’
I’m originally from the Kent countryside, and I’d seen the American documentary and was aware that there was a culture over there. So I was kept an eye out to see if one had developed here. Eventually I started to see groups of riders drive past me and read the odd news article but I had no idea how to make contact.
It was really difficult and I came very close to giving up. Eventually I found social media was the best point of contact and after a lot of unanswered emails and about half a year of research, I came very close to giving up. Then, one rider finally replied. Once I’d made it past that barrier, things became easier.
I think that rebel lifestyle is part of biking’s draw. trying to contain it is impossible.
People are understandably worried about how you’re going to represent them when what they do is borderline illegal. When I was a kid there were no skateparks and we were forever getting moved on by police and security, it was part and parcel of the sport. It’s what drew me to want to make my work about it.
The strips that they congregate in are seen as practice spots, and it wouldn’t take the edge off even if they were given a legal space. In America, they now have legal strips at certain times of the day and it’s a big family and community thing, they have cook outs and music. America is just the perfect environment for it; wide, smooth roads, vast areas of abandoned industrial landscape.
(Left- Urban Dirt Bikers, Hoxton Mini Press.)
biking is still growing and is here to stay.
There is a big ‘Give us somewhere to ride’ movement. I was in a remote mountain village in Spain for a job recently, and as I wandered through the streets, a young man dressed in a tracksuit and high top trainers wheelied past me on a dirt bike.
I still find myself watching videos posted on Instagram, if I feel I can add another layer to it, then I may revisit it. I feel it’s a chapter within something bigger I’m working on.
(Right – ‘Tyre Tracks’)
An Interview with Izzy and Naomi of Bike Crew Supadupamoto
I think my favourite aspect to taking these photos was getting to know the people involved. I hope to break down the negative stereotypes associated with urban dirt biking; the image of lawless gang members that most would perceive from the outside. These bikers I worked with turned out to be friendly, good people that I hope I’ll keep in touch with for a long time to come.
– Spencer Murphy
When I ride, I feel Freedom. Just free.
I was talking about this yesterday with my dad, my mum came to a track day yesterday, and I wanted her to understand why I do what I do But I don’t think anyone will ever understand it unless they’ve been on a bike. It’s a feeling you can’t describe. It’s an escapism.
My dad, he bought me my first bike for my fifth birthday, a motor cross bike. That’s how I got into it. I started going to bike meets since I was little. My dad’s mates meet up all the time. It’s a biker thing. He’s a track racer so they all ride sports bikes. Everyone always meets up on a Sunday, as long as I can remember Sunday is the meet up day. It’s got its name now, Sunday fun-day.
If you rode around thinking this is dangerous it’s going to kill me then you wouldn’t be as good a rider as you could be.
Me, I kind of just got into it, when I was younger it was just push bikes, pedal bikes, then I got to an age where I was allowed to legally get a moped. I ride anything really. For the past two years now I’ve need an operation on my knee. but this is me – this is what I do. its my passion .
My dad always says to me at the race track, if you ride around thinking in the back of your mind your going to crash then you will. Your subconsciously telling yourself it’s going to happen. You have to have a certain kind of mentality.
That’s why I like Sweden. If you compared Sweden and the rest of Europe to say Baltimore, it’s less about image. It’s more about enjoying it and having a good time and being with your friends and learning and riding.
(Left- ‘Riders Tattoo’s’)
This old man was shouting at us, “you’re doing 150mph”! These bikes don’t even do 150mph. 40mph maybe.
In Sweden, it’s less about image. It’s more about enjoying it and having a good time and being with your friends and learning and riding. I want to go and live there. The attitude to bikers over there is the complete opposite to over here. We had old people and children waving at us. But the other weekend in Surrey people were getting their phones out, telling us to slow down. They were so angry.
When we came back from Sweden we realised how different the attitude of people is over here compared to over there. It’s the attitude of the country. People in England don’t like bikes. All eyes are on you because it’s not something they see very often on the road.
‘Mikey Raptor Super Dupa Mota’s’
Our bikes are thumpers, so just because these bikes are loud and they make a noise people complain.
People assume that that because that person goes around stealing bikes or stealing phones, you must do that too. Especially bikes that look like ours. My riding is for me. I enjoy riding my bike. I don’t go out looking for chases, some people do, there are some people who just go out to be an outlaw regardless.
We need an attitude change. Not just the polices, but everyone’s attitude to change. For them to realise why all these young people ride. It’s not just to go and cause havoc to other people, biking is an escape, its their happy place.
For many, urban biking might seem like a hazard to public safety. However, as the movement grows, urban motor biking welcomes a growing number of participants into its fold; for young riders it is an expression of freedom and an outlet for creativity. The passion they have for the sport is demonstrated not only in the risks they take, but also through their commitment to the lifestyle. With its growing number of participants, the time has come to reconsider modern attitudes towards the sport and its impact on the young bikers that determine its future.
Spencer was born in 1978 and grew up in the Kentish countryside. Spencer now lives and works in London, dividing his time between creating his own artwork and taking on photographic commissions. He has contributed to many magazines, including The Guardian Weekend, The Telegraph Magazine, Time, Monocle and Wallpaper. His portraits have also appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone Magazine, GQ and Dazed and Confused. He has also been included in the National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition 7 times between 2006 and 2013 and in 2013 was announced as the overall winner. Urban Dirt Bikers is available now.
Urban Dirt Bikers is published by Hoxton Mini Press, £17.95