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Photos: Bike life traditions in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood

Michael 'Polo King Roane, (center) is a master rider from Southeast Washington, D.C. He's highly respected within the bike life culture in multiple cities and countries. Roane describes the sport as a stress reliever from the realities of being Black in America.
Dee Dwyer
Michael 'Polo King Roane, (center) is a master rider from Southeast Washington, D.C. He's highly respected within the bike life culture in multiple cities and countries. Roane describes the sport as a stress reliever from the realities of being Black in America.

While photographing the 2020 protests against police brutality and racism in Washington D.C., I saw men on bikes and ATVs show up carrying out a tradition I had witnessed as a youth.

I grew up in Southeast Washington, D.C., in the '90s during the height of rapper and actor DMX's popularity. DMX and the Ruff Ryders community were the first celebrities who shared the culture through their platform, helping to popularize bike life culture through music videos.

Outside entertainment was scarce in my under-resourced community. When the dirt bike and ATV riders rode past popping wheelies, I appreciated this form of expression and it brought me joy. I remember vividly the smiles on people's faces and the cheers that were reflected throughout the streets encouraging the riders to keep performing. In other inner city communities I visited I found a lot of people had this shared experience.

On Saturday, April 10., a group of dirt bike and four wheeler riders participate in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to rapper and actor DMX a day after he passed away.
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Dee Dwyer
On Saturday, April 10., a group of dirt bike and four wheeler riders participate in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to rapper and actor DMX a day after he passed away.

I decided to spend more time with the bike lifers to get to know them and the community, and to gain a better understanding of the intentions behind bike life.

One reason I decided to document this culture is because there is a gap of mutual understanding between lawmakers and the bike enthusiasts. This bike life culture is also often misconstrued as dangerous, but the bikers say they are misunderstood.

I believe Black men are the most misunderstood people in the world. I hope that my work will clarify many misconceptions.

Miguel Harris pops a wheelie on a dirt bike in a parking lot where he and his friends meet to practice tricks before a day of riding through the Washington, D.C., area to commemorate the life of rapper and actor DMX and his contribution to the bike culture worldwide.
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Miguel Harris pops a wheelie on a dirt bike in a parking lot where he and his friends meet to practice tricks before a day of riding through the Washington, D.C., area to commemorate the life of rapper and actor DMX and his contribution to the bike culture worldwide.

"Some people see us riding and think we're trying to terrorize the city while others enjoy seeing us," Bike Life enthusiast Michael Roane told me.

A Metropolitan Police Department Statement says "It is illegal to ride or operate a minibike, dirt bike or All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) anywhere on public space in the District of Columbia (including streets, sidewalks, alleyways, bike lanes, public trails and other public locations)."

Still, many community members vouch for the culture. And the men I saw partake in the ride on April 10., were there with good intention. On the day I was out with the bike life group they were commemorating the life of actor and rapper DMX, who had passed the day before.

The phrase 'Bikes Up, Guns Down' is repeated by Bike Life supporters. Their message is to encourage people to ride bikes instead of having gun violence in the community.

As I sought to learn more, members of the bike life culture warmly invited me.

This is that community:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

On Saturday, April 10., a group of dirt bike and four wheeler riders participate in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to rapper and actor DMX a day after he passed away.
/ Dee Dwyer
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Dee Dwyer
On Saturday, April 10., a group of dirt bike and four wheeler riders participate in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to rapper and actor DMX a day after he passed away.
"It's been 11 years since I first picked up a bike," Michael "Polo King" Roane says. He pays homage to his best friend Piera "Big 28" Barbour, who lost his life to gun violence in 2018, by putting stickers of him on his four wheeler. "Big 28 was my best friend. When he died something spiritual came over me," Roane said. "I'd ride with more heart, executing more complex stunts on my bike."
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"It's been 11 years since I first picked up a bike," Michael "Polo King" Roane says. He pays homage to his best friend Piera "Big 28" Barbour, who lost his life to gun violence in 2018, by putting stickers of him on his four wheeler. "Big 28 was my best friend. When he died something spiritual came over me," Roane said. "I'd ride with more heart, executing more complex stunts on my bike."
"If the bikers were here now I'd say to them I appreciate them for coming through, doing what they do for the kids, keeping them busy because a lot of people want to ride dirt bikes. They want to do what they're doing because it's fun. It's staying out the way like playing basketball and football. It's something to do other than being a bad kid" said Demarcos Pinckney, 13.
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"If the bikers were here now I'd say to them I appreciate them for coming through, doing what they do for the kids, keeping them busy because a lot of people want to ride dirt bikes. They want to do what they're doing because it's fun. It's staying out the way like playing basketball and football. It's something to do other than being a bad kid" said Demarcos Pinckney, 13.
Jefe Foxx pops a wheelie in a parking lot where he and his friends meet to practice tricks. Foxx has been riding for four years and he first saw bikers in the Ruff Ryders videos. Foxx says Michael "Polo King" Roane and the late Pierre "Big 28" Barbour are also big inspirations to him as a rider.
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Jefe Foxx pops a wheelie in a parking lot where he and his friends meet to practice tricks. Foxx has been riding for four years and he first saw bikers in the Ruff Ryders videos. Foxx says Michael "Polo King" Roane and the late Pierre "Big 28" Barbour are also big inspirations to him as a rider.
On Saturday, April 10 2021, Joe Campbell participates in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to DMX the day after the rapper and actor passed away. DMX contributed to making bike culture popular worldwide.
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On Saturday, April 10, 2021, Joe Campbell participates in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to DMX the day after the rapper and actor passed away. DMX contributed to making bike culture popular worldwide.
"I'm Crash's mom," says Toni Skipper. "I honor bike life; I'm 100 percent behind it. I love all my Bike Life babies. My son has been riding since he was 13 years old. It takes practice, dedication. Incorporate the bikers, put a lane out. You know they are coming; that's their thing."
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"I'm Crash's mom," says Toni Skipper. "I honor bike life; I'm 100 percent behind it. I love all my Bike Life babies. My son has been riding since he was 13 years old. It takes practice, dedication. Incorporate the bikers, put a lane out. You know they are coming; that's their thing."
Left: "[Bikers] represent Black people and Black culture," says Xavier Hickson. "They're important because they inspire little kids to live out their dreams." Right: "When I see the bikers, I watch them," says Rashad Bates. "I probably chill with them. They make me happy. I want to ride the dirt bikes."
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Left: "[Bikers] represent Black people and Black culture," says Xavier Hickson. "They're important because they inspire little kids to live out their dreams." Right: "When I see the bikers, I watch them," says Rashad Bates. "I probably chill with them. They make me happy. I want to ride the dirt bikes."
One legged Greg stands on a friend's bike in a parking lot in Washington, D.C.
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One legged Greg stands on a friend's bike in a parking lot in Washington, D.C.
Pamela Brooks holds a photo of her late son Amir Brook. "I got closer to the community when my son Amir passed," Brooks said. "Bikers from all over the country reached out to me. He was pursued by a police officer." Brooks is an advocate in the <a href="https://www.instagram.com/nochase_amirbrooks/?hl=en">no chase</a> movement.
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Pamela Brooks holds a photo of her late son Amir Brooks. "I got closer to the community when my son Amir passed," Brooks said. "Bikers from all over the country reached out to me. He was pursued by a police officer." Brooks is an advocate in the no chase movement.
Michael "Polo King" Roane rides his four wheeler at a tribute ride a day after the passing of rapper and actor DMX.
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Michael "Polo King" Roane rides his four wheeler at a tribute ride a day after the passing of rapper and actor DMX.
"My son has been riding dirt bikes since he was five — he's now thirty," says Robin McKinney, ANC Commissioner in Washington, D.C. "It got him away from a lot of crime growing up. His first encounter with the police was when he was thirteen. He was arrested and kept overnight. He was treated as if he'd killed someone. Why can't this be one of our hobbies in our community?"
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"My son has been riding dirt bikes since he was five — he's now thirty," says Robin McKinney, ANC Commissioner in Washington, D.C. "It got him away from a lot of crime growing up. His first encounter with the police was when he was thirteen. He was arrested and kept overnight. He was treated as if he'd killed someone. Why can't this be one of our hobbies in our community?"
Denise Price of Northeast Washington, D.C., holds a picture of her son Jeffrey. Jeffrey told his mother that riding brought him a natural high — it bought him joy. "When I see the bikers it's joyous and it brings pain because of what happened to my son," Price said. On May 4, 2018 Price suffered a fatal collision with a police car.
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Denise Price of Northeast Washington, D.C., holds a picture of her son Jeffrey. Jeffrey told his mother that riding brought him a natural high — it bought him joy. "When I see the bikers it's joyous and it brings pain because of what happened to my son," Price said. On May 4, 2018 Price suffered a fatal collision with a police car.
Workers from a construction site take photos of the bikers passing by during the ride along to commemorate the life and legacy of rapper and actor DMX. DMX is credited with bringing bike life to celebrity status.
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Dee Dwyer
Workers from a construction site take photos of the bikers passing by during the ride along to commemorate the life and legacy of rapper and actor DMX. DMX is credited with bringing bike life to celebrity status.
Piera "Big 28" Barbour was someone that I really looked up to and how I really got into riding bikes," says Jimir Richardson, age 14. "I keep riding bikes because of the reactions from the people: the fans. The people keep me going. It's a stress reliever; it brings joy. I'm the youngest doing it. I can keep up with the pack."
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Dee Dwyer
Piera "Big 28" Barbour was someone that I really looked up to and how I really got into riding bikes," says Jimir Richardson, age 14. "I keep riding bikes because of the reactions from the people: the fans. The people keep me going. It's a stress reliever; it brings joy. I'm the youngest doing it. I can keep up with the pack."
On Saturday, April 10., a group of dirt bike and four wheeler riders participate in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to rapper and actor DMX the day after he passed.
/ Dee Dwyer
/
Dee Dwyer
On Saturday, April 10., a group of dirt bike and four wheeler riders participate in a ride along in Washington, D.C., to pay homage to rapper and actor DMX the day after he passed.
Left: "I think it's up to the bikers and for the community to police themselves." says Ronald Moten of Southeast D.C. Right: "[Bike Life] is an uplifter to the community because it reminds you of an instant parade," says Shekita McBroom, AE01 Commissioner.
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Left: "I think it's up to the bikers and for the community to police themselves." says Ronald Moten of Southeast D.C. Right: "[Bike Life] is an uplifter to the community because it reminds you of an instant parade," says Shekita McBroom, AE01 Commissioner.
A D.C. Bike Life member pops a wheelie on a four wheeler during the ride out tribute in Washington, D.C. The bikers paid homage to rapper and actor DMX the day after he passed.
/ Dee Dwyer
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Dee Dwyer
A D.C. Bike Life member pops a wheelie on a four wheeler during the ride out tribute in Washington, D.C. The bikers paid homage to rapper and actor DMX the day after he passed.

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