There are certain riders that epitomise the things they ride the most; certain vert riders, trails and ramp riders immediately spring to mind. When I think about street riding Ben Lewis is the person I can’t separate from the things he rides most. For me, Ben is the quintessential street rider; a maestro in his understanding of what street riding is actually about. I can’t think about Liverpool without thinking about Ben, and vice versa. I don’t think Ben looks at a city and sees a series of ledges, banks and rails to constantly progress and try the latest, biggest trick down. It seems that Ben sees a lot more than that; he understands the rhythms of the city, the quiet times and the macro details in everyday life. Of course, Ben isn’t the only person who sees like this, in fact most street riders will. What makes Ben so different is the sheer raw talent and ability that he can exult on top of this appreciation of city life.
Wing and a prayer 180. Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
…and keeping the cathedral theme going. Crazy gap over second stage rail to wallride next to the Anglican Cathedral. I realized once we were leaving that this is actually opposite.
The Cloak Remains
As somebody who has spent a large amount of time with Ben over the years I felt I could cast some light onto his mysterious demeanor, but where to start with a guy who I’ve seen do so much on and off a bike? This is a BMX magazine after all, so maybe I should describe some of the ludicrous things he has done on his bike over the years? Then again it’s kind of cool in things like this to describe non-riding events such as partying, booze, women and all that other stuff that makes it looks like we don’t give a fuck!
I have stories from both angles, but at the end of it all Ben is a guy who is in complete control of his own destiny. He lets out what he wants the world to see and has chosen not to be interviewed and keep himself to himself. I 100% respect that decision and thus the cloak of mystery that surrounds Ben remains firmly intact…
Ben Lewis is Strange
Where to start with Ben? He’s a loyal, an all round decent lad and one of my closest mates. But fuck me he’s strange! That’s what makes him so entertaining. I’ve shared some of the best times of my life with this lad; too many stories to tell but here are a few of my favorites.
Living with him and Lil G in the penthouse in downtown Liverpool, when everyday was green skies and riding the tunnel banks. But then we’ve had some scary times too, such as having big meatheads kicking through doors to have words or being locked up together after a raid on the penthouse then moving to Barcelona with Orlando. The funniest time out there was seeing him run out into the sea bollocko naked to buy beers off the beer man and then proceeding to run over to a strolling couple and harass them for a light, still with no clothes on and drunk out off his mind (this was bettered by Orlando getting his jeans nicked by a little gypo and having to walk up Las Ramblas in just his boxers with me and Ben nearly crying with laughter the whole walk home).
People that don’t know him might think he parties like he’s got a Swiss bank account with a heart just as big, smoking like a steam train… well all that is true. But when it comes to riding he is the most focused and craziest person I’ve ever seen.
Since I first started hanging around with him his riding has impressed me more and more. He makes things look so easy. I know that sounds cliché but SERIOUSLY! This one time he decided it was time to try an opposite, peg less, switch foot 50/50 down a rail. He killed himself about 50 times but wouldn’t stop. I had to have a word with him and say ‘this is your last go mate because you might not come back from it’. That was a normal day out riding with Ben. Now look at him doing them smooth down big rails, like it ain’t no thing.
That’s his style with everything, he wont stop till it’s done and done good. It makes me proud to see him getting the coverage he deserves now and I know it’s only going to get better for him. To think this is the lad that I went to a forest rave with, only for him to fall asleep in a swamp with his bird for five hours and wake up for the sunrise and one last mash-up before watching me doing baby steps back to the bus. To all the good times Ben. Nice one kidder.
– Matt Glover
A difficult maneuver made to look easy: crankarm grind.
Look at frame 11 and ask yourself how can you half cab that high!? Check out the perfect take off point in frame 9 too. Ridiculous 180 to half cab over handlebar height.
Taking one for the team
The first time I met Ben was a few years back now at the infamous “Crazy House” in Liverpool. I imagine the meeting and conversation was brief and slurred due to how nights usually ended up in that place.
The majority of time I have spent with him since has been on various road trips, you get to find out a lot about someone on the road, and I think a person’s true character shines through when taken out of their natural habitat. The one thing that sticks out in my mind about him is the pure determination he has when he has set himself a certain task on the bike, he has a way of looking at things a bit differently to most, and no matter how long it takes he just quietly and contently gets the job done.
One of my favourite memories of him is on the Ride to glory trip last year, we were on the last stretch home and one of the tasks for the trip involved jumping over the rental van from a foot tall plastic kicker ramp.
The set up we found involved parking the van next to a flat roof, placing the kicker on top, and then you would have to pedal full speed and hope for the best. Ben took one look at it and gave it the all clear, the second he took off I knew it was going to end in tears, edging further forward into a nose dive 10 ft in the air above a transit van can not be
a good feeling. As he landed his feet blew off, his pedals whacked him in the shins, and he slipped into the back wheel with an instant look of pain in his face. To add to the misery we had to make a quick escape as security was high at the spot so all he could think of was getting out of there asap, no time to lay around in agony, the bike was straight back in the van and off we went.
You could see the pain was deep on the drive back home, he took it all in his stride though, swigging back vodka and pain killers and not complaining one bit, now that is taking one for the team.
– Dean Hearne
Ben’s determination seems to be a recuring theme in the pieces of writing that people wrote for this article. This whip is case in point. After about 40 goes and some bad crashes Ben had a breather and said ‘it’s actually pretty big, isn’t it?
Liverpool to Sheffield on a BMX
The first time I heard the name Ben Lewis was at a Rampworx jam, about eight or nine years ago if my memory serves me correctly. This tiny kid, who at the time I thought couldn’t have been more than 11, was shredding the whole park, kick-flipping into grinds, slinging the bars out, and I remember thinking “this kid’s amazing!”
Over the next decade I kept hearing his name. Not in magazines though, but on the UK BMX grapevine. It usually went something like this: ‘Holy shit, did you hear what Ben did last weekend?’ And the reply was usually ‘fuck!’. For years I heard about the crazy tricks Ben did which (I know this phrase gets used a lot but in this instance it’s true) were so far ahead of their time.
I’ve known Ben for a long time now, and it’s always a good time. No drama, no worries, just chilling and riding. And drinking. Ben doesn’t seem to worry about much when it comes to riding, he just loves to push himself, and give it a go even if he knows it’ll probably end badly. When asked whether he thinks he can do it, he usually just replies, ‘let’s see what happens’. Then with a big smile on his face he’ll go for it, 100 percent.
Ben’s bikes definitely need a mention. I have honestly never seen a worse running bike in my entire life than the ones he used to ride before he got hooked up. The cranks were finger tight, with about six bearings in the BB. He had to bash his forks on a wall every time he wanted to ride because the headset would seize up. His wheels were square. I’m not even sure if he had grips half the time. Yet this didn’t seem to bother him, I actually asked him once and he said he didn’t like his bike all tight because then he’d just be worried about when it was going to come loose!
The L is a truly nice person. Sessioning a spot with him is always a laugh, and watching him ride in person really inspires you in the way that if you want to try something: just give it a go. A couple of years ago he rode from Liverpool to Sheffield on his BMX with easy gearing. I asked him why. ‘Why not?’ He said. That’s Ben for you.
– Joe Cox
I hadn’t heard of Ben until he turned up at Devonshire Green in Sheffield one day with Matty Glover. I was sat on top of Cock Master (the corner bowl that we all jumped out of) and Bowlhead said:
“That’s Ben Lewis.”
“He’s from Liverpool and a total shredder.”
“Why doesn’t he ride then?”
“He only rides street.”
I found this a little strange but as soon as we left the park to go riding elsewhere I understood that he was only interested in riding street and saw no point in riding anything else. That day was in 2002 and I was pretty blown away with Ben’s riding. He did higher wallrides than everyone at the petrol station wallride and he was probably the smallest and youngest there. I also didn’t hear him speak a word.
Soon after this NSF2 came out and Ben’s part was awesome. He became a street enigma; wild stories of insane tricks Ben had done were floating around. I loved hearing about things he had done or tricks he had pulled or tried. To be honest I didn’t really know Ben very well at this point and maybe that helped me believe what I heard about him.
In the north of England Ben was pretty well known by most BMXers but in the south, and where a lot of the limelight was at the time, no one knew who he was. So although everyone knew he was the master for a long time he hardly got any coverage. This was the case until Orlando made the first Make video ‘Cut The Crap’ in which Ben had an epic five minute section and had the most raggedy looking bike ever.
Now Ben rides for Fit and Animal and I get to hang out with him on trips. I like Ben a lot, he is good to ride with, good to hang out with and is always up for going in on a weird cured meat and cheese pack lunch when abroad. He is the best on a bike and I love seeing coverage of him as much as I like riding with him. So enjoy or die.
(Image above: Ben had been after this opposite pegless rail for a while. He seemed pretty determined to get one for the interview. After some deliberation about rails Ben’s mate Taylor (drunk) drove us out to this gem and Ben fired it out first go. It’s switch footed too.)
Whilst the photographer was experiencing a serious case of the ‘amateur hour’ the only thing Ben had to worry about was hitting some pedestrians after hearing ‘nuveran’ shouted across the street. Big and stylish hop by the river Mersey.
Funny Voice Wighead
It’s fucked. Computer went mad and it’s all lost so if you haven’t got it, it’s dead. Incase you haven’t I’ll leave you with two facts I know about Ben.
1. Sharing a section with him (on NSF2) highlights how rubbish you are and is a sure fire way of developing an inferiority complex. I couldn’t do any of his tricks now 10 years later.
2. The Spanish girl, Leire, I used to live with met him at a Hate House party once and she called him “Mr. Funny Voice Wighead” and then told me of all the people in the world who she could not understand when they spoke to her, he was the nicest. I think she’s right.
– Matt ‘Broken Computer’ Adams, aka Bowlhead.
I’m quite humbled by how good Ben actually is. I used to believe that he was so good simply because he found riding easy, but such flippant remarks seem mute after seeing Ben fall off and back down from certain tricks, much like any other rider would. Ben seems to understand his abilities in a way which few of us will never have the pleasure of knowing. Ben seems to use this to progress
in some kind of non linear fashion that appears slightly disjointed at first (there’s no continual stair counts on rails or steps, no height meters on drops, no feet ground on ledges), but it has much more similarity to how an artist would work, on feeling and personal satisfaction, than simply trying to be the best, the highest, longest, furthest, on any particular thing. I originally planned to interview Ben for this article, but he said ‘he hadn’t got much to add’ and would rather we worked out something else. In doing this I’m sure Ben will remain as enigmatic as ever, a BMXer whose early exploits were past around brief meetings like old folklore.
Ben had quit smoking and cut back on his drinking and partying since my last visit to Liverpool. He seemed completely focused on riding along with travelling to some new cities and seeing new things. It seemed odd that after my first visit over a year ago we both managed to resist the other delights Liverpool has to offer and focus solely on riding and the job at hand. My first visit became a drunken blur of parties and clubs which although fun, was largely unproductive apart from the hop over to rail you’ll see here. Recently Ben seemed to be riding better than ever, which is a bold statement given that I always know Ben will be impressive. Whether the current personal prohibition has anything to do with it remains a mystery. What remains constant is Ben’s love of the city, the place he’s grown up in and the endless roads, avenues and plazas that he can quite easily make his own. Ben is one of the best and most original riders in the UK right now… In fact I think I can say that Ben is almost in a league of his own given the breadth and depth of his knowledge and ability with street riding. Hopefully these photos have helped to illustrate that.
This was the first photo we shot for the interview on a wayward weekend months and months ago. Ben will have definitley had a hangover here, unlike the other shots. First photo shot to end the interview; over bar hop to rail to go and have a lie down on the grass and smoke some ciggies.