The FOAD bike crew. (L-R) Spencer, E. Service, Bradshaw, I. Service, Allgood, Thompson
I’m late and lost, and Liberty Park is bigger than I remember. Somewhere near an eagle statue, a bunch of dudes in snapbacks on bikes are waiting for me. They're called FOAD
, a fixed-gear bicycle gang that describes itself as “a crew of homies coming out of Salt Lake City, Utah.” They don't have an “aim or agenda” — they just want to have fun and “fuck shit up.” I decided after hearing lingering whispers of FOAD from my fixie-riding friends that I should meet up with them and find out exactly how hard they fuck shit up.
First as Team Terror, then as FOAD, which has become an ever-changing backronym (a play on acronym, except the letters in a backronym come before their "meaning") standing for anything from Feed Our Adorable Dolphins to Fixies on Astro Dirt, this group of 20-something bros has been performing BMX-style tricks on their fixed-gear bikes since 2007. Their website features clips of their tricks set to songs by artists I’ve never heard of like Evil Nine, White Fence and Project Pat.
For the unfamiliar, a fixed gear bike, or “fixie,” is a popular track-racing bike—you know, like in Premium Rush
, that bike movie Joseph Gordon-Levitt did in 2012 that no one saw. The bikes are single-speed, they don’t have brakes and they don’t have freewheels, which is the mechanism in bikes that allows riders to coast.
When I finally find Sam Allgood, Jackson Bradshaw, Parker Thompson, and Izik and Evan Service at the eagle statue, they immediately offer to throw down some tricks for me. Evan, the older of the Service brothers, who is sporting a camouflage snapback over a mass of brown curly hair, proceeds to launch himself off the wide stairs everyone was sitting on just moments before, getting a good four feet of air and landing back-wheel first.
In 2007, before FOAD gave themselves a name and stared filming their shenanigans, there was the BFC — Salt Lake’s first fixed-gear bike crew. Like FOAD, these guys were just freestyling on their fixed-gear bikes around Salt Lake and were involved in local biking events. Unlike FOAD, BFC wasn't down with letting youngsters in the gang, whereas FOAD’s youngest member is still riding his bike to high school every day. Now, BFC no longer exists, leaving FOAD as SLC's only fixed-gear bike crew.
I ask the most obvious question: How did they get into fixed gear bikes and riding together? Allgood, who has been riding circles and hopping around with Matt Spencer, a dude with an oversize Nike shirt and shaved head who came from California just to ride with FOAD, stops his bike and explains. “Another kid and I built ours up as a conversion from old road bikes,” he says. Soon after that, Allgood met the others at Highland High and got them into fixed-gear conversions as well.
“Nowadays you can buy a specific frame and specific wheels and build it up just the way you want or buy a complete bike, but back then you had to convert a bike and build up your wheel from the hub,” Allgood is explaining this as well as where they all get their parts (the Internet) with such authority that I feel like I’m a student in his bike-building course.
I should also mention I own a fixie, but there’s a big difference between the bikes FOAD rides and the hipster second-hand thing I hardly use. Their wheels are enormous, thicker than would even fit in the frame of my bike. Thompson explains that when you ride as much as they do, you naturally start modifying your bike based on your riding style. As the riding and tricks get bigger and better, so do the bikes and the bike tires. The thicker tires allow for more bounce when landing tricks.
All freestyle riders want to be able to beat the shit out of their bikes. Thompson demonstrates this by popping several wheelies, pulling up his front tire to ride 20 feet back and forth three or four times. Part of me hopes he’ll fall and I can see for myself how well he and his bike handle the impact, but he plops his front tire down onto the pavement.
When FOAD first started riding their fixed-gears together, they started watching videos of bike messengers online and getting inspired. “The tricks came from the videos that we were watching online. Kind of like bike ballet tricks, we saw people getting extreme on their bikes,” Allgood says. He and his friends started to copy the riders in these videos by riding down stairs and jumping off whatever they could find downtown, at Fairmont Skate Park and Liberty Park.
FOAD have always filmed themselves, putting out mostly shorter one- to five-minute videos, which led to sponsorship with Destroy Bikes, Royal HC and Velo City Bags. Earlier this year, Thompson, Allgood and Bradshaw competed in the Red Bull Ride + Style event, a fixed-gear freestyle competition in California, with just 50 riders competing from across the United States. And in June, FOAD sponsored Velo Weekend, a full two days of bike events including a fixed-gear competition (in which all of the guys competed both this and last year), a group bike ride and a bike race.
That weekend, FOAD premiered their first full-length fixed-gear freestyle bike video, Gang Signs
. This 40-minute biking blowout features each member of the crew, plus 25 other riders from all over the world. The movie is a proper display of riding rails, popping wheelies, jumping off really tall shit, hopping off some not-so-tall shit, and taking a few good, hard falls. It's been featured on fixed-gear freestyle blogs from California to Greece including SuckMyCog
, The Radavist
, and PSBMX
This is a big deal of sorts. No one involved with FOAD would have guessed that when they started riding, they would someday be receiving international attention. But they claim that doesn't change what they do. “It still feels like you’re just riding your bike and filming with the homies, but then, like, you have people who are stoked for the videos,” Thompson tells me. “People who we don’t even expect to watch our [bike videos] say they like them. But it still feels the same.”
At some point in our biking adventure, I figure out I’m older than all of these guys—not by much, but enough that I probably would have exploded them from my bike crew had I joined up with BFC back in the day. I wonder if they somehow have their shit more together than me. I mean, they have a website and friends in Berlin. I have a Twitter account
I don’t update and I don’t care about anyone east of Millcreek. Then Thompson and Allgood tell me about how they're into kendama (a ball and stick game the fourth graders I babysit play nonstop), and somehow I feel slightly better.
Even with the kendama distraction, it’s overwhelmingly apparent that all of the FOAD dudes constantly have bikes on the brain. Three of them work as sandwich cyclists for Jimmy John's downtown, and Bradshaw is a communication major at the University of Utah and runs TTvBlog
, a blog dedicated to videos of freestyle fixed-gear riding.
Bradshaw offers to show me some more tricks before it gets dark. I shoot some photos of him spinning his handlebars and stalling the back wheel of his black bike on the top tier of cement that leads to the eagle statue. I wonder outloud what it is that keeps them biking and freestyling, even after multiple broken bones and a few run-ins with the cops. “It’s always changing,” Bradshaw stops to say. “It’s not like when you play basketball and the basketball court is always the same. It’s an interaction with your environment.”
As I leave Liberty Park and watch as these dudes ride away, I decide maybe I should get in on this whole "interacting with my environment thing." A few seconds later, I fall off my bike and decide it might just be better to walk the rest of the way home.