Darnell Williams, aka dblocks is an infamous cyclist based in NYC. He rides in a style that he calls “street riding”, a style he says was inspired largely by ‘Rough Ryderz’ videos, coupled with a desire simply “to be different.”
Text: Steve Hockett
Photos: Andy Donohoe
Watch his youtube channel and you’ll quickly get what that means, but for a bit of background, if you’re unfamiliar with the ‘Rough Ryderz’, there are definitely worse ways to spend your day than dipping in to the hundreds of hours of footage of bikers unapologetically dominating freeways, popping wheelies, doing donuts and smashing every other stunt you and I would be too chicken to try. You could, however, soundtrack your mundane tasks to DMX’s Rough Ryders Anthem if you were feeling dangerous. Like I am. Right now. STOP. DROP. SHUT IT DOWN OPEN UP SHOP…
The movement became known as bikelife, although originating on motorbikes and quad bikes, pedal cyclists like Williams adopted the same ethos and took to the streets. Riders rolled out en masse, in their hundreds to cruise, block traffic, piss off police and most importantly create a community.
There isn’t one kind of street rider, no hierarchy, no bullshit. One of the most beautiful things about William’s style is that it’s accessible. Unlike road cycling or mountain biking it doesn’t require expensive specialist equipment or travelling to a distinct landscape. Williams reckons, “all you need is control and balance and practice. It can be any bike.” Any bike, any street.
Having a ‘good’ bike is beyond irrelevant to the sport and to the movement. Bikelife is about bringing people together, riding together and learning collaboratively. If you see another street rider you say, “hey”. You learn from each other. You don’t compare bikes. It’s cool. It relies on an urban environment and thrives in big cities with dense populations and congestion. It’s the antithesis of a lonely commute to work.
This is probably why the movement has spread from city to city so quickly, because it’s accessible and because, of course, the Internet. Williams is prolific on social media, gramming under the handle ‘@ rrdblocks’ (ROUGH RYDERZ ROLL). He’s one of many, the whole movement has utlised YouTube, Instagram and a variety of hashtags to showcase their talents, and seemingly catch a mood as the videos of Williams and his crew the Cycle Squad Maniacs went viral a few years ago.
Williams regularly posts and live streams group rides on Instagram, group rides that he says, offline, “just happen naturally”. Documenting these rides and broadcasting them, maybe makes it more likely for people around the world to begin riding together in the same way thousands of miles from NYC. Williams knows this. He knows, “there is a lot of kids from all over the world that look up to me.”
You’ll see groups of people rolling around with their front wheels defiantly at 12 o’clock in any city on any continent now. At the 2017 Redhook crit in London a group of 10 or so kids jumped the course and took it over till they got turfed off, styling out in front of the crowds and causing a little mayhem, it was one of the highlights of the day.
Bikelife is a transgressive way of riding. It’s a transgression of cycling norms, how you ‘should’ ride, how you ‘should’ use the bike, what your body ‘should’ do. More importantly though, it’s socially transgressive, it’s about challenging authority, creating community and reclaiming the streets. It’s bigger than the tricks.
To get back to NYC though, Williams wouldn’t recommend you a specific location to ride in. It doesn’t really matter. He likes to “ride in traffic” and if there’s one thing most cities aren’t short of it’s traffic. Williams admits that’s got him in a few scrapes and at least one KO, but name me a cyclist who hasn’t.
I asked Williams why he rode, which in retrospect was as questionable as asking what he rode, but luckily he humoured me and said: “I ride the way I ride to forget about all my problems and stay out of trouble.” Everyone’s got their own reasons for riding but Williams has given kids the tools with which to find a sense of belonging, focus and perhaps, “forget about” their problems. Also: sick wheelies.
I can’t wheelie and I confessed that to Williams. “Ride with me for a week and you will be able to.” I feel like the chances of getting an all expenses paid trip to NYC for the sake of my wheelie game is pretty damn low. But if I see those kids from the Redhook Crit again, I’ll say “hey” and see if they can teach me.