"IF I'M BLASTING down Seventh Avenue, and I get to 34th Street around rush hour, there'll be hundreds of people crossing the street," says Nigel Sylvester, the BMX Internet sensation from Jamaica, Queens, who often uses the streets of New York City as his terrain park. "You have to pick a passageway you can fit through. It's like a running back when he sees that hole and just blasts through it."
The football reference is more than metaphorical. The ripped 5'9", 180-pound Sylvester has had biometric testing done (body fat, heart monitor, hand-eye coordination, etc.), and his numbers stack up to those of a sampling of the most athletic NFLers. "I compare Peyton Manning throwing a 65-yard bomb for a touchdown to me going down a 15-stair handrail and doing a tail whip out," says Sylvester, laughing about how crazy he must sound. "There's just a certain mind-set and a certain physical shape you have to be in to execute those things."
The difference is that Sylvester, 27, doesn't go to the gym; he rides himself into world-class condition. "BMX is a lifestyle sport," he says. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't touch my bike."
He also doesn't compete in races, instead making videos of his harrowing urban adventures. On the streets he pushes his 24-pound bike to 15 to 20 mph while dodging taxis and jumping park benches, all without the luxury of brakes, which requires the vision, reflexes and strength that draw him to the sport. "You use every muscle and bone in your body when you go out and ride," says Sylvester. "Your legs, back, core. You're being pushed to the limit every single ride."
That sort of full-body engagement and the ever-shifting playing field mean the rides never get boring. "Every day is different, every pedal is different," Sylvester says. "That's what I love about it."
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Alise Post, a U.S. Olympian and seven-time world champion, offers up a drill that will help develop pro-BMX-level balance and reflexes
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MIKE BOZZO (SYLVESTER)
COURTESY OF SCOTT EICHSTAEDT (EICHSTAEDT)
ILLUSTRATION BY JASON LEE