Nigel Sylvester has been a pro for 16 years, and in that time, he has gone from a BMX phenom to an outright cultural icon.
As Nigel Sylvester sits in a back room corner of Dumbo House — a New York members-only hideout that sits between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges — one question has him pinned into something of a crevice.
“Are you the best BMX biker in the world?”
His eyes widen, a smirk creeping across his face. “Man, you’re trying to get me in trouble,” he says with a laugh. The Queens native pauses, then looks out a nearby window. “I believe that I am.”
“If you not coming into the game thinking you’re the best, then what are you really doing? What I’ve done, people can sit and argue all day long, but I have been able to create a stamp like no one has been able to create in the world of cycling,” he said.
Sylvester works to widen the lane that a BMX rider can occupy. The gold standard has always been earning medals and awards at the world’s top showcases, but Sylvester balks at the idea of competition. Instead, his ability to create compelling video offerings while seamlessly crossing over into culture, lifestyle, and travel has proven alluring to an ever-widening portfolio of brands. He now boasts 489,000 followers on Instagram and another 36,000+ on Twitter — and while he may be turning 35 later this year with over 20 years of elite-level riding to his name, he told Boardroom that his prime is just beginning.
Journey into Content
Sylvester has been riding around on two wheels for over half his life now. His journey began in Jamaica, Queens, where he would take two-hour commutes to the parts of New York where biking was most prevalent. At these parks, he met some of the best up-and-coming BMX bikers.
Sylvester’s competitive fire wasn’t limited to the bike. Surrounded by so much talent, he wanted to capture what was around him as much as he wanted to be the best. Sylvester was inspired to create cinematic videos instead of solely focusing on competing.
At different points in time, Sylvester dabbled in BMX contests. They were never his passion; content ruled his heart.
“I did it for the experience,” he says of BMX competition “For me and the kids that I was hanging around, we cared about creating videos, that was our thing. It was more of an art form for us.”
The art form did not have many believers. It’s likely the main reason why Sylvester took a pause to answer if he was the best BMX biker in the world. He uses a different measuring stick than everyone else. Instead of medals, awards and other recognition, it’s about creating the best video content and expanding BMX biking across through globe in whatever way is best.
“I feel like when you think about a lot of the greats that go and do amazing things, a lot of times a part of their story is that they had that blind faith. They knew it, they felt it, and they may not have been able to explain it. That’s something I can relate to and testify to,” he says. “It was intuition I always felt that I’m not going to let an institution — like a contest series like the X Games — define who I am. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it when I was growing up in Jamaica, Queens, but it was something inside of me that I knew to follow my gut and my heart.”
Sylvester’s intuition may have been loud, but his disposition has always been “a very detailed, quiet and observant human being,” according to Greg Yuna, a popular jeweler whose clients have included Drake, Floyd Maweather Jr., and Meek Mill. Fatefully enough, Yuna and Sylvester are both from Queens.
“It actually took me a little to break him and actually become friends because he is very picky on who he brings into his circle of friends,” Yuna said.
His attention to detail flourishes in his most notable video series, GO, filmed through his eyes as he rides around some of the world’s most famous cities. GO makes up seven of the top-10 most-watched video spots on Sylvester’s YouTube page. The combination of Sylvester’s talent, unique content, and millions of viewers have made him arguably the most sought-out BMX athlete in the world.
Today, Sylvester’s list of brand endorsements includes:
“Being real, Nigel opens a myriad of doors for his partners,” said Jeff Schmidt, Global Social Media Director for Specialized, a bicycle and bike part manufacturer. “The dude is a living swag god, so even being adjacent to what he has going on can present fortuitous opportunities if you’re paying attention.
“By being Nigel’s bike brand, we get an opportunity to be recognized by audiences of his other partners — that’s huge,” Schmidt continued. “The bike world tends to be pretty insular, so transcendent characters like Nigel, that are both dynamic and in-touch, are key to us being more than a bike brand within the larger culture.”
Sylvester became the first BMX athlete to sign to Jordan Brand last September. (He had been partnered with Nike since he was 18 years old.) The two parties had already collaborated on an Air Jordan 1 High in 2018. They created a model that gave the shoe a distressed look, a nod to Nigel being a BMX rider. Today, that shoe sells for $600 on StockX.
“Michael Jordan is a legit 1-of-1. His legacy on and off the court is cemented,” says Sylvester, who can’t hide his excitement when talking about the Jumpman. “The barriers he has broken in regards to athlete brand deals and partnerships is incredible. He has shown how far an athlete can take their business. From the sneakers, movies, and everything else, he is someone that I’ve looked up to and admired my entire life.”
Jordan Brand did not respond to requests for comment on this story, but Sylvester teases more is coming between the two down the line. And just last week, Nice Kicks reported a Nike SB x Air Jordan 4 collaboration is in the works.
Outside of Nigel, one of the main people working behind the scenes on his behalf is Chris Cabott, Chief Executive Officer of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment. On top of representing Sylvester, Cabott’s other clientele includes Patrick Mahomes, Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy. Cabott and Sylvester met years ago at an event in New York City.
“Nigel has a creative vision and imagination that I think rivals Walt Disney,” Cabott said in a phone interview. “He knows that he has a whole team around him that genuinely loves him and cares about him. There is nothing that he can’t bring up and bring to the table that won’t be well received by his representation family. For someone like him, the sky is really the limit. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be a global icon.”
Signing Nigel Sylvester was a feat for SSE, as he remains the only BMX biker and action sports athlete on their roster. It’s equally transcendent for Sylvester. Athletes in his world usually build their brands through wins in competitions. But Sylvester has been able to build a brand big enough to necessitate agency management — without all the contest wins.
“BMX and action sports are the platform, but the story, the passion, the determination is what you gravitate toward,” Cabott said, refusing to put Sylvester in any athletic box “Nigel’s attention to detail and ability to not be satisfied with what 99.9% of the population would be satisfied with is unique. We are blessed to represent him.”
Sylvester says he and SSE have found their stride: “I’ve definitely had my fair share of managers and agents throughout my career. Those people all did good by me, for the most part. Those relationships ran their course. I’m at a point now where I’ve been working with Chris and SSE, and it’s been incredible. Chris understands what I need, he gets me as a brand, [and] he genuinely believes in me.”
In just 15 months, SSE and Sylvester have tagged brand deals with Air Jordan, Oakley, Gillette, and Hyperice in addition to launching the Nigel Sylvester Foundation.
Larger Than Life?
The sea that Sylvester has been sailing on has not always been as calm as it is today. Thunderstorms in the form of hate and disdain appeared as Sylvester began to venture into these uncharted waters.
Athletes like BMX-ers are typically anointed the best in the world based on medals and awards; he doesn’t have many and isn’t seeking them out. As his renown grew all the same, outside animosity fueled a stream of resentful comments.
As one Reddit user wrote in 2017:
“He skipped out to film his own video when his only BMX sponsor was filming FACTS. His whole mentality of ‘I broke out of the hood, people like me weren’t riding bikes when I started’ is just piss poor attention seeking. There has always been little kids in the Bronx and Harlem riding, he’s not the first and the only game changing thing he’s done was ride a ridiculously stupid drivetrain so that he can crook everything. And even that didn’t catch on because no one wants to crank 3x as normal.”
To this day the internet chatter around Nigel is not all positive but Sylvester is in a good place now as it relates to all the noise.
“It really bothered me at first when I started to get that type of backlash because of my success,” he explains. His tone when talking about the past turns stern. “In my head, I was thinking that they would be happy for me. I made it. I rode my bike out the hood. I got to the mountaintop, and when I turned around and looked down, a lot of people were screaming f*ck you.”
He had a choice to make: fight back or retreat and let narratives run awry.
“Instinctively, I wanted to defend myself and I did. But I learned very quickly that no matter what I say, people are still going to feel the way they feel,” he says. “I would respond to people, and the hate would not stop. I realized me responding to them fueled their fire for wanting to hate me and what I was doing. I had to understand that a majority of the BMX world that was coming at me, they don’t understand where I come from.”
But once online trolls and haters saw they could get a reaction out of him, they didn’t stop. Sylvester eventually realized he should not allow their judgment to affect him so deeply because there are not many people who know the truth about his come up – his parents’ support, his mother working tirelessly to keep a roof over his head all the while empowering him to pursue this unconventional career. It also helped that brand partners still loved him glowingly.
“Nigel has beautifully blended sport with art, and shown through his hustle and journey that you can be a successful athlete without taking a traditional path,” Hyperice vice president and head of marketing Andrew Samson told Boardroom, “It’s his ability to cross over across so many different verticals in such an authentic way that makes him arguably one of the most versatile athletes we have on our roster.”
And so in total, the highs have outweighed the lows even when it feels like they don’t. One of the more noteworthy moments for Sylvester was when Jay-Z dropped his name in the Frank Ocean single “Biking,” also featuring Tyler, the Creator, back in 2017:
“Right quick, broke boys get fixed /Right quick, Nigel Sylvester with these bike flips“
Sylvester’s phone was blowing up throughout the day when the song was released, but because he had a full day of events, he had no idea why. When he finally did get a chance to listen, he was lying down in his bed, exhausted. The moment he heard his name, he was re-energized.
“It was a testament to the hard work, dedication, and sacrifices, getting that salute was something that motivated me,” he says. “Getting that stamp from someone that I admire and sharing that with the world was cool.”
The Queens native claims even though Hov saying his name on a song was dope, “Biking” is not his theme song. Instead, it is a different Jay Z song: “Can I Live,” from Hov’s debut album Reasonable Doubt . The bar that sticks out the most? “I’d rather die enormous than live dormant.”
Achieving enormity, for Sylvester, includes being a role model for children and other aspiring BMX riders. He’s also understanding that the nature of BMX riding is expensive for any child that wants to partake in the sport. Kids bikes on Specialized can range from $225 to $1,000; adult bikes can range from $1,500 to $15,000.
And so with the help of SSE, the Nigel Sylvester Foundation aims to provide people in underserved communities with bicycles. In doing this, Sylvester also minimizes the financial shadow that BMX biking can cast upon children’s families. Since launching last year, the foundation has a stated goal of giving away 10,000 bikes. So far, it has given 79, according to the foundation’s website — a little over one per week.
“This fuels him and I can see it,” said Cabott, who is hands-on helping Sylvester see his vision through with the foundation. “For someone like him with a nonstop engine, the ability to impact whoever he wants is something he doesn’t take lightly.”
Cabott has been on board since the foundation’s launch but Yuna has seen Nigel give away bikes for many years.
“I’ve seen what he’s done for communities. His impact is incredible. I’ve watched kids cry when they get bicycles from him,” Yuna said. “There is a lot of stuff that he deals with to bring these products to the kids. Bicycles are hard to get nowadays. It’s wonderful to watch him bring smiles to so many faces.”
The roots of Sylvester’s giving lead back to the freedom his bicycle granted him at an early age.
“A bicycle changed my life. It afforded me to live out my imagination, see the world, make a living for myself, provide for those around me,” he says. “I know how powerful a bicycle can be. With the foundation, our initiative is to continue to put bicycles in the hands of kids and people who are in need of one but don’t have access to one. Even if it changes one kid’s life and that kid goes on to change another kid’s life, that’s powerful.”
Staircase to the Future
The confidence that drips off the aura of Nigel Sylvester does not leave behind a trail of musky arrogance. Even with eight partnerships and a YouTube channel that boasts nearly 500,000 subscribers, satisfaction is not something that crosses his mind.
“You look at his Instagram and it looks like we’re having all this fun but the kid is working! People don’t see that,” Yuna said. Sylvester invited Yuna to travel to the Formula 1 Miami Grand Prix and throughout their trip, Yuna found limited time to hold conversations with him because Sylvester was taking so many meetings. And even when their plane landed back in New York, as they hung out a wide array of people came up to Nigel.
“There’s no limit to what this kid can do,” Yuna said confidently. “He’s a darling. From the kids on bikes to the gangsters, to the everyday people, everyone loves him and you can’t buy the love that people have for him. And when you’re fueled by love and passion like he is, his tank will never ever empty. This is just the beginning.”
As the conversation concludes, Nigel starts getting excited. It’s easy to tell because he can’t stop smiling while he’s talking about what’s to come.
“I feel between now and the end of the year, I’m going to level up in ways that people can never imagine,” said Sylvester. “We still have so much we’re working on to change the perception of what a BMX biker is. I mean it when I say my runway is endless. I’m going to continue to kill it and I can’t wait.”