“I have loved the G-Class since I was a child and always dreamed of driving it,” says Nigel Sylvester. The Manhattan skyline now rises across the East River into the cloudless early afternoon sky. The BMX professional’s bright red Mercedes-AMG G 63 stands in glistening light, right on the shore. Even during breaks in filming, Nigel Sylvester loves jumping on his bike and riding across the open space in the middle of New York. This view of Manhattan is, in its own way, also a view of another world. The Manhattan skyline tower towards the sky, shares worth billions are traded daily on Wall Street, and at the end of 5th Avenue – around Central Park – are traditionally the most expensive properties in the world. You’ll hardly find any international high finance in Brooklyn and the neighbouring borough of Queens. But that’s only one reason for the rents being cheaper here. Though Brooklyn and Queens have long been poor boroughs, they have always been rich in culture.
Megastars of today like the rapper Jay-Z grew up and laid the foundation of their careers there. The street culture that thrived for decades in districts such as Brooklyn, Harlem and even in the foothills of Queens, shapes an alternative image of New York. One that has become just as important to the city’s image as Manhattan itself: creativity, music, fashion and sports like skateboarding and BMX flourish in Brooklyn. BMX has made Nigel Sylvester world-famous. And the fact that he drives a G-Class today is about more than just his fascination with engineering. That’s certainly part of it, but the red Mercedes-AMG G-Class here on the banks of the East River is both an expression and a badge of having made it. “A Mercedes-Benz is something for people who grew up in Brooklyn and Queens to work towards. It takes some all their lives. They save hard to grasp just a small piece of the brand,” Sylvester explains in a calm, confident voice. “My grandfather drove a Mercedes-Benz truck. I have always admired him and the vehicle. He was an important influence in my life.”
Sylvester says this under a parasol during a break in filming, adding: “The G-Class is special, unique.” The shadows get longer, the light softer. A few final driving shots are still to be taken. We want to ride with him through the streets of New York to document the lifestyle that makes BMX so special and exciting.
We stow the bike in the G-Class boot and drive through Brooklyn towards Queens. Back to where it all began and where he started to discover what drives him to this day: “When I pass cars on the street, swerve over to the kerb, then swerve back out into the middle of the empty street, I feel free. I think it’s the purest form of creativity. I still notice today how much driving fulfils me. How much fun it is for me every time.”
The performance brand, and the G 63 model in particular, are a perfect fit for sportsman Nigel Sylvester, who earns his living by performing to his limits in the toughest conditions. Because that’s what BMX riding is all about: the city and the streets are where Sylvester excels.
Just as the G-Class does. Because it allows the driver to conquer even the most adverse circumstances. The G-Class is particularly sought-after, since it is unique in function and form. So it’s no surprise that Mercedes-AMG is marking its 55th anniversary by launching a special G-Class model (read more on p. 74) and creating a fitting monument to the iconic car. BMX was also seen as an unconventional sport for a long time; a sport that works particularly well when it is not practised on a training ground, but on the urban landscape of the world’s cities. That’s where Sylvester found his fame. His YouTube videos document how he crosses inner cities – sometimes effortlessly, elegant, sometimes with a lot of humour, but always in a thoroughly entertaining way. A Nigel Sylvester video feels like watching a video game. The videos are filmed from his perspective. He meets people on the street, stops to play basketball, rides on – sometimes straight through a hair salon. Nigel Sylvester is not only an athlete, but an entertainer as well.
Watching the videos, you get the feeling that even after a career that has now spanned almost two decades, he has not lost sight of the fun in the business. Sylvester also understood early on how to work with brands. To build up his own world of sponsors and his own companies. After all, there was sponsoring framework in BMX sport but not in an extent as you would find in other professionalised sports for a long time – at least, not at all on the level of basketball or football in the US. Sylvester has re-established BMX as a sport with a lifestyle background – with increasing success. Not only does he love sport, he loves fashion too. As well as his bike for Louis Vuitton, Sylvester has already designed collaborations for brands such as Levi’s and Moncler, the New Era sportswear brand, and, of course, Mercedes-AMG works closely with the athlete. And the upscale publishing house Rizzoli has just released a photobook of the BMX-pro.
All that, and his steadily growing follower numbers on social media prove that Nigel Sylvester has his finger on the pulse of the times with his content. Sometimes you might think it’s only just getting started. But no one who has followed BMX sport so far is likely to share that impression. That’s because it all started with a passion for a sport that, before Nigel Sylvester, was firmly established in California but hardly at all in New York. “People didn’t get it at first: a BMX pro from Queens?” recalls Sylvester with a laugh. No one says that any more. And his buddies from the early days of his BMX career are still his best friends – Sylvester sees them as part of his extended family. The thing to remember is that it’s not just about the career with sports like BMX. You don’t ride BMX in New York City to become rich and famous. The driving force has always been very different, and it still is. It’s the feeling you get watching Nigel Sylvester criss-cross the city streets on his bike. It’s as if he owned them. “I’m lucky enough to be able to make a living doing what I love,” says Nigel Sylvester. “Nothing fulfils me like riding my bike super fast through the city.” This is about more than happiness. It’s the freedom to live in a way that feels right.