Wheelies and Crashes with France's Teenage Bike Crews
Photographer Théo Campredon spent last summer capturing the best stunt riders in the south of the France.
All photos: Théo Campredon
This article originally appeared on VICE France
It all started with a passion for motocross. As a kid, I got going on trial bikes, eventually graduating to a YZ125 cross when I got older. I was never short of places to ride – the town where I grew up was close to some amazing private fields, where I was always free to just hang out.
In 2013, I saw the documentary 12 O'Clock Boys, about the bikelife scene in Baltimore. Here were motocross fans like me developing their very own bike culture – no need for a track, equipment or an organised race. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. At the time, I was living in Brussels, where the bikelife scene was almost non-existent.
When I returned to France in 2017, my old friend Amine told me about the kids in his neighbourhood – right in the centre of Perpignan – who were trying to imitate the American scene. So one Sunday that summer, I met up with him at a petrol station in the neighbourhood Moulin-à-Vent – not far from the wash station where riders cleaned their bikes before each outing. He was on his quad bike, I was following behind in my Polo, making our way down these little asphalt roads on the outskirts of the city. It was a commercial area during the week, but on weekends, when the businesses were closed, stunt riders would gather. There were teens on scooters who travelled far to join in, and older guys on cross bikes who all seemed to know each other from the neighbourhood.
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It was equally impressive watching those who had been riding since they were little and guys who had been practising non-stop in the few years since they'd picked it up. Regardless of which group you fell into, though, it was clear you needed to be a little crazy to be the best.
For example, I remember one scorching hot August afternoon – it must have been 35 degrees celsius – when the radiator on my friend Ahmed's bike was leaking badly. Five minutes after I left to find some water to refill it, the thing just fell off. In the middle of him doing a wheelie. Ahmed was suddenly flung backwards and, trying to catch himself, he pressed his right foot on the back brake – but nothing happened; the brake had quit, too. Later that afternoon, Ahmed was back smiling on his bike. His fall hadn't scared him off at all. "It's nothing," he told me. "It's bikelife, it happens."
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