Last week, Chicago, Ill., area pro Kevin Porter turned heads when he parted ways with longtime sponsor Fly Bikes, whom he had been sponsored by for eight years (a virtual eternity in BMX terms.) Porter, who took a job with Chicago-area coffee roaster Metropolis Coffee & Tea Company in February 2013, said that the decision was less financial and more about the direction he would like to take BMX. During his time with Fly, Porter helped evolve the Spain-based company into an internationally recognized BMX brand, known for their progressive approach to parts design as well as their stylish team. Porter released several incarnations of a signature frame, fork and handlebar series known as the Tierra during his time with Fly Bikes, and his name became synonymous with the brand worldwide. But all good things come to an end, and according to Porter, he sees the move as a sort of rejuvenation for himself and the type of riding he has consistently pursued for over a decade. This is Kevin Porter on a decision he did not take lightly.
XGames.com: How long were you on Fly Bikes for?
Porter: Eight years.
And why did you decide to leave? Did they stop paying you?
They stopped paying me in January, but it's not something I was concerned about. Obviously, it hurt, and it made it a lot harder for me to live, but I've always been against the money aspect of BMX. I don't do it for the money, although I recognize that fact that you can't pay bills if you're not getting paid. It's a weird catch 22.
Was that surprising to you?
It was but it wasn't a determining factor for how I feel today. That's not why I left. The biggest problem with BMX is that there's a passion behind what you're doing, and you'll do it no matter what. It's really hard to draw a line between what is considered a hobby and what is considered a job. People like Tony Cardona, for example. He's a mess, I love him, but he's a mess. Brands have tried to pay him money, and he turns around and spends it on everybody else because he feels like what he was getting paid for, he wasn't really working for. I've watched him work at a pizza place, make money and be very frugal about it, but then go on a paid sponsor trip and blow it all. I understand that, and I have the same problem.
Way back in the day, I realized that I was never going to be the type of BMXer that was 100 percent supported by riding. And I'm a pushover when it comes to money. So I figured out other ways to create income, working at coffee houses, opening my own, things that were flexible enough where I could still concentrate on riding.
Are you looking for another sponsor?
To elaborate on what happened between me and Fly: I've been working for Fly Bikes owner David Quesada for eight years. I started working for him because I felt like, from a design aspect, what he does is incredible. If I had to go work in a sewage plant to continue to ride my bike and support David's vision, I would do it. And I put up with all kinds of different life problems because of my financial strain, all for the help of David and Fly Bikes. I knew I wasn't making a considerable amount of money, but David was also helping out 12 other people that are very close to me. Riders from all around the world that are doing significant things to change BMX. It was like feeding a family for David. And I always felt like I was at home there. In the last two to three years, David had to change the business in order to make a profit and survive. My problem lies within the fact that I didn't have the ability to be involved as much as I wanted to be. I felt like I became just another head involved. Even though I know it was something unintentional, when a business grows up, it tends to lose its relationships and becomes more like regular business. I stayed on for as long as I could, also realizing that I wasn't being as active as I could be. My opportunities were dwindling. And the worst part about the BMX industry when it comes to surviving off of it is you don't climb. You get to your pinnacle and then you fall off.
Do you think that's related to a rider's age?
Absolutely. I'm not as relevant to a younger rider as I once was. When I was 26, I was emulated. Now I'm in a different world where maybe people respect me, but they're not going out and buying the same outfit as me. But I now work for a coffee company that's huge, and since I've taken this job, they love that I ride BMX and help to include that within my job. Here I was, supporting one friend, and I have friends all over the BMX industry, and they all own companies that are struggling just like Fly Bikes, and I realized that I needed to detach myself, to help rejuvenate people's interests in what I do, and also give me more opportunities to go spread the wisdom of BMX that I've taken in.
Did you say something to the effect of there being more brands than riders on Twitter a few weeks ago?
Yes. Now that I'm in coffee, I see the difference in industries. Most people take BMX and skateboarding and compare the two, which are identical in a lot of ways. But in coffee, which is the second most traded commodity on Earth, the industry is tiny compared to the massive market. You don't even advertise really. Brand imaging is almost an afterthought. But in BMX, the industry seems larger than the actual market. For the BMX industry to actually take care of itself, each company would have to sponsor something like 40 to 60 of the professional riders out there. It's insane. And no brand's marketing budget is that large.
Now I'm not getting paid to ride, but I'm also not begging for change to get by. I think kids think being sponsored means that you're making millions of dollars. And to be honest, 10 people in the world are going to make a decent living off of BMX. Everybody else is going to make a little less than minimum wage at a full-time job. I know some riders think, if they keep fighting, maybe they'll win a contest and earn ten grand. But in the time it takes to earn that ten grand, you could've spent every single day working for a real wage.
I'd rather see money from other industries come into BMX so that pros can sustain their riding, like Rockstar for example. Chase Hawk is a beautiful bike rider. He deserves a paycheck large enough to be able to sustain his lifestyle, and travel enough to show people all over the world what it means to be a smooth, stylish and progressive BMX rider. There are 15 to 20 people like Chase that will never reach his level, just because there's not enough money to support it.
What are you going to be riding now?
I love David Quesada and the Fly Bikes family, and I didn't leave because of money, or any kind of scenario. I left for change. Fly Bikes is going to be fine, they have a large team and whether or not the team stays or goes, Fly is never going to have a problem because their parts are exquisite. I think Fly makes some of the best products on the market, but I think that it's time for me to help somebody else out. Tina and Tom Williams at Empire BMX have always coached me on what's right and wrong in BMX, and we decided that, as long as I have the foundation of Empire, I'll always be able to do my thing in BMX. And that brings up another point.
I'm a "slasher" type rider, which is what John Povah (Fly Bikes team manager) always considered me. I like bowls, style. I'm not trying to do every trick in the book, and I'm also emphasizing style. I would like BMX to go down that path. It's missing in BMX right now, because as far as street riding goes, that's the most profitable route for BMX to pursue. Riders go through pegs, axles, pedals, hub guards and spokes so fast from riding street. Profit made from that type of product replacement is way more than the brand selling one frame to the smooth, stylish rider per year. My bike doesn't get wrecked as much as normal street rider's bike. From an industry standpoint, the more that street riding is emphasized, the more money that can be made. I'm not gonna lose my place in BMX because I'm no longer marketable on a team. Now, I'm a sole provider for a different direction, and I want to find people around the world interested in that direction.