What I’ve realized over time is that I end up with a lot of bike portraits of riders in my film rolls. This sparked an idea: a “ride along” interview series. We’ll start this off with Chris Lee, in NYC, where he interviews Brean Shea, a bike messenger and track cyclist.
Ride Along: Christopher Lee Profiles Brean Shea
Words and photos by Chris Lee
I first met Brean Shea on road here in New York City in my first few months of being a bike messenger. He was one of those old school guys that was working before I was even out of elementary school. One of the qualities that really stood out to me was he gave a lot of himself to his community, whether it be the racing scene or the messenger community. He was also one of the handful of people that had a chance to live on “the other side”, if you will. Brean started working as a messenger when he was in law school. Even after graduating he still remained on the road. Eventually that faded away and he got a position at a firm representing entertainment figures. As time went on he realized that he got fat, drank too much and always had “his nose against the window” wanting out.
Fast forward several years and Brean still works as a bike messenger and I’m following a few of my friends to a track clinic put on by Pink Rhino Racing, a team Brean co founded, at Kissena Velodrome.
After the clinic, I got a chance to sit down with Brean and talk about his team and his thoughts on racing.
So how did Pink Rhino Racing get its start?
Brean: Steve Fratini and I had been racing at the track for a long time and we realized there weren’t enough people showing up to the track for us to race and get enough upgrade points to get to the next category. We were frustrated by that so we decided to start a team to get more people to commit to racing. That was the idea behind the team to get more people to commit to racing.
And that ties in directly to the clinics that you and PRR throw…
Brean: The clinics are a natural off shoot of it. How do you get more people to race? You make racing less intimidating. And how do you make it less intimidating? You have an introductory session that is both fun and educating. And also teach them about some of the things we find important in racing, mainly safety, which I found was lacking in the New York racing scene.
I mean, what drives you to keep doing these clinics? It seems like a lot of work!
Brean: It is a lot of hard work! Having the energy to do this is difficult. And at the end of the day I’m really exhausted. But I’ll have a bunch of people coming up to me asking me what the next step is, thanking me, shaking my hand. And today we had a lot of women that showed up, which is a big motivator. But its always rewarding in the end.
Well on the flip side, if there are any changes that you think should be made in the racing scene, what would they be?
Brean: Women. No doubt about it. There’s not enough women that go out there and race. I’ve noticed that more so in track racing that women are intimated more and I don’t know why that is. Maybe its us? Maybe we don’t know how to act? I don’t know. But that has to change. But that’s everywhere, not just here in New York.
And you think PRR is helping to change that?
Brean: We are VERY open to having women on the team. Certainly we have these uniforms that are made to not be intimidating or bad ass in any way whatsoever. And I realize that there are people that see us having fun but still highly competitive, and that appeals to them.
As far as your day job as a bike messenger, how do you see yourself as a racer in the messenger scene?
Brean: Well, there’s a lot of them now. I started racing when Squid was working with Puma about 11 years ago. Back then, racing was different, it was something that someone else did. For the first year, I didn’t do much and I was still smoking and doing stupid stuff like that. Eventually I got into the fitness aspect of it. I would like to see myself as an approachable person. And I feel like messengers feel like they can talk to me and racers feel like they can talk to me. So I feel like in some ways I’m a bit of a bridge.
For anyone wanting to start out racing, particularly messengers, what is your advice to them?
Brean: Well first of all, DO IT! There are a lot of benefits to it. You can spend all your money at the bar, I certainly did back then, and have nothing to show for it. Or you can really get into the athletic side of what you’re doing and come how with something, come home to something. I really think that racing made me save money and helped me keep the things that I have nice, mainly my body and my mind. Its easy to make fun of these guys in spandex, looking like dorks. But they’re doing it for a reason. And being part of that culture is worthwhile.