At the peak of his BMX career, Kevin was competing in the X Games and had his own bike frames and shoe designs. Nowadays, you can find Kevin working in the coffee world, spreading Metropolis Coffee and helping people start businesses in Chicago.
Kevin and I got together to shoot the shit over a cup o' joe at Sawada Coffee in West Loop Chicago, where you can see Metropolis Coffee proudly displayed on the shelves. In our convo, we dive into everything from the craziest stunts he pulled off, to his transition as a coffee aficionado, to his go-to style. Here it is...
Enter Kevin Porter.
LT: Where did you grow up?
KP: I grew up in Chicago, IL, on the South Side in a place called Burbank.
LT: Is that an urban environment?
KP: It’s a little ghetto but a little clean. It’s hard to explain…It was safe but it wasn’t at the same time.
LT: What do your parents do for a living?
KP: My mother is a bookkeeper at a high school and my Dad laid tile in Chicago for 37 years. If you walk around the buildings downtown, there’s a good chance he put the floor in. I feel like my Dad got on his knees for this city and I feel proud to be a coffee consultant in Chicago helping people open businesses.
LT: What did you want to do when you grew up?
KP: At a very early age I discovered BMX, when I was 7. By the time I was 13 I had sponsorships and was roaming around the Midwest doing shows like Monster Truck shows.
Photo cred: X Games.ESPN
LT: How’d you get into BMX?
KP: My brother and his friends were skaters and they started riding BMX and they brought me to the trails. They quit after one week, but I just kept riding. Next thing I knew I was introduced to BMX racing. It was natural growth from there.
LT: Is BMX racing like the dirt bike races we see on TV except with BMX bikes?
KP: Yeah, it’s actually been an Olympic sport for like 10 years.
LT: Did you ever make it that far with the racing?
KP: No, I was always the guy at the tracks doing tricks, and by the time I was 16, they’d have me doing halftime shows and entertaining the people.
LT: How’d you get into doing tricks?
KP: There’s a skatepark not far from the race track, and there I started experimenting with tricks and being creative on the bike. People would come there from all over the country, because there weren’t that many trick parks around back then [in the late-90s]. So I got exposed to some of the best bike riders in the world.
LT: What do you love about BMX most?
KP: I’m a competitive person and I really like being active, but the problem with sports is organizing a big group of guys to play became impossible. BMX was more of an individualists kind of sport. And then when I got into it, I started feeling the creative vibes, and that’s what really pushes me in BMX world—being able to get on my bike and let it take me away.
Kevin taking in the Banksy street art on Randolph that pays tribute to the Untouchables.
LT: That’s a great point, most other sports you try to do what everyone else is doing, just better. Where with BMX, the ultimate drive is to do something new.
KP: Right, you have no borders, there’s no one telling you what to do and how to do it.
LT: So you’re at the tracks, doing the races and halftime shows, how did you get into BMX professionally?
KP: I never set out to be a professional BMX rider, I really just thrived on meeting all the pros and hanging out with them. But at the same time I’m on the same platform with them at the X Games.
LT: So at first the sponsors came to you…
KP: Yeah I’ve never asked for a sponsor. There was one thing I did influence, I was the first athlete to be sponsored by a coffee company. Energy drinks like Red Bull are big in the BMX world, and I was looking for a way to bring something similar in without being unhealthy about it. Coffee was #1 to me—100% natural, no added preservatives—so I reached out to a company called Intelligentsia. They went out on a limb and sponsored me. That’s where I got the juices flowing on coffee.
LT: So you got the coffee sponsorship and eventually transitioned into that world?
KP: During my BMX career I had my own signature frame, my own shoes, but I began thinking, what could I bring to more people that they would care about? It turns out 80% of the American population over the age of 18 drinks coffee. So it just made sense to me that the coffee world could benefit from sub-cultures like BMX and skateboarding.
LT: Gotcha, so what do you do nowadays in the coffee world?
KP: Now I work for Metropolis Coffee. It’s a company that’s built to make specialty coffee approachable for everyone from newcomers to experienced coffee drinkers. It’s kind of a bridge for everybody. And that’s what I want to be a part of.
LT: Ex-BMX pro turned coffee aficionado, I was wondering how that transition came about, but it makes total sense. So how do you take your coffee?
KP: I like it straight-up, no sugar or cream or anything.
LT: Whoah, props, I need like a gallon of milk and a whole cup of sugar! So do you still ride?
KP: I ride everyday.
LT: Where do you go to ride?
KP: Anywhere I can go to get groovy! Motivation comes quickly, like I might be passing a curb on the street, a nice transitional one with a lot of vertical to it…I could spend hours on that thing.
Photo credit: Thecomeup
LT: What’s the craziest stunt you ever pulled off?
KP: It’s not something necessarily crazy, it’s more something I hadn’t seen before. I don’t claim the first to anything, but I brought a lot of light to a trick called the Wallride Tailwhip, which is where you ride on a wall and when you come off you flip your back end around. I first did it publicly at a contest, and it ended up on a two page spread with videos and everything.
"BMX brought so much life to me, I want to bring it to other people so they can thrive off of it like I do."
KP: Another more visual one is called a Hippie Jump. For those who skate, it’s where your board goes under something and you jump over it and land back on the board. I was one of the first to do that on a BMX bike.
LT: I didn’t even know that was possible!
KP: I didn’t either but I did it on a skateboard and I figured if you can do it on a skateboard you can do it on a bike!
LT: What motivated you in BMX?
KP: BMX brought so much life to me, I want to bring it to other people so they can thrive off of it like I do. Like when you see someone drop in for the first time, you feel that excitement of “That guy got to feel the same thing I did!”. That’s cool.
LT: I totally get that. It’s the same motivation for Mugsy. When you get a guy who only wears straight-leg jeans, because he hates the discomfort or stigma of slim-fit jeans, to try on Mugsys and you see that epiphany moment of “Holy shit, these are awesome.” That’s the coolest part of it all.
KP: I do the same with coffee too, when I get someone into specialty coffee and then they come back to me with information about it that I didn’t even know. That’s really cool, I work really hard for that.
LT: Absolutely. The best is when someone comes back to me after a few weeks of wearing the jeans and they’re like, “I don’t know how I was wearing that other baggy shit!”
KP: It’s exactly the same feeling.
LT: So what do you wear when you ride?
KP: Most BMXers try to look casual, like you look the same on your bike as you do off your bike. Tight jeans that are flexible are always important because bagginess gets stuck in your chain and rips easily.
LT: How has your style evolved since you left BMX, like what’s your go-to outfit?
KP: I’ll always be the goof inside but I like to dress simple. I’d say it’d be a long-sleeve henley t-shirt with a pair of slim jeans that are comfortable and flexible…like my Mugsys! And Vans, I’m a big Vans guy.
LT: Awesome, you definitely have that classic California look that will never go out of style. Last question, for those who want more Kevin Porter, where can they find you on the Internets?
* Kevin declined talking about the recent tragedy involving his friend Dave Mirra, but he did want to stress the following: "If anyone is out there struggling, just reach out. There's someone out there that can help you. Believe me, we care."
-Leo, founder of Mugsy Jeans.