Today I woke up and checked my phone and there it was all over Facebook, the news that Mike Tag Tagliavento had passed away after a longhard battle with Cancer (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma); something those outside of his close circle of friends was made aware of little over a year ago, and news which came at a time in BMX which was already littered with bad stories about riders I have long respected – mainly concerning external factors but sometimes, as was the case with Stephen Murray, the direct result of BMX.
For a few seconds, I don’t think I felt anything, and then it hit me; the combination of tiredness and tragedy – overwhelming for a split-second. Suddenly, all around my eyes was wet. I started to think about how, every day after school, I’d ride the lonely straight path to meet my friend Ben Foakes and ride at the secondary school – an ideal place to practice our skills on flat ground, and somewhere that, strangely, only an hour or so previous had been a place I couldn’t wait to see the back of. Yet when we arrived on our BMX bikes, every aspect of this landscape was reinvented: made brand-new. This place of concrete and benches and classrooms full of people we didn’t understand or sit neatly with as students was transformed and we were happy there, left alone; often we rode and did exactly the same things as we always did, but the repetition never felt like repetition. There was always something new to do, some other area to explore or thing to be bettered. Mike Tag was a rider who meant a lot to us back then; his way of riding influenced our way of riding, and in the magazines, Tag was always the man to watch.
And nothing stopped us from riding. It was everything to us – what gave our lives shape and meaning and potential. If it was raining, I’d still make the trip – not doing so was unthinkable, and if I had to, I’d walk there, even if I had to walk back in pitch black darkness because there were no lights at any point and often, you rode straight into the bushes on the left at least several times. On those many days when it did rain hard, instead of riding we’d contend with watching BMX videos in Ben’s parents’ lounge, obsessing over every detail and rewinding them until we’d worked out exactly how these impossible stunts appeared to be done. Sometimes it was just the one video, but usually the sessions took over the house and forced his parents out of the room, and we’d watch them until they became grainy and died. Now I look back, I don’t hear Ben’s parents complaining as you’d think they would have, and I don’t see anything else but good times spent discussing the contents of the magazines and the latest tricks; things which were so new and fresh back then that we had to do this, just to memorise the dazzling array of names. It was during this time that our lifelong fixation with BMX was embedded with such pressure and force that even now, as a non-rider, I still follow the latest goings on and feel like I can never be too far from BMX. Some days, I wake up thinking that nothing has really changed, even though I haven’t touched my BMX since I came back from Germany in 2009, even though BMX is far from my life now in so many ways. I still often think about Mike’s incredible bike control. It feels very strange to know that we will never see him ride again.
Regular raders of this blog will know that several weeks ago, I lost a dear uncle. As I said in that post , we were never that close; I had not see him for years and yet the learning of his death brought with it waves of curious emotion, as can be expected when we stop to isolate our thoughts and focus only on what has made us who we are, on what once mattered so much. Like the news of Mike Tag’s passing, I found myself ruminating on ghosts of the past – inevitable. Speaking to my brother, we both shared memories of going to my uncle’s house, and quickly I was remembering things which, up until that point, I had completely forgotten about for many, many years. Amazing that as a boy, the keys in the wall were what I looked forward to seeing every week (my uncle collected keys and pressed them into concrete on the bricks for no apparent reason other than to amuse himself, and us). Yet as a man, this thread of my youth had almost been lost all together, as if I had never really gone to the house after all. I was glad to have those memories back.
It didn’t surprise me to discover that learning of Mike Tag’s passing affected me more than I was first willing to admit (BMX and ex-BMX riders aren’t known for their ability to cry, if you hadn’t guessed). I wasn’t a mess, I didn’t cry for hours, but I did find myself in that bleak foreboding place where nothing else touches you and there is just pure, plain numbness that refuses to make sense or let anything else matter. I know exactly why this is; the mystery is not lost on me – it’s because Mike was a true legend to all whose lives he touched, someone who felt like a brother to us all back when BMX was going through its golden regeneration era, back in the 1990s. Mike was, quite simply, someone who had done more – and achieved more – with his life than most people will ever know (and that includes many BMX riders today who, through no real fault of their own, are unaware of what Mike and his friends have done for them).
When I first heard of Mike Tag, when I could barely bunnyhop over a stick balanced on two bricks outside my house, he was already well on his way to influencing an entire generation of BMX riders in a number of ways – riding for Fat Bald Men, a company who he rode for right up until the end, Mike continued to fight his Cancer with the same determination that had made his talent so special. Using words alone, it’s hard to put a finger on what made his style on a BMX so unique and special, yet watching any video where Tag appears is still as exciting, wild and staggering as it ever was. If you only had a few words to sum-up the man’s awesome riding in a post, I think solid, unexpected and alwayshavingfun would be a good place to start. You never knew what the hell he was going to do next, other than it was going to be astounding and really fucking dangerous! He may not have been rich or known to the general public, but at one point in time, it’s no exaggeration to say that there wasn’t a BMX rider anywhere in the world who didn’t understand the awesomeness of his riding. Bottom line: Tag was a force to be reckoned with, and a guy who loved having fun on his bike. He didn’t give a shit what other people were doing, and I’m sure he never set out to lead, but lead was what he did. For a while, every single video with Tag in blew minds and if his time was now, there’s no way in hell his riding would ever go unrecognized.
I know that most people reading this blog won’t have heard of Mike Tagliavento. The reality is that many of you will go on with your day after reading this post, and you won’t carry Tag’s legacy with you. But for many others of us around the world, Mike Tag will never be forgotten. It doesn’t matter how far BMX progresses or what the next trend is, this man will always live on as someone who counted. Without his riding and influence, I have no doubt that BMX would have been completely different. Whether you know it or not, Mike Tag helped make things possible on a BMX bike that are now commonplace, so, if you can, take some time to head on over to his sponsor at FBM Bikes and see what Mike stood for.