BMX

Tearing down walls with BMX star Bas Keep

Fear, stress, injury, boredom, random scooters and buildings – these are the obstacles Bas Keep has learned not just to overcome, but to ride to BMX victory.
Written by Matt Ray and Tom Guise
15 min readPublished on
Bas Keep filming More Walls at the car park Selfridges in Birmingham, UK
© Eisa Bakos
When Sebastian Keep was 11 years old, he discovered an alien artefact near his UK hometown of Hastings, East Sussex, that would change the course of his life.
“I was riding an old-school Raleigh Burner BMX, looking for hills to go down as fast as I could, because that’s what we thought BMX was about,” recalls the 38-year-old today. “Then my brother and his friends stumbled across this thing and rushed home to tell us about it, so we went to check it out.”
What Keep saw blew his young mind: “There was this metal structure like the hull of a huge ship, tucked away in this work yard in some country lanes. You’d never find it, but it had been there more than 30 years. At 11, I thought I knew everything about the world, and yet this thing felt like it had been kept from us. Why didn’t we know about it? Why wasn’t it on TV? It was like finding a UFO.”
Keep and his friends had unearthed the Crowhurst Bowl. “This guy in the village, Dennis, had built the ramp to help out local kids who had nowhere to skate,” he says. “Even without anyone doing tricks on it, it was impressive. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a vert ramp in the flesh, but this one was 10ft [3m] tall. It was terrifying, vertical; you couldn’t imagine people riding down it.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but Sebastian ‘Bas’ Keep had begun a journey to legendary status in BMX as one of its greatest-ever all-round riders. But, back in 1994, he recalls, “We didn’t even realise people did backflips on bikes. At that age I was bored, playing a lot of football and annoying the trolley pushers at the local Tesco. I needed something to dig my teeth into. When we found the ramp, it introduced me to something missing in my life, and to people with a common bond. These guys took us in and gave encouragement, teaching us how to drop into a ramp. The other neighbourhood kids weren’t friendly like that.”
Keep and his friends began spending every spare moment at the bowl, and each evening Dennis would drive them home. “We’d all be hungry – we didn’t have any money to buy food,” says Keep. “But he helped us out. He helped us fix the ramp and our bikes. He was a great guy.” Within a year, Keep could pull off a backflip. “That was unheard of in the scene back then – a young kid doing a mature trick like that. I gained instant notoriety. Then, in the early 2000s, BMX blew up.”
BMX rider Bas Keep at his practice warehouse in Birmingham, UK.
Bas Keep at his practice warehouse
I want to put my wheels places no one’s ever been
It’s 8am on a chilly September morning in 2019. Standing astride his BMX on the second floor of Selfridges car park in Birmingham, Bas Keep is staring at a short ramp leading off the edge of the storey. Beyond it is a gap barely wider than the take-off, then a concrete pillar rising from the level below. He’s in a trance, gazing into a moment where the cars are halted, chatter dies down, and the only movement comes from the flutter of the white-and-red barrier tape strung between traffic cones. Then his tyres attack the tarmac. He powers forward, committed.
The ramp sends Keep across the gap. His bike seems to fold space as he spins through 360°, simultaneously inverting to face the floor. Both tyres hit the pillar with a clap, rubber compressing into the concrete as he hangs there for a heartbeat before plummeting down the vert. At the bottom of the pillar is another ramp meant to launch Keep back out in the opposite direction. But something has gone wrong.
Suddenly, Keep is not riding at all; he’s a passenger. His bike piledrives him into the lower level like a sack of wet cement. From Mach 3 to standstill in an instant. As Keep lies crumpled on his side, the crew rush in, anxiety growing with every second he remains motionless.
“Fuck, I didn’t see that coming,” he says, pulling himself to his feet with more alacrity than expected. At first he looks dazed, but quickly his expression sharpens back into focus. A quick roll of the shoulders and a few strides around the car park and you’d never believe Keep was hugging the asphalt seconds earlier. Soon he’s chatting with his crew in subdued tones. He already knows what went wrong. “Not getting the set-up close enough,” Keep explains. “It was 3ft higher than we thought, and it spat me out. I was too tense, and there was too much vert. That’s a lethal combo.”
Bas Keep sitting on his BMX on a bridge looking out over a motorway.
Bas Keep is always looking for his next BMX project
If Keep’s assessment seems matter-of-fact, well, he’s been here before. In 2017, he dropped a guerrilla-style video, Walls, on an unsuspecting public. It documented Keep slyly setting up makeshift ramps around UK cities, then launching off flyovers and overhead walkways to ride down the sheer sides of buildings. No one in or outside the bike world had seen anything like it. Two years and almost 14 million views later, he’s working on a sequel – taller buildings, wider gaps, harder drops, More Walls. “People said to me, ‘You can’t do that again – there’s nothing else to do,’” reveals Keep. “I said, “There’s so much more – lots of buildings that haven’t been ridden down. I want to put my wheels places no one’s ever been.”
This wasn’t the first time the bike world decided that Keep had peaked. In December 2011, he was given a lifetime achievement award by Ride UK magazine following a decade of victories at pro BMX competitions; Keep was just 29. “It was flattering, but a bit strange,” he says. “In my acceptance speech, I said, ‘They’re just trying to get rid of me.’ The view is that when you hit 30 it’s time to step down. It’s a shame there’s that cultural attitude. We’re not playing in the Champions League, we’re expressing ourselves. It’s a lifestyle sport. And I’m still here.”
Keep was 16 the first time he thought of retiring: “I’d tell my friends, ‘I’m going to give up this riding stuff and get a real job.’ So I worked in a furniture factory for few years, then a BMX distribution centre. But I began getting invitations to contests, so I decided to concentrate on riding full-time. It was a dream come true.” Then, in 2005, he become a sponsored rider for Red Bull. “I turned it down the first time,” Keep recalls. “I didn’t really know who they were. Back then, no one had drinks sponsors. Years later, they asked me again. By then, I’d been working alongside them putting on BMX events and they’d gained more respect in the scene. I was all up for it.”
Today, Keep is one of Red Bull’s longest-standing athletes. “They’ve gained the admiration of a lot of core BMX riders because of how attentive they’ve been to the sport,” he says. “They’d come to us and say, ‘We want to help you do the stuff you’ve always wanted to do,’ and that’s so refreshing to hear. As a BMX rider, you can get stuck in your niche, but Red Bull told me to look outside the box – to translate what I’m doing to a wider audience.
“It’s a bit like Brian Cox, the scientist. He translates what quantum theory and the universe are about in a way that we can understand. He makes it relatable to us dummies. I wanted to show people BMX. If you do a jump, it doesn’t look that big, but if you put it next to something people can relate to – a bus, in the city centre, down an alleyway – the scale has more impact. I couldn’t have come up with this concept without Red Bull.”
The year after Keep was given his lifetime achievement award, he attended a Red Bull BMX contest at the Grand Palais in Paris. It was the epiphany he needed. “It must have been the most resources ever put into a contest course,” he recalls. “It was beautiful to look at. Nate Wessel, a famous ramp builder, had been given free rein to realise every idea he’d ever had, so he built this ramp that jumped out, then you rode underneath, back to where you came from. That’s where I got the idea for Walls. I said, ‘I’m going to take that idea to city centres, jump off bridges, and ride down buildings next to them. I knew I could do the manoeuvre. The only thing that would be difficult was getting ramps to the spots without being caught.”
BMX rider Bas Keep sitting down in a warehouse.
Bas Keep has pioneered his own style of street BMX
Fear is normal, you have to understand that you can use it
Keep and his crew have taken a break from filming and returned to their operations base – a draughty, graffiti-tagged, rat-infested warehouse in an industrial park southeast of Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter. Inside, creature comforts are basic: seats ripped from a Transit van, a monstrous Bluetooth speaker, sheet-metal safety signs with legends such as ‘Every 2.5 minutes one person is killed or injured falling at work’. Towering at the far end is the most important piece of furniture – a Walls-style jump-to-vert platform with an adjustable ramp that launches into a wooden wall. Duct tape marks the wall about 5m up, representing a crucial boundary. “Land above that line and you’re dead,” says Keep, casually.
It’s here that riding intuition meets ramp-building expertise, although Keep admits it’s less of a science and more a twisted kind of art. “None of us is good at physics – we just work things out by looking at tyre prints,” he explains. This methodology may seem terrifyingly freeform, but the operation of making More Walls is positively militaristic compared with the grassroots techniques employed for its predecessor. “We wore hi-vis jackets [for Walls] because people don’t ask questions if you’ve got one on,” says Keep of the 2017 film. “It worked wonders. People didn’t even look at us.”
Nonetheless, the team would arrive at a location at dawn and unpack the ramps as quickly as possible. “You couldn’t take a normal-sized ramp to some of these places, so we had to scale it down, make it lighter and thinner,” Keep says. “But the sound of the drills at 7am, oh my God, it was so loud.”
BMX rider Bas Keep riding through an underpass.
Honing his craft on the street
Going into More Walls, I was quite stressed by such a big challenge. It’s something that all BMXers battle with – that fear of doing something that could hurt you
For the sequel, the rider and his team have taken a more above-board approach. “We’ve got council permissions,” he explains. “A couple of hours to be at each spot, everything done correctly. I prefer it this way because there was more stress before. When I did the Croydon gap, there was a guy on a moped. No one had thought to stop him; this is how guerrilla we were. I was in the air and could see him. As I slid down in front of him, he stopped, looked at me and just carried on. It’s nice to know I’m not going to have any collisions with Domino’s Pizza deliveries this time.”
Apart from filing applications to local authorities, Keep has found other ways to manage his stress. “I spoke to a sports psychologist,” he says. “Going into More Walls, I was quite stressed by such a big challenge. It’s something that all BMXers battle with – that fear of doing something that could hurt you.” A strict schedule locked to permitted filming days didn’t help, either. “‘On October 25, you’re going to be jumping off that bridge, whether you feel like it or not’ – that’s not how we ride bikes. It’s like taking a penalty – the more you think about where you’re going to kick the ball, the more likely you’ll mess it up. You’re not going with the flow. But [the psychologist] told me fear is normal. You have to understand that you can use it. OK, I’m scared, but I’m also excited and prepared. That helped a lot.”
It was also a process that helped Keep when forces beyond his control – namely lockdown measures caused by the pandemic – halted filming for more than a year. “I’m relaxed about it,” he says. “You can’t waste energy worrying about things you can’t change. I’d rather spend five years getting it right than rushing it.”
The break in production also gave Keep valuable downtime to appreciate another crucial change to his life: the birth of his son, Wilson, in 2018. “Nothing teaches you more about yourself than having a child,” he confesses. “It makes you want to preserve yourself – more so than I ever did. Now, I’m not scared to say, ‘Guys, I’m not feeling this.’ Maybe it’s taken my mind off the individual pursuit of my career. Or it makes you enjoy your work more, because you can have a mental break from it.”
Wilson has also provided Keep with many moments of introspection. “Suddenly your own childhood is back in your psyche. You remember how you were. Everything is new to him; the first time he saw a police car, it was like, ‘Wow,’ and that makes it exciting for me again. It makes you realise how much you can love someone, and you appreciate your own parents more, too. I’ve come full circle.”
Riding out walls, landing them, coming full circle – it’s more than just a bike trick for Bas Keep. Today, he’s still in touch with Dennis, the man who opened up this world to him. “We’re still friends,” says Keep. “I think he’s 70 now.”
Passing on what he’s learned is important, too. In 2016, Keep formed his own bike company, Tall Order, to do just that. “We design our products specifically for ramps and transitions. It’s a niche within a niche, because street riding is where the money is, but I’ve never really been a street rider.“ Also, other companies predominantly sponsor exceptional riders, but I wanted to sponsor normal, relatable kids who ride but just aren’t quite there yet. People are surprised to see how supportive we are of one another, and on the first day I started riding I was surprised, too. But that’s our community. If you started riding BMX tomorrow, I’d support you 100 percent, and then you’d teach your friend to drop in. It’s exciting to see them enjoy what you’ve been through.”
There’s no better example of that ethos than a video called Tall Order posted to YouTube last year. It shows Keep meeting a boy called Connor at a bike park. “He’s a great kid, and he loved riding his bike,” says Keep. “He also lives in one of the most deprived areas in the country. He was just having a good time riding, but it was a crap bike, absolutely broken. Lots of kids give up when their bikes break like that – it’s difficult to fix them and you need special tools. I saw him that day and I was like, ’We’ve got to help him out,’ so we gave him a bike. When we asked what he’d do with the other bike, he said, ‘I’m going to give it to my sister, because she wants to start riding.’” Today, the video has almost 3.5 million views. “But I didn’t want people to think that was the only reason we did it,” Keep adds. “And I messaged his mum on Facebook to say we hoped she didn’t mind us giving him the bike.”
Back at Selfridges car park, the More Walls crew have returned for another attempt. Keep has been riding the earlier impact out of his hip. He comes back purposely out of breath, as if riding helps exorcise the demons of failures past. “You can’t have any doubt in your head,” he says. There’s barely a pause, then Keep hits the ramp for a second time. His wheels smash into the vert with the same intensity, but he rides it out as if on rails.
A few more runs and you can see the precision dialled into his big air – the tyre marks on the vert are all grouped within centimetres of each other, like rifle shots on a range. “Once you’re doing it, you’re fine,” Keep remarks. “It’s like muscle memory.”
A motion-capture image of Bas Keep riding a wall on his BMX.
“You can’t have any doubt in your head“

How to ride walls with Bas Keep

  1. The launch: “This is the moment where the hard part is done – the decision to let go of the fear. You can’t see underneath the level – it’s completely blind, so you look at the wall ahead and trust. It’s a massive mind game.”
  2. The air: “In this moment you’ll know instantly whether it’s going to be a few glorious milliseconds of flight, or to prepare for a crash landing.”
  3. The vert: “Once the flight has reached its apex, you start to plan for the landing by looking through the bike frame to line it up with the wall. You don’t want to be too close to the wall, but you really don’t want to miss it completely and land hard on the flat ground.”
  4. The exit: “A bittersweet moment of relief and disappointment – the job is done.”
Bas Keep filming More Walls outside Selfridges car park in Birmingham, UK, in September 2019.
Off the wall BMX riding with Bas Keep
Bas Keep's More Walls video is set for release in late-November. Stay tuned to RedBull.com to watch it.