Ryan Senechal is one of the original pioneers of street riding. Ryan is an accomplished trials rider but it was his vision and style that set him apart. He played a huge part in developing a riding scene here in Ontario and no one has been able to fill his shoes since. Ryan promoted some of the biggest events we have seen, like Superfest and the Back To The Forest Jam. Even when working with an insignificant prize purse, with just a call, Ryan could get riders like Eric Porter and Aaron Chase to attend his events. He even had Ian Hylands cover his event and write a feature for Decline. When was the last time anyone saw that here? Ryan had the sort of cred that is hard to come by today. He’s starred in numerous feature videos and has performed demos across the country and abroad. I have personally shot with Ryan on numerous occasions and always enjoyed watching him ride. He worked hard and pushed his limits every time. Ryan always fought for what he believed in and I think that, even today, people are benefiting from his early work. RFG wanted to catch up with Ryan and get a retrospective look about his time shredding the streets of Toronto.
RFG: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m an outdoorsy guy living in Victoria, originally from Bracebridge and Toronto. I’m an Arborist instructor for a national training company as well as an Arborist supervisor for an international company called Bartlett Tree Experts. My regular weekends are gardening, volunteering, hockey, bmx, hikes, camping, shooting stills, rec tree climbing, snowboarding, beer drinking, playing music, salmon fishing, and fire.
RFG: What got you into riding? What was it that inspired you to get on a bike?
I grew up playing hockey and got to the point where I was getting some pressure to cover some of my costs if I wanted to continue. It might just be that goalies are a bit different, but I didn’t enjoy the competitive atmosphere or the company of most of the people in the dressing room for that matter. I’m sure I saw some riding on TSN or riders around town all muddy after a trail ride which planted the seed.
There was a sweet anodized blue mountain bike in a store front that I walked past regularly — I was already cutting grass for cash at that point (12ish?) and had a decent wad of cash in the bank. One day I decided “I want that sweet bike”, and that was the end of hockey for 14 years or so.
RFG: How was street riding born in your opinion? What is street riding to you?
Street is/was an inevitable evolution of what was happening in small towns and cities across Canada, US and the UK. Surf shaped skate which pushed bmx off the dirt and onto the streets and ramps all while a separate evolution of enduro and mx/bmx inspired a group of roadies to take their bikes to the dirt. Eventually the two paths crossed and the bastard child is pretty hideous.
Street riding to me is hours upon hours of killing time with my other friends that skipped classes sessioning a curb. It was always more about the social side than the riding which it still is for me today, though there was a time where I could go work on a trick for 5 hours alone in a parking lot just because I felt like it. Street was such a mind blowing prospect after growing up in the confines of team sports. I hung out with skaters, a trials rider, bmxers and I guess I wound up being influenced by all of them.
I’ve never held much appreciation for homogenus groups that role around with bullshit negativity and hostility for other groups or ideas, thinking their skills and daily drama is no less than higher art . I think of some of the local island surfers or street skaters in TO that think they have sole rights to the space. Do us all a favour and call these anti social, close minded fools on their agenda. To quote Ewan Forrest, “Remember fun?”.
RFG: Do you think you played a role in shaping what street riding became? Do you still feel as connected to it?
I do think I played a part, though probably more on a regional level and more on organizational than riding ability. So much of the development potential of the overall scene comes from motivated people taking pride in their community, and these people were as influential to me as the raw talent as far as riding. Donahue, Lenosky, Miron, Osato, Celencki would be the biggest riding influences, and then organizers like Robin Coope, Joe Clark, Jason Hill and later Miron really shaped my approach and execution on events.
There is no connection for me at this point. Most of my friends from the scene are onto other things and although we keep in touch, it’s more about what we’re onto now and bikes really have no part of the conversation. There’s an entirely different group active in the scene that is twice or three times removed from any connection to our group, and that’s cool — Ask any shop owner about the faces that come and go and the speed of the cycle.
It’s a fact that riding happens for most people at a young age while free time is abundant. I sound like I dinosaur when I say getting an education or building a career or owning a house might have an impact on your priorities, but take it from me, the sooner you get that shit taken care of is the sooner you get back to riding bikes.
RFG: What were some of the highlights for you as a rider, promoted and advocate?
The Suzhou, China show in 2008 was probably the pinnacle as a paid rider. It was the last show I ever did on a trials bike, a solid 4 years after I stopped riding mountain bikes interestingly enough. A couple of NBA half time shows were definitely a rush, but the majority of my highlights are roadtrips with my best friends. Chenga trip with the crew, East Coast tour w/Papel, Calgary with Jespersen, Forrest and Fink, the cross Canada trip with Millar, MTL with the entire gang, Boston, Rye, Wisconsin, Louisville; shit, I could go on forever.
If I have one piece of advice for readers, it’s to be spontaneous and load up a vehicle with bikes, scrape together some money for food and beer, and go meet riders in other places. Ride bikes, party, blow all your money, repeat.
RFG: Do you think street riding has reached its potential?
I think there’s unlimited room for growth in the sport. Even in ’04, if you told me I would be driving past the public jumps in ’11 and see predominantly single speed brakeless 26″ bikes with slammed seats, I wouldn’t have believed it. People said BMX street plateaued in the mid 90s but quite obviously that has not been the case.
RFG: Tell us about the scene here in Toronto, CIRCA 2003. Who were the players and what were the rides like?
Toronto in ’03 was a pretty exciting scene to be a part of. Concrete parks were becoming abundant and indoor parks were much less hostile to big bikes. The Wednesday nighter was becoming less of a ride and more of a hang out of mixed bmx, mtb dh/street/xc. It was obvious that street was finally becoming a fixed part of MTB as multiple Toronto riders were getting decent product flow as well as photo/video parts. Gooch, Headford and I were at this point fairly well known by some big names in other major markets, which launched a period of connectivity and unique opportunities as a result. I think we did our part to make Toronto as much a riding destination as a very unique style and attitude that was in high regard by outsiders.
RFG: What are your thoughts on the current scene, products and street riding in general?
I really can’t comment on the current scene, because I checked out in ’04. The products are now exactly what I felt was needed at the time I was pushing my riding the most. It appears the big companies that initially hesitated and struggled with the bmx/mtb identity crisis, now settle to peddle completes while the aftermarket manufacturers listened and immediately delivered on the straight goods, raking in the dough from a market that companies in my day which shall remain nameless suggested would never be viable.
As for the riding, the stuff that really interests me continues to exist though has mostly faded to the background in comparison to dirt and slopestyle. I see tons of kids riding aforementioned 26″ brakeless rigs, but the few I see at the skatepark are prone to session nonstop flyout truckdrivers and threewhips. It’s all about the Airdome/Whistler transition effect these days (foam pit and resi trick training and taking it to big ass drops/jumps, which is all good, but not my scene. Crashworx is certainly entertaining, but I think kids need to understand that there is nothing glorious about head injuries, reconstructive surgery and rehabilitation.
RFG: Who do you currently look to for inspiration, both on and off the bike? Are you stoked when you watch a guy like Danny MacAskill?
Anyone who loves what they do enough to try and bring positive changes to their scene. I struggled with some people with serious entitlement issues in positions to make a difference along the way, who chose to throttle my enthusiasm, desire to learn and challenge myself. These people were an inspiration to find work I enjoyed, and I put every effort into making it better for everyone around me.
Macaskill is rad, what a treat to see someone with major talent having the opportunities to get involved in the creative process of filmmaking, and make a decent living as a result. A well deserved decent living I might add.
RFG: What are you up to now? Do you still shred?
In terms of parallels then and now, I am still very involved in event production, though they are geared towards tree climbers. I am very much an advocate of volunteering in causes I believe in, and I am still always thinking about the next step.
My mom used to tell me that too much of one thing is bad, and not surprisingly my initial step out of riding was a 5 year hiatus. Old habits die hard apparently. I’ve worked hard to find a balance, and it’s quite a feeling to get back to a place where riding finds a slot in my schedule. I just got in from a quality mini session at my neighborhood indoor park after a solid night of rec hockey, and will be shredding local beer, guitars and conversation with tree climbing friends tonight.
RFG: Are you going to ride your whole life, move to trail riding or is street more of a burn out and fade away discipline?
Street riding is becoming more of a fixture than ever for me, though less on quantity more on quality. There is no better way to spend a day on the town than a hitting a route of riding spots, coffee, food, beer, etc. It’s a stimulating way to kill a Sunday, you know, being outside with the concrete beneath your feet, around real people, spending a few hard earned dollars and maybe chipping away at a few goals.
RFG: Is there anything you would like to add in closing? Anyone you would like to thank or tear a strip off?
Give back to your scene or community and help make opportunities if you have the ability. Try not to take shit so seriously all the time!
Thanks to everyone I ever had the chance to have likely several beers with, you are good people. Thanks to Jenn.