Arts & CultureArts Features

Backwheel Rich Breaks Silence After Police Crackdown on Wheelie Boys

Cyclist says outlier incidents don't represent group as a whole

Richard Flood pops a wheelie on his bicycle with the city skyline in the background
Richard Flood is part of The Wheelie Boys, a group of young men who ride around the city doing wheelies. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

When local chef-turned-photographer Ryan Allen first met Richard Flood, he was immediately drawn to the young cyclist as an artist and friend. 

It was summer 2020, during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Allen was riding with The Bike Squad, a group of cyclists who would offer support and protection to local protesters during nightly marches — blocking off roads, transporting supplies and creating a barrier between police and protesters. 

Flood, known by most as Backwheel Rich, was part of a group known by protesters as The Wheelie Boys, teens and young men, most of whom are Black, who would ride alongside The Bike Squad doing wheelies.

Allen had recently taken up photography and found Rich to be a compelling subject.

“The more I put my camera on him, just being friends and finding out the many different layers of Rich and how much he really knows for such a young man, it blew my mind for me to look at where I was at 21, talking to this young man at 21 that was way ahead of me,” said Allen. 

Allen and Flood became closer friends over time, and Allen learned more about the community ride-outs that Flood organized and his work with children in west Charlotte where he grew up on the Beatties Ford Road corridor. 

In late 2021, Allen released a collection of photos titled This Is Richard Flood. 

“I just thought it was someone that needed to be highlighted,” Allen told Queen City Nerve. “I thought it could be a good way to empower him to keep going down the path that he was on, you know, of trying to build that community.

“I just think that’s an important thing with our camera and with social media now, I think it’s important to highlight people that are really community leaders. There’s a lot of people that really make Charlotte Charlotte, and I think Rich is one of those people,” he continued. 

The city of Charlotte — or at least local law enforcement — disagreed. In April 2022, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department held a press conference “to discuss recent enforcement of groups of individuals driving recklessly on bicycles and motorized vehicles.” 

At the press conference, the police used three unrelated incidents — one in which someone on a bike shot someone in a car, another in which a child on a scooter flashed an Airsoft gun, and third in which someone on a dirt bike allegedly used a Molotov cocktail against no one in particular — to announce that they would be cracking down on folks like The Wheelie Boys, implying that these incidents proved that all of the young men riding their bicycles regularly in Uptown were part of a criminal gang.

On July 31, CMPD officers in the Central Division Patrol and Crime Reduction Unit, along with Dual Sport officers from multiple divisions, the Real Time Crime Center, and the Aviation Unit took part in what CMPD called “a proactive patrol to confront serial offenders.” 

Dozens of officers on dirt bikes flooded the streets in search of reckless bike riders, arresting two: Flood and a 15-year-old boy. 

In a statement released the next day touting the arrests, CMPD wrote that, “These groups of bikers participate in organized rides with dozens of participants at a time. They travel in packs, taking up multiple lanes of traffic, and are observed doing wheelies, failing to obey traffic lights, riding the wrong way in traffic, playing chicken with motorists, and numerous other traffic violations.”

CMPD pointed out that it was the juvenile’s third arrest for reckless driving while emphasizing that Flood had “multiple pending felonies,” though they were not the reason for his arrest that day.

For Flood, now 22, all the attention, both positive and negative, is becoming overwhelming. Backwheel Rich can still be seen riding around town, but more scarcely than in the past two years. 

“They’re portraying me like I encourage all the stuff that they’re saying is going on out there. I don’t justify everybody’s actions,” he told Queen City Nerve. 

For the time being, he’s becoming more focused on Richard Flood.

‘From day one’

Before there was Backwheel Rich, there was Richard Flood and his go-kart. It was only three years ago that Flood didn’t even have a bike. He would regularly see his friend, who goes by Zay, riding by his west Charlotte home doing wheelies. 

Flood, then 19, didn’t know how he pushed the seemingly gravity-defying feat so far, but he took it as a challenge. 

“I used to see him riding around the neighborhood on a pedal bike, he would always stop me here and there talking about wheelieing,” Flood recalled when we met in front of the Bette Rae Thomas Rec Center in Enderly Park on a recent afternoon. 

“I never paid too much mind. But one day he came up to me when I was on my front porch, and he showed me he could actually wheelie, and ever since then, that’s what sort of got me into it, because if I’ve seen one of my younger friends doing it, I know I could do it too.”

Richard Flood pops a wheelie on his bicycle in front of a dry cleaners
Richard Flood pops a wheelie on his bike in front of a dry cleaners. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

A friend told him about a bike that had been abandoned in some woods down the street. It would need some work, but he could fix it up if he had some help. A couple area kids who were already cycling enthusiasts scoped out what parts were missing from the bike and were able to gather them up. They brought the parts to his house and they taught him in his garage how to build a bike. 

The experience stuck with Flood. 

“I felt like from day one I was a part of a community because of the way I really got into bikes,” he said. “People I had just met that day, they had parts for it and they brought them to my home and we put it together that day.”

I first met Flood later that year, practicing wheelies at the former Eastland Mall site alongside other Wheelie Boys and members of Charlotte Bike Life, who were at the time being targeted by police for their citywide ride-outs on dirt bikes and ATVs.

Police talk to cyclists and ATV riders at the old Eastland Mall site
Police talk to Wheelie Boys and Charlotte Bike Life members in 2019 at the old Eastland Mall site. (Photo by Justin LaFrancois)

That day, a couple police officers came by to talk with the cyclists and ATV riders, but were kind about it and eventually went on their way. 

Flood said that’s the way it’s been with police since he began organizing ride-outs; there are some who act friendly and some who hassle them every chance they get. 

He remembers the first time he rode in Uptown when cops pulled up behind him and his friends and flashed their blue lights. The cyclists scattered, but Flood never knew the reason behind it. 

“At the time I wasn’t doing anything, but I really didn’t look at it as harassment,” he recalled. “I thought maybe they really seen us doing something wrong because it’s my first time downtown. I thought maybe they always mess with us. But as I started going downtown more I realized that not every police officer mess with us. It’s just sort of hard to say like when it all really started because it’s good days and bad days.”

Flood acknowledges that sometimes things get tense in Uptown when someone riding in the group goes to “swerve” a car, which is a reference to the games of chicken referred to by police, but contends that neither he nor any of the friends he rides with were familiar with any of the shooting or assault incidents police have used to try to paint them all as criminals. 

He explained that there was a lot of confusion in their group chat in April on the day police lumped them all in with suspects in a shooting that occurred near Romare Bearden Park. 

Flood says he’s seen plenty of tense situations between cyclists and drivers who get upset with getting swerved or just having to dodge bicycles in the street. He said he tries to de-escalate the situation using skills he learned when he first met Allen at the 2020 protests.

Cycling as an art form

For the photographer who has seen Flood as a sort of muse over the last year, what The Wheelie Boys represent is important for both artistic and social reasons. 

“What I saw Rich and The Wheelie Boys doing, it’s kind of like an artistic expression and an empowerment of doing something that a lot of people weren’t okay with,” Allen explained. “I kind of think that’s art in general; I think art is meant to be a resemblance of something that stirs up conversations that some people will be really, really into and some people will really not be into.” 

For Allen, it’s a performance but it’s also political, a sort of urbanist protest of a car-centered world. 

“They provide inconsistency to a daily routine, and to me, it’s a metaphor of life: You have a plan, you’re going to do something, and then traffic messes you up and it deteriorates your whole mindset,” Allen said. 

Richard Flood jumps in the air on his bicycle with the city skyline in the background
Richard Flood, AKA Backwheel Rich. (Photo by Ryan Allen)

He said his photo collection featuring Flood drew praise from the arts world and heavy criticism from those outside of that world who only see Backwheel Rich and his Wheelie Boys buddies as pests or, worse, criminals. 

“I think they just kind of still see it as an inconvenience and as something that is kind of challenging,” Allen said. “I don’t think the community looks at bike riding as a form of transportation or a way of life. This is these people’s way of life as much as it is art. It’s their cars. It’s their chance for equal opportunity. And when you don’t provide communities equal opportunity transportation, there’s going to be ripples in the system.” 

Flood said he’s been staying off his bike lately, especially since his arrest in July. He still faces felony charges related to a past incident in which police accused him of a hit-and-run on a dirt bike. The pedestrian victim reportedly suffered a brain injury in the incident. 

Flood couldn’t discuss the details of the incident, only to say that, “Accidents do happen, and I’m a cyclist myself, so I do understand where people are coming from. I’ve been hit by a vehicle myself before, too, and that’s not a good feeling.”

Flood was struck by a speeding car while riding his bike at the corner of Tuckaseegee Road and Glenwood Drive in October 2020. He was knocked unconscious, broke his nose and suffered major scratches and bruises, spending the night in the hospital. 

“I was on a bike like a week after I got hit when I wasn’t supposed to be,” he told me. “I was in a tremendous amount of pain when I did it, but I was, like, back riding a bike.” 

The driver fled the scene and there was never any follow-up from police, Flood said, despite the incident having been caught on surveillance footage. 

When I went to meet Flood on a recent Tuesday afternoon, he was at the Tuckaseegee Rec Center not far from where he was struck two years ago, teaching kids about bike safety for the rec center’s Sports Week. 

He laughed when he told me later how they all just wanted him to teach them how to wheelie. 

“Honestly, I don’t look at myself as a leader,” he told me when I asked what it’s like to be able to teach the youth based on his reputation for riding bikes. “I know I play a key role in a lot of stuff as far just being influenced when people may come out to the city and ride, but I don’t know, to be able to have that ability is pretty cool, because when I got into bikes, I never thought I’d be able to do that — to be able to reach out to people and actually have a message that someone will actually listen to.” 

And as for those adults who are also listening, police or otherwise, what is his message? 

“One last thing I would have to say, if something do happen — I know it’s hard to not do this because they do this with not just only bicyclists but pretty much any group is guilty by association — but I would like for the people and police in general to actually look into who is actually doing it and not the whole group as one, because it’s not the whole group out there doing that,” he said. “If we’re not impeding traffic, just let us ride.”


SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.





Related Articles

5 Comments

  1. What an absolutely horrible article. All of these riders are very familiar with the shooting in Romare Bearden Park in April because they all posted about “freeing” the shooter Makahi Alfayad after he was arrested. Imagine spending your entire existence and energy hating on the police. Must get tiring Ryan, eh? Loser.

      1. It’s fucked up that you give voice to an absolute piece of shit like richard,. Fuck you Justin and you shit fucking rag.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *