Interview: Kareem Shehab

For the love of all things with wheels, JUICE strikes up a conversation with Kareem Shehab. A young engineering graduate, the only pipes that Kareem cares about these days are the ones that get grinded. Hot off the release of his latest fixed gear movie Death Pedal 2, we speak to the filmmaker about his techniques and the thrill of the wheel. Screeeeeeech!

What’s your earliest memory of being on a set of wheels?
I started inline at the same time I started bicycling, just for fun as a little kid. Skating and riding bikes have always been something I really enjoyed as long as I can remember.

At what age did you pick up skating and biking?
Aggressive inline skating, I was around 8 or 9 when I started doing tricks and stuff. I was probably 5 or 6 when my mom got me a pair of inline skates but it was more for fun.

8 or 9 is still pretty young for aggressive skating. You were a rollerblader till you broke your leg in an accident?
Actually I still skate but I’m a bit more cautious now than before.

Did you pick up fixed gear because you needed some form of release that you couldn’t get from roller blading?
Yeah you could say that. Well I’ve been riding bikes before my accident but because I wasn’t really able to do tricks on skates anymore, I adapted that mindset to fixed gear riding. That’s kinda where my interest in doing tricks on bikes came from.

Would you have gotten into fix gear if you hadn’t had that accident?
Probably, but who knows? I was riding bikes already so I was already interested but if I hadn’t hurt myself skating I might have lost interest in biking and stuff. It’s really hard to say.

You’re also an engineering graduate student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Were you into building stuff when you were a kid?
Yeah I would make like skate boxes to climb on, ramps and stuff.

Can you tell us a little bit more about Leader Bikes?
Leader Bikes is a company I ride for based out in San Diego, California. Basically when I was in the first year of fixed gear riding, I bought one of their frames and I really liked riding it and doing tricks and on it. So I’ve always really loved the frame. Around the time when my first Death Pedal film came out I got an opportunity to ride for them and help them develop a trick-specific frame. It’s been a really great relationship working with them. They treat me extremely well; hook me up with whatever I need, help me with travel when I need to go someplace. I really appreciate what they have done for me.

What did you hope to achieve with the Death Pedal saga?
I don’t know if I really had any specific goals for making the film. I’ve always enjoyed making movies and the fact that I can get some recognition for doing something I really love to do is reward enough.

In terms of video treatment, how did you bring out the personalities of the riders in your film?
Well when I film a part, I go to where the rider lives or I hang out with them for a week or two. I really get to know the people I’m filming with, then again everybody that’s in my movies are pretty good friends of mine now. I feel it’s not like I’m doing anything intentionally to bring out their personalities, it just comes more naturally I would say from hanging out and always having a camera around.

Cool. How did you film the riders while they were performing tricks and stuff at top speed?
Well generally in the movies that I make, I’m assuming you’re talking about hill bombing and stuff like that, I don’t really film too much of that and if I do film something like that I’d generally stay stationary at the bottom of the hill or something. There are a couple shots in the first film where I was filming out of the car. Basically having someone drive the car while I’m either in the passenger sit or back seat hanging out the window with my camera.

So it’s very guerrilla style?
Yeah definitely, there’s absolutely no budget for the movies I make. Everything is kind of done at the labour of love.

How many cameras did you use?
3 different cameras. I have a Canon GL2 which is my main camera that I film with. I also have a Sony TRV 900 which is kind of a smaller hand held camera, a little street but that’s what I take with me when I don’t feel like carrying a lot of gear. Finally I’ve got a Canon Coliseum Super 8 film camera, that’s what I use to shoot a lot of black and white film stock.

Have you gotten into any accidents while filming?
No, not really. One thing that did happen though when I was in Houston filming with Eric Puckett, I left one of my fish eye lenses there which is an $800 piece of glass. I left it at the spot we were ridding at over night. I didn’t realise it until the next day when we went back out to film that my lens wasn’t in my camera bag. Fortunately when we went back to the spot, it was exactly where I left it. It was kind of miraculous because the spot we were filming at was in the ghetto.

We guess they didn’t know what to do with it. So what is it exactly about fixed gear bikes that excite you?
I would say it’s kind of a new challenge. I wouldn’t really say I’m a huge advocate of cycling or anything like that. I enjoy riding fixed gear because you have an extra level of control over the bike. You don’t really need to ride with brakes or gears or anything; you just get on the bike and go. In a way you definitely feel more connected with the road and the bike itself.

Have you ever experienced or witness anyone being harassed by the authorities while filming or even when you’re not filming?
Not really on bikes so much but definitely on rollerblades. Security tends to be a bit more aware of what you’re doing. I think it’s because bikes are not really mainstream yet. I mean it is in a way but it’s not obvious to an average person. When they see someone grinding a ledge on rollerblades it’s automatically a “no no” but when they see somebody doing wheelies in a parking lot it may not be as offensive.

So what’s your view on public spaces and the authorities coming down on roller bladders and skaters that use them?
I can definitely see their point of view but as a skater myself I feel that if somebody is gonna build a piece of concrete that is just nice to look at or not even nice to look at but is there, why not let a group of people like myself and my friends enjoy that instead of just having it sit there and do nothing.

Graffiti artists might share that view. What should be the command code among riders?
Nothing that I can really think off the top of my head. Generally, try to be cordial with other people who ride bikes and be friendly with them. As far as unwritten rules or anything like that, no really. I treat anybody the same way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a skater, biker or whoever.

So what’s your view of street sports in relation to street art? Do they two go hand-in-hand or are they moving apart?
I would say so. I mean there are still a lot of bike kids who write graffiti but I wouldn’t say that there is any real direct connection with it. Like people who write graffiti and ride bikes were probably writing graffiti before they got into bikes. So no, I don’t really see much of the connection.

You said in a recent interview that “in my free time I like to smoke dust and kill animals”. That’s kinda hardcore. So what animals do you kill or what kind of dust do you smoke?
No I was just being funny. I don’t do either of those things.

Right! Cause roadkill by a fixie wouldn’t taste too good.

Death Pedal 2 recently premiered at the Heineken Green Space party @ Wheel Love. For more on Kareem, fixies and the Death Pedal saga, checkout www.death-pedal.com.