THE RALPH SINISI INTERVIEW
REPRINTED FROM DIG 27: MARCH/APRIL 2003
BY BRIAN TUNNEY
PHOTOS BY ROB DOLECKI, BRIAN APPIO AND JEFF ZIELINSKI
One of Ralph’s most endearing qualities is his complete lack of ego. If you tried to even tell Ralph about all that he has accomplished on and off his bike, he’d immediately shut it down. Ralph doesn’t see himself as anything special, never let anything go to his head and would never even believe that he inspired anyone to pick up a bike and ride. Well Ralph, it’s true. You’ve done more than your fair share of making BMX happen in your little corner of the world, and I’m sure your influence will be seen for years to come. I think Steve Crandall said it best when he came to the local skatepark and said, “Everyone here is doing third generation Ralph tricks.” Anyway, because of Ralph’s inability to talk himself, his riding or his company up, we turned to Ralph’s stories. This is not the traditional interview format, but Ralph has never done anything the way he’s expected to…
Ralph with another bad creation at the playground, ya know! Smith up, across and down. Photo by Rob Dolecki
The basic facts
Name: Ralph Anthony Sinisi
Date/place of birth: July 6th 1975, Margaret Hague Hospital, Jersey City, New Jersey
Profession: Owner-Animal Bikes
Education: Bachelor in Psychology
Transportation: 95 Mazda MPV, 91 Golf VR6
Your strangest possession: 1972 Schwinn Orange Krate
The most common issue you and your parents have argued about: Me not making any money
Your 3 best qualities: Doing 8 minute abs almost every day, eating a lot of fruit, not eating meat
Your 3 worst qualities: Concentration, memory, inability to fall asleep
3 words you use often: Man, nice, hello
The moment you are most ashamed of: Crashing my Passat
3 people you consider genius: The guy who invented 8 minute abs, The Gute, Barry Gromac
3 inventions you consider genius: 8 minute abs, Skyway Spinmaster, email
3 things you are thankful for: family, friends, riding
Something you wish you could change about yourself: my abs
3 Things you did today: got haircut from Guido Den, took a shower, answered this email
Today’s date: January 30th 2003
Ralph has never given the front brake cause up, stating that he wouldn’t even be able to ride without front brakes. Gap to nose wheelie in his hometown of Clifton, NJ. Photos by Rob Dolecki
My friend Mark Crudell, who I had to go see in the hospital because just OD’d. This was the dude I started kindergarten with, and he was on Paxil and stopped taking it. He was like a heroin addict and shit, all fucked. He didn’t touch anything for a long time cause he had to go NA, and went out and got a case of beer, put it down, waited til the liquor store opened in the morning, got another case, put it down and started doing speed balls. He passed out and fell back on his leg and his leg was crushed behind him and all the muscles from his leg, he pissed them out. He was on the ground, crushing his leg for 24 hours. His liver got all fu*ked up and he just has a bone for a lower leg now. It’s crazy. He almost died I guess. Heroin’s the worst. That’s all I got to say. I’ve seen too many people. I had a real good friend that I used to ride with. They found him with a needle in his arm. This kid, Mark Lamindolla. He was one of the best. Him and a few of my other friends were a group we called the Dirt Nerds. Bryan Hodges too, who I just went to his funeral maybe a month ago. He hung himself. And Mark, they found him with a needle in his arm. And his friend who rode with him, this kid got him started on heroin and supposedly was with him and left him to die. It was right before Jeff made one of his videos. The video was dedicated to Mark.
It’s easy to destroy yourself. You hate yourself more than you hate anybody else. That sounds kinda grimy I guess, but you’re more critical of yourself. Once you give into things, it’s the first escape. It’s another level of addiction and people want to push it. I guess it depends on the person. I didn’t realize how important riding was til I saw this scene unfold around me. People find this new thrill, the same reason they got into bike riding and ran with it. You don’t see people who can balance a heroin habit with bike riding. There’s no coming back from it.
Opposite smith up a picnic table before most people figured out what was regular and what was opposite, Secaucus, NJ early ‘99. Photo by Jeff Zielinski
I went through a period where I slacked on riding because I was getting too paranoid. Feeling shitty. I guess my body just needed a break. I started getting paranoid trying stuff because of getting hurt. My shoulder is the worst. It’s not like other injuries, because you automatically know that you are going to have to keep going through it unless you get surgery. I probably should’ve gotten surgery but I’m trying to just strengthen it now. This is the first time I’ve really tried to just build up the muscles around my shoulder to keep it from popping out of socket. I’m lifting weights while I’m riding in the warehouse to strengthen it.
And I’ve got a bunch of broken shit, like fingers and toes. My wrists and ankles are messed up too. I fractured me femur bone in my leg. That shit was real nasty.
That was just stupid. I was trying to jump on this ledge and then jump on this flat rail after it, from one side to the other side of the peg. And there was no room to get out of the way. I just totally went at it like a pussy. I jumped on the ledge and tried to get out of it before I was even in it, and I just straddled the rail. It was terrible. I didn’t even think it was that bad. I kept riding for a while after that and it just kept getting bigger and bigger and then I went back by Byron Anderson’s, where I was staying, and his girlfriend’s friend had come over there and she didn’t look too bad. And I was real pissed cause my fu*king leg was just getting huge and I’m sitting on the couch with my pants down drinking as fast as I can hoping it wouldn’t feel bad so I could make a move or something. And it was a mess. I was so pissed. It fu*ked up riding and the lady situation. But I got to be in Nowhere Fast. Nowhere Fast was definitely crazy. I couldn’t believe that Dave Parrick wanted to start filming stuff. He was actually psyched on filming with me. And it’s like, he’s Dave Parrick. He made the videos I grew up watching, the best ones.
Manual to crooked grind from early 1998, over 5 years ago. (That would explain the chrome bike and the peanut butter shinguards.) Hackettstown Skatepark, NJ. Photos by Brian Appio
Knowing that it’s the first thing that I ever enjoyed to a level that was more important than anything else keeps me going.
My first bike was a 1984 Hutch Pro Raider followed by a 1986 Trick Star. Hutch was the brand. I still have the Trick Star. I had a Randor before that and it had a banana seat on it. My dad thought we could upgrade the bike to meet the needs, but I needed a hot chrome whoop so I got the Hutch. We used to bring a stick with us to each curb cut and have distance jump contests.
The first video that I had was in the Sears Catalog. It was the 1985 AFA Flatland Finals video and I used to watch it all the time. And even though the whole thing was flatland, they showed about two minutes of ramp in between, like Dominguez airing from one quarter to the other. I would just rewind that part and watch it over and over again.
Not just another smith grind photo. Opposite downside on a steep sign atop the infamous China Banks in downtown Manhattan, putting Dolecki in the bushes yet again for the right angle, November 2002. Photo by Rob Dolecki
One of the first contests we went to was the 2B contest at the Reading Park. That kid, Mark Lamendola’s dad drove us there. And nobody else had a license. I was supposed to bring a wheel nut for Mark and I forgot to bring it. We got there and Mark couldn’t ride because of that and his dad was bitching him out, saying, “I drove you this far (3 hours) and now you can’t even ride.” That was the first spine I jumped. It had to be like 3 or 4 feet high. We also went on the wrong day and missed the mini ramp contest.
First local skatepark…
I guess when I was riding my bike to the dirt jump place, the Bowl; I had met a bunch of people. It was getting bad over there and then we went to a 2-Hip contest in Newburgh, NY, when I was 18 or so. Lugo was over there. Me and Weber used to drive there all the time. As soon as I turned 17, that was the closest park for us to drive to and we’d go two times a week. The bowl there was unbelievable even though we didn’t know what to do with it at the time. I remember doing a disaster on it and being souped. That was the first thing I learned to do a double peg grind on too and that thing was steep.
Shimano dx pedals…
One time we went to Newburgh during this big storm, cause this kid Rob Kucharuck was going to bring me down three pairs of DX pedals from his house in Ithaca. Rob was bringing me pedals from a few hours away and I wanted to get those pedals. It was like an hour and 15-minute drive from here usually and it took us 5 hours to get there during this ice storm. Everyone was creeping up this steep ass hill in my 1975 Nova and this woman in front of me stopped and everyone else was moving real smooth, and she stopped so I hit the breaks. And she started going again cause she had front wheel drive. I tried moving again and the Nova was just spinning all over the place. I turned around and I realized that we were on this huge ass hill going up this mountain cause the NY Thruway was closed. I get out of the car to try to push us up this hill, and I just fell on my ass cause the whole road was ice. I get up and look down the hill, and all of a sudden, there were all these 18-wheelers sliding backwards down the hill and crushing cars as they slid backwards into them. Weber got in the driver’s seat and started flooring it and we wore down the ice and finally hit some traction and we took off and we made it up over the hill. I looked back and it was just chaos. We probably caused so many accidents that day. We got to the skatepark at 5 minutes before 8 and it closed at 8, so I got to ride for 5 minutes but I got the DX pedals.
Weird new jersey…
There’s this abandoned Sanitarium that we used to go to in Verona. Crazy, I can’t tell you how scared I was the first time we went over there. Everything is still in the Sanitarium on the top of this mountain, like files, beds anything you could think of. It was like people just abruptly left one day in the late 60’s, early 70’s I guess. So we’d go there at night and walk up this mountain, and go in there with flashlights and it was fu*king crazy. We were in high school and then I heard about this magazine called ‘Weird New Jersey’ so I wrote in and told them all about all this crazy stuff that I knew about around here.
Toothpick at the Globe in Clifton, NJ. Random info interjection: Ralph has a photo of Mel Cody doing a tailwhip on his bedroom wall. Photo by Rob Dolecki
The freak of Franklin lakes…
There’s this guy, the ‘Freak of Franklin Lakes.’ And my friend was working over there, and he found out about him, and I had to get up there, so we got this one kid to drive up there one night, and uh, he (The Freak) used to walk around this one street all the time, like back country roads and just skip around from side to side back and forth up and down the street. But when a car would pass, he’d just start walking normal again and completely turn his eyes and stare at the car, and he had the worst cataracts over both eyes, so he only came out at night. So his eyes appeared to be just white, and he’d be staring at you, and you know, when you’re younger, you don’t really know anything about cataracts, so everyone thought he just had white eyes and he’d just stare at you. So one night, it was real crazy. We were looking for him all night and we made a u-turn on this one street and got to the corner, and we were like, “fu*k it, let’s get outta here.” And all of the sudden, he was just sitting there at the corner where we were two seconds before, just staring at us. It was real crazy. And then we drove past him and looked back, and he was skipping across the street. It was real weird. I guess it’s still weird, but there’s not as much fascination as when you were younger. The Annie’s Grave story is the most famous one. Have you heard about it? It’s just a street which runs right alongside a big mountain in West Paterson. The road is right next to the mountain with a long drop on one side, so it winds up the mountain. And next to the mountain road is a graveyard that runs about 3/4 of a mile next to the road. And there was a story, that, on this road, on prom night, this and that, some girl got killed by her lover on the road or whatever. And each year, supposedly her family paints a big streak down the road to signify blood on the road on the anniversary of her death every year. And her name was Annie. I guess her boyfriend had stabbed her, and dragged her down the road, so we used to ride this ramp that was in the mountains right there called ‘Interskate 80.’ It had an 8-foot high, 8-foot tall vert ramp. This was the first vert ramp I ever rode or skated at all. We used to strap our skateboards to our backs and ride there and it took like and hour and a half to get there. There was a newspaper article about it and one of my friends saw the newspaper. This was like when we were in 5th grade, and I didn’t find out about the Annie’s Grave story til years later. It’s not really a good story, but we used to go there later on, and one time a guy tried to run us off the road. And there’s supposedly a Midget Village right there. Right before the graveyard is a neighborhood with really small houses. I mean, I don’t know if midgets actually live there, but that’s what people say around here. So we’d pass Midgetville, then the death scene.
There’s actually a Midget Village right here in Clifton, right by the Bowl dirt jumps we used to ride. It was set up at the turn of the century and there’s a bridge as an entrance to it. I actually looked this up and it was because Barnum Bailey’s circus had closed down for a year and had to let go all these little people. So they started this little neighborhood, which has a bridge entrance followed by a tunnel, and it’s still there.
The Vietnam veteran resident of the Clifton bird sanctuary…
There was this one guy who lived in this bird sanctuary right by my house a few blocks away. And it was big, and it was full of this thick brush, like a nature park. And a guy, in this thick brush, had this little hut. There were these trails in there and one day, we were riding our bikes in there and we decided to make a jump there, and we started walking through it, and all of a sudden there was this clearance with a hut made out of plastic. There were big trenches dug all around like someone was playing army in there. The thing had a heater inside, newspapers. We looked through all this stuff and couldn’t believe it. Then we went back a few years later looking for it and we couldn’t find it. The brush got real thick and you couldn’t see like 2 or 3 feet in front of you. We’re going through and we found a new hut that was a lot bigger. And all of a sudden, a hand reached out the front door and went to grab me and I just took off not looking back. I was running into trees, didn’t know what was going on, went through some thorn bushes, just running. We got out of there and talked to some older kids in the neighborhood, and they told us he was some Vietnam Vet who went crazy and still wore his fatigues every day. So I stayed away for a long time, but we went back again cause these kids had rebuilt some jumps there. We rode for a little and decided to cruise around through the trails. And so we’re riding, and we hear someone running, and it’s this guy, decked in full camouflage with war paint on his face and hands, is running through the trails and disappeared into the brush.
The result of an early ‘grind up a rail’ attempt. (Ralph, can you get the guys at the Guido Den to cut the hair on your stomach after they finish with your head?) Photo by Jeff Zielinski
The tracks murderer…
There was this place where we used to drink in high school between two sets of railroad tracks that we just called the tracks, near some wooded areas. Kids used to ride dirt bikes back there so there were some trails down there. I went there for the first time when I was young, and there was this kid named Jason Rice who was like a pro racer in town. He brought me over there and did a tabletop off of this rock and into this downside of a hill. And I couldn’t believe it. So I tried to jump off of the rock and got killed. That’s a bad story.
So this same place, we started drinking there during high school. This girl that I knew at the time was getting flashed by this guy who would come by her window at night, so she called the cops a few times and she knew who it was though. It was some other kid from the neighborhood who was like 10 years older than us and used to go drinking at ‘The Tracks.’ One night he got real drunk and got into an argument with the girl he was going out with and threw a rock at her and hit her in the head and she was knocked unconscious. And since he was real fu*ked up, he thought she was dead so he buried her in a shallow grave while she was still alive. The next day, kids are cutting through there to go to school and one of them saw a hand trying to break out of the ground, because she had been trying to get out of the grave, but she suffocated and died.
We used to drink alongside of this place, and there was this cop who was kinda younger who found us there one night, so I asked him if it was true, and he told me that it was. He was in school at the time when the girl was killed.
And so this guy who had killed the girl went a little crazy, and ten years later, he was standing in the window of this girl’s room that we knew, jacking off.
Nosepick to fakie on a 2×4 sub creation at the Animal warehouse. Photos by Rob Dolecki
I just kinda got to a realization; I was enlightened after we got put in jail in Athens, Ga. We got put into the general community. We had to put on orange outfits. Me and Bob got flea-bathed together and the whole time, we had no idea what had happened to George, Tag and Crandall. It was crazy. I just wanted to start something. You know, the more I got into riding and I saw riding, the more I realized that everything that you buy and everything that you do is less and less about riding and more and more about some big money making thing. I realized that a lot was being taken away from bike riding, which is the most important thing, you know. I wanted to get something that would be no bullshit, and I’d be able to have some of the best parts possible no matter how long it would take. And I wanted to pair these parts we could do with the best bike riding that I know. I don’t know. People were putting out different tricks here, and it seemed like everyone was doing the same thing over and over again in other places. And people were doing all kinds of good stuff over here and nobody knew about it and it was just this whole different scene, and I felt like we needed kind of representation over here to put out the tricks and the riders that weren’t getting any recognition, which I guess escalated a lot. I hope it helped people to get parts. I mean, they all deserved it. And I’m real happy with the way people on the team seem to be doing well. If I had any part, then I’m happy. But I give them (the team) credit for helping me and helping Animal get to where it is now. It’s a vice versa situation. I wish I were at a point where we could put people on the big time thing. The video was real important, because there was so much good stuff going on, and I had Jeff (Zielinski) over here who was real psyched to be filming and he had done a few by himself. He was down for the cause to film, and he did what it took to film and document everything really good. You know, everything in there with the exception of a couple of things that I filmed real bad were filmed by Jeff, and it all looks unbelievable. He definitely put a lot of time in the cold over here. And I want to definitely give Jeff a lot of credit for getting the video together. I wanted to get something out there, where people could judge the company by the parts and the riding and not on the image the company is trying to create. People can see for themselves that there’s different kinds of riding and not just images. I don’t know, you know? I don’t know? Stems are on the way.
Toothpick stall to fakie in NYC. Photo by Rob Dolecki
Working at Animal…
It’s tough having a job dealing with riding. It interferes. Sometimes it’s good to be able to do something not dealing with bike riding.
The Animal team…
I guess I just knew a bunch of people that were really good.
The Animal stalker…
This’ll probably get her souped to do more stuff, but oh well. Some young girl would come by Intense Energy, where we used to do Animal out of, even though the products were in my parent’s garage. (It was the best shop ever which unfortunately closed down. It sucks real bad when your local BMX shop is taken away.) She keeps emailing me and actually stole my garbage can lid.
It’s weird, whenever someone brings it up in front of me; I kinda shut the conversation down. You know, just to not think about it. It’s kind of selfish, but it’s more of a defense mechanism for me. I wanted to say that he was the one who was always the one to do the new stuff. And I was always following him. Like say if we were to go anywhere, he would be the first one to do anything. I was just always amazed by him. I would just sit there and watch him do stuff. I couldn’t believe it when I seen Angel and Tiseo and Javier after a few years, and these guys had a real similar thing going on with street. They were close to me, but it was still like a 20 minute bike ride away, which when you’re young, could very well be a world away. He was like the first person I’d call, cause I knew he was always down to ride or do whatever. He was the easiest going person, helpful too. Sometimes I feel like I’m lost. I mean, I don’t know how to fix my bike. I never had to cause Tiseo would always do everything on it. It seemed like he had nothing to do during the day except help other people. He was constantly all day doing or helping all the people around him in his life. His entire day would be planned out around helping other people. He lived a really unbelievable life, period. I know he was a lot better too with kids. So many kids would come into the shop and love him. I don’t know, Hackettstown for example. No one could ever do any of the stuff there that Tiseo has done. It was ridiculous. And it was the same thing over there. He’d meet people there and they became his friends for years. We’d drive there like twice a week switching cars. Lugo would always try to sketch out on driving over there. You know, he had this Dodge Colt and I had my Passat and we’d switch it up. And when my parents let me use the wagon, we’d just pile 5 bikes in the wagon and go over there. Those were the best sessions. We had the place to ourselves. I always wanted him to be a part of the whole deal here. I figured that’s what would happen. He was really the first person I wanted on the team. He would know when I was stressing out and that I was a mess with running the business and helped me out. I just had plans for him, as far as him being here now, doing this with me. He was the best with people and the best with everything, and I just kinda had plans for him. It may be terrible to even think about, but I keep thinking that if you do a lot of good things for people, you can kinda get out of here earlier, cause this is hell and you can kinda go somewhere else. Even though I’m not a religious person, it’s just something I think about that, maybe it happened for a reason. I don’t know if I should try to rationalize it or what. Tiseo could never say anything bad about anyone, and I try to remember that. He could out ride anyone. He had more energy than anyone, more tricks, more anything that anybody. Life’s just the way it is and it sucks, but that’s how it is. I’m trying to live my life more like Tiseo’s, staying on the straight and narrow, riding, having younger people over every night to ride at the warehouse, just generally trying to be better with everything. And sometimes I’m not much of a people person, but it’s good to see people being happy, riding and staying warm. I don’t know, sometimes I wish I could live half the life Tiseo did. But I can’t even compare myself to him. Sometimes, it’s easier to not think about it, but I want to keep Joe in everyone’s memory.
Very few company owners try to give back from what they’ve accomplished. For most, it is all about their money and their prosperity in the BMX industry. This is completely opposite of who Ralph Sinisi is as a person and as a company owner. I have been living in Clifton, New Jersey for around 7 years and it has nothing special to offer or any real opportunities for new companies. Good products, good riders, and most importantly good friends, this is Animal. How Ralph runs a company that simply rocks in ever aspect of riding, and still has the time to shred endlessly, is beyond me. I have a lot of respect for Ralph and I, like others, am eager to see what’s in store for him and Animal Bikes in the future. -Jesse Susicke
Chainless slide ride alley-oop to feeble somewhere in NYC. (Yet another bad creation from Ralph at the playground, ya know!) Photos by Rob Dolecki
My initial intention was to tell a story that would sum up who I feel Ralph is, but seconds after I would settle on a story to use a dozen more would pop into my head that equally foot the bill. There are the generous Ralph stories like the time he tore apart the lockers at the skate park looking for my video camera that I thought was stolen. The douche bag Ralph stories like the time he started yelling at me the night after my roommate Jacki’s funeral for “not doing enough for Animal.” I think I called him “the biggest asshole I ever met in my entire life” that night. The deep Ralph stories like driving all night to Chris Rye’s house to do his Props interview and talking about life and death, UFO’s, and everything else under the sun. The funny Ralph stories like watching him puke his brains out after watching one minute of Baco Uncut. The insane Ralph stories like the time he slapped the ticket book out of a cop’s hand while he was writing us a parking ticket and then attempted to take off through Greenwich Village on a Friday night. Anyone who has seen the traffic on Bleecker Street at that time can probably guess we didn’t get far. Then there is BMX Ralph who has the most intense love/hate relationship with his bike that I’ve ever seen. He can go from “quitting BMX forever” to doing the best thing I’ve ever seen done on two wheels in two seconds flat. Ralph has been making some major personal changes recently, and if he can get through them with a shred of his sanity left in tact, he is going to do some even more amazing things with his life. Ralph’s struggle to come to terms with himself and life is nothing short of awe inspiring. I think that is what makes Ralph who he is, not what he has done but what he has gone through to get there. - Dennis Stancavish
Time, time, time, time, for some action. Ralph with a big kinked feeble from 1999, as seen in Nowhere Fast. Photo by Jeff Zielinski
The thanks list…
First my parents and my brother since nothing would be possible without them. The rest of my family, since they help me out all the time, especially my uncle who is a lawyer, who got me out of heaps of trouble. Next, everyone helping the business run right now, Isabel, Angel, Dolecki, White Boy, and Wasson, since I would be up shit’s creek without them. I need to thank Jeff Z for putting the vid together and getting me motivated. Also Bob Scerbo and Glen PP for editing the vid. Weber for building handlebar racks and ramps in the warehouse. Everyone at FBM. Enos at Base. Craig at Etnies. Par for building me a new car. Fu*k Steve Stash cause I still can’t listen to the radio. All of the wonderful shops that carry Animal, except The Bicycle Store in France, since that pansy Oliver still owes me money. Dennis at Looking Glass, 256, Inopia, Hellbent, Art Freak, Immortal Ink, Skavenger, Prototype, Piss, ECD, Manmade, Riff-Raff, Rebel and Rodeo Peanut. Chris, Marco, and Stew at Props. Zach at Kink, Brian Tunney for doing this whole interview in the first place. No thanks to Animal watch company for making us change our name in England and making my life a lot more hectic. I hope they rot in hell. Thanks to John Dye at Cyclone and Bike Universe in Canada for helping me make the best of it. Thanks to our other distributors, Stowaway in Australia and All Ride in Germany. Thanks to Vasa for the chairs and the desk, even though it fell apart. Anita, Jimmy and Grandma, you are the best. Greg Walsh, thanks for the help. Old School Ligato, John Z., Bergen, Buck, John, Chia-Pietras, Appio, Burt, the Poundabrewskis, Pruzanski, Swervratski, Big, Crudelle, Hanselman, Jeffy, Kosminer, Lapadoola, Ray, Hippie, Nina, Jamie McParland, Moy, Kraczar and the rest of the Woodbridge crew, Puleo, Andy, Paulison, Rios, Stober, Crevice, Mikey, Wilson, Miliotti, Rich, Gervais, Ted Nelson, Jeff Allen, and Pablo. I especially want to thank Joe Malone for letting me run Animal out of his shop. Karrie Morris for selling stuff on e-bay, Margheri unless he is drunk fighting Karrie, Frank Lamb for getting the laptop and hooking up the phones. I want to thank all the local kids that ride for doing their thing. Finally, I want to thank everyone on the team, since they are the most important part of Animal. I couldn’t ask for a bunch of better guys or better riders in the whole world.