Gregg Deal is a punk rock Indigenous dad whose art challenges stereotypes and calls out colonial assumptions. He’s also a bike rider.
Deal, who is a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe, creates work that celebrates Indigenous culture without rooting it in the historical past or attempting to make it palatable and consumable. His work doesn’t fit neatly in a category.Indigenous artists are accepted within narrow lines, but Deal’s work has never conformed to those and his art is as likely to reference The Misfits or The Clash as it is the half dozen Indigenous people most Americans study at school.
Gregg is also my friend. We share a love of bikes, punk music, stickers, and saying things we think people need to hear. We first met when I interviewed him for a story about cultural appropriation, and became fast friends as we reacted like kids at christmas to the revelation that Chuck D was making a podcast about Joe Strummer.
I’m British, and I can't really ever understand what it feels like to be the subject of centuries of settler colonialism and erasure. What I have learned through our friendship is that what I can do is listen to people like Gregg and work to stop perpetuating the ongoing process of colonialism.
Cycling has had something of a blind spot for Indigenous people for decades, they’ve always been present in cycling and our bike rides have always taken place on Native land, but reckoning with what that means for the cycling community has taken far too long. For Gregg, bike riding is an important part of his identity and a valuable way for him to connect to his ancestral homeland, escape stress, and stay fit and healthy. It’s also a place for him to continue the work his art does by dismantling stereotypes of Indigenous people and inserting their reality into a culture which imagines them through the lens of outdated tropes rather than through the understanding that we get from sharing long miles and deep conversations with fellow cyclists.
Gregg found cycling, and bikepacking, long before he rose to prominence as an artist. He started riding with his dad and they took a long touring trip together on the White Rim Trail in modern-day Utah. Getting along with his dad wasn't always easy, but riding their clunkers through the kind of desert landscape that would have been familiar to Gregg’s Northern Paiute forebears, they found it easier to get along and talk about things that were harder to bring up at home. Gregg now has kids of his own, and his riding has come a long way since he set off into the red rocks on that steel clunker, but he still uses his time on the bike to connect with land, his ancestors, and thoughts that don’t come as easily at home.
We’d planned to recreate that trip together in 2020, but the world shut down the week before our backcountry permits were ready. The impact of the pandemic on Indigenous populations only further reinforced the ongoing process of Indigenous erasure and the importance of lifting up Indigenous voices in all our spaces. For months I schemed with Gregg and the team at Velocio about how best to do that lifting. In a year where the United States experienced an uprising that forced it to reckon with its inequality, and a pandemic which continues to show that reckoning hadn’t come far enough, we tried to think about how bike riding could fit in.
For Gregg, bike riding always has to fit in. It’s been part of his life since he was a kid and it’s helped him to formulate the punk rock murals and performance pieces that hold up a mirror to inequality. It’s helped him to process life changes, professional ups and downs, and it's helped him connect with his homeland in a way I probably never will on a bike ride. It’s also a really fun way to spend a morning.
As an artist, Gregg layers symbolism in everything he does. Whether he’s taking words from the Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra, mixing images from comic books and turning them into a murals, or whether he’s wearing his hair long under his helmet and incorporating basket weave patterns into the finish on his Firefly 29er, Gregg is using the aesthetic as social commentary. Velocio has done the same, with jerseys that combine beautiful design with important messages. Throughout the production of this video, I’ve been impressed with Gregg’s incredible honesty and openness, if you have missed the symbolism in his other work it’s hard to ignore what he says here.
James Stout is a Velocio Ambassador and an investigative journalist with a PhD in Modern European History and a writing focus on political movements. He runs Indigenous Road Warriors, a non-profit aimed at empowering Native communities through exercise. He is Gregg Deal’s close friend and riding partner.