Hours after his late-night shift at a warehouse in Alachua, Kendrick McGlon pops out of bed to join his friends in doing BMX-style cycling tricks on the streets of Gainesville.
“I don’t smoke or drink, so that’s like my natural high,” said McGlon, 20, a freight handler who goes by “KJ” or simply “K.”
McGlon is part of “One Wheel,” a group of 15- to 24-year-olds also known throughout the area as the “Wheelie Boys,” among other nicknames. Whether on University Avenue or at Depot Park, he enjoys making people smile as he rides by them with one wheel off the ground, or while standing on top of his bike as it moves at high speeds, a trick he calls “surfing.”
“People’s reactions are just priceless,” he said.
Since about age 6, McGlon has been fascinated with taking things apart and reassembling them. It began with toy cars and then bikes as he grew older, realigning brakes or patching a flat inner tube. He said almost everything he knows he learned by trial and error.
It wasn’t until 2015 that McGlon learned how to wheelie. He said it took him a few months to master control over a bike, and from there the tricks followed. His personal favorite is the “death spin,” in which he spins on the back wheel of his bike as the front one stays off the ground. He said for others it takes a couple of years just to do a wheelie.
“My footwork, my balance – everything – it’s a little above the average,” he said.
His athleticism isn’t just due to innate talent. The Santa Fe High School graduate played soccer in elementary school and ran track and field all of high school, competing in events such as the men’s 100m and 200m dashes. He said he even made the varsity soccer team his senior year, though he didn’t play that season because it would have interfered with track and field.
On top of sports, McGlon said he was an honors and AP student. Despite a 3.4 GPA, he said school just wasn’t for him, so he began working upon his high school graduation.
When the Wheelie Boys ride together, they can find themselves as far as Trenton, Williston or Alachua, said biker Mizel Clark, 19, who started hanging with McGlon about five years ago after moving with his family to East Gainesville. Clark said they bumped heads at first, but their bond quickly grew as he learned to wheelie and do other tricks alongside McGlon.
“That’s like my brother,” Clark said. “I look up to K.”
McGlon acknowledges that his style of bike riding can be dangerous, but he says he’s “one of the safest that you ever might know” at doing it. He said he stays aware of people and vehicles around him, and that he can often tell what a car is about to do by listening to the engine and/or reading the driver’s expression through the window. If he’s listening to music, he’ll make sure it’s not turned up all the way, so he can hear what’s happening around him.
But while McGlon said he’s only been hurt while riding because of his own mishaps, his friend hasn’t been so lucky. Clark said he’s been hit by four cars since he started riding. The worst injury: a fractured ankle after an accident in the Duval Heights neighborhood in 2018.
“I blacked out in the air,” Clark said. “I landed like Superman.”
Considering the multiple pedestrian deaths that have occurred on University Avenue and other streets in Gainesville in recent years, the safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians is a top priority for the Gainesville Police Department, public information officer Graham Glover said.
But while this style of bicycle riding has been brought to GPD’s attention by city residents in the past, Glover said as of now, it is not among its larger traffic safety concerns.
Michael Auer, 28, an attorney, said he started noticing young people doing wheelies and other tricks on their bicycles, mostly between midtown and downtown, almost as soon as he moved to northeast Gainesville in 2016.
The possible legal implications of this nature of bicycling are ever present. An instance in which a car hits one of these riders, or frantically attempts to avoid hitting one, could introduce civil liability and at worst even a charge of involuntary manslaughter, Auer said.
As a motorcyclist, Auer also said an overarching worry is that he’s never seen any of the Wheelie Boys wearing a helmet. At the same time, the attorney said, such a hobby can be beneficial when it keeps young people entertained and out of trouble.
“If the worst thing you do is wheelie around on a side street, maybe that’s not the worst thing for them,” Auer said.
Michael Harmon, 31, of northwest Gainesville, has also noticed One Wheel riders biking near the University of Florida campus, in downtown Gainesville and at Depot Park. Harmon described the stunts as an “eye-catcher” that could cause distraction on the road. But he also commended the bikers’ dexterity and noted his astonishment when he sees them.
“To have that type of control and balance over your body coordination and all that – I think there’s something to be said about it,” said Harmon, a marketing and advertising consultant.
Beyond riding with other One Wheel group members, McGlon also frequents the Tour De Gainesville, a community “group ride” founded in October 2021 that invites people on “all wheels” to participate in a 7- to 9-mile route around the city.
Camila Lim-Hing, 22, is a full-time ceramicist who moved to Gainesville from Orlando in August, largely because of how “bike friendly” the smaller city is. After hearing about the idea for Tour De Gainesville from friends, Lim-Hing offered to help and now creates the flyers and social media captions promoting the rides.
Lim-Hing said McGlon has shown up at multiple Tour De Gainesville rides, both with others from the One Wheel crew and on his own. She said when he shows up, the ride becomes a party, both for those riding the route and for onlookers.
“With K and his group, it’s definitely more of a spectacle than just like a group of riders,” Lim-Hing said. “It’s like, here’s a circus; here’s a performance.”
Martin Cox, owner of Super Cool Bike Shop on West University Avenue, stopped McGlon on his bike a few years ago when Cox noticed the bikes the group used weren’t of good quality. Cox said he’s watched McGlon grow as a rider and tries to support him by providing parts and helping with things like broken rear brakes, a frequent issue that comes from doing wheelies.
McGlon’s ideal future involves quitting his job and opening his own bike shop, where he could sell his own signature bicycle or brand of bicycles. While conceding it may be “far-fetched,” he’s already brainstormed a name – “K2” – and drawn bike frame designs on his iPad.
“At this point, I am a professional who just doesn’t get paid yet,” he said.