Where the Rubber Leaves the Road...

...and flesh sometimes meets the pavement, stunt bikers look to go legit

What convinced Stephens that stunting was something more than a lot of testosterone-driven horseplay was a video he purchased from a bike shop in 1998, one made by and about the Starboyz, a stunt group from Ohio. The Starboyz drew inspiration from phenomenal European stunters such as Gary Rothwell and Kevin Carmichael, who looked and acted professional, wearing helmets and full leathers while they wowed spectators during sanctioned road-racing events. The Starboyz, on the other hand, were about anti-heroes and helped create the urban, fuck-the-police (FTP was the name of their video) hooligan mystique that many riders sought to imitate. Its members rode without helmets and shirts; sneakers and blue jeans, however, were standard issue. They lined the fairings of their bikes with their trademark fake fur, which covered the deep dents and dings that inevitably resulted from their street play. "They became so notorious," says Mike Seate, author of Street Bike Extreme, which documents the brief history of stunt riding, "that each of the Starboyz had an Ohio state trooper parked in his driveway, who announced he was following them around for the day so they wouldn't try anything."

At the same time, other stunters such as Florida's Todd Colbert and stunt groups such as the Las Vegas Extreme were making names for themselves. But Starboyz was the first group to develop a huge underground following on the strength of its video. Every bike shop in the country wanted to stock FTP, which eventually would sell more than 200,000 copies, according to Seate, and become a how-to manual for wannabe stunters. It would also become the marketing prototype--half-naked girls, loud music (rap, hip-hop or alternative rock), bike crashes--for aspiring stunt groups that would turn cameras on themselves.

"The whole pop subculture that follows this is very urban, baggy clothes, pierced nipples," Seate says. "It's a big departure from what everyone thinks a motorcycle rider should look like--long beard, ZZ Top. You can go a whole week at a stunt meet without having to hear the goddamn Eagles."

Thursday bike night at a Sonic Drive-In is a diverse meet-and-greet for local sport bike riders, some of whom have been tagged as "hooligans" because of their extreme street antics. Patrick Stephens, below, is widely considered one of the top five professional stunters in the country.
Top photos: Peter Calvin
Thursday bike night at a Sonic Drive-In is a diverse meet-and-greet for local sport bike riders, some of whom have been tagged as "hooligans" because of their extreme street antics. Patrick Stephens, below, is widely considered one of the top five professional stunters in the country.
Tim Barnes, president of Point of Balance, lower left, without helmet, hopes to promote a more positive image for stunters, elevating the street spectacle to a fully sanctioned extreme sport. Point of Balance member Phillip Smith, top, does a circle burnout, a big crowd-pleaser among the growing stunt-show audience.
Photos this page: Mark Graham
Tim Barnes, president of Point of Balance, lower left, without helmet, hopes to promote a more positive image for stunters, elevating the street spectacle to a fully sanctioned extreme sport. Point of Balance member Phillip Smith, top, does a circle burnout, a big crowd-pleaser among the growing stunt-show audience.

After studying the Starboyz video, Stephens attended a bike week in Daytona and learned how to master the 12 o'clock wheelie, which sends rider and bike to the vertical balance point and separates the squids from the pros. Stephens gained some notoriety with the locals outside the Sonic Drive-In, impressing them with his one-wheel prowess. During one bike night in 2000, Dwayne Rush, a computer network engineer, approached him about making a 30-minute TV show about stunt riding; they would call it SportBikeHype. Stephens agreed, but the financing fell through, he says. Instead, they started a riding club by the same name, made up of stunters, racers and hangers-on mostly, going to industrial parks and parking lots, charging down the freeways for mass rides and stunts. Out of these antics came the obligatory bad-boy video, which seems to contradict what SportBikeHype claims it believes: "that it is better to work from the inside and to try to present an alternative to on-street misbehavior."

Yes, SportBikeHype will occasionally lead bike-night street rides, says the group's attorney Jim Clutts Jr. "But who did Jesus work among? The sinners. You have to make contact with the people who are at the greatest risk--the kids who will loft one going 90 mph on the freeway--and then present them with an attractive, safer alternative...In our own way, we believe we are saving lives."

A dispute over video royalties, Stephens says, led to his severing his relationship with SportBikeHype. "It was just a marriage gone bad."

Stephens continued to hone his skills, traveling to every stunt show he could afford, learning the newest tricks and improving on them. On his Honda 929, he perfected the slow wheelie at 2 mph, a rolling endo (a front-tire wheelie) of 410 feet and a long-distance wheelie of 21.4 miles. His friend and former SportBikeHype member Greg Fowler topped him with 41.3 miles, which is believed to be a world record. Stephens came in fourth at a Daytona stunt competition sponsored by the XSBA (X-treme Sport Bike Association), a governing body promoting sanctioned competitions for stunt riders. "Patrick's riding is clean and precise. And he is very innovative," says Ken Abbott, director of competition for the XSBA. "He did a trick at Daytona last year that everyone is still trying to figure out." Stephens calls the trick "Captain America," which has him getting his bike up vertically in a 12 o'clock wheelie while he leaps into the air and kicks out his body horizontally.

Although he can't give up his job as a stripper, nor does he want to, he claims he made more than $30,000 in prize money from stunt competitions last year. And with success came corporate sponsorship--not the kind of cushy endorsement deals that would net him real money but mostly local sponsors who trade him free products and repairs for the 11 logos he brandishes on his bike and leathers ("I feel like a moving billboard," he says). And with sponsorship comes responsibility, not only to his sponsors but also to himself. He has known too many friends who have died on the streets, too many cops who won't give up the chase until someone gets hurt, too many kids who try to imitate his stunts too soon. "It's been a year since I gave up riding the street," he says. "It was the right thing to do."

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