By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In summer 2002, CycleWerkz, a Carrollton bike shop, was the spot of choice for many local stunters, drawing 750 spectators a night to its parking lot. But after Channel 11 did a news story that depicted local sport bike riders as "a bunch of outlaws running from the cops," Fox says, the Carrollton police convinced the shop's landlord to prohibit stunting on its property. It didn't help matters that many of those same spectators would do freeway wheelies coming and going to the spot. It also didn't help that 400 riders drove to Carrollton police headquarters in protest, revving their engines in a display of solidarity while SportBikeHype captured the demonstration on its soon-to-be-released video. Fox was there. "Basically we were saying, 'We are not all bad. You took away our playground where we went to get off the streets.'"
But the police are in the business of chasing bad guys, and when someone stunts and runs, they are trained to pursue. "There are two problems with chasing sport bike riders," says one veteran Dallas police traffic detective. "Their tags are just minuscule, and if they are wearing full-coverage helmets, you can't ID them. If they get on the freeway and they know what they are doing, you can't catch them unless they stop or wreck out."
Three of the riders in the SportBikeHype video are now dead, Patrick Stephens says. "One of them wrecked out doing wheelies in traffic. Another hit a tree and his bike fell on him. The other got run off the road by a car."
"No matter how much money you spend on your bike," says the Dallas detective, "the laws of physics still apply to you."
Although the number of fatal motorcycle deaths has jumped more than 50 percent since 1997, perhaps no death was more tragic to the local sport biking community than that of big-hearted Kelly Howard, a one-time DJ at KEGL who only recently had purchased a sport bike. On April 17, she attended Sonic bike night and decided to make the evening's freeway run with somewhere between 50 and 100 riders. Police reports say she lost control of her bike and struck the retaining wall while taking the I-35 off-ramp to Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Bad publicity has caused the sport bike community to be protective of its own, and few want to speculate on what went wrong. "Everybody knows what the story is," Fox says. "For her riding ability, she should have never been at the front of the pack. You ride with that many people and you think you are 10 feet tall and bulletproof."
Fox does his best to convince the members of Strictly Vertical to do their stunting off the street. But when Chris Perry, alias P-Nut, and Brian Andrews, alias Tree, founded the group, membership depended on what P-Nut calls "gaming"--being able to pop a wheelie for a minimum of one mile. After Fox took over, the group lost those who were only in it for the game and attracted more serious stunters. P-Nut and most of the members have also altered their bikes for the slower, more challenging stunts that require more control since there is no speed to propel them. As a result, these customized stunt bikes top out at barely 70 mph and make highway heckling a distant memory.
At the spot, P-Nut, a disciple of Patrick Stephens, executes his stunt routine--12 o'clock wheelies, switchbacks (riding backward), no-handed highchairs (legs over the windscreen), flamingo wheelies (one foot on the seat, one foot stretched behind)--with speed and precision. Between the summer sun, the sweltering concrete and the energy expended under his thick leather jacket and helmet, P-Nut sweats enough to down a gallon of water. Waiting his turn, he watches three other stunters doing side-by-side wheelies. From out of nowhere, a fourth rider plunges head-on into the choreography, splitting the stunt and spilling himself and another rider onto the pavement. It's Amos, a friend of P-Nut's and not even a member of the group. A peg from the second bike tears into the meat of Amos' calf. Blood is pooling, his leg is obviously broken, the compound fracture has his foot looking as if it were stuck on backward.