Where the Rubber Leaves the Road...

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


"Put on your damn helmet," Matt Fox yells across the parking lot to a careless stunter. At 34, Fox is an old motor head who holds a 9-to-5 in the mortgage business. But on sunny Sundays like today, Fox is also head safety monitor and president of Strictly Vertical, one of the newer stunt groups in town. He directs traffic and practice, minimizes the mishaps and massages the egos of aggressive stunters with names such as P-Nut and Tree--all in the hopes that within two years Strictly Vertical will be good enough to compete in the X-Games, if stunting can ever gain that level of legitimacy. To make that happen, Fox insists his group only do its stunting at legal spots. Strictly Vertical has been lucky enough to find a sweet spot in Coppell: industrial-strength concrete, a consenting owner and a wide patch of pavement lodged between loading docks. The Coppell cops even come out and watch, figuring it is better to stunt on private property than in traffic. No cops have yet to pay a visit today, but Fox knows the importance of staying right with the police.

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."

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.

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.

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