Friday June 28 2013

Airborne on a motorcycle

Jarred Van Vurren in action last weekend. He

Jarred Van Vurren in action last weekend. He was about 60 feet in the air when he performed this stunt . Photo By Ismail Kezaala 


The sight of 18-year-old South African, Jarred Van Vuuren dressed like an astronaut and virtually flying up in the air on a motorcycle at Lubiri, Kampala a few days ago left spectators awestruck. They held their breath, gazed at the skies speechlessly and sighed, then cheered as the airborne teenage sensation showed motocross riders, who were battling for a championship, amazing stunts they could only dream of performing.

Unlike the ordinary motocross, this was a new sport, at least on Kampala soil and for the spectators, many of whom had not the slightest idea of even the name. This is freestyle motocross. Arthur Blick, Uganda’s 10 time motocross champion admits, the sport is not only unique but also has no expert in Uganda and the entire East African region. Not even himself. We found out more about the sport.

An extreme sport
Forget about the rally races where men sprint with cars or motorcycles like they are on feather weight objects. “This is a high adrenaline sport. Most champions in this have been superb at motocross racing first,” Blick says. This, to say the least, is a sport for the masters and has no room for amateurs.

Let’s take off
To take off, the sportsman first rides on a metallic ramp which eventually launches him into the air. In the picture, Vurren is 60 feet above the ground and can even go higher than this but he does not go that far forward, in other words, say from point A to B, he cannot ride the same distance of 60 feet.

How to get there
Free style motocross, again, is not the average wake-up-one-day-and-give-it-a-shot affair. First of all, it is almost impossible for one to start training for it straight away, before mastering the dynamics and art of motocross. While suspended in air, you have to be able to make the motorcycle literally follow your command, listen to and do what you want it to do lest you crash.

Now this is why every move must be made with utmost care and precision. Any miscalculation can get the rider crashing himself and the motorcycle, which is like the ordinary one but with specific modifications to suit the sport, into pieces. He needs a soft landing, given the magnitude of the force with which he does this. In last week’s case, Vurren landed on a small mound of soil.

Expensive training
For freestyle motocross to kick off in East Africa, one would have to spend at least $10,000 (about Shs26m) regularly on specialised facilities such as the foam pit which are rectangular boxes of varying sizes, some as big as an average room. Wikipedia explains further, “The freestyle motocross rider will jump from a ramp, practicing one of the more dangerous or prototype tricks, and execute a safe landing into the safe foam regardless of the actual landing position.”

According to, in 1924, “the first known British off-road event known as the Scrambles was held at Camberley in Surrey. This would become the earliest known origin of freestyle motocross as we know it today.” Over the years, the sport has evolved, where riders display an array of skills while performing exciting jumps and stunts.

The tricks
With these, the rider is set to “fly” and awe his fans with a variety of tricks such as the latest, double back flip where the rider summersaults the bike (back-wards) twice while in air. Until 1993, this trick was considered a possibility only in video games. The tsunamis where the rider leaves the feet in the air and only the hands hold the bike till he lands. Then there is the kiss of death. The website explains what this entails, “While in the air, position the bike as close to vertical as possible then kick legs up above head.”

Associated risks
Like any sport, freestyle motocross is not immune to accidents. Since it remains new to East Africa and riders come once in a while for demonstration purposes, no local examples can be cited. Outside the region, however, Jeremy Lusk from Costa Rica who started riding at three years and became a star at 19, lost his life to head injuries he sustained at a time his career in the sport was hitting its peak, during a motocross competition in San Jose, Costa Rica in 2009. He was only 24 years old.

Star riders
Carey Hart: He was the first rider to perform a back-flip on a 250cc motorcycle, a feat he achieved at the 2000 Gravity Games. Hart also pioneered another move that would become known as the “Hart Attack” where the rider holds the seat of the motorcycle with legs held straight in the air.
Travis Pastrana: He has invented many innovative freestyle motocross tricks while also being the first rider to complete a double backflip which he performed in his film Nitro Circus 3 and also at the 2006 X Games 12 in Los Angeles where he won the Moto X Best Trick Gold Medal. He is the youngest rider to win an X Games gold medal, having done so at only 15.

Mike Metzger: He stunned the crowds at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas by completing a back-flip over the fountains and breaking the distance record by landing 125 feet away from the ramp in May 2006.
Brian Deegan: Deegan lays claim to being the first person to perform a 360, also known as an off-axis back-flip, in competition. Over his career, Deegan has notched up 10 medals and is the only rider to date to have competed in each event in every X Games.

Nate Adams: After winning several motocross races as a youngster, Adams was enthralled by the sport of freestyle motocross and before long, he won the World Freestyle Motocross Championship as a pro in 2002. Gold medals at the 2003 Gravity Games and 2004 X Games followed. Adams has also invented several free styling tricks including a no-handed landing after performing a back-flip.