Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Sunday, February 2, 2003
Updated: February 3, 12:43 PM ET
The greatest show on two wheels

By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: Eric Neel isn't really an "extreme guy," but Page 2 sent the columnist to the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., to cover the event from an outsider's point of view. Here's his report from the final day of competition:

It's called Moto X Big Air, boys and girls.

Caleb Wyatt
Caleb Wyatt launches into a backslip off the 50-foot ramp.
Two snow ramps -- one 90 feet from the landing area, the other 50 feet away.

Motocross riders aboard bikes outfitted with steel-spiked tires throw themselves off the 90, climb for miles into the wild blue yonder, and do everything (spread eagles, layouts, handlebar kisses, you name it) but hang on, then stomp the landing, come to a slide stop and wave to the kiddies in the crowd.

Or riders hurl their bodies and bikes up and over the 50-footer. All the way over. As in inverted. As in a full back flip. It's the reverse of the old Casey Kasem thing: they've got their heads headed for the ground and their feet reaching for the stars.

I stand off to the side watching, two thoughts running through my head:

1. Good-god man, this is brilliant stuff. Who knew we were such an agile species? When Leonardo dreamed of flight, did he ever imagine anything like this?

2. Why on earth would anyone want to do this? Seriously, what gives? What kind of chemical is floating around in these mugs' brains?

You could pay me a whole lot of money to try this, and I'd smile and walk away. Quickly. You could tell me I had to do it on pain of death, and I'd tell you to pull the trigger.

I mean, we're talking heavy machinery. We're talking high heights. We're talking ice and snow, crash-landings, broken bones and traumatized spines and such. We're talking danger, Will Robinson, danger.

As fellow Page 2 scribe Hunter S. Thompson put it to me the other day, there is one central fact in play in Moto X: "There are very few motorcycles you would like to have come crashing down on you."

Amen, Doctor.

Winter X coverage
For all the latest photos, videos, stories and TV schedules, be sure to check out the complete coverage of Winter X Games VII at EXPN.com.

So I say again, why do this?

After the Big Air competition, I asked the three medalists, Caleb Wyatt, who won bronze, Dayne Kinnaird, who took silver, and gold-winner Mike Metzger, to explain themselves.

Wyatt, who did three back flips, and crashed hard on his second attempt, put it like this:

"I don't know, it's just something in me, man. It's out of my control to tell you the truth," he said.

"I thought after I pulled my first back flip, I'd be content, but it's never good enough. You always have to go out and do it again. I'm conquering my dreams and my fears, I guess.

"I just have to experiment and see what is possible on a motorcycle. As long as you experiment in the right order and don't kill yourself, I think anything is possible."

Dayne Kinnaird
Silver medalist Dayne Kinnaird says anything's possible on a motorcycle "if you don't kill yourself."
Kinnaird, who looked like he was playing a scene out of "The Matrix" when he was at the height of his jump, said:

"Some people love adrenaline. I don't know what Metz's problem is, or what Caleb's thing is, but I just live for the thrill of being on the edge, for the feeling of knowing that anything could happen at any second.

"Last time I got hurt was Christmas. I got a suspected broken neck and broken ankle. This is my first time riding since. But I don't care what happens. I don't care if my legs don't work. I'll just strap on and ride."

And Metzger, who's the king of the back flips and the undisputed leader of the Moto X world, explained it this way:

"My Dad put me on a motorcycle at 3 years old, and I've had my fair share of injuries, but, you know, it's just the love of being on two wheels that I feel.

"When you're in the moment, all the pain goes away. When you get on your bike and feel the power underneath you, you forget about everything else.

"I don't let fear invade my space. You can't have any doubt in your mind when you're going to go out and do a 90-foot kicker or go upside down over a 50-foot kicker. You've just gotta push fear outside the window."

So I'm standing next to these guys, listening to them, two thoughts running through my mind:

Mike Metzger
Moto X champion Mike Metzger says he doesn't "let fear invade" his space.
1. How can you be anything but impressed with the courage in what they do? How can you feel anything but envy for the unselfconscious way they let the bike and the speed take them? What must it feel like? What must the rush be like to make the risk so absolutely, unquestionably worthwhile? The ahhhhs that come up out of my throat, and the throats of thousands of other fans, when they're twisting and turning in the air don't just come from what they're doing, they come from the wild bravery that enables them to do it.

2. No, seriously, why would you do this?

Notes from an X Games scorecard

  • Everywhere you look, you see cameras. Not TV cameras, digitals and SLRs in the hands of almost every fan. Pictures at weddings and birthday parties are cold substitutes for experience. Pictures here are evidence, that what you saw -- what you couldn't believe as it was happening -- was real. Freestyle sports culture has always been about documentation. The athletes and aficionados have always known that their styles and tricks were carving out a kind of history, of a sport and an attitude, and they've long been setting that history down in pics and clips. The tradition continued here at Aspen this weekend.

  • Most requested X Games musical artist: Eminem. Close second: Beasties. Least expected tune: "Devil Went Down to Georgia," Charlie Daniels Band (the pick of Moto Xer "Cowboy" Kenny Bartram from Stillwater, Okla.). Close second: Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" (playing, for reasons I can't explain, during the snowmobile HillCross heats Sunday).

  • From a distance, from the highway, the mountain is a snow globe, magical figures and flakes flying everywhere. Up close, in the crowd, things dart in and out of your field of vision, and you never get over the feeling that something spectacular is happening somewhere, and you're missing it.

  • Most important fashion element on display (and actually, it's usually hidden beneath a jacket): belts. Sequins are nice, camoflage works, but the coolest of the cool are sporting steel studs, like Maiden and Crue.

  • Crucial athlete technology: MP3s, IPods, and mini-disc players. Olympic gold medalist snow boarder Kelly Clark sits at the top of the run listening to Blink 182's "She's All Grown Up" and shouting the lyrics out loud in the moments before she drops in on a run.

  • Surprise element: The judges of slopestyle talk to each other while they're deciding scores. Just like the judges for the Olympic pairs figure skating competition.

  • Words and phrases you might want to start working into your conversations around the office and the house (and if you don't know what they mean, by the way, you're encouraged to make up a definition): Squirrely, decky, sketchy, big air, blowin' up, stompin', throwin' down, stoked, bummed, go conservative and you get the knuckle, keepin' it smooth and styley, corked out, and caught up in the mashed potatoes.

  • Best phrase I heard to describe someone with a lead: "Justin Tate has checked out."

  • Color of the Games: Khakhi. Unless you look at the snowmobile venues, which look like the pits at a NASCAR race, all neon bright and matching.

  • Line you couldn't imagine hearing at any other sporting event: "Thanks for having me." -- Moto Xer Caleb Wyatt to the crowd, after he completed a clean back flip on his third try.

  • Two best signs of the games: "Craig Kelly is my co-pilot" (in memory of the snowboarding legend recently killed in an avalanche). "Make Snow Not War" (in memory of, you know, peace).

  • The only thing more crucial than trying really hard, is not trying at all.

  • There are two different X Games: The eat-my-ice speed and power of the snowmobile and motorcycle events, and the freaky-free-styley laidback cool and invention of SuperPipe and SlopeStyle. They come together on this point: you gots to have control, and, like Marvin, you got to give it up.

  • And lastly, if I don't make it home, look for me on the hillside on the way up to the slopestyle judging tower. I thought it would be good to be more than a tourist, to get up the hill and feel the ice beneath my feet. It's slippery up here. I'm on my backside, quivering in the wind. I can see the lights of the hotel in the distance.

    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.