A Wheel Menace
In their search for space to practice stunts, extreme motorcyclists have settled on U.S. highways
Shawn Cripple, like most other Americans, has his gripes about reckless drivers. "With people on cellphones and not paying attention," he says, "it's pretty dangerous out there." The 28-year-old computer technician, however, is selective in his outrage. When it comes to flying down a highway at 160 mph on a motorcycle, popping wheelies and stoppies, riding backward, riding standing up on the gas pedal and "skiing" behind your bike (shifting into neutral, sliding off the seat and grabbing it with your hands while dragging your feet on the road), Cripple is all for it. For the last year and a half, he and approximately 50 other members of RecklessOp, a group of extreme motorcyclists, have been pulling these stunts on the highways of Ohio. The irony of his surname is not lost upon Cripple.
A mutant cousin of wildly popular motocross, extreme motorcycling, which has its origins in Europe, got its start in Akron in the mid-1990s with StarBoyz, a group of twentysomething street bikers who gained a national cult following with their practice of seeing who could pull off the best wheelie or stoppie (raising the back wheel as high as possible after an abrupt stop). Soon they were appearing at local bike shows and hawking videos of their stunts. Now extreme motorcycling events, in which riders are judged by the difficulty and creativity of their tricks, attract up to 300 participants and as many as 8,000 spectators at drag strips in Ohio.
Based in the Akron area and named for the first (and only) police citation Cripple has received, RecklessOp was founded early last year and is one of a growing number of groups that use highways as a training ground for competitions. (Extreme riders have also been spotted on highways in Michigan, California and Florida.) "Ninety percent of what people are doing on the streets is practice for competitions," says Cripple, who participates in about half a dozen events a year. "No one can afford renting out a drag strip [to practice on] for $3,000."
Practicing on major roads is, of course, illegal and perilous. In February, while weaving through traffic at 100 mph on Route 8 in Akron, Trey Horner, a friend of Cripple's, clipped the back end of a truck and was pitched from his bike, whereupon he was run over by a friend who had joined him for the ride. "One of these days an innocent driver or a child is going to be killed," says Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, police captain John Con-ley. "We've known about these groups in the area for years. They need to find a controlled area where they can do this."
The Ohio police may soon get their wish. After a front-page story on RecklessOp appeared in The Akron Beacon Journal in mid-July, Dave Mayfield, who runs an area bail bond company, contacted RecklessOp and offered the 2,950-foot runway of his private airport to accommodate the group. "What these guys do on their bikes is impressive," says Mayfield, a motor-sports enthusiast who spent two years in the early 1980s in Europe racing Formula Four cars. "They take their sport very seriously. I just want to give them a home."
Cripple and Mayfield are already planning a Labor Day blowout and envision several more events at the airport, which is located 25 miles outside of Akron. Cripple, who says his riders will now train on a regular basis on the runway rather than the highway, has approached a number of local businesses for sponsorship and hopes to start an umbrella organization for extreme motorcycle groups around the country. "There's huge interest out there-it's definitely an untapped sport," Cripple says. "Everyone on the street is striving for the same thing, to be able to do what we love for a living."