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Wheelies and stoppies

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In many ways, riding on Indian streets itself may qualify as an incredible biking stunt. But that's not why Chris Pfeiffer is coming to India from Germany next week. The four-time stunt riding world champion is hoping to find flat surfaces where he can show Indian bikers the kind of tricks that are not necessarily inspired by potholes. The list includes not only those stunts that routinely make grandmothers seated in a Munich driving school gasp each time he practises there, but also the ones that some time ago made wide-eyed spectators in Nigeria say, "this is magic, " before mobbing him. "I had to hide myself, " recalls the 40-year-old, who loves hoisting the front wheel of his bike in the air and turning on the rear wheel.

"I am no Michael Schumacher, " admits the German veteran of freestyle street biking — a sport characterised by stunts involving acrobatic manoeuvring of the motorbike. "It's only the motorcyclists who recognise me, " he adds in a tone that suggests it's not modesty but plain truth. The relative anonymity of this champion, who even has a world record and a signature bike edition to his credit, is perhaps because, globally, stunt riding "is still not as big or popular a sport as racing". This, despite the fact that "stunting relies a lot more on the skills of the rider, while in racing you can succeed with a good bike and team", says Pfeiffer, whose tryst with motorbikes began at the age of five.

His first bike was a Zundapp with a side car that he rode furiously in his backyard. "Then I started trial-biking, " says the rider, referring to the sport of hopping and jumping motorbikes over obstacle tracks. "But my heart was set on freestyling tricks. " So he soon took to using parking lots as training grounds for extreme tricks like wheelies (hoisting the front wheel) and stoppies (balancing the rear end in the air). In 1996, he took on some of the hardest off-road races in the world and also became the first — and only — person to finish the Via Tina, a level three difficulty scale-climbing route in Italy with the motorbike.

Pfeiffer, whose resumê had been devoid of crashes and major injuries, encountered a crucial turning point when he created a Guinness World Record by long-jumping over 33 people lying next to each other at the Motocycle Grand Prix. During his televised attempt to break his own record, the German crashed and suffered multiple compound fractures. "There were some technical errors. That was when I decided not to include other people in my tricks, ever, " says Pfeiffer, who after recovery, went right back to his "girlfriend" — his bike. Pfeiffer then trained with a vengeance until he deemed himself fit enough to take on bigger street bikes.

"For a beginner, street biking is very challenging as the bike is heavy. You need great co-ordination to control throttle, brake and clutch, " reveals the biker. It wasn't simple. Long, snowy German winters ensured that he practised indoors eight months a year, five hours a day. Very soon, street motorbikes like the 1000 Ducati Monster became an integral part of his shows and a bevy of titles like Stunt Riding World Champion, European Stunt Riding Champion and the Indoor World Championship in streetbike freestyle followed. Says Pfeiffer, who even has a signature bike model in his name — BMW 800A Chris Pfeiffer edition — "Winning is easier than winning again. But I'm pretty happy that I made more than a hat-trick. "

Today, even before his Red Bull India tour, many Indian bikers have already welcomed him on Facebook. But, despite his many laurels in the extremely macho sport, the biker says he is still not immune to fear. "I am not a daredevil. In fact, I have become an extremely careful person. " Once, while climbing a wall in Italy, for instance, Pfieffer realised midway that his engine would give way anytime. "I was extremely nervous but, thankfully, I could finish the climb, " he recalls. He rubbishes the notion that stunt riding needs guts alone. "You need to be very smart, passionate and physically strong. Courage is not everything, " he explains. After experiencing India, though, he might want to change this view.

sharmila. ganesan@timesgroup. com

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