To a non-motorcycle rider, watching someone successfully navigate Colombian traffic on two wheels is extraordinary on its own. But to witness someone climb atop the handlebars of their motorcycle while doing a wheelie is another story, a sight capable of inducing a vicarious adrenaline rush.
While some may denounce this type of acrobatic maneuver between motorcycle and rider as reckless and dangerous, these spectacles are precisely what have caused stunt motorcycle riding to become the fastest-growing extreme sport in the world.
The boom in stunt riding, often referred to simply as “stunt,” is not just limited to the U.S. and Europe. The sport’s growing popularity in Colombia is part of what led Stunt GP, the Polish-based organization which hosts the World Championship of Stunt, to choose Colombia as the site of the first-ever South American Stunt Grand Prix Championship, which took place last month in Villavicencio, Meta.
“Pretty much any rider will tell you that the feeling you get while practicing stunt is nearly impossible to describe”
Though stunt is ideally practiced on a closed court, the absence of designated practice areas causes many riders take to the streets. Similar to skateboarding, graffiti, lowriding and other forms of expression that are developed in urban environments, the fact that stunt is practiced in public spaces arouses serious safety concerns and causes many to question the legitimacy of this so-called sport.
But for those who spend hours a day perfecting incredible tricks on their motorcycles, stunt is not just a sport — it’s a way of life.
“Pretty much any rider will tell you that the feeling you get while practicing stunt is nearly impossible to describe,” says Alex Magu of Cali, who will travel to Poland this July to represent Colombia in the Stunt GP World Championship. “I would say it is an extreme rush of adrenaline mixed with excitement and fear. You always run the risk of falling and getting hurt if you mess up the trick you’re performing.”
Any true stunt rider will bear scars of road rash and suffer broken bones — even the most experienced, such as John Eduard Chacón of Cali, who is recognized as one of the pioneers of the sport in Colombia. After breaking his collarbone just before the final round of the championship in Villavicencio, Chacón explained to me how he got his start in the sport.
“I began about 12 years ago. I used to ride BMX, until I broke my tibia when I was 18. I was scared of hurting myself again on the bike, so I started riding motorcycles. I began trying to do the same BMX tricks, but on the motorcycle. At this time, stunt was totally unknown in Colombia, you never saw anyone doing it. You didn’t have Facebook or Youtube like you have today, you had to use your imagination to see what was possible.”
Despite the obvious risks, stunt riding in Colombia has become exponentially more popular over the past five years. This trend has generated not only an influx of new riders and fans, but also the creation of niche economic opportunities related to the sport.
Daniel “Rider”, of Bogotá, is the creator of Stunt Riders, a business that relies heavily on the use of social media to build community and promote the sport around the country. With hundreds of thousands of followers, Stunt Riders has become the most popular stunt-related webpage in Colombia.
Daniel attributes the rise in popularity in large part to a generation that is deeply connected to social media. “When stunt riders see videos and photos of others doing new tricks in different regions, it motivates them to practice harder, to raise the bar.”
Julián Arias, of Florencia, Caquetá is a prime example of this generation. Growing up in a region virtually devoid of urban subcultures, Arias was inspired to take up stunt riding after seeing videos on the internet. Today, at age 21, he is recognized as one of the best riders in South America, if not the world.
After an overwhelming first-place victory in the Expert Category at the recent Stunt GP Championship, many predict that his goal of representing Colombia as World Champion will soon become reality.
Despite the surge in popularity of stunting, Arias acknowledges that riders face constant challenges as parts of society — including the government — continue to question the sport’s legitimacy.
“The most significant difficulty for stunt riders is not having a designated place to practice, which forces us to use public streets as a space to express ourselves. Unfortunately, this is what gives the sport a bad name and makes people question if it is a sport at all,” says Arias.
Another obstacle faced by Colombia’s most talented riders is the difficulty of obtaining sponsorship. In other countries, riders like Julian Arias, Pablo Chacón, and Alex Magu would be making their livings as professional athletes.
But in a place like Colombia, where public funds are often mismanaged and where the sport continues to face deep stigmas, compensation comes mainly in the form of the happiness and thrill felt by those who dedicate their lives to the sport.
If you ask Sebastian Chwialkowski, long-time stunt rider and co-director of Stunt GP, this sort of dedication is what made the organization travel from Poland to host the event in Colombia.
“In South America, especially in Colombia, you see a lot of guys doing amazing stunts on these really poor bikes. So our understanding was that there is true passion, without the equipment. A lot of guys in Europe, they have machines worth U.S. $10,000 and usually no skills. These guys in Colombia, they’re doing it on machines worth U.S. $200-300, and they’re doing an amazing job.”