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I don’t know if any of you have ever had the opportunity to watch Jean-Pierre Goy demonstrate his rather unique motorcycle riding abilities, but if you ever do get the chance, take my advice and don’t miss it. I happened to be at the BMW Anniversary Rally in Lake Tahoe a couple of years ago, when Jean-Pierre was putting on a show. Actually, as I recall, he was supposed to put on two shows during the event, but they were so well-received that the BMW execs imposed upon him to put on a couple of extra demonstrations, just so no one would miss it. I went to all four shows.
Jean-Pierre Goy, in case you didn’t know, is often considered to be the greatest motorcycle stunt rider in the world. Probably his most famous stunt was in the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies" where he doubled for Pierce Brosnan, jumping a BMW R1200C over the whirling blades of a hovering helicopter... two-up. A lot of people think that was a computer-faked stunt, but it wasn’t. Goy actually jumped the Beemer from one rooftop to another, over a helicopter hovering between the two buildings, with a passenger on the back of the bike.
As amazing as the stunt was, it was pretty tame stuff for Jean-Pierre, who has spent his entire adult life astounding people. I’ve seen him do wheelies so extreme that he went past vertical, even to the point of breaking the bike’s tail light against the pavement, and I’ve seen him ride a bike through a carefully-controlled figure-eight on one wheel, but it was the front wheel. Both of those stunts should, by all reason, be physically impossible. But he does them anyway, and usually with a big, silly grin on his face, all the while waving to the crowd. Okay, so you’ve seen guys who could stand on the seat of a moving motorcycle. But have you ever seen one jump from the back seat to the tank, landing on one foot, facing backward? And then reverse the process? Jean-Pierre makes it look easy.
I first met up with Christoph del Bondio when he came to Death Valley in search of a new place to start up another of his world-famous motorcycle adventure tours. Like Jean-Pierre, Christoph is much better known in Europe than here in the U.S., but that only shows how myopic we Americans can be sometimes. Though best-known for his multiple wins in virtually all of the toughest motorcycle off-road endurance races in the world, Christoph has also set records in bungee jumping and was once an Olympic-ranked downhill ski racer. As if that weren’t enough, he’s climbed most of the major mountains in the world. When he got bored with “regular” mountain climbing, he took up free rock climbing (I think that’s what they call it when they climb with no equipment but their own hands and feet), and when even that got “too dull” for him, he invented his own new sport: Free glacier climbing. That’s right, climbing vertical ice walls, with his bare hands.
Anyway, I rode with Christoph for a couple of days in the Mojave Desert. Well, “rode with” is being generous. Actually, I would watch him disappear in the distance, then spend several hours trying to reach wherever he was waiting for me —usually in some place that would give a mountain goat a bad case of vertigo. He rode his bike so hard, and through such treacherous terrain, that his assistants had to work all night repairing the bikes so he could ride again the next day. He had two backup bikes, and in three days he completely used them up as parts bikes.
At one point, we came to an incredibly steep and high wall of sand in the Mammoth Dunes that had recently been whipped up by a storm. It was probably over 500 feet high, with a weird, backwards overhang at the top, sort of like the barb on the end of a fishhook. I watched while a half-dozen very-good-to-excellent riders attacked it, none getting more than about two-thirds of the way up before they gave up or toppled over backwards. Then Christoph took a run at it, backing off a half-mile away first, so he could get up about a 90-mph head of steam. He hit the hill at full tilt and never backed off the throttle of his R1200GS, throwing up a 20-foot rooster tail of sand behind him. When he hit the bottom of the overhang, he just kept going.
The bike —and Christoph—turned completely upside-down in mid-air. Don’t ask me how he did it, because I was there and saw it and still don’t quite believe or understand it, but somehow he managed to land on his wheels, facing downhill, still under full throttle, and raced back down to the bottom.
Then there was the lucky day when I actually shared a racetrack with the legendary Scott Russell. Okay, it was just for some practice sessions and PR photography for Kawasaki’s ZX-9R Ninja, but I can still say I rode the Shah Alam Grand Prix circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with Scott Russell, Mr. Daytona himself. Of course the whole truth is that mostly I just tried to stay out of his way. Several times, I’m pretty sure he passed me more than once in the same lap. At least, I think that green blur was him. But I came away with what is to me a priceless souvenir. After the press hoopla was over, Scott was doing some serious laps, prepping for the upcoming Malaysian Grand Prix. I had brought along my new video camera, and climbed on top of the pit building to get some footage of one of the world’s greatest motorcycle racers in action.
Weeks later, back home and reviewing the tape, I found a short section where I had zoomed in on the last turn and caught some absolute poetry in motion. I played the tape in slow motion to savor the details.
Russell entered the turn at a ridiculously high speed, only lightly tapping the brakes and sitting up straight in the saddle to scrub off just a bit of excess velocity. Then he threw the bike hard to the right, countersteering left while he opened the throttle back up. The rear tire began to slide out from under the bike, spinning and smoking, clawing for traction in two different directions at the same time; the sort of thing you expect to see in a flat-track dirtbike race, not with Superbikes. Then, just at the point where it seemed certain Russell couldn’t possibly regain control, the fat rear slick bit into the tarmac and jerked the bike upright.
At the exact same moment, verified and frozen forever in the tiny charged electrons of my videotape, Russell dropped his chin onto the Kawasaki’s tank, the front tire lifted about six inches off the ground, and the bike, now centered perfectly into an attack line down the long pit straightaway, lunged forward like it had just hit the limit of a tightly stretched bungee cord. In all, it was an awesome study in absolute, total control. For a brief moment, a perfect melding of man and machine. I watched it over and over. Soon after, Scott would become the only man in history to win the Daytona 200 (on Superbikes) for the fifth time.
What these men have in common, I’ve become convinced, is that they are not quite human. Okay, maybe half-human. But if they didn’t come from another planet, I’m convinced that at least one of each of their parents must have. I doubt very much that I am wrong. Besides, if I am wrong, then it means that the only reason you and I can’t do any of the things they do is that we are too lazy to practice hard enough. Or just don’t have the talent.
And that can’t be possible, can it?