"1. The Isle of Man TT began in 1907, after a law was cleared in 1904 that allowed roads to be closed for the Gordon Bennett car trials. 2. When the race first started practice sessions used to take place in the early morning "
An interview with superstar freestyle stunt rider, Mattie Griffin
We chat to incredibly talented rider Mattie Griffin about his freestyle stunt bike shows
Mattie Griffin is one of the most talented motorcyclists to come out of Ireland and is one of the most well-known and liked performers on the international motorcycle stunt riding circuit. He recently took a few minutes out from his hectic schedule to sit down with Dave Humphreys and give an insight into the world of two-wheel acrobatics.
DH: What first got you into bikes?
MG: Going right back to when we were kids, my dad had a car scrapyard, so we were always driving stuff there; car, vans, trucks, forklifts, anything with wheels and an engine. Then at one stage, a motorcycle came in to be repaired. I remember it, it was an old RM250 that I couldn’t reach the ground, even if I’d had stilts on. But I could reach the clutch, and I could reach the foot peg, so pushed myself away, let out the clutch, got one foot on the peg and threw my leg over the saddle and from there on I was riding bikes. I was only eight or nine at that stage, but I’ve just been two-wheels mad ever since I was a kid.
DH: At what point did you start doing tricks and think to yourself, I could be good at this?
MG: Two things stand out on my way to stunt riding. The first was that I always had an interest in trials riding, like climbing the rocks and getting out there. I liked motocross too, but in Ireland back then there weren’t many places to go. You were either making noise or tearing up the ground, so I would get thrown out of anywhere I went. But trials was perfect, it was enjoyable, I liked it, and from there I suppose I remember seeing Chris Pfeiffer, who at that time was number one in the world and I saw that he rode a trials bike. I watched him one time and looked at the tricks he was doing, and I just thought to myself ‘I could do those tricks.’ So I went out, and within weeks I was doing them, and up at a good level. Then a guy who I didn’t know at the time but has since become a good friend, Dave Hanno from Mayo, was into stunt riding at the time and he came up with his bike, and I asked could I try it. So I stuck on my helmet and had a bit of a play around in an industrial estate and picked it up pretty quick. He pushed me a lot then to get a stunt bike and start entering competitions.
From there, the first competition I entered was in Ireland. I had only been riding for about six months, but I won. Then it was straight into the deep end, as I went on to the world championships in the Czech Republic about a year later and did quite well at that too, and then I just excelled at it.
DH: When it got that point how did you begin to improve on that?
MG: I practised, practised, and practised. I would go to bed at night and lay down, and my mind would start going. What if I added this trick to that cooler trick, what if that burnout I did sitting facing forward I did sitting backwards. I was just constantly working on improving tricks. Sometimes I’d see another rider do the trick where they might have done a wheelie with one leg over the handlebars and the other one around his head; then I’ll try it with my two legs around my head, that kind of thing.
DH: Is there a trick that nobody’s done yet, like the first time someone backflipped a motocross bike?
MG: No, and that’s one thing I really love about stunt riding. There are tricks that some riders can do that others can’t, but everyone has a different style, and there are no limits to stunt riding. People say to me, how long is your routine or what are you going to be doing in the show, and I tell them I don’t have a routine, but I can tell them how long the show will be. It’s freestyle.
DH: What makes a great stunt rider?
MG: It’s everything put together, the whole package. I know some excellent stunt riders that can do some crazy tricks but when you put them in a show, and they don’t entertain you. You’ve got to interact with the crowd; you have to make them feel part of it.
DH: You ride a BMW F800 R, and the new G 310 R. Are they very different to a stock production bike?
MG: They’re actually not that heavily modified. I remember looking at the first stunt bikes and thinking to myself that they must be stripped out and tuned and this and that, but they’re not. A bigger back sprocket, an extra brake calliper on the rear for my hand, some stunt pegs on the front, a foot rail on the back, and I just turn up the idle with the screw. I fit straight bars and some braided lines, which you get on half the street bikes these days anyway. Then it’s just engine protection, and that’s more or less it. A lot of people think that these things go to a secret hanger in BMW and pored over by engineers, but that’s not the case.
DH: How important is your setup on the bike?
MG: Hugely. I couldn’t just get onto any bike and throw it around because my bike is embedded into my head. When that clutch releases, when that brake bites, when that throttle cracks open, it’s not like just jumping into a car.
DH: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
MG: For me, it’s the area. The size and the quality of the surface is key. If I have a good area, which doesn’t even have to be massive, just 60 metres by 40 metres, I could ride that area with my eyes closed because I know what I can do in it. And a good crowd helps.
DH: Fitness plays a bit part, but how much practice do you have to do to keep on top form?
MG: It would be daily but not necessarily on the bike every day. Things like hot yoga, eating healthy are all part of the fitness regime.
DH: Just how physically demanding is a routine for you?
MG: Put it this way, three fifteen minute shows in a day is like a good day’s physical labour. You’ll go home tired. That whole 45 minutes is a serious toll on your head, your body. I love it, but it can be a real workout.
DH: Even someone like you has to still practice?
MG: Oh yeah, sure, you have to.
DH: If you weren’t on the bike for two or three days would you find yourself getting rusty?
MG: Well, maybe a week or so, but yeah at this level you’ve got to be on the bike all the time.
DH: Are you always trying to tweak your routine?
MG: All the time! I am the most particular person you’ll meet. I’m so fussy, which is probably why I’m the driver, the mechanic, the secretary, and the rider.
DH: For anybody messing around on a BMW for example, what advice would you offer them?
MG: Have patience. Wear a helmet, wear any protective gear that you can. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to do it, it’s really enjoyable, but you have to patient. It’s not a Playstation; you don’t get three lives, you need a lot of self-discipline, time, and a lot of practice.
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