New tricks meet old-school as BMX stunt riders hit downtown Modesto streets today during the Family Cycling Festival and Criterium, which also includes bike-powered carnival rides, bike races, bounce houses, a rock-climbing wall and other attractions.
Three riders from the BMX Pros Trick Team will be doing gravity-defying shows at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. The term "trick team" is a throwback to stunt riding's early days in the 1970s and '80s, said Woody Itson, president of Riverside-based Satellite Sports Group, which has brought stunt teams to the festival for several years. The riders will be wearing retro uniforms and riding to an '80s music soundtrack, Itson said.
"These guys are manipulating bikes in ways once thought to be impossible," he said. "They can climb off a bike and spin it 360 degrees in midair and get back on before landing. They do back flips ... ." They jump over several people lying side by side on the ground — or over the head of someone who's standing.
One of the riders, who's performed in Modesto before, is Rob Nolli, an X Games bronze medalist and ESPN CFB Series champion. "Rob has been riding for me for about 15 years now," said Itson, who's 45 and a former pro stunt rider himself. When the two would perform together, "I would stand there with a Coke can on my head and Rob would knock it off — not sometimes, but every time. These guys are extremely in control, doing tricks that are very complex and making them look very easy."
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That's what comes of a stunt rider's lifestyle; when he's not competing or doing a show, he's practicing or just riding for pleasure, said Itson, who has teams all over the country.
There's always something new to show a crowd, he said. "I learned 10 years ago not to say there was nothing more that could be done. Really, gravity is the only limit." The development of places like Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania, where riders learn new tricks while landing safely in pits filled with foam-rubber blocks, have accelerated the sport by decades, Itson said.
Nolli is fond of playing the "rookie game," Itson said. He's always performing with younger guys who might look at him like he's the old dog, but then he'll do a trick that makes them think, "How do I follow that?" and sends them away with their tails between their legs.
As much as the stunt riders like to entertain, their main reason for appearing at shows like the cycling festival is to promote bike safety, said Itson, who commended festival organizers and sponsors for handing out bike helmets. The riders want to make clear to young fans that the reason they're able to do what they do is because they've worn the proper gear over the years, guarding themselves against injury or death.
Helmets will be available throughout the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nurses will be on hand to ensure proper fit and strap adjustment, said Megan Distaso, Rideshare coordinator for the city.
Also being given away are four children's bicycles; festivalgoers can fill out tickets for drawings that will be held after the BMX stunt shows.
New to the festival this year are amusement rides from the San Francisco-based bike-rodeo group, Cyclecide. On their Web site, the Cyclecide folks say: "We decided to build the country's one and only pedal-powered carnival midway. We began with the exciting Dizzy Toy, and then progressed to the thrilling Pedal-Powered Ferris Wheel, and then kept growing, adding the sweetly nostalgic Bicycle Carousel, the amazing Cyclofuge, the charming Flight of the Bumblebee, the cacophonous Axe Grinder, and more." For today's festival, Cyclecide is bringing the Cyclofuge, carousel and Ferris wheel.
Like almost everything else at the cycling festival — bounce houses, rock-climbing wall, face painting — the rides are free, Distaso said. About the only cost to do anything is a $3 registration fee for children who bring their bikes and want to enter a race. There will be adult races, too, but most people have registered for those already. As of Thursday, there were about 200 racers signed up.
In recent years, the Family Cycling Festival has drawn a couple thousand people, said Distaso. She expects at least that many this year, despite several other popular area events — the Oakdale Chocolate Festival, Modesto Airport Appreciation Day and the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee — also happening today. "There's a lot going on — this is just the craziest time of year," she said. "But our festival and the airport day aren't the kind of things you have to stay at all day," so she's hoping that people who are out and about will make a day of the various events. "We do give away free things," she said, "which always helps."