The wheel world
It takes Pete Brandt the better part of the day to master the tricks he performs throughout the year in bike shows and exhibitions, primarily in California.
“I spend 14 hours a day every day practicing and haven’t missed a day in three years,” the 28-year-old said proudly. “I come up with my own tricks, and then I come up with linking tricks together.”
These tricks include flipping the bars, rolling and spinning.
Brandt says he’s now a permanent fixture in the underground parking garage at Central Park in his hometown, San Mateo. He practices as much as possible in the covered area so he doesn’t have to worry about the weather.
Practicing prevents Brandt from being scared during show time.
“I just pull muscles once in a while. I don’t get scared of doing tricks,” he explained. “After so many years, you know how to fall a certain direction so you don’t get hurt and twist your ankle. Once in a while, something catches you off guard, and you just have to get back up.”
Brandt will be one of three professional stunt riders in the Wheels of Freestyle Bicycle Thrill Show today through Sunday at the Nevada County Fair.
Brandt’s a flatland rider, as opposed to a ramp rider. That means his complex tricks include spinning and balancing on one wheel.
Growing up, Brandt rode bikes in the dirt just for fun. As a teen, he discovered BMX, or bicycle motor cross (a sport that became popular in the 1970s), and was hooked.
Brandt saw stunt riding on TV commercials, said, “Oh, wow, that’s cool,” and before he knew it, was trying out tricks he created.
That was 14 years ago, and he’s still devising the ultimate tricks.
“I never thought (riding bikes) would be my life, that I would be successful making enough money,” Brandt said Monday, “but I did know this is what I wanted to do and I’ll do it as long as I can. This guy from Pennsylvania, Kevin Jones, is doing it for 20 years. He’s one of the inventors of the sport. He’s 40, he’s still going strong.”
Brandt’s favorite part of the job is mastering a trick he once deemed impossible so that his skill level progresses.
He also enjoys performing because the sport is portrayed in a positive light and many audience members ask intelligent questions afterward.
“Kids, sometimes girls – if I get lucky, some girl will like what we are doing,” said Brandt.
In its second year at the fair, the bicycle thrill show moves from the Pine Tree Stage area to the Oak Grove area because nearby vendors were blocked last year due to large crowds.
Wheels of Freestyle – Bicycle Thrill Show hours are 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m. daily.
Wes Holden, who works in the Wheels of Freestyle Inc. office in San Diego, said performers spend about seven years training before they appear in shows. They are generally between the ages of 18 and 30.
“In shows, they don’t usually get hurt. They wear helmets, all the padding, gloves, etc. They have scrapes when they’re learning the stunts and practicing over and over,” Holden said. “Most of them have scrapes. If you look closely, they have scabs on forearms and knees. They might sprain their wrist or land on their hip funny.”
Wheels of Freestyle riders perform in more than 450 action-packed shows each year across the country. School assembly shows focus on an anti-drug, -smoking and -alcohol message with bike safety and motivational skills thrown in.
Expect the 30-minute fair shows to include high-energy music, narration about the stunts and participation by selected audience members.
The choreographed show starts out with slower routines and a history of the sport, then advances to harder stunts, building to high-flying daredevil stunts in the finale.
“We’re just normal people. We hope people can get out of the show that they can do anything they want,” Brandt said, “not just riding bikes, but music, art, skateboarding. Riding is 50 percent sport, 50 percent art.”
KNOW & GO
WHAT: Nevada County Fair
WHEN: Through Sunday, 10 a.m. to midnight
WHERE: Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley
ADMISSION: $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children ages 5 and under. Parking at Gate 4 is $3.
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