Something they're really flipping over

X Games: Called the `Godfather' of Moto X, Mike Metzger performed a double back flip on his 230-pound motorcycle - extreme even for this crowd.

X Games

August 20, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - For years, people have been saying that beneath all the tattoos and the bravado, Mike Metzger has a heart of gold.

Now he has the smile to match.

"I busted out five of my teeth in a crash, and after that I just decided to replace them with gold," Metzger says. "Now I've got about a $5,700 grill, but it looks pretty cool."

If there is one thing Metzger has always been, it's cool. Recognized as the "Godfather" of Moto X freestyle (it's his nickname), his life on a motorcycle has been one thrill after another. But Metzger's ride this past week at the Summer X Games might just top them all.

Friday, he landed back-to-back back flips (off a ramp, over an 80-foot gap) during the freestyle competition. It was a feat so dangerous and so unheard of - most Moto X riders have trouble doing a single back flip - it was still the talk of the X Games as they came to a close yesterday at the First Union Center. Metzger helped keep himself in the limelight by doing a single back flip during the "big air" competition last night to claim his second gold medal of the games.

"The back flip is really a level above anything anyone else is doing right now," Metzger says. "I guess because of that, a lot of people are giving me a lot of hype. I've always prided myself on being an innovator, so I don't mind all the attention."

In fact, Metzger, 26, thrives in the spotlight. Confident that he could do two back flips during the freestyle competition, he waited until his last jump to do it because he wanted the added drama. The trick actually requires Metzger to shift into second gear while he's upside-down in the air (on a bike that weighs 230 pounds), but he pulled it off effortlessly, stunning both the crowd and his fellow competitors. Before doing it, Metzger had never even attempted consecutive back flips.

"I was actually thinking about trying it in practice earlier in the week, but I wanted to make sure I could pick my wife and my daughter up at the airport," Metzger says. "After they got here and I got to hang out with them, I was like, `All right, it's on.' "

Though Moto X is still somewhat new in the world of extreme sports, it's quickly becoming one of the most popular events at the X Games. The fact that each jump has the potential to result in serious injury or death only makes it that much more compelling. Metzger, who estimates he has broken at least one bone every year he has been riding, has been on a bike since he was 3 years old and revolutionizing the sport for nearly a decade.

"My dad has pictures of me jumping my Big Wheel and just eating it," says Metzger, who grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif. "But he told me I could go out and do it. I mean, what kind of dad builds jumps for his kid?"

Metzger started out racing motorcycles, but gave it up when he realized he liked jumping better. As a teen-ager, he made up many of the tricks riders do today, and as a result, he's been an idol to a lot of current competitors.

"You know that if Metz lands something, it's going to be sick," says competitor Caleb Wyatt. "And you know if he doesn't land it, it's going to be a giant wad-fest [a crash], and that'll still be sick."

Metzger's personality is also a large factor in his popularity. One of the friendliest riders competing, he's a dedicated family man who brings his 1-year-old daughter, Michaela, in front of the crowd at every opportunity. After doing back-to-back back flips in the freestyle, he and Michaela danced on the awards podium for the ESPN cameras.

"I love being a dad," he says. "It's more important to me than anything. My daughter is gnarly. She's got a little bike at home; she'll probably be doing back flips by the time she's 4 or 5."

Few things can hold his attention like riding, but art is one of them. Metzger paints his own helmets.

"I've got to be in a certain mood to do it, and, to be honest, it's usually when I'm broken up and can't ride," he says. "But it's great therapy. That's why I usually use a lot of bright colors."

Metzger is still somewhat in awe of how it has all worked out for him. He has enough sponsors (Ecko Unlimited, EA Sports, Oakley, Ecc Escondido Cycle Center among them) that paying the bills is never a problem, and he and his wife, Mandi, have another baby on the way in January.

"I'm one of the luckiest guys out there," Metzger says. "I've got a great family life and another kid on the way. I'm having fun doing what I'm doing. The X Games are like the Super Bowl of extreme sports, and I'm just thankful to have a chance to show off what I can do."

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