We got a chance to catch up with Mike Metzger at his Paradise Ranch home, and were able to snap a rare picture of the Freestyle legend with both feet firmly on the ground.
In the early ’90s there was a group of hard-core motorcycle riders in southern California who began pushing their equipment to the limits. The game of simple one-upsmanship stemmed from who could jump the highest, the furthest, and do the most innovative tricks. Little did they know, this relatively unknown crew of motocross racers would be the pioneering generation that created a sport known as freestyle motocross.
The ringleader of this motley crew was Mike Metzger, affectionately known as the Godfather of Freestyle. In the span of 10 years, this struggling racer/tattoo artist has transformed his epic free-riding sessions in front of select friends into the headliner at events like the X-Games and Gravity Games. Metzger is to freestyle what Tony Hawk is to skateboarding. Alongside legends such as Travis Pastrana, Metz has reinvented the way people look at motorcycle riders. Although there is still an Evel Knievel-like mystique and sense of danger, guys like Metzger and Pastrana have transformed the go-for-broke sport into something more technical, and have even introduced the word finesse. Consider this: a simple backflip on a 235-lb dirt bike will no longer guarantee you a spot in the final. Now you have to add variations and be smooth on your takeoff and landing.
Last winter we caught up with Metz at his home in Menifee, California. If that place sounds familiar, it’s because its only five minutes away from Jeremy McGrath’s castle during his run as the King of Supercross. He calls the place Paradise Ranch, and for good reason. His entire five acres is devoted strictly for fun. Wanna hit an 80-foot ramp? Well, you can do that in his backyard. Want to pound laps on a supercross track? Well, he and Tyler Evans did that on his property earlier this year. How about ride 50s with the kids? Yes, Metzger even has a small oval next to his garage.
Unlike the Metzger of the ’90s, the new edition is a family man who seems content with life. He and his wife Mandi have two kids, Michaela and Myrie Fritz. The rewards of freestyle have been good, and that has allowed him to avoid the nine-to-five grind.
“I am pretty fortunate that my sponsors just hook me up, whether it’s a salary deal or a bonus program,” said Metzger. “Zoo York is the biggest one, followed by Oakley, DVS Shoes, Renthal, VP Racing Fuel, Michelin, Bell Helmets, Alpinestars, and everyone lets me do my own thing. I probably have about 32 sponsors. Giant RV helped me get into a motorhome last year, but Mandi and I realized that it was too hard traveling around with the babies. I’m the type of guy who drives eight to 12 hours to get place to place, and it’s not fair for the little kids that they have to stay in a car seat for that long.
“As far as my normal day, well, that’s easy. I usually get up somewhere between seven and eight, go grab some coffee and breakfast, then go to the shop to take care whatever needs to be done,” said Metzger. The shop he’s referring to is Metzger Motorsports, situated 12 miles from his doorstep. It’s an 8800 square-foot industrial building that houses his race shop, gallery and retail store.
“My sister Shelly manages the retail shop and helps me take care of e-mails and different types of business things that we have going,” said Metzger. “She also helps plan my schedule, and my other sister Megan helps watch things too.”
“I pretty much hang out with my family and myself. As far as traveling and doing the supermoto scene, I don’t have a mechanic right now, which is a bummer, but I like to hang out with Steve Drew and Gary Trachy, who is a good local supermoto guy. But to be honest with you, trying to run my shop and keep everything tight with supermoto racing, it’s kind of hard to find the time to hang out with anyone. I’ve always got a lot of running around trying to get my bikes dialed. There isn’t a lot of time to bro down with friends anymore – it’s business.
“Every once in a while I will cruise around and do some riding with Nate Adams, Jimmy McGuire, Chuck Carothers, Justin Nowik, Tyler King, Jullian Duso – that’s like the freestyle crew I like to hang out with, and do jump shows and demos.”
Although freestyle will always be a part of Metzger’s life, this year he’s focusing on the AMA Supermoto series. Metzger loves it so much that he was the one who went to ESPN and pushed them on the idea of adding supermoto to the extreme sports contest, and it worked. Surprisingly, current supercross champion Chad Reed made his supermoto debut at X, and so did Kevin Windham.
Latley Metzger has focused more on supermoto. “I still love freestyle, but I don’t like sports that are judged. I prefer things with a finish line.”
“The value that the X-Games holds for television coverage is huge,” said Metzger. “The factories like Honda and Yamaha brought in those guys because they know they can’t miss out on that TV coverage, let alone it is the X-Games, and the X-Games is like the Olympics of extreme sports. I think everyone in the industry is pretty pumped to have a motocross race at the X-Games. You can’t pass up something that great.
“I still love freestyle, but I don’t like sports that are judged,” said Metzger. “I prefer things with a finish line. And freestyle is just getting more and more technical. Guys who want to compete for gold medals have to have a foam pit, and you have to do more than just a backflip. It’s pretty ridiculously dangerous, so, I’m going to leave it up to the young kids who think they can just bounce off the ground.”
“I think with Nate Adams doing 75-foot 360s is pushing things a lot. We saw Travis Pastrana during the X-Games prelims this year go for a 360 over 50 feet and he ended up tucking the front and giving himself a pretty severe concussion and knocking himself out. It has come to a point where it is just super dangerous, and to pull off a 360 you are talking about some serious risk, whether it is broken bones, knocking yourself silly, or possibly death (laughs). It’s really not that cool for me, and it’s really not where my goals are set. I accomplished what I wanted in 2002. That was win a gold medal at the X-Games, and now I’ve won three total.”
As we drove between the I-15 and I-215 freeways to Metzger Motorsports, he couldn’t help talk about one of his favorite jump shows of all times.
“I was in shock when Disneyland said we could ride at California Adventures,” said Metz. “I thought it was pretty cool, and it was something that I wasn’t going to turn down because it was Disneyland and that’s a place I’ve been going my whole life. I kind of lived there when I was a young kid because I grew up in Huntington Beach with my grandparents and they used to take me there all the time. It was cool. I rode there for 43 days prior to the X-Games and three days from the end I ended up hurting myself pretty bad. I got a concussion, broke my wrist.”
Metzger enjoys the benefits that Freestyle has brought him, with his wife Mandi and their two children.
So what does the future have in store?
“Just about any weekend I have about two to four events that I have to pick from,” said Metzger. “Whether it’s going to Europe for a freestyle event, a supermoto race somewhere in the U.S., or a demo. It’s a hard thing to turn down, especially when there is good money, but that’s the business I’m in. I definitely have more than one thing on my table right now. I guess that’s the way I like it!
“But for me, everything I do centers around my family,” said Metz. “My weekend starts by leaving for the race at the last minute so I can spend as much time with Mandi and the kids as possible. So I race to get to the actual race, then I race the event, and then I race home to be with the family. I’ll tell you what, it’s all worth it, because they are the coolest people in my world!”
Unfortunately there was more in store for Mike Metzger in 2004. On December 4th, 2004 Metzger suffered a horrifying crash during a freestyle show that left him hospitalized with a now infamous injury. Here it is in Metzger’s own words.
“Here you go. My story goes something like this. December 4th, 2004, Saturday night, I arrived to the stadium from my hotel which was a building away. I slept in Saturday morning and missed practice. I have missed practice at events before so I wasn’t worried. I was pretty confident that I knew the ramps and could go out and put on a good show. Besides the night before I rode my butt off doing about a dozen flips with variations. I thought I was ready to get the crowd pumped again.
The demands of Freestyle include incredible risk to the body. On December 4th, 2004 Metzger suffered a nasty crash that left him hospitalized.
“Well, shortly after opening ceremonies I found myself on the stadium floor in a hands and knees position wondering if I had just ripped off my penis from doing a 70-foot back flip nac-nac, to over rotating body, to bike crush, in front of 20,000 plus. I ended up impaling my left foot peg into my left testicle, exploding the area and ripping my lower abdominal muscles off my pelvis. During surgery they removed the testicle and drilled holes in the pelvis bone to wire the muscles back together. Seven days in the hospital I returned home to heal.
“As far as my health goes I am feeling pretty good. I have been racing local supermoto events, a couple hare and hound scrambles, a WORCS race, and I just started jumping ramps again. I have also been getting used to what race quads do. I am doing the ESPN Great Outdoor games in July. I have been real shy with getting hurt again. I do realize the danger of riding and know it is inevitable to end up in the hospital. I have not flipped since my crash.
“My plans for this year are to do X-Games Supermoto and Step-Up. As I get more comfortable riding freestyle I will do some shows. I would like to do good at the Great Outdoor Games too. The current state of freestyle basically is at a level where the top contenders have to have a foam pit to do life-risking acrobatics for gold medals. Sounds like a great time.”
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