Fans of the mega-hit TV show The Mentalist
, which in its third season as one of CBS’s top-rated shows, know exactly who Tim Kang is. The straight-edged and hard-hitting Special Agent Kimball Cho, Kang plays a very soft spoken yet affirmative role on the hit drama. But his character on TV and the man in real life are quite a bit different.
Off the screen, Tim Kang is an avid action thrill seeker and regularly takes his Ducati Desmosedici to the racetrack.
Kang doesn’t come across as an avid motorcycle and car enthusiast, who enjoys twisting the throttle at break-neck speeds on the racetrack. But that’s exactly what he does in his free time, when he’s not skydiving or scuba diving. This from a Harvard-educated fine arts major. But appearances can be deceiving, and after surviving a day at the track and a traffic-dodging L.A photoshoot with the likable actor, I can attest that the San Francisco native is far from the ‘play it safe’ type.
Kang got his first taste of two wheels in high school, hanging out with a group of buddies that dabbled in motocross racing. “I had some friends in high school that raced dirt bikes,” Kang says. “I was over at a buddy’s house on one occasion and we jumped on one of his bikes and he taught me to ride. I was very much into BMX at the time and to ride something that was very similar in the handling to a BMX bike but had a motor on it was a pretty incredible feeling!”
But it wasn’t until much later that Kang actually purchased his own motorcycle, as skydiving and scuba were his first ‘extreme’ passions. Adds Kang: “The first bike I ever owned was not until much later in my life. I was very much involved in jumping out of planes and scuba diving, and so most of my fun money went to funding those interests. As I wanted to ease back into motorcycling I bought a Kawasaki Ninja 250R. Had I known that bike would last all of a month, I probably would have gotten something with a little bit more get-up-and-go!”
This quickly led to an array of sportbikes, with Kang owing everything from a Honda CBR600RR to a Ducati Desmosedici in the time since. While he has bought and sold several bikes over the years, these days his stable consists of an array of Ducatis, as Kang has a passion for the Italian brand. He now currently owns an 848, 1198S, GT1000, Streetfighter S and, of course, the ultra-exclusive Desmosedici.
Kang's regular stomping grounds are on the infamous Willow Springs road racing circuit.
After years spent on the street, Kang was bit by the racetrack bug and hasn’t looked back since. His first introduction was a class at Willow Springs, which he called “amazing.”
“The first time I was on track aboard a bike I'm pretty sure everybody and their grandmother lapped me!” laughs Kang. “The first time I was on a track in general was at Barber in a car. I was driving at the time and the freedom to open up the car and do things with it that I could never do on the street was incredible. Since then, I have become something of a track junkie! Bikes and cars.”
What is it about the track that appeals to the TV star? “First, it's the knowledge that I don't need to worry about cops, other cars, pedestrians...everybody is going the same direction, basically the safety aspect of riding at the track,” he says. “Second, the challenge of getting around a technical track in the shortest time possible. Going really fast in a straight line is fun for a few seconds, negotiating a track is fun for the entire time you are on it!”
Riding a motorcycle undoubtedly comes with what we call “moments," or in other words scares. While most would think Kang’s have come while pushing the limits on the track, it’s actually the city streets of L.A. that have caused him the most drama.
“I've definitely had scares but nothing compares to riding in L.A. traffic and really experiencing that A) nobody sees you and B) the reason why they don't see you is that most people are oblivious," Kang explains. "They're just not aware. Specifically, one of the scariest things about riding in L.A. traffic is that, occasionally, there are some drivers who will actually swerve into your space as you are splitting lanes. I just don't understand why anybody would do that?”
Oh how we know and feel your pain Mr. Kang.
When asked if piloting a motorcycle around the racetrack at triple-digit speeds related to his work as an actor at all, Kang quickly jumped in. “Definitely. There is a certain amount of precision needed to successfully ride a motorcycle whether it's on a track, on the street, dirt...not that you need to be tense and hyper aware, but definitely operating at a level that is above the norm,” Kang attests. “It is very similar with acting in that sense. You need to be precise and aware but relaxed at the same time. To some, those two things may seem mutually exclusive, but they're not.”
Mr. Kang is hoping and waiting for a chance to bring his love for sportbikes into his role on The Mentalist.
While Kang hasn’t yet had the opportunity to get on two wheels on the big screen, that’s not to say he wouldn't jump at the chance. As long as it wasn’t too crazy, there would be no stunt double needed for this actor. “I've never had the opportunity to do anything like that but if the chance arose and my character wasn't jumping a bike from building to building, I would definitely want to do it myself!”
So will we be seeing Agent Cho swinging a leg over a bike on The Mentalist
anytime soon? If Kang has his way we just might. “Possibly coming up on The Mentalist
, we may see Cho on a motorcycle,” he adds. “I'm constantly pitching the idea to our writers. Maybe one day they'll make it happen. Fingers crossed!”
As for what’s coming up in the future for Kang, a wide variety of motorcycle and car trackdays as well as spectating at races are on the top of his agenda, when not adhering to the hectic filming schedule of a 20-plus episode season.
“At this point, I have my hands full with the show, but I'm planning on a bunch of trackdays this coming hiatus,” Kang continues. “I'm excited because it has been a little while. I'm also a fan of motorsports and plan on attending MotoGP and World Superbike races coming up, as well as some ALMS (America Le Mans Series) races. It's going to be an exciting next few months as a rider as well as spectator and I'm very much looking forward to it!”
You can’t judge a book by its cover, especially when that cover is a role played on TV. While straight-edged and soft-spoken in his role of Agent Cho, in the flesh Tim Kang is a genuine adrenaline-junkie.