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Stunt punk-eys

Team OD  | Published: August 26, 2011, 05:31 AM IST

Chris gathered the kids around and said simply, "I do not care where your skill level is. I want you all to come out one by one, show me what you've got, tell me what you would like to work on, and we'll work on that, okay?" The day begins with a bunch of decidedly scruffy looking kids riding up to the venue on a bunch of impossibly scruffy motorcycles. Then their friends show up, on equally ratty scooters. They hang around filling disclaimers and forms until I give them the steely-eyed safety briefing. I think of myself as a formidable Clint Eastwood type, except that my lines talk about well-fastened helmet straps and so forth.

Then, still waiting for Chris Pfeiffer to show up, I let these kids out on the concrete playground. It's what, forty feet by thirty feet of slick concrete, marked by rubber left by Pfeiffer's show from last night. And suddenly these weirdly dressed, oddly-cocky kids turn into gods. The broken looking motorcycles weave impossible tales of how showroom condition became battle-scarred glory. They're doing things with their bikes with one hand, I couldn't do if I had four. What is going on?

And remember, these are kids. Chris Pfeiffer is still to arrive. He started riding at five. When his 50cc motocross bike wouldn't wheelie, he'd find a convenient crest to give him a boost and ride the wheelie as long as possible. Then came years of off-road competition, with the one-wheeled fooling around the thing to do when not seriously shredding the knobbies. Today, Pfeiffer is the world's best known motorcycle stunt rider - or as he'd rather call it, freestyle motorcycle rider. In his field, he's as big a name as Rossi in MotoGP. And then he steps calmly out of a car, grabs his tiny kit bag, black helmet bag and waves a hello to these kids, who look completely slack-jawed.

I would too, if I were fooling around at the racetrack and then Rossi turned up to show me how it's done. Welcome to the Under My Wing workshop OVERDRIVE hosted in association with Red Bull during Chris Pfeiffer's second visit to India. Plan for the day? Pfeiffer would spend the day - the morning of the Cricket World Cup final, in fact - working with the youngsters and get them to perfect tricks they were working on.

During screening, I was looking for pics and videos that showed advanced skills. Maybe I shouldn't have. Chris gathered the kids around and said simply, "I do not care where your skill level is. I want you all to come out one by one, show me what you've got, tell me what you would like to work on, and we'll work on that, okay?" And just like that, school's in.

One after the other, kids take the floor. Advanced riders like Hrishikesh Mandke are already very good. Their troubles are so ludicrous that I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Hrishi, for instance, is having lots of trouble brushing the ground with his fingers while pulling a wheelie. I can imagine, I have the same trouble when I bend over nowadays. He's also having trouble letting both his hands go when standing the bike up in a wheelie and making it make circles as well.

Chris smiles. He watches Hrishi try and says, "You've nearly got it. Try leaning forward so the handlebars are closer to your chest. That will give you the balance you need to complete the no-hander circle wheelie."

Did Hrishi instantly pull a complete, fully-formed trick? He got significantly closer. Chris says, "I show them how they can get closer to completing the trick, but it's not an instant thing. They will all have to go back and practice."

He turns back to Hrishi and asks him to try entering his hand-brushing wheelie stunt thing faster so that the lean angle on the wheelie deepens. And just brush the apex with the tips of the fingers.

Other riders are several notches down the order in skill. Chris seems perfectly happy to show them how to release the clutch right if that's the missing element. Would Rossi teach me how to put my foot on the peg? Perhaps not. I think Chris wouldn't even notice that.

The man is just incredible. He quickly examines all the bikes on the line-up and gives the kids pointers on how they could set up their bikes better, patting on the back those who've done nice jobs with their base set-ups. He's pleased to find an RTR wearing a set of stunt-pegs and quickly gives the rider a run down of alternative mounting positions for them.

In between breaks, he decides that there's two bikes that look suspicious. So he must take them for a spin. Lid on, he's out in a flash, showing the kids what they're supposed to be able to do with practice. The smoothness and the utter lack of effort as Chris pulls amazing tricks are just incredible. And so is his humility. Later in the day, he would slip on a carelessly left plastic bag mid-wheelie and fall. The crash bent Hrishi's handlebar. And the German riding god is immediately

all apologies.

When the day wraps up, people have learnt heaps. I've learnt loads about how flexible the seemingly cast-iron envelope of physics can be in the right hands. I've seen the world's best freestyle motorcycle rider up close and personal and recognised that his great skill is matched only by his great humility and ability to get along with one and all with an easy-going charm that almost belies all his achievements, the mark of a master craftsman.

Chris patiently signs a million autographs, poses with tom, dick, harry, Hrishi, Abhay, harry's sister with great patience before quickly sneaking out on a Pulsar one final time before it's actually time to say goodbye. Not many people will get to know this, but that was a glorious day long before India won the Cricket World Cup.

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