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Wednesday 29th February 2012


PH2: BEHIND THE SMOKE SCREEN

PH2 spends a day with Kevin Carmichael to discover what Triumph's official stunt rider does in his off-season


The small single-track road is covered in a wintry film of dampness, while the outside temperature is struggling to reach three degrees.

Kevin takes a break from practising his routine
Kevin takes a break from practising his routine
"Sometimes Scotland isn't the best place to live when you are a stunt rider," Kevin Carmichael admits. He isn't joking. Kevin's training ground for today is an access road to a sewerage treatment plant. Hardly the place you would expect to find one of the world's best stunt riders, but that's the reality of the job. Life as a stunt rider isn't all about glamorous locations - it's the hours of practice on days where most people would rather be tucked up in bed that allow him to defy the laws of physics with such apparent ease.

Meeting up with Kevin earlier in the day at a small cafe in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Kilmarnock, it strikes me he isn't your archetypical stunt rider. Born and bred in this area, Kevin has a soft Scottish accent and a relaxed attitude. Having watched his adrenaline-packed shows at Triumph events you may imagine the man who vertically wheelies a Rocket III would be a bit of an extrovert, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Here's looking at you and all that
Here's looking at you and all that
Not in my back yard
"I used to use the car park over the road as a practice area, but it attracted too much attention so I don't go there as much now," he says. "It's a nightmare; I don't want to draw a crowd, I just want to get on with riding the bike. Today we can go to a local access road I know, but I'm hoping to be allowed into a disused industrial complex soon. It's health and safety, people are scared that if I hurt myself I'll sue, so I need to sign a few disclaimers first."

Considering what he does as a day job this isn't an unexpected reaction, the whole point of a stunt show is to get the crowd on the edge of their seats. Just how close to the edge is he when he rides?

"I don't practise new stunts or anything extreme on my own, I always have a friend around just in case anything goes wrong, but I know there is a level I can ride to where I'm almost 100 per cent I won't fall off. A racer can circulate a track doing 48-second laps in complete safety, but easily drop to, say, 45 seconds if they decided to push it. Stunt riding is the same and I know my limits. I can vertically wheelie a bike all day long, but taking it over vertical increases the potential of an accident, so I only do that when I have to." He says with the kind of nonchalance that most of us would use to describe parallel parking.

Finding places to train can be hard
Finding places to train can be hard
I'm intrigued as to how Kevin perfects new stunts and how on earth you learn something radical and potentially extremely dangerous.

Have a go hero
"There is only one way to practise a new stunt and that's to try it," he says. "I'm working on a new trick where I sit side saddle then jump off the bike, spin in the air, then grab the back of the bike and run behind it. With this trick I knew I'd either do it or drop the bike, so I just gave it a shot. Some tricks such as left-handed wheelies you have to build up to, you don't just jump on a bike and see what happens as you can get seriously hurt, others you have to be brave."

With frost still covering the car park I can't believe that anyone would want to venture outside during winter in Scotland, but as we leave the cafe I see a black Labrador's nose pushed up against the window of Kevin's van, eagerly awaiting his return.

Four-legged judging panel looks on
Four-legged judging panel looks on
"This is Bonnie," says Kevin. "She comes everywhere with me. When it's terrible outside I know I still have to take her for a walk so we spend hours on the beach together. It's impossible to tire her out, she will chase a ball all day long. I can't really run anymore because of an old ankle injury, but she keeps me fit.

"I do over 50,000 miles a year, driving all around Europe to some amazing places, but I still reckon Scotland is the best place in the world," says Kevin. Looking at the wet roads and mist I'm less convinced.

Arriving at the practice road and with the Speed Triple unloaded I notice it has brand new tyres and, race can apart, is just as it left the factory. Doesn't it need to be prepared before Kevin starts practising on it?

Downtime still involves two wheels!
Downtime still involves two wheels!
Ready to roll
"To be honest I'm not a very good mechanic, my mates joke I couldn't put a nut in a monkey's mouth, but all the prep I need to do with the Speed Triple is remove the mirrors. When I'm not using it for shows this will be my everyday bike."

Five minutes later the Triumph is on its back wheel as Kevin cruises past at no more than 15mph for the photographs. The wet road doesn't seem to bother him and soon he is pulling long, rolling stoppies which culminate with the bike twisting through 180 degrees before landing.

"When I'm doing shows there is a high possibility it could be howling a gale or tipping down with rain. The crowd have come to see a show and I'll do my best to give them one," he says. "It's times like this that practicing in the Scottish winter proves its worth..."

 

 

Author: Jon Urry