Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Nick Brocha in action
His mother and a vast array of video evidence might suggest otherwise, but Nick Brocha says he is not a daredevil.
True, he makes his living riding motorcycles in ways that scream for a “don’t try this at home” warning, including while standing on his head. Or balancing one-footed on the fuel tank while steering with the other. Or sliding sideways at high speed. Or riding a wheelie while seated on the tank with his legs dangling over the forks.
There’s danger involved, and Brocha has the broken bones to prove it.
But he says there’s a difference between what he does, which is known as freestyle riding, and the type of stunt riding that Evel Knievel pioneered. Brocha says freestyling is about combining skill, artistry and athleticism to create a demonstration of control and mastery, as opposed to mainly being a feat of courage and a test of fate.
“This is less of a daredevil thing and more of a sport,” he says.
Brocha, of Henderson, is one of the most accomplished competitors in the niche sport of freestyle riding. The 34-year-old performs at bike shows and competitions worldwide for appearance fees and prize money, and he’s obtained sponsorships with Triumph motorcycles, Monster energy drinks and a major motorcycle apparel and equipment company, Icon.
YouTube videos of his work have drawn millions of views. Type in “Motorcycle vs. Car Drift Battle 2” into YouTube’s search window, and you’ll see a recent video production that has drawn more than 13 million views alone. The nine-minute vignette features a choreographed, stylized chase involving Brocha, his riding partner and a 500-horsepower Ford Mustang police car.
It’s high-adrenaline stuff — lots of tire smoke, white-knuckle stunt work, speed and danger. But it’s infused with comedy and fun, too, the work of people who know how to have a good time.
That’s Brocha. He grew up in suburban Seattle, a wild child who terrified his mom by careening down steep hills on his skateboard and climbing tall objects. As a sixth-grader, he survived a close call when he was hit by a car after flashing into the street on his skateboard. The driver hit the brakes just in time, but the result was still a cracked kneecap and an ambulance call.
“I could hear the sirens as one of my neighbors was telling me what had just happened,” said his mom, Cynthia Brocha. “I said out loud to myself, ‘This kid is going to kill me.’ I could never protect him, no matter how I tried.”
And boy, did she try. She and her husband, Dan Brocha, a software developer, refused to let Nick have a motorcycle when he was growing up, largely because she had experienced the aftermath of several horrific bike accidents while working as a nurse’s aide during college. One left a Hell’s Angel a quadriplegic, she said, and another involved a rider going through a car windshield and suffering deep cuts to his neck.
“The idea of Nicholas owning a motorcycle scared me to death,” she said. “I knew he wouldn’t be a conservative rider. Pretty ironic, isn’t it?”
But despite his mother’s intentions and efforts, Nick learned to ride as a teenager by sneaking time on his friends’ bikes. He bought his first motorcycle during his senior year in high school, with money he’d saved by working on his uncle’s commercial fishing boat in Alaska. The purchase caused a rift that led to Nick leaving home for a short time, but he wouldn’t relent.
His obsession with speed and risks led him to start racing cars, but he found the hobby too expensive. Looking for a cheaper alternative, he discovered he could buy a stunting bike for about $2,000. He picked up the basics of freestyling quickly, he said, having learned from snowboarding and skateboarding how to overcome the fear of wiping out.
“It’s always intimidating,” he says. “But there’s a difference between fear and intimidation. You should be intimidated because if you’re not, you can get careless and get hurt.”
Brocha’s balance of boldness and caution has helped him become fluid in all four elements of freestyle riding. They are:
• Burnouts, meaning he can control the bike while spinning its rear tire.
• Wheelies, or controlling the bike while standing it on its rear wheel.
• “Stoppies,” or controlling the bike while standing it on its front wheel by pulling the front brake.
• Acrobatics, meaning such tricks as doing a headstand on the bike while it’s moving.
His skills have landed him stunt work on TV shows, a national freestyle riding championship and top finishes in other competitions. Some know him by his nickname, "Apex," a term referring to the midpoint of a rider's path through the curve of a track.
But he’s also had his share of injuries, including a recent leg fracture.
“If the injuries didn’t happen through bikes, they’d happen through something else,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed the controlled chaos of things.”
Brocha says the payoff for the risks is a nice living but not huge riches. Freestyle riding still is on the fringe of both motorsports and extreme sports, far from the prize money and sponsorship dollars being pulled in by big-name auto racers and X Games athletes. A big purse in a freestyle motorcycle competition is $5,500.
As a result, Brocha maintains a heavy travel schedule that puts him on the road more than half the year. He and his partner, Ernie Vigil, do the driving themselves, putting their bikes and equipment in the back of a van. On a recent weekend, Brocha had to drive nonstop from Birmingham, Ala., to Las Vegas to maintain his schedule.
His demands include riding for productions like the chase on YouTube. Brocha has worked extensively in video production; in fact, opportunities in that business were what prompted him to move to Nevada about eight years ago.
Today, he has no plan to do anything else for a living than riding, representing his sponsors and being involved in video projects. He says his one stint as an office worker lasted just four weeks, during which he felt hemmed in and mismanaged.
So even with the travel, he says he’s perfectly happy. The money’s fine, he’s doing something he enjoys and he’s still improving in his riding skills and professional acumen. Even his parents have come to appreciate what he’s doing.
“I’ll never be comfortable with what he does for a living. But we are proud of his accomplishments and think he is very, very good at what he does," Cynthia Brocha says. "It’s fun to see and hear people’s reactions when they watch him doing his thing. Both Dan and I enjoy sharing his crazy videos.”
Now, Brocha's only goal is maintain “consistent, trackable growth,” whether that’s mastering new tricks, producing more elaborate video projects or helping sponsors sell more products.
“I don’t ever want to have a conventional job,” he says. “I tried that already. I like to have fun, and this is how I’m doing it. A lot of guys ride bikes because they want to be badasses, and some do it because they want to show off. I just do it because I love it. I'd just do this in a parking lot with my friends if I didn't do it for a living.”