The Art of Freestyle Motocross

What is Freestyle Motocross?

Freestyle Motocross (also known as FMX) is a variation on the sport of motocross in which motorcycle riders attempt to impress judges with jumps and stunts. Freestyle motocross has emerged as one of the fastest growing high-adrenaline sports of the new millennium while also being one of the most watched sports at the various extreme sports competitions.

Unlike traditional motocross, freestyle motocross places less emphasis on high speeds but on the abilities of daredevil riders who perform thrilling and death-defying stunts high in the air. The mesmerizing jumps are usually performed over a stretch of up to 150 feet with the combination of suspense, danger and the unknown providing an excellent form of entertainment for various shows and events.

Jeff "OX" Kargola backflip
Jeff "OX" Kargola backflip
Travis Pastrana superman indian flip
Travis Pastrana superman indian flip

Main Types of Freestyle Events

Big Air (also known as Best Trick), in which each rider gets three jumps - usually covering more than 60 feet - from a dirt-covered ramp. A panel of 10 judges evaluates the style, trick difficulty, and use of the course, and produces a score on a 100-point scale. Each rider's highest single-jump score is compared; top score wins.

Freestyle Motocross, the older of the two disciplines. Riders perform two routines, lasting between 90 seconds and 14 minutes, on a course consisting of multiple jumps of varying lengths and angles that generally occupy one to two acres (.4 to .8 hectres). Like Big Air, a panel of judges assigns each contestant a score based on a 100-point scale, looking for difficult tricks and variations over jumps.

Tommy Clowers step up
Tommy Clowers step up

Other Freestyle Events

San Francisco, California - Tommy Clowers wins the first ever Moto-X Step Up event at X Games VI, at a record-breaking height of 35 feet.

Motocross step-up is motocross' version of athletics high jump but on wheels.

History of the MotoX Backflip

The History of the backflip

The Backflip was once considered the "holy grail of FMX". It was a trick that most riders considered impossible and was considered more appropriate in video games than in real life. Speculation of the possibility began with the Motocross film "Children of a Metal God" featuring riders attempting the trick into water off a modified ramp. Also it had been done many times on BMX bikes, and FMX riders were using tricks from BMX riders, such as when Travis Pastrana performed an Indian Air, originally from TJ Lavin, a BMXer.

In 2000, Carey Hart attempted and landed the first ever backflip on a full size motocross bike off a modified dirt landing ramp at the Gravity Games 2000. The landing was less than perfect with Carey crashing immediately after. Speculation in the motocross community following, with many people claiming he completed the trick and others claiming he merely attempted it. Regardless of the outcome, Freestyle Motocross was forever changed. Many people started to attempt it themselves, such as Travis Pastrana, who attempted the backflip of a Step Up jump at Summer X Games Freestyle. He bailed off mid flight, breaking his foot.

In 2001, Caleb Wyatt successfully landed a backflip onto a mulch pile at Rogue Valley Motocross track. While becoming the first man ever to ride away unharmed, the trick was still not attempted on a normal FMX setup, off a ramp to dirt setup. Carey Hart attempted the backflip again at Summer X Games in 2001, during the Moto X Best Trick competition, but bailed off the bike 45 feet in the air.

2002 saw the backflip taken to X Games glory. Travis Pastrana and Mike Metzger were both capable doing flips off ramps. Kenny Bartram was still learning flips, doing them off the backsides of dirt landings, much like Hart in the 2000 Gravity Games. The unthinkable had become reality; a backflip was now common place in freestlye competition. Mike Metzger had achieved a back-to-back backflip, which won him Freestyle Gold, at Summer X Games 8.

Many riders had done the amazing feat of a backflip, with this came many variations in 2003. Regular tricks were being used in backflips such as 'No Footers', 'HeelClickers', and 'One Handed' Backflips. It was then when the backflip wasn't a one trick wonder, it had become a trick that could be used over longer distances, but was more dangerous than any other stunt before it.

2003 - 2005, These years saw the development of the trick, with many variations including cliffhangers, cordovas etc. As well as the disputed 360's which some consider only off-axis flips. The backflip was perfected over large distances including over 100 feet.

2006 Early 2006 saw footage emerge of Travis Pastrana completing a double backflip on an uphill/sand setup on his popular Nitro Circus Freestyle Motocross Movies. On August 4, 2006, at X Games 12 in Los Angeles, he became the first rider to land a double backflip in competition. This trick, which many considered impossible, had now been completed on a dirt set-up almost perfectly. He also vowed to never do it again.

2007 Early 2007 saw the emergence of footage of rider Scott Murray performing a number of double backflips successfully, to a foam pit/ramp setup, where a large piece of foam was place over the end of a foam pit, on which he landed many double backflips. Later that year Murray attempted the double backflip at X Games but was unsuccessful and crashing upon landing.

After the crash at X Games, Scott Murray, tried again, successfully landing the trick at a Supercross event in Italy. Now he performs them regularly at the 2008 Crusty Demons tours, though he had a crash at Canberra, Australia, during a show.

Travis Pastrana - Double BackFlip at X Games 12 in Los Angeles, CA
Travis Pastrana - Double BackFlip at X Games 12 in Los Angeles, CA

Freestyle Tricks

Rotation Tricks

  • Backflip – A trick first performed by Carey Hart, once the Holy Grail of Motocross, now is a very common trick having many variants. It involves the rider rotating the bike backwards until they have done one full rotation. Variants of this trick include any of the regular tricks, whilst doing a backflip. When naming the trick, the regular trick, for example a Can-Can, is said followed by ‘Backflip.’ E.g. ‘Can-Can Backflip’.
  • Double Backflip – Once thought to be impossible, it was performed first by Travis Pastrana, once at Spokane, Washington when filming for Travis and the Nitro Circus 3 and again at Summer X Games 12, Moto X Best Trick. It involves a rider doing two backflips during a jump. This tricks requires the rider to go twice as high and twice as far to achieve these rotations. Other notable people who have attempted this trick include Scott Murray, who crashed attempting it at Summer X Games 13 Moto X Best Trick, but later achieved it at an Italy supercross Event. He also performed the stunt at various Crusty Demons tours.
  • 360 (Mulisha Twist) – Perhaps the hardest trick to identify, because of its name. It is when the rider spins the bike 360 degrees. It was first performed by Brian Deegan, leader of the Metal Mulisha, hence its other name. Some believe Deegan had performed an Off-Axis Backflip or 360 Backflip because of its noticeable vertical rotation. Many riders have attempted this trick, only a couple riders have done a variant of this trick which include Nate Adams (Nac-Nac), Travis Pastrana (One Handed) and Blake ‘Bilko’ Williams (HeelClicker).
  • Underflip – When the rider does a backflip, but moves the bike perpendicular to the ramp when upside down. Created by Norwegian rider André Villa, it is one of the newer Flip Tricks. Notable riders that have performed this trick include Mat Rebeaud, who did a ‘Nac-Nac Underflip’ at Summer X Games 12 Moto X Best Trick
  • WhipFlip – When the rider does a ‘Whip’ during a backflip, not to be confused with an ‘Underflip’, as a ‘underflip’ is moving the bike perpendicular to the ramp as soon as the rider leaves the ramp, whereas a Whip can be performed at any time during a Whipflip.
  • Barrel - Similar to the airplane stunt 'Barrel' (no evidence of being performed by anyone, attempted by Mad 'Mike' Jones at X Games Moto X Best Trick, 2003), consists of the rider moving the bike 360 degrees horizontally, not to be confused with an ‘Underflip’.
  • Frontflip - Only attempted into water or foam pit. Consists of the rider pushing forward on the bike, rotating it verticalled frontwards then landing it.
  • Transfer - (not a rotation trick) By displacing body weight over the bike and using gyro movement of the wheels the rider makes the bike fly on a curve trajectory, thereby transferring the bike to another landing spot. Often used when freeriding to curve to a landing.

Body Variels

  • Carolla – A trick first performed by Chuck Carothers, where the rider does a superman, then spins their body around 360 degrees parallel to the bike. This trick has only been done once at Summer X Games 10 Moto X Best Trick.
  • Volt – Another body variel, invented by Kyle Loza but attempted by Travis Pastrana, is when the rider moves above the seat and spins their body 360 degrees.
  • Body Flip Variel (Gregg's Flip Variel) - The rider backflips only his body and then grabs the bike by the seat.
  • Electric Death - Another variel by Kyle Loza, it requires the rider performing a vertical 'Deadbody', then moving back to the bike as if they were returning to the bike from doing a 'K.O.D'. Similar to Gregg's Flip Variel.

Regular Tricks

  • Can-Can – When a rider lifts their foot over the seat to the other side and moves it back again
  • CliffHanger – When a rider hooks their feet under the handlebars and then reaches up vertically. Other names include the ‘Jackhammer’ or ‘Christ Air’, where the rider does different movements of their hands
  • Dead Body – The rider sticks their feet through the handle bars, then flattens out their back as if they were dead on the ground, a variant is when the rider spreads their legs apart, called at 'Dead Body Shaolin'
  • Coffin – Similar to the ‘Lazy Boy’, except the rider doesn’t extend their hands out, but still leans back, making their legs horizontal under the handlebars, as if they were in a coffin
  • Double Grab – When the rider uses both hands to grab the grab holes or seat and extend their body upwards
  • Fender Grab – When the rider grabs the front or back fender with their hands
  • Hart Attack – Named after its creator, Carey Hart, the rider puts one hand on the handle bars and the other on the grab hole and extends their body upwards
  • Helicopter - Hart Attack with Indian Air.
  • HeelClicker – The rider moves their legs above the handle bars and clicks the heels, whilst holding on to the bars. This trick is perhaps the basic trick of FMX
  • Lazy-Boy – When the rider move their body flat on the bike, moving legs horizontal under the handle bars, and arms back, as if they where in a Lazy-Boy chair. It was invented by Travis Pastrana. A variant of this trick it when the rider put his hands on their helmet, commonly done by Travis Pastrana.
  • McMetz - involves the rider lifting himself off the bike and taking his arms, placing them underneath the handlebars and then pulling them out by taking his hands of the bars. He then sits back down on the bike before landings. Variations include the 'Double McMetz' were the trick is performed twice in one jump.
  • Rock Solid – When the rider moves out from the seat, doing a double grab, then letting go of the bike, moving hands away, usually out to the sides of the bike, resembling a cross. Other names include 'Holy Man' as the rider resembles Jesus Christ on the cross.
  • One Handed SeatGrab - Where the rider puts one hand on the handle bars and the other on the seat, extending legs horizontally, not to be confused with a 'Hart Attack
  • Ladder - The rider changes hands whilst performing One Hand Grab.
  • Oxecutioner - One Hand Grab with the other hand grabbing rider's boot. When the right hand grabs the left boot or the left hand grabs the right boot the trick is called Cross-Oxecutioner.
  • Scorpion - Hart Attack with both arms stretched and curved over legs, resembling a scorpion.
  • Kiss of Death (KOD) – When the rider moves their head towards the front fender, as if to kiss it, whilst bringing their legs upwards from the bike. Invented by ‘Mad’ Mike Jones
  • Tsunami – When the rider moves the bike and their body vertical, then curves their legs over, resembling a tsunami
  • Ruler – When the rider moves the bike and their body vertical
  • SideWinder – Involves the rider dismounting their bike and moving to one side, then running in the air, whilst not holding the handle bars. Also known as a CatWalk, named after Tommy ‘TomCat’ Clowers. A variant of this trick called the ‘Wilma’, when a rider holds the handle bars with one hand and performs the trick, invented by Travis Pastrana
  • 9 o’clock Nac – When the rider moves their body to the o’clock position extending out wards from the bike. Rider can go up to the 12 o’clock position on occasions.
  • 9 o’clock Indian Air – The rider does a ‘9 o’clock Nac’ then does an ‘Indian Air’ scissor kicking their legs
  • Ninja Nac - No handed 9 o'clock Nac (no confirmation of anyone performing this trick)
  • Flatliner - Similar to the 9 o'clock Nac but the rider and the bike are stretched in one plane supposedly parallel to the ground.
  • Side Grab - Rider is stretched in a line and positioned perpendicular to the bike holding the bike by the seat with both his hands.
  • No Footer Can-Can (NFCC) - When the rider lifts above the bike, and moves both feet to one side of the bike over the seat, body is bent, heels looking down or backward.
  • Double Can-Can – When the rider lifts above the bike, and moves both feet to one side of the bike over the seat, and stretches in a line with his heels looking up (something in between 9 o'clock Nac and Side Grab).
  • Pendulum - No Footer Can-Can to one side, then to the other.
  • Disco Can – When the rider lets go of one the handlebars and points his index finger in the sky, whilst performing a ‘No Footer Can-Can’
  • Suicide Can – When the rider lets go of the handlebars whilst performing a ‘No Footer Can-Can’
  • SwitchBlade - Almost Bar Hop, but both legs are positioned on the left or on the right, but not over the bar.
  • Candy Bar – When a rider moves one leg between the handlebars and back again
  • Saran Wrap – When a rider does a ‘Candy Bar’, but moves the leg out to the side of the bike, letting go of one hand. The reverse of this is called a ‘Reverse Saran Wrap’
  • Nac-Nac - invented by supercross star Jeremy McGrath, involves the rider moving their leg over the bike, extending that leg out, whilst keeping the other leg on the foot peg.
  • No Footer – When the rider moves their legs outwards from the bike, dismounting their legs from the foot pegs
  • No Hander – When the rider lets go of the handle bars
  • Cordova – When the rider hooks their boots under the handle bars and arcs their back to the front of the bike, whilst holding onto the handlebars with their hands. The rider may also put hands onto seat instead of handle bars
  • Stripper – When the rider performs a ‘Cordova’ and extends one leg out from the bike
  • Rodeo – When the rider perform a one handed ‘HeelClicker’ and moves the other hand in circles above their head, as if they were riding a bull in a rodeo
  • Decade Air - When the rider revolves himself 360 about the fork axis over the bar (the bike flies straight).
  • Nothing – When a rider performs a ‘No Hander’ and ‘No Footer’ at the same time
  • Super Can – When the rider does ‘No Footer Can-Can’ but points their feet upwards.
  • Superman – When the rider moves their feet out parallel to and above the bike
  • Indian Air – When a rider performs a ‘Superman’ but does an Indian Air, scissor kicks their legs
  • Superman Seat Grab – When a rider does a ‘Superman’, but uses one hand to hold onto the seat or grab holes instead of the handlebars
  • Superman Seat Grab Indian Air – When a rider performs a ‘Superman Seat Grab’ but does an Indian Air, scissor kicks their legs
  • Stalefish – When the rider sticks one leg between the handlebars and the other leg on the other side of the arm. A Variant of this trick is when the rider clicks their heels, called a ‘Stalefish HeelClicker.’ A rider may also perform a Saran Wrap whilst returning to remount the bike, which is be called a ‘Stalefish Saran Wrap’
  • Bar Hop – When the rider moves both feet between and through the handle bars
  • Turntable – When the rider does a ‘Bar Hop’, then moves both feet to one side, letting go of one hand, then remounting the bike.
  • Shaolin - Bar Hop with legs pointing sideways.
  • Whip – When the rider moves the bike perpendicular to the ramp. That style of whip is called a turndown, whilst other styles move the bike flat.

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Comments 1 comment

MX Race Fane profile image

MX Race Fane 7 years ago from OKLAHOMA CITY

This is a well written article. I never new there were so many tricks they could do. This site has one of Travis Pastrana 1st Double Backflip in Competition XGAMES with good picture quality if you would like to check it out.. Thanks

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