Ernie Vigil on superhero powers & the art of control

Published: 16 February 2017

American stunt rider Ernie Vigil tells all to MCN

American stunt rider extraordinaire Ernie Vigil will be putting Triumph's brand spanking Street Triple 765 through its paces at the 2017 Carole Nash MCN London Motorcycle show.

We caught-up with the man himself to see just what makes him tick, to ask his advice on how to stunt ride and also hear what he thinks of the new Street Triple.

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How long have you been stunt riding and how did you get into it?

"I’ve been doing it for about 11 years now. It all started at a very young age, I grew-up with two brothers who would ride in a dirt alley behind my house. I could hear them ripping back and forth all day on a little two-stroke TR80 and I’d sit on a wall and watch. Sure enough, my dad bought me a little CR50 before long.

"I was a dirt kid racing motocross; I got a 50cc before progressing up to an 80, 125 and then 250. Years later, along with the same two broters, we all bought sportsbikes within two days. We were so competitive because we all raced each other and f**k man, it was a matter of hours before one of them did a wheelie. I was like 'oh s**t' I gotta do it longer and higher. We were hooked; we forgot about dirt for years, stunt riding just took over."

What fuels your adrenaline?

"For me, it’s finding the point where your ass puckers, where you find the edge and you live through it. That’s the part of stunt riding that I like most and that’s what it has become, it’s the art of being in control, but also being out of control.

"Everybody’s always afraid to highside and the thing with stunt riding is that you have to find that highside point and then find out how to control it. You get to the point where you’re going to wreck it (the stunt) and then you try and take it comfortably past that. You learn what you can do, or what little transition you can make on the bike, or what lean would compensate to slow down the highside and give you more angle. It’s like a weird science of trying to destroy ourselves without destroying ourselves, you want to find that fine line.

"You feel like a superhero once you’re able to control these moments that before would have scared the s**t out of you, it’s rewarding."

What's the new Street Triple 765 like to ride?

"It’s amazing. The platform that I ride the most is the Street Triple 675 for all my stunt bikes and coming from that to the 765, I didn’t really know what to expect. So far everything has been beyond better than the outgoing model. The motor still has the same power delivery. It’s got a really linear power band and is a really friendly ride, which is why I like it so much for stunt riding.

"At the same time though it has way more power, which is what we’ve needed for a long time. The thing with stunt riding is that it got to a point where it was really slow for a while and now a lot of the excitement is coming back. It’s got a lot to do with the speed and performance and the way the bikes run. So you really notice the increase in power and the fact that the bike is a lot lighter too. It’s nothing but good things with the new model."

Where do you like to ride the most?

"Riding in the dirt will always be the one place I think is the most rewarding. You can do desert riding, in the woods, in the rain or ride on the beach - the scenery’s always changing. I love stunt riding, but we’re always stuck in s****y parking lots with s****y asphalt - the riding is rewarding, but I prefer dirt for its sense of atmosphere and surrounding.

"From a stunt riding perspective, I prefer Europe just because the level of riding is f*****g through the roof. You have some really talented riders over here. Riding with people like that means you start pushing yourself and then you reach new levels, I think that’s what the sport’s all about."

Riding on the edge all the time is pretty risky, have you had many accidents?

"Yeah man, too many, I’ve lost count. The worst was when I flipped a stoppie in 2009. 

"It was on the come-up of the longest stoppie competition. I was riding at 70mph for the pick-up when my brake line got caught in my front fender and the front wheel ripped it off, locking my brakes.

"I basically went 70 mph, hit my brakes as hard as I could and went flying. The bike smashed me, I lacerated my liver, almost in half, fractured my femur, tore my meniscus and I was also unconscious for a little bit. That one messed me up pretty good, it was a rough one to come back from.

"I’ve also stuck pegs through my feet, broken both my collarbones, torn my ACL and ECL ligaments, shattered my cuboid bone, shattered a navicular bone, broken metatarsals...it just never ends.

"You go to the hospital and you’re sitting in the bed - destroyed - and everyone looks at you like 'this guy’s f*****g nuts'. All I do say to the doctor, “I don’t care about the b******t, I don’t care what you gotta do, just tell me how to get back on the bike”. From there I go home and I try whatever witch-doctor s**t I can read on Google to try and shave time off the recovery so I can get back and do it all again."

What bike would you recommend for new stunt riders?

"Little bikes are the best way to go, something like a 50, 100 or 125cc pit bike. You can learn all the basics of riding without killing yourself, or destroying a $10k (around £8,000) motorcycle. Those little things are bulletproof and if you crash, you’re not going very fast. Everything also translates over to bigger machines later on too.

"You can learn a lot on a little 50cc dirt bike, I used to think they were too small for me. I used one for a year and when I got off it and onto a big bike things made sense.

"The technique was there most importantly. It shaves your progression time - three-quarters of the time (on a smaller bike) you can learn the same stuff as you would on a bigger bike. It’s by far the easiest, most inexpensive way to do it, plus you can do it in your front yard. You’re not loud and you’re not going 100mph either. 

"The best way to practise though is to load the bike into some piece of s**t van and drive it to a parking lot, unload it and destroy a tyre for three or four hours, then repeat."

How do you find it at the Carole Nash MCN Motorcycle London show?

"It’s awesome, just awesome. The one thing I love about Europe is that the love for motorcycles is so strong. The motorcycle market in the US is really small; it’s tiny in comparison. It seems like people are bred for it in Europe.

"The licensing laws are better too, you have to start on a smaller bike before you progress and get something bigger. It might seem like a pain in the ass, but at the same time it also teaches a lot of technique. In the US, or at least where I live, an 18-year-old kid, who might have never ridden a bike before, can go to a dealership, buy a 1000cc sportsbike and leave with no helmet. We don’t even have a helmet law, so a lot of these guys, with no motorcycle skill whatsoever, just go out and buy the biggest, baddest bike and then just kill themselves. 

"A lot of technique is bred into the riders in Europe, so when they take that skill, they fall in love with it and move it to the next level. Europeans already have the fundamentals down, that it's so easy to get into different aspects of the sport; road racing, flat track or whatever it is they want to progress to. I think that’s why Europe has such a high skill level on motorcycles and it’s evident by coming to shows like this."

Ernie will be riding the new Triumph Street Triple 765 all this weekend at the Carole Nash MCN London Motorcycle show, make sure you check it out.

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