The Sunday Social with stunt rider Lee Bowers
We caught up with Kawasaki stunt rider Lee Bowers to talk about getting into stunt riding, getting black flagged at track days and working for Asda.
So what's for breakfast at the cafe?
"Three poached eggs, scrambled eggs, bacon and beans. That is my favourite. It’s sort of healthy. I love banana Weetabix as well. None of this McDonalds stuff."
What's your mission for a Sunday ride?
"Just to chill, get away from everything and enjoy the sights. I always love new locations and seeing new things. I get all my aggression out on track and through stunting so I'm quite happy to chill and save my licence."
What's in your backpack?
"I always take my phone and maybe a camera. Perhaps a hoodie for when I get off the bike and my wallet."
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So how did you get into bikes, was it a family member?
"No my parents didn’t want me to have a bike. They don’t like bikes and they don’t ride. They didn't want me to go on the road because it’s dangerous. They tried to steer me away from it and make me play football and all that but a lot of my friends were out on the bikes so as a kid all I wanted to do was ride bikes."
So you started riding in fields?
"Yeah, we used to take a jerry can and a shovel in a backpack. Five litres of fuel in the bike and five litre cans on our backs. Back in the day I could more or less ride my bike to the fields, you know, across a few football pitches. We'd dig some jumps and do some wheelies. I didn’t ever race, it was more jumps and stuff like that on the motocross bike. We’d just do jumps and mess about on the bikes."
So straight away you were into stunts?
"Not so much stunts but not going fast. It was just more messing about rather than just nailing it flat out everywhere. I always liked technical side and I like to be different. It’s pretty easy to go fast on a bike but I like the more technical side which obviously brought me to stunting I suppose."
Where did you progress from riding on fields? Did you end up with a road bike?
"Yeah, I was riding a KX85 and KX125 for years and used to take them to tracks, although I never raced, that was just mostly for the jumps. When I was older and could support myself I did my bike test in 2005 and I bought a 600. After that we watched some videos from America and Ace Café with all the guys doing wheelies on superbikes and I thought 'oh, I'd love to do that'.
"Obviously we couldn’t do it on the roads so we went off-road into all the industrial estates. I've never had points or been done for anything on my licence. I can’t believe it with the amount of wheelies I’ve done but I’ve got a totally clean licence. I bought a dedicated stunt bike a year after my test along with my mate who also bought one.
"We thought 'right we’ll try that' and we both tried to do burnouts and we thought our bikes were broken, but it was just us not the bikes. We were riding the clutch and we weren't very successful. When you look at it it looks very easy but it does take quite a lot of practice. We went home, and through talking to loads of people realised it was us and not the bikes. So we tried, tried and tried again and here I am. it takes a lot of practice."
I guess not a lot of people realise that even though they do look like road bikes they’re quite a bit different?
"Yeah and there's different stages. You can have a small set up which you could still ride on the road or something like my fully-dedicated freestyle bike with a 65 tooth rear sprocket. You could run a 50 or 45 and still ride it on the road as well."
How long did it take you to progress from that first attempt?
"When we first started it was very very hard. We didn’t have Youtube like we do nowadays. Bike set ups weren't really known and there wasn't a lot of off the shelf parts. Everything was custom made and you couldn't really watch a lot of videos to learn how to do it. It's a lot quicker to learn these days than it was back when I was learning. It took at least six months to learn how to keep it on the balance point with the rear brake.
"Power wheelies we were doing straight away but you’re a bit out of control and obviously you need a massive spot to be able to do that. Circle wheelies took about two years for me to get to a decent level.
"You know, everyone says to me 'how long did it take?' but it’s not how long it is, it's about how much effort and time you put into that. I was riding four or five times a week for six hours a day. I didn’t go out drinking or do anything other than ride the bike. Saturdays and Sundays I'd go over there at 9am and leave at 7pm. During the week I’d go out in the evenings two or three times as well."
On top of working?
"Yeah, at first I had a full time job as well. It wasn’t until I got factory sponsorship with Kawasaki UK I gave up my day job."
After that first year did you progress to competitions?
"Yeah, I used to travel all over doing competitions in places like Poland and Germany. I did all the European competitions to raise my profile and learn new tricks from the top guys and find out where my level was. If you compete against the whole of Europe you know where you stand. I didn't know anything about performing shows.
"Then in 2009 I got a call about going to Dubai to do stunt shows for two months. 56 shows in two months. I’d never done a show before so I went and got thrown in the deep end. The other guy turned out to be useless so they sent him home and I stayed out there for two months. When I came home I knew that’s what I really wanted to do and it just progressed from there."
And you still weren’t signed to a manufacturer at that point?
"No, I was on Kawasakis anyway and I just used to ride for fun. Getting paid for it was just a bonus. Then about three years later I got the European so I raised my profile then set up all the social media side of things so everything just came to me really. Getting the factory sponsorship definitely helped."
That was 2013 is that right?
"2012 or 2013, yeah. I did a show at DMC Kawasaki in Birmingham, which is a massive shop with three different manufacturers. Tom Sykes and all the Kawasaki bosses were there and then after the show the area manager said 'we’d like you to ride for Kawasaki, how about coming to the headquarters'. So I went for a meeting and they loved what I do and had just got rid of other stunt rider. I just took over from there basically."
And you use quite a few different Kawasakis now?
"I try to use the whole range, right from the KLX110 for the kids, which shows it can be done on little bikes with five horsepower. People say 'oh you’ve got a big sprocket you’ve got a hand brake, got this and that so it must be easy'. Then there's a KX85 which is where I started as a kid, and a 450 motocross bikes.
"I was using a ZX-10 drift bike but I only get small spaces so I went back to the 636 because the engine is a bit more zingy, it makes more noise and it's better for small areas. The ZX-10 was a little bit beast mode and starting to get a bit dangerous for the smaller areas. Then I use an older 636 with less electronics for freestyling because it’s really reliable."
Have you got a favourite?
"My freestyle bike that I use for competition is the bike I started on and do all my tricks on, the other bikes are just for filling to show it can be done on other bikes basically. When I get on the freestyle bike I come alive because I can do everything. The drift bike is just for drifting and the off road bike are just for scraping mudguards and doing some stoppies. The little bike I just do wheelies, circles and one handed stuff, waving at the crowd. I use the freestyle bike at the end of show and go mad basically."
What’s your freestyle bike got on it?
"I hope you’ve got a while! Basic mods are a 65 tooth rear sprocket, and one less tooth on the front. There's a cage on the side so if I crash it doesn’t break bike or put oil on the floor. We do fall off now and again.
"We dent the tank because some of the tricks involve me putting my legs over the handlebars. We dent it and put a grip on it so it sticks me in the tank. It's basically another seat. There's a hole in the back seat to put my foot in. We put front calipers on the rear. The foot brake activates one of the four pot calipers and the handbrake on the left bar underneath the easy pull clutch is connected to a Brembo 19x20 master cylinder which activates both the rear calipers.
"I use adjustable clip ons because standard clip ons are angled too far down. A cheap way of doing it is to flip the clip ons on to the opposite bars so they angle up but I like a bit more room. Bigger 330mm EBC discs and Brembo calipers on the front with EBC pads all round. We take out the tip over sensor so when we do certain tricks the bike doesn’t cut out. We run permanent fans on the bike to keep it cool. Doing wheelies there’s no airflow going into the radiator.
"A radiator guard holds radiator on. Because it's full of water and I'm constantly slamming it sown it can rip the tabs off. I run Maxxis tyres with a touring tyre on the back and a very sticky front because I want the rear to lose traction but I want the front to give ultimate grip."
If I was to hop on your bike how difficult would I find it?
"It's very responsive on the throttle with that rear sprocket. You only just have to touch the throttle. The bike would feel quite rigid because it’s got a steel frame and really hard suspension to cope with all the wheelies and stoppies The rebound is quite high so it pops back to where it needs to be. It would just feel a bit odd and the handlebars would be quite up in the air."
Do you still ride standard road bikes?
"Yes, Ive got a Kawasaki H2 which is too fast for the road so I just potter about on it. Mainly I’m in the van travelling all over the place.With all the stunting I don’t really get the enjoyment out of road riding. I love the freedom of stunting. I get to do whatever I want."
What about track riding?
"A lot, yeah. This year I’ve gone crazy with No Limits Racing. I’ve got a ticket to ride so I can do any track day for free basically. I’ve got an old MSS Kawasaki ZX-10R from 2015 or 2016 that Nick Morgan sold me. I’ve probably done 50 track days this year already because of that ticket to ride. Cadwell is one of my favourites.
"It started when I did a few BSB rounds stunting. I had to follow the pace car out and I didn’t know where the pits were or anything so I followed the pace car in the rain with no tyre warmers, on touring tyres, round to the chicane where I did all the stunts. I came back into my mechanic after and said 'we need to do all the tracks and learn where they go otherwise I'm gonna look like an idiot if I fall off on the track.' So we started booking track days a few years ago, then I loved it so much I got addicted."
You’ve not been black flagged for pulling too many wheelies then?
"A couple of times yeah! Cadwell black flagged me a couple of times, but I know all the marshalls so I try not to take the mick too much."
You said you originally started out with your friend. Is he still stunt riding?
"He still stunts. He’s actually my mechanic now although he joins in a few shows when I need a second rider. He’s always been good at engine building. I can fix everything on the outside but I’m not great inside the engine so he does full rebuilds and stuff like that."
What events have you got coming up over the summer?
"I’ve got Santa Pod events, one for Asda and then we go back to Motorcycle Live events and all that at the end of the year. And a few foreign jobs."
Did you say Asda?
"Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a few years. They do a big charity event at Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds. It’s quite busy and I do events for a lot of charity things which pulls people in. I’ll do a show for anyone if I get paid and I’ve got a nice surface to ride on basically. I do a lot at Santa Pod."
Any new tricks in the works?
"Always. I only push maybe 80% in shows. There's still quite a high danger factor but I've mastered a lot of the tricks I do in shows so I'm pushing but not pushing to get hurt. When I practice I always try my new tricks and I push quite a bit looking for new stuff.
"You see something on the internet, some Polish dude or some guy in America has just busted out some new moves, and I go and try them or invent my own stuff. I’ve got a few signature tricks and some things I copy."
Is there a particular one you’re working on at the minute?
"There’s a couple. Basically we do a 180 degree stoppie and while you're doing the stoppie you pull the brake really hard and it's called a kangaroo where you land on the back wheel. So you go from front wheel to back wheel but then we spin another 180 degrees round and do a 360. A lot of our moves come from flat land BMX. So basically we’re moving the flat land BMX stuff to superbikes. Superbikes are obviously a lot heavier so it’s harder to do some of the tricks but it’s amazing how it progresses. 10 years ago you’d never think some of these tricks were possible but now they are.
"One that I’m working on at the moment is called the unicycle. So I do a circle wheelie, get off the side of the bike, put my left leg over the top of the handlebars and I’m actually sitting on top of the handlebars and then I take my hands off. So you’re doing a unicycle on the bike going round in circles using the foot brake to keep the balance point."
Any advice for those looking to get into stunt riding?
"Wear as much safety gear as you can. You’re doing things you shouldn’t really be doing on the bikes so they can go wrong and because you’re doing things you shouldn’t you will fall off a lot. People laugh at me and my girlfriend says I’ve got a big bum because Ive got snowboard shorts and padding all on my legs and ankles. I wear proper kevlar jeans for the flexibility but I’m fully padded underneath with hard shell knee armour, shin and ankle supports, back protector, elbow, shoulder, chest, helmet, gloves.
"Wear your gear then if you do fall of you can get back on and try again. A lot of what I do is rinse and repeat so you crash, get back on, crash, get back on, get it half right, get back on get it fully done then you do it, do it, do it so it becomes easy. The first 10 times it’ll feel weird and you’ll probably crash. The 11th time you’ll half do it then you think 'ahh that’s how you do it!' It's amazing what the mind can do."
What sort of resources are there for newbies?
"Youtube and social media are probably the best places. Start adding a few of the stunters up, look who’s winning then just look at what they do. Everyone’s got their own style."
Where can people find you on social media?
Sure, go for it.
"Kawasaki UK obviously, Icon Motorsports who do all my gear and pay to wrap my bikes, EBC Brakes, Maxxis tyres – the touring rear is unbelievable for what I do and doesn’t delaminate - FWR tyres, and MSS Kawasaki who help with my engines and anything technical I need."
Thanks for your time
Cheers, have a good day.