XDL: More Than a Sideshow

More than a decade after Ohio's notorious Starboyz burst on the scene, wheelying their fur-covered rat-bikes along I-90 wearing little more than size-88 clown pants, stunters still struggle for respect. Though not considered the scourge of the sportbike scene it once was, street freestyle is still viewed by most motorcyclists as little more than a sideshow to "real" pursuits like roadracing-or even freestyle motocross.

The XDL Stunt Riding Championship, led by Randy Grube, is working hard to change this perception, and has made some pretty remarkable strides recently. The organization has sanctioned more than 20 paying competitions since its inception in 2006, and 2010 marked the third year it organized a national championship series, won by Bill Dixon. In addition to its own events, XDL also organized a demonstration at last summer's X-Games-the holy grail of action-sports events-and recently premiered Inside XDL, a TV show airing on the Versus cable network. Street freestyle has officially gone mainstream!

Along the way, XDL has helped transform the image of stunters from illicit outlaws to professional athletes. In addition to prize money-more than $250,000 has been given away so far, plus seven motorcycles, miscellaneous merchandise and contingencies-XDL has also helped make paid sponsorship a reality for participating riders. Credible national rankings allow stunt riders to validate their skills and effectively market themselves, making stunting a legitimate career path. Mainstream motorcycle companies including Aprilia, BMW, Ducati and Kawasaki, apparel makers Alpinestars, Icon, Shift and Speed & Strength, plus non-endemics like Red Bull and Monster energy drinks all currently sponsor street freestyle athletes.

Love it or hate it, the motorcycle industry can't ignore the fact that stunting targets a younger crowd than most other forms of competition. The unique layout of XDL events-which don't require racetracks-makes them more crowd-friendly, too. The season finale (during the Indianapolis MotoGP weekend) was held in the heart of downtown at Indiana War Memorial Park. Next year XDL will do even more urban events, which attract bigger crowds and higher numbers of "non-core" spectators. This ability to reach new markets is something the stagnant motorcycle industry desperately needs.

XDL has traveled an uphill road so far, but it seems to be finally hitting its stride. If crowds continue to grow, and prize money and sponsorship opportunities increase, hard-working "stuntahs" might finally garner some respect. After all, pulling a paycheck for busting stand-up wheelies downtown sure beats posting bail after getting busted on the interstate!

Top XDL competitor Ernie Vigil cuts a circle wheelie just a few feet away from fans at an after-dark exhibition in downtown Indianapolis. Try getting that close to the action at a roadrace event!
This is the new look of street freestyle: Clapped-out rat-bikes have been replaced by custom-painted, cutting-edge sportbikes with riders fully covered in color-matched protective gear.
Prize money, sponsorship and TV contracts are all well and good, but a series' success is also measured by the quality of its trophy girls. On that point at least, XDL easily matches MotoGP.