Mike Metzger rose to fame for his skills on a motorcycle more than 20 years ago. He was called “The Godfather of Freestyle Motocross.” Metzger has been racing downhill mountain bikes in the Pro class even longer, however. He became a pro downhiller when he was 18, and now that his freestyle motocross career is winding down, he’s back racing downhill in the pro ranks again.
Metzger has been riding bikes of all kinds for as long as he can remember. His dad was a professional motocross racer, and Mike can still remember his dad riding him around on his lap when he was a toddler. Mike learned to ride a bike at 3 years old and started racing motocross at 6 years old. Mike’s motorcycle skills led him to professional motocross racing first, and that led to freestyle fame, but he never lost his appreciation for riding non-motorized bikes too.
“I was probably still in junior high, seventh or eighth grade, when my dad bought me my first mountain bike,” says Mike. “I remember it being like a light pearl blue, and it was a Hodaka from either Price Club or Costco.
“I started racing downhill mountain bikes in 1993, just out of high school. I moved up to Big Bear for a short period of time, working for a mountain bike gear company as a graphic designer. The following year I got picked up by Intense Cycles to be on their first downhill team. Later on I introduced Shaun Palmer to the people at Intense. I took Shaun Palmer and Randy Lawrence riding mountain bikes at Snow Summit for the first time. The next thing you know, Shaun Palmer’s winning the NORBA championship the following year, and I went elsewhere. I decided to work on my art career and tattooing, which I still do to this day.”
No fear: Mike Metzger rose to fame as “The Godfather of Freestyle Motocross” in the 1990s, but he’s been a pro downhill racer even longer, as evidenced by his showing in the 2015 Legends of the Kamikaze at Mammoth Mountain.
Mike’s motocross career took off after that. He started doing well at the nationals and Supercross events, and that led him to freestyle motocross. Now that he’s turning 40, however, he’s riding freestyle less and racing mountain bikes more again.
“The thing that I like about my mountain bike, especially going up on the chairlifts, is just the peace that you get, away from the everyday running around and chaos that life gives you. At times the chairlift is kinda like my office on the way up. I can get out my cell phone and use it to send e-mails and make phone calls on the way up, and then the next thing you know, I’m on my bike. I like the peacefulness, the quietness and just being out there without any noise except the wind blowing through my helmet. I think the older I get, the more I appreciate the quietness and being able to ride something and not hear anything other than the wind blowing through my body.”
“It’s kinda weird how everything comes full circle. I could’ve gone downhill pro racing full-time when I was 18, right out of high school, and now I’m doing it full- time at the age of 40.”
We met up with Metzger recently at the Foes manufacturing facility in Pasadena, California, to check out the bikes that Mike is racing now. Mike’s current downhill bike is the Foes Hydro, hand-made by Brent Foes himself, which Mike races in the Pro Downhill class.
1. Frame: Foes Hydro H2 handcraft- ed by Brent Foes; hydro-formed top tube; size medium; 8.25 inches of rear travel; 2.3:1 progressive leverage ratio; tapered head tube; sealed cartridge bearings; 83mm bottom brack- et; 12x150mm thru-axle; ISCG05; custom-painted, with custom graphics.
“It’s got a really nice, solid feel to it. My bike’s really quiet and smooth.”
2. Fork: DVO suspension, Emerald DH model, 203mm (8-inch) travel.
“The main thing that I like about DVO Suspension is that it’s a real motocross-feeling fork. It’s an upside-down fork. It’s super progressive the way it’s set up for me. It’s really nice on the low-end compression, and then on the high-end progression I can pretty much jump any- thing I want.”
3. Tires: WTB Breakout, 27.5×2.5- inch TCS Tough/High Grip tires.
4. Tubes or sealant: WTB TCS tire sealant.
The TCS Fluid is claimed to employ “nano-capsulation“ to form a liquid that hardens upon puncture, creating a per- manent plug that remains flexible and rubber-like.
5. Rims: Crankbrothers, Opium 3 Elite-level wheels for downhill and freeride use: 27.5, 6061-T6 alloy, 26mm rim width, 23.4mm rim depth; shot-peen finish, black anodizing.
The wheels were designed to offer faster acceleration due to lower rotational inertia, as the wheel design distributes the mass closer to the hub for faster acceleration and braking. The tubeless-ready, hole-free rims are claimed to be stronger, and no rim tape is required for tubeless setup. The wheels use Crankbrothers’ twin-pair spoke technology, with all spokes being the same length and with the rims designed so the spokes can be replaced without removing the tires.
6. Spokes: Sapim, stainless steel, 2.0 straight-gauge design.
All the spokes are 143mm long and can be replaced without removing the tires. Spoke pins are hollow 7075-T6 aluminum. Nipples are 3.2x139mm.
7. Front hub: Crankbrothers Opium, 6061-T6, with sealed bearing cartridges.
8. Rear hub: Crankbrothers Opium model, 6061-T6 alloy, with sealed bearing cartridges.
9. Brakes: Magura MT7 Raceline, Limited Edition; four-piston design for maximum braking performance and stability in extreme conditions; claimed to offer additional braking power and safety in downhill and enduro racing; aluminum, two-finger lever design with tool-less adjustment; adjustable bite point; 203mm rotors.
10. Handlebar: ODI Flight Control, 7075 T6 aluminum, 25mm rise, 5×9-degree sweep, 786mm (30.94 inches) width.
11. Bottom bracket: Shimano Saint 83mm.
12. Grips: ODI Ruffian lock-on grips.
13. Cranks: Shimano Saint, 170mm.
14. Chainring: Shimano Saint 36t.
15. Pedals: Clipless
16. Chain: Shimano, 10-speed, hollow pin.
17. Rear derailleur. Shimano Saint 10-speed, SS.
18. Shifters: Shimano Saint, 10-speeds.
19. Brake levers: Magura, two-finger aluminum levers with tool-free adjustment capability.
20. Cassette: Dura Ace, 10-speed, 11-25.
21. Saddle: SDG Fly with solid Ti rails.
22. Seatpost: Race Face Turbine 31.6.
23. Headset: Cane Creek.
24. Stem: ODI Flight Control, direct-mount stem, 50mm.
25. Chainguide: MRP G3 mini ISCG05.
Weight of complete bike: 38 pounds.
Estimated value of bike: $9000
Mike Metzger also showed us his new Foes Mixer while we were at the Foes plant with him. The Mixer is the latest invention from Brent Foes. It matches a 29-inch front wheel with a 27.5-inch rear wheel. The 29-inch front wheel was chosen to give the rider the advantages of a bigger tire when rolling over rocks, while the rear wheel was chosen to take advantage of the quicker acceleration of a smaller rear wheel. “It’s really a good-handling bike,” says Mike Metzger. “I can ride it super aggressive. I have a motocross riding style, so I like to get my shoulders way up over the front of the bike. Having that big 29-inch wheel with a lot of rake helps me cover the turns as aggressively as possible, more than a lot of the trailbikes that I’ve ridden, and it’s really close to how my downhill Hydro H2 feels in the front end, but I think that having the bigger wheel helps me ride a little bit more aggressively, and I really like the aggressive motocross feel of the bike.
“I don’t really notice that there’s a 27.5-inch wheel in the rear and a 29-inch wheel in the front. The main thing that I do notice is that I’m riding the bigger tire on the front. When you have a 29-inch wheel on the front, you feel it. You see it. It looks bigger. I think you really do have to ride it more aggressively to get the front end to do what you want it to do.
“I think, definitely, for an enduro bike, with the 29-inch wheel, you’re able to hit enduro sections faster and harder with the front wheel rolling over everything a lot easier than with something that’s a bit smaller.
“I think the advantage of having the 27.5-inch rear wheel is that you’re able to accelerate it faster. Coming out of tight turns, you’ll definitely be able to get accelerating on your cranks, and it’s going to accelerate quicker than if the rear wheel were a 29-incher.”
1. Frame: Foes Enduro Mixer, using a 29-inch front wheel and a 650b (27.5-inch) rear wheel.
According to Foes, “The geometry was corrected and adjusted for this wheel configuration.” The frame offers 6.3 to 7 inches of adjustable rear wheel travel. The head angle is 66.5 degrees. The seat angle is 70 degrees. The top tube is 23.5 inches. Bottom bracket height is 13.65 inches. Wheelbase is 46.5 inches. Stack height is 24.5 millimeters. Stand-over height is 29.5 inches.
2. Fork: DVO Diamond, 29-inch, 160mm (6.3 inches) of travel.
3. Tires: WTB Vigilante; 29×2.3 inches, front; 27.5×2.3 inches, rear; 29 psi.
4. Tubeless tire sealant: WTB TCS sealant.
5. Rims: Stan’s Flow EX 29er front and Stan’s Flow EX 27.5 rear; 32-hole.
6. Spokes: Straight, 16-gauge (thicker than standard) aluminum spokes with brass nipples.
7. Front hub: Stan’s NEO; 32 holes; 15mm thru-axle.
8. Rear hub: Stan’s NEO; 32 holes; 12x142mm thru-axle.
9. Brakes: SRAM DB5 disc brakes with Centerline 180mm rotors.
10. Handlebar: ODI Flight Control; 786mm (31 inches) wide by 25mm diameter.
11. Bottom bracket: SRAM.
12. Grips: ODI Ruffian lock-ons.
13. Cranks: SRAM GX, 170mm.
14. Chainring: SRAM, 32-tooth.
15. Pedals: Clipless.
19. Brake levers: SRAM.
16. Chain: SRAM 11-speed chain.
20. Cassette: SRAM GX, 10-42 teeth, 11 speeds.
21. Saddle: SDG saddle with solid titanium rails.
22. Seatpost: Thomson dropper post, 31.6mm diameter.
23. Shock: DVO Jade with Lite Spring 350-pound titanium spring.
24. Stem: ODI, 50mm.
The Making of a Legend
Mike Metzger tells how it happened
I started riding bikes by myself when I was 3 years old. Before that, I was riding in my dad’s lap. I started racing motocross at age 6. I started racing mountain bikes right out of high school, probably at the age of 17, and turned pro probably at the age of 18.
I had a really good life in the motocross world for a few years. May dad was a local motocross pro in Orange County. He got me into it full-time. He was a top local pro in Orange County until he got hurt really bad and broke his back. I broke my back six times, but I think the doctors have a lot better technology for fixing people now.
I always wanted to race BMX as a kid, but my dad always said, why would he want to take me to do one lap at a time on a BMX bike when he could take me to a motocross track to do a 35-minute moto?
Motocross was my life from the time I was 6 years old up until things really started changing for me, getting hurt and having to take breaks from motocross. As an amateur, I won Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Nationals as an 80 Expert. I was 15. It was my last year on mini bikes. I won Loretta Lynn’s riding for Suzuki.
After my mini bike deal, I moved up to the big bikes. I had a Suzuki support ride, then I moved to Yamaha for a Team NCY support ride, then I kind of jumped back and forth between different teams. I traveled to outdoor nationals. I finished 12th at the Glen Helen Nationals.
My best finish in Supercross was in 1997 riding for Moto Triple-X, 125 Supercross. I got a sixth place in Colorado at Mile High Stadium. My whole motocross career I pretty much rode hurt. I always had injuries.
Then, in 1998, we had our first freestyle motocross competition in Las Vegas, and all my sponsors basically wanted me to just concentrate on my freestyle career, and that’s basically what paid the bills for a long time, paving the way for other riders to make a liv- ing getting paid for jumping dirt bikes.
For freestyle motocross, I hold the 2002 X Games gold medals for Freestyle Motocross and Best Trick and a silver medal for the Step-Up. In 2003, at the Winter X Games,I won the gold medal for Best Trick in the snow.
I hold the 1998 and 1999 Triple Crown of Freestyle Championships. I hold the record for a 125-foot backflip over Caesar’s Fountain, which is a Guinness Book of World Records feat. Ramp to ramp, it’s the biggest backflip at 125 feet. I think at the time it was a natural thing to do. I was already doing 100 feet, 110-feet plus, in my backyard, so when ESPN and the promoter called me, I said I’d do it, even before I knew what I was getting myself into.
I didn’t even know what they were asking me to do yet, but I knew they weren’t going to have me drop into something and kill myself, so I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.” They’d already asked Travis Pastrana and Carey Hart and they’d turned it down. I was like, “Sign me up! I want to see if I can land what Evel Knievel couldn’t—and throw a flip in there!“
I landed 125 feet, perfect, on my third run-in towards the ramp. I went for it and called it a day, grabbed my kid, and the next day we went to Disneyland. I actually did a TV interview. They said, “What are you going to do next?“ I said, “I’m going to Disneyland,” and that evening I got a phone call from Disneyland, and they asked me if I wanted to take my family on an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyland straight from Las Vegas.”
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