One. Two. Three. Freestyle motocross rider Josh Sheehan called his shot weeks in advance, announcing that he would head out to Pastranaland, Travis Pastrana’s private training ground in Maryland, to land the world’s first triple backflip on a motorcycle; and that’s just what Sheehan did.
Sheehan made it into the record books on Tuesday by taking off of on a custom-built, 37-foot ramp.
“It was pretty daunting and exciting at the same time,” Sheehan said. “I was trying to be consistent by practicing onto the bag jump (a training tool for freestyle motocross riders) before going to dirt, so there was less room for error. And on that day I was feeling very confident, but it was also impossible to ignore all the things that could happen. You have to do a bit of a mental blocking there.”
He had plenty to focus on: Sheehan needed to hit the bottom of the narrow ramp at over 50 miles per hour to head full-throttle up.
“It might have looked narrow, but I had just enough room on the line,” he explained. “A wider takeoff would have made things more difficult and would have given me more risk, because it would have given me more latitude to go off target or go sideways on the landing.”
And once he had it all lined up, Sheehan had to prepare for take off, bracing for a compression in the ramp, where the transition tightens to help send him spinning.
“The actual takeoff pitch is 78 degrees, not far from vertical, and the landing is 50 degrees. We had to get it all as steep as we possibly could without getting completely vertical,” Sheehan said. “It’s a massively thing, and steeper than anything I’d ever ridden before. So, it’s a very different experience than just about anything else in motocross.”
At the top of the ramp, things got both less complicated and more intense.
“All the way up the ramp I’m 100 percent focused on getting my speed right, and then all of a sudden it becomes all about pulling with everything I have and putting all of my weight into it,” he said. “The first rotation happens pretty quickly, right off the ramp, which you can see in the sequence shot. The next one comes pretty fast too. I can see the landing after the second rotation … The last rotation feels much more slow, which is sort of surreal since it all actually happens so fast.”
And according to Sheehan, landing was the easy part.
“The best part of the day was having the entire Nitro Circus family at the landing, and also eight of my mates who flew over from Australia to be there for the moment,” he said. “That really made it special: To have everyone there waiting was such a cool feeling.”
After Tony Hawk landed his first 900 on a skateboard, he was beset by fans begging him to do it again, all around the world, wherever he went. Travis Pastrana had a similar experience after landing the first double backflip on a motorcycle. Other action sport stars pursuing what Pastrana and the Nitro Circus camp like to refer to as “World Firsts” have all run into the phenomenon, and Sheehan said it was on his mind before he ever started preparing for the triple.
“You never say, ‘never,’ but I think for now it’s a one-and-done thing,” he said, happy to have landed safely and not at all eager to try it again. He thinks it will be a while, if ever, before the triple backflip becomes a staple of the Nitro Circus shows. “It’s definitely not the kind of thing we could set up for a show in the kind of venues we’re in now. But who knows? Maybe some day the right scenario could present itself.”
In the grand scheme of things, trick progression happens pretty fast in action sports. The first backflips on motorcycles happened in 2002. Pastrana’s double backflip at X Games was in 2006. Now a triple is on the books. So we had to ask: is a quadruple possible?
“We’ve just been chatting about that, because it’s the obvious next question,” Sheehan admitted. “I’m sure four is possible, but you’d need such a massive jump and to be able to land and ride away from it would be pretty extreme. It’s not something I really want to try any time soon, but I’m sure it’s possible.”
For now he’s content to focus on the upcoming Nitro Circus Live U.S. Tour, which has 14 dates in May alone, beginning on May 5 in Tampa, Florida.
After everything he’s just put into landing the triple, Sheehan said Nitro Circus Live is going to feel like a much-needed vacation.
“I love being on tour, and we’re headed to some nice warm locations,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
More from GrindTV